Through recent years, Square-Enix have become primarily known for specializing in the Role-Playing genre of games. Not surprising given the sum of their parts, but few if any other development houses could claim to outmatch them for RPGs. In more modern times it seems the Japanese Powerhouse is moving away from their established game mechanics of Random Battles, Moody Protagonists with Spiky or as-extreme Hairstyles, and instead focusing on trying new ideas, safely contained within familiar housing. Nowhere is this more evident than on Nintendo’s DS, which Square-Enix have given an unprecedented level of support to, not too startling given the Handheld’s monstrous success all around the world.
One of the fruits of this decision came in the form of The World Ends With You, a game created over 2 ½ years during development of Kingdom Hearts 2 by both that game’s developer and Jupiter, the studio behind Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Given that pedigree, it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that TWEWY is something considerably different from anything you’ve seen before. How much so, for good or bad; well, you’ll need to read on for that answer.
The World Ends With You takes inspiration from real world settings by basing itself in an alteration of Tokyo’s Shopping District, Shibuya, which ties into the Fashion and Shopping themes that’ll be covered in a moment. In this world, the chosen few are given a chance at redemption, by way of a Game played on another plane of existence called the UG (underground). In this Game, the participants are given missions to complete, usually involving defeating ‘noise’, the main spawning enemies of the world.
You control the main character of the game, Neku, as he wakes up in the UG, and attempts to unravel the goings-on that surround him, all the while teaming up with other characters to battle, and prevent failing missions that would result in his complete erasure. The main antagonists you’ll encounter as you explore this otherworldly Shibuya are the notorious Reapers, the enforcers and mission-setters of the Game, as well as the Conductor, of who maintains complete dominance over all.
Even from this very early description, as the story and setting changes considerably, you can tell that this isn’t just another ‘fight bad guys, save the world’ plot device, even if it trends the same line in places. Character development is a considerable plus also, with Neku’s transition being the most notable to bear witness to, and the large number of NPCs you’ll pass in the streets each with their own thoughts and feelings.
TWEWY is a game that could only exist on DS, not only because of its unusual setting, design and premise, but because of how Battle Situations work. Early on you are given a special black Player Pin, and from pressing this on the bottom screen, you bring up a radar-like wave that lets you read the minds of NPCs around you, as well as call Noise into battle, by tapping their Red Floating shapes.
Things start to get tricky from here on out, as the fights take place on a 2D plane over both screens, with Neku occupying the Touch Screen, and his partner on the Top Screen. By utilizing other Pins you’ve preset onto Neku, you can tap, strike, swipe, draw, blow into the Microphone, and whatever other motions are dictated through Touch, to use attacks on enemy Noise and guide Neku around the screen. Meanwhile, with the D-pad (or buttons if you’re a leftie), you also have to strike with Neku’s partner on the Top Screen; effectively creating two battle situations in one.
That’s the bare gist of it at least, and you would be quite forgiven for thinking that it sounds too complicated to manage efficiently, impossible even. But Square-Enix have compromised here, by allowing AI to take over the partner, freeing you up just to take care of Neku’s fight, and thankfully it manages fairly well without player input. Not only that, but through changeable levels and difficulty choice on the main menu, you can alter the toughness of a battle, not only to practice and try out other Pins, but to gain new ones, and varying levels of Experience Points and Pin Points to level them up. Battle, although daunting in general, becomes the central enjoyment of The World Ends With You, and it’ll be safe to claim that you’ve never seen another RPG system like it, even if it can be a little hit-and-miss at times.
Also claiming inspiration from Japan’s Youth Culture is the game’s Soundtrack. To say that it is one of the best you’ll ever hear from a DS’s speakers is an understatement, though that it is an acquired taste is not so much. Mass amounts of J-Pop occupy TWEWY, and choosing which one plays during the numerous times you’ll be on the Main Menu sorting Items and Pins is just the icing on the cake. There are batches of Voicework in the game, but not all of it, considering how many textbubbles there are, and the size of the rest of the game, it is of little consequence. Not to say there is too much speech; conversations are informative, witty and entertaining, but you’ll soon want to get back to proceedings. And with good reason.
The visuals themselves depict a highly stylized version of Shibuya, albeit with a warped, zany feel; a suitable compliment to the gameplay, yet also subtly familiar to Kingdom Hearts fans. Character design is fairly original, if harbouring a brief mention of a certain designer’s Zipper fetish, and Noise types are equally as imaginative, ranging from creatures you wouldn’t expect (frogs? really? Yep.), to those you most certainly would. With the right pins and actions, you’ll see dazzling explosions, flashes, and all other amounts of unnameable eye candy. As far as 2D design goes, this is near the top of the pile, though like everything else it is an acquired taste.
The World Ends With You, though mainly a single player game, places a heavy emphasis on multiplayer too. Like Nintendogs’s Bark Mode, TWEWY houses a wireless feature for a DS on Standby that’ll net you new items and experience (though you probably won’t use this anyway), and more substantially, a Minigame in the form of Tin Pin Slammer. This game makes use of the Pins you’ve collected, and pits them player against player in something resembling table conkers. Wireless play allows for a 4-player mesh up, and to say things get hectic is no exaggeration.
One of TWENY’s more familiar and yet unusual attributes is the use of protective gear and items. Through shopping with money from selling unneeded Pins, you can buy particular clothing at numerous shops dotted around Shibuya, with each having their own effect and stat increases/decreases. The type of clothing you equip to your characters has another effect too, it changes the current trend in that area to match the types that you’re using, thereby affecting the amount of damage you can dish out and take in battle; not to a game-breaking degree if you ignore this feature, but it could be the deciding factor for boss battles.
When taking all of this into consideration, and even without mentioning the extensive main adventure, Clothing and Pin collecting, number of enemies to encounter and beat, Tin Pin Slammer, places to visit, people to talk to, and everything that happens after you beat the main game, The World Ends With You is certainly one that will cement itself in your DS for many hours. And even when you’re done, you’ll want to go back; rarely have any developer crafted such an engaging, rewarding, jam-packed product full of style and wit. Every DS owner needs to play this game.