The World Ends with You (DS) review
"The Game is dangerous. The Game is bizarre. The Game is insanely difficult. Fail to complete The Game and it'll be the last thing you ever fail to do. I don't mean this game, The World Ends With You, I mean The Game. Our protagonist, an anti-social, lonely people-hater, Neku, is somehow thrown into this Game and is told that he must complete the mission or face erasure. In a strange but fascinating, fast-paced opening, you find yourself linking up with a partner in order to defeat ..."
The Game is dangerous. The Game is bizarre. The Game is insanely difficult. Fail to complete The Game and it'll be the last thing you ever fail to do. I don't mean this game, The World Ends With You, I mean The Game. Our protagonist, an anti-social, lonely people-hater, Neku, is somehow thrown into this Game and is told that he must complete the mission or face erasure. In a strange but fascinating, fast-paced opening, you find yourself linking up with a partner in order to defeat the noise and postpone your seemingly inevitable erasure from The Game.
So what on earth is The Game? Why is Neku in it and why are these strange creatures known as 'Noise' attacking him? Well The Game takes place in Neku's home, Shibuya (part of Tokyo), and there is one very simple aim: survive. It's unclear to Neku how Players are selected, and for some reason the only creatures in the huge, bustling Japanese location that can see you are Reapers - the devious characters in charge of erasing The Game's players, primarily using this 'Noise' to attack them. Players must survive seven days of The Game, completing a mission each day whilst being pressurised by a timer that appears on the hand of every player. It may seem completely crazy but all questions in this wonderful plot are answered as Neku and his partner Shiki make their way through the days, desperately trying to outwit the Reapers. The World Ends With You throws you in at the plot's deep end and such is its mystery that you'll be dying to keep playing in search of your answers.
The fact that Neku is alongside a partner is a key aspect not only in the plot, but in the gameplay as well. A hugely innovative battle system sees both players controlled at the same time, with Neku being handled by the stylus on the touch screen, and your partner Shiki attacking with the D-Pad being utilized. Neku's attacks depend on 'pins', with each one being quite unique. The pins are obtained in several different ways, whether by means of the plot, being dropped from battles, or purchased from shops. You equip a maximum of six pins, changeable from the menu screen and use them with the touch screen. For example, the first pin you collect requires you to drag fire along the touch screen with the stylus, harming enemies as it hits them. Another basic pin is one that sees you damage enemies by simply slashing them with the stylus, and others have you touch the enemies for bolts of lightning to come and strike them. It's all great fun and as you pick up more and more pins, it's enjoyable to try and fit the best combination into your deck so you can erase the noise quicker and easier. Shiki's movements are much more simple. You press combinations with the D-Pad and based on which direction the enemies are in relation to her, she will attack. Enter the right combinations and you may just enable yourself to activate a super fusion pin which sees Neku and Shiki attack together for massive damage and health restoration at the same time. It can be quite annoying to try and divert your attention to two separate characters at the same time, so you can opt for the 'auto-play' option, which sees your partner attack without you needing to bother with the D-Pad. The AI for this probably isn't quite as good as it might be, but in the vast majority of battles this won't matter as you'll be able to pummel the noise to death with Neku alone.
The non-battle gameplay generally features Neku running through Shibuya attempting to complete the mission assigned to him that day. Complications arise when Reapers put up 'walls' to block players' paths to certain areas. These are typically guarded by hooded Reapers, who aren't quite as sinister as typical Reapers. These characters will assign you with something of a 'sub-mission' in order for them to clear the wall and allow your passage into the next area. These can range from destroying noise, completing a quiz, bringing certain items to them, or even dressing your character up in certain clothing! Walls are a major part of the game and thankfully, the tasks to clear them are rarely repetitive, keeping the game fresh, and they see to it that you're forced to explore the entire city.
As well as pins, you can also buy food, items and clothing to aid you in battle. With food, you must consume it before it affects the stats of the character (you can feed either character) and these stat increases can be in a number of things, such as additional HP, strength or defence. Each different type of food requires a number of battles before it 'goes down', at which point the increases will take effect. As for clothes, these can be bought with yen in shops, and up to four can be equipped onto each character. Clothes also enhance character stats and a good costume can make a big difference during battles. Bizarre as the setting of the game is, these aspects provide a welcome touch of depth to your character's development and reward the players willing to experiment.
