"Play this game or face erasure."

The Nintendo DS has been in a rut lately. Nearly four years out of the gate, it seems that developers have exhausted every creative aspect of the hardware. Meanwhile, Square-Enix has been notorious recently for releasing remake after remake of titles from their popular franchises. The DS has been the recipient for a number of these rehashes, including both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes. Perhaps this is why The World Ends With You is such a breath of fresh air. Not only is it the beginning of a fantastic new property for Square, it manages to make the DS feel new again, asking you to utilize the hardware like no other game in recent memory. It is the best, most creative addition to the DS library since Phantom Hourglass, and an absolute must-have.

The World Ends With You (WEWY) is all about style, but luckily, not without plenty of substance to go with it. You play as Neku, an antisocial, 15-year-old that finds himself invisible in the middle of Shibuya, an extremely crowded shopping