The World Ends with You
System: DS :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG :: Released: 22 April 2008
By Aaron Robinson
18 June 2008 — Lately I've had a love / hate relationship with Japanese RPGs. For the longest time they were the only games I played, and I treasured every one despite their flaws. But as the years rolled by, something started to change. When playing games like Grandia II and Wild ARMs 3, the feeling of déjà vu began to set in. And I couldn't help but feel some of the more unique and interesting RPGs were being ignored. For a while now I've stayed away from the genre altogether, instead getting my fill of shooters and action games. But when I heard about The World Ends with You, I was intrigued. The setting, premise and combat all looked so unique, and the DS was a console I'd largely ignored. So after a bit of thought, I grabbed the first copy I saw and wacked it into the DS as soon as I got the chance.
The World Ends with You takes you into an alternate version of Shibuya, Tokyo called the Underground. In this world, regular people can be seen but cannot be interacted with, and negative thoughts from the real world appear as monsters (RE: Noise). There are two types of people that can exist in this world: Reapers and Players. Reapers can exist in both the regular world and the Underground, and have the power to manipulate the Underground as they see fit. Players are regular people caught in a game devised by the Reapers, fighting for their chance to return to the real world. The latest entrant into this world is Neku, a teenage loner with a strong disdain for mankind and a bad case of amnesia. After waking up dazed and confused in the middle of a street crossing, Neku finds himself surrounded by Noise. But as luck would have it, the young man is saved by the efforts of the bubbly Shiki, another teenager trapped in the Underground Shibuya. From here the two realize they'll have to form a pact and play the Reaper's game if they want to make it back to the real world.
You'll see Neku's cold exterior slowly being softened from a mile away, but the story is paced really well, with plenty of twists to keep things interesting. Neku will have to partner with different people during his journey, and each will force Neku to open up in different ways. There's a colorful cast that you'll meet throughout the game, each hindering you from or helping you reach your goals. On the other hand, the villains are mostly played for humor. For example: the first big boss you'll encounter is a hulk of a man who uses food based analogies and puns for any given situation. There's something hilarious about a gigantic man clouded in shadow menacingly stating to his comrades, "The proof is in the pudding. The pudding... of their doom."
The combat is probably the most interesting aspect of the game. You'll actually have to control two characters simultaneously, with two different control schemes. Neku is controlled on the bottom screen via the stylus, while his partner is controlled on the top screen via the D-pad (or the buttons for left-handed gamers). If this sounds complicated and unintuitive, that's because it is. The game has a lengthy introduction and takes a while before it starts opening up, but even the tutorial battles won't give you a true feeling of how to juggle two characters simultaneously. Still, The World Ends with You seems well aware of how frantic combat can get, and will take control of the character on the top screen if you're struggling. Just be wary of the AI; it does things at a fairly slow pace, and won't dodge or counterattack. You'll also share a health bar with your ally, meaning that you'll have to keep a close eye on the status of both characters. Luckily, enemies are in a similar situation, with the same enemies appearing on both screens. Kill an enemy on one screen and it will vanish from both.
Those hoping for an RPG with plenty of customization will find themselves at home. Neku's abilities in battle are gained by equipping pins. These pins can be leveled up through battle, but there are other ways of leveling up each pin. If you put the DS into mingle mode while in public you'll gain points for every other TWEWY player you walk by. Even if you aren't in a busy area, you will naturally gain points for the time between playing sessions. Pins can even evolve into more powerful pins if the situation is right. On top of all this is a healthy amount of customization that comes from visiting restaurants and clothing stores. Eating food causes permanent status boosts and helps you work better with your partner. While clothes work like armor, giving stat improvements and occasionally giving character specific abilities.
If you're the kind of person who doesn't like heavy amounts of customization, The World Ends with You is actually pretty forgiving. At any time outside of battle you can change the difficulty and your level. For those who want the challenge, tackling enemies with low level characters and at a higher difficulty nets you more pins, allowing for more customization. But those who would rather go through the story and not worry about stats will find the easy difficulty and a higher level much less troublesome to travel through. You won't have to worry about random encounters either, as you have to actively target non-storyline enemies in order to fight them. Upon death, you'll have the option to restart the battle from the beginning (and at a lower difficulty level), or you can flee (if it's not a boss who's slain you). Really, the gameplay can be tailored to suit almost any player, meaning the experience won't become a chore for those that aren't interested in a particular part of the game.
The music fits in really well with the setting, with a healthy dose of hip-hop, J-pop and techno. My biggest complaint is that while most of the music is actually pretty catchy, it frequently loops. Hearing the same few drawn-out words being sung over and over gets really annoying really quickly. Those expecting a fair amount of voice acting might be a little disappointed; there are a few sentences said here and there, but most of the vocal work comes as growls, giggles and little bits of banter during battle.
Considering that you spend the entire game traversing the same city, TWEWY does a pretty good job of making the place visually appealing. Shibuya genuinely feels like it's set in another world, with buildings that twist and move as you travel across each screen. The Reapers and Players all have their own distinct designs, with outlandish clothing that does a good job of showcasing each character's personality. Noise are mainly based around tattoo and graffiti designs, meaning you won't be seeing many traditional enemies. Perhaps the only problem graphically is the characters themselves. Cutscenes show detailed pictures of each character and the backgrounds are all pre-rendered, so watching the slightly blocky sprites travel through each area is a little distracting — more so as they grow bigger and blockier as they move towards the screen.
For such a niche game, The World Ends with You is really easy to recommend. It's got a cool art style, a fun (if a bit too frantic) battle system, an interesting story and it all takes place in a rather unique setting. The fact that you can change the gameplay to suit your skill level means that The World Ends with You doesn't become drawn-out or frustrating for those who aren't up to the challenge it can offer. If you're looking for an action RPG and want something a little different from the norm, definitely give this one a shot.
Final Grade: 9/10