Another important aspect of the gameplay comes from the 'Player pin' that every participant in The Game has been issued with. This pin is the only one that can be used outside of battle and its function is to 'scan' the area. By scanning, you can read the minds of virtually everyone in the city, despite the fact that you are invisible to them. Though a neat feature, this mind-reading trick is very rarely used for the purposes of the plot but can provide a bit of humour. Battles are not instigated in a random encounter-style manner but by scanning. When you scan, you aren't only able to see the thoughts of those around you, but you are able to see the noise in the particular area. By using the stylus to click on noise, you commence a battle and this means that the player is always in control of how many battles are fought. The good thing is that the fun nature of battles doesn't deter you from fighting them, and you don't end up being underlevelled.
Yes, levelling is crucial and battles serve to give you both EXP, for your characters to level up, and PP, for your pins to level up - the more you level up a pin, the more powerful it is and several of them can evolve into even stronger pins. Your performance in battle dictates how much PP you acquire, with a quick victory without receiving any damage giving you several times the 'base' PP but struggling to a long, hard victory whilst having to heal several times will only bag you a fraction of the base total. A nice touch is added to the game by the feature of altering your level to anything lower that what you are currently. For instance, if you're on level 20, you can adjust your level so it can also be anything from 1-19. This is only for as long as you want (you are able to put your level back up to its maximum at any time) and the purpose of this feature is to increase the pin drop-rate of the noise you fight. The bigger the difference between your maximum level and your selected level, the more pins (including money pins) will be dropped by the enemy. Simple.
Something I really love about the title is the music it boasts. I'm not sure if I'm alone, but it really is a breath of fresh air as the soundtrack fits the game's setting perfectly. The background music consists of a number of catchy pop songs that'll stick in your head whether you want them to or not. They are fast, technical and usually upbeat - exactly like Shibuya's general attitude in the game. The in-battle tunes are slightly different but are also superb, often being frantic and full of life. You can buy your favourite tunes in shops and if you choose to do so, you can listen to whatever song you want, whenever you want. It's the perfect soundtrack to accompany the feel of the game.
The atmosphere created by the music is also matched by the graphics. They aren't particularly brilliant in the sense that they don't push the capabilities of the DS to its limit, but again they certainly fill the screen with the vibrant life that the city is meant to generate. It's all 2D, but the character models are very modern and even crazy with their hairstyles and dress-senses (and how thin they are!), and the areas are populated with countless Shibuya inhabitants, all appearing to have their own objectives and lives to live. The visuals are very fitting and demonstrate the busy nature of the location. Cutscenes, again 2D, have an 'abstract' feel to them and are strung together by pictures quickly flashing onto the screen and changing, often at a furious pace creating a sense of sheer drama.
There aren't many negative points to the game, but there are few minor gripes. Pin-usage often overlaps and it can be difficult for the touch screen to pick up exactly what you want to do. This usually doesn't matter but can occasionally be frustrating. The 'auto-play' AI can be very unpredictable - sometimes your partner will keep on getting the right combos for your fusion pin but then in other battles, they'll be hapless when you need it the most. This encourages you to control it manually and doing both well requires a bit of practice. Also, maybe it's just me but I tend to get a lot of hand-cramp playing the game (which is actually quite typical of handheld games of this generation in general) and every now and then the intense battling may see you have to take a couple of minutes' break before you're ready to fight again. A final thing I wasn't a big fan of was the 'mingle' feature, whereby you can gain PP for your pins by connecting to other DS players. Some pins require mingle experience to evolve and I'm not entirely sure why this was added. Maybe it's just that I haven't got many friends who own a DS (you can't mingle over the internet by the way) but to me it appears silly to put certain players at a disadvantage because they don't know any other DS owners. Admittedly, you don't really need this feature to complete the game so I can't be overly critical.
In all, the few flaws don't ruin what is a fantastic experience, and definitely one of the best handheld games to date. The game is a reasonably long one and even upon completion there is a lot more to do so big fans can keep playing for some time. The main mini-game, Tin Pin Slammer is also pretty addictive and is worth a few games every now and then. The plot includes a lot of character development, as well as several twists and turns which will shock you and keep you on edge during playthrough. I hugely recommend this game to any RPG fans - it's something a bit different and something I think you might just love.
Community review by welsh_tom (June 20, 2008)
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