The World Ends with You (DS) review
"The game kept going, for much longer than I had anticipated. Here, Neku finally met his arc and became a likeable character … and my adventure was far from over. It is here that you will actually start caring for Neku as a character, and it is here that The World Ends with You truly begins. How clever you are, Jupiter. You present us with an evolution in character most would save for the very end, and you just keep on going."
So Neku wakes up in the middle of a crowded Shibuya street with no memories and no idea how he got there. No one can see or hear him, and he’s got a freaky pin that allows him to read people’s minds. Then he receives a text message telling him to get to a certain location or “face erasure,” and a timer, ominously counting down from sixty minutes, appears on the palm of his hand. What’s an angsty, spiky-haired Square protagonist to do?
He’s in the middle of the Reaper’s Game, a twisted little event held in the city of Shibuya by a group celestial beings who want nothing more than to test the abilities of the Players caught in their little competition. And we’re playing right alongside them in The World Ends with You, a surprising little RPG that pulls you deeper into the minds of its key characters than you’d want it to, and then amazes you when it’s made clear that there’s more to these people than meets the eye. It’s nice to play a Square game in which the hero actually manages to evolve beyond his Squall Leonhart wannabe mentality.
The Reaper’s Game lasts seven days. Each day, the Players (who are seemingly chosen at random) are given a task to complete, and a constant tick tick tick on the palms of their hands to remind them how much time they’ve got left before they disappear – the Reapers have even set up a series of invisible walls to keep the Players within bounds, though you’ll eventually have the entire city of Shibuya mapped out in your head. The first goal, however, is to find a partner. Neku manages to (half-heartedly) make a pact with a comely young lass named Shiki, and the two form a bond that comes with playing the Reaper’s Game. The two now fight as one, which in DS terms means that Neku battles enemies on the lower screen while Shiki attacks the same enemies on the top screen.
They are, of course, polar opposites, Neku being a lone wolf while the outgoing Shiki tries to teach him the importance in friendship and working as a team. She pursues and he withdraws, and there’s quite a bit of bickering between the two of them in the opening hours of The World Ends with You – which almost seems pointless, since we know Neku’s obligatory character arc will force him to inevitably give in to Shiki’s life lessons and learn the true meaning of friendship and teamwork. In the meantime, though, they need to focus on the Reapers’ missions, which usually narrow down to battling the various incarnations of Noise – invisible, shape-shifting creatures that have a strong negative impact on the inhabitants of Shibuya, whether they know it or not.
(The timer, by the way, is merely a plot device and doesn’t affect the gameplay at all. You can take as much time as you want to complete your tasks.)
The World Ends with You adopts an audiovisual atmosphere that reminds me very much of Sega’s Jet Grind Radio series, with cartoonish, exaggerated character models (the decision to go with sprites instead of polygonal models was a fitting one), a plethora of maddeningly catchy J-pop beats, and a script with an excessive eye for street talk. This is the kind of artistic direction by all means should stand out, but doesn’t, only because it fits in so well with the game itself.
This is because The World Ends with You is unusual in a number of ways, not the least of which being the battle system. I mentioned that battles unfold on both screens, with Neku on the bottom and his partner on the top. Neku is controlled with the stylus, while his partner’s actions are determined by careful use of the d-pad. This kind of multitasking may seem like too much for most people (including me), so you’re free to leave the AI to handle the goings-on in the top screen while you focus on Neku and his stylus-controlled attacks.
That’s where things get interesting. Neku’s in-battle abilities are directly determined by the pins he’s wearing, and each of them is activated by a different touch screen input. Got Pyrokinesis equipped? Drag a line across the screen to form a wall of fire that sears through enemy flesh. Force Rounds? Tap an empty space and Neku will fire a bullet in that direction. Onikiri? Slash an enemy repeatedly to nail it with a combo… and a finisher. This system isn’t perfect, of course, and the greatest recipe for disaster is to put together two pins that the game easily confuses. Murasame and Ice Risers, for example, are both activated by an upward slash. Choosing your pins carefully – so you can make effective use of them – is quite important.
Once everything falls into place, though, and you realize just how many pins can be utilized in the game (added with the fact that nearly every one of them can be leveled up and, in some cases, evolved – like Pokemon!), you’ll come to understand just how flexible this system is. Level grinding is a must if you want to complete The World Ends with You, but thankfully is never overbearing, since most battles must be triggered by a willing player. Don’t be surprised, though, if some of the later bosses kick your ass because you were too lazy to power up those pins earlier.
It must also be taken into account that Neku’s performance in battle will depend not only on the clothes he’s wearing, but on the trends and hot brand names growing and spreading throughout Shibuya at a rapid rate – not since Final Fantasy X-2 has fashion sense played such a strong role in an RPG. But no matter how you’ve dressed Neku, he’ll always appearing to be wearing the same goofy-ass purple costume with mandatory huge zippers, courtesy of Tetsuya Nomura.
It will take a while for you to adjust to the game’s countless gimmicks, which is a shame at first. There comes a point not too far into The World Ends with You when everything seems to be coming to a close. The seven days are nearly up, villains are growing increasingly more desperate, and Neku seems to finally be warming up to Shiki as he learns his Important Lesson about life and love. This wouldn’t make for a very long game, of course, but shortness is kind of “the thing” nowadays anyway… and I’m sure one of my colleagues here at HG will be happy to torment me for writing that sentence.
But then, something happened I did not expect: The game kept going, for much longer than I had anticipated. Here, Neku finally met his arc and became a likeable character … and my adventure was far from over. It is here that you will actually start caring for Neku as a character, and it is here that The World Ends with You truly begins. How clever you are, Jupiter. You present us with an evolution in character most would save for the very end, and you just keep on going.
The World Ends with You raises a lot of questions: What is this Reaper’s Game? Who are the Players, and why were they chosen? What do they get if they survive? And why is Neku a freakin’ amnesiac, since for sure we haven’t seen enough of THOSE in our video games? And every one of these questions is answered as plausibly as you could ask for. When all the pieces come together, we’re presented with a fantastic twist that really tells us just how far Neku has come as a character, and how far he still has to go. And when the credits finally rolled, damned if I wasn’t sad because I wouldn’t be spending more time with the guy. He’s one of my favorite characters of all time, in one of the best RPGs to come along in a while.
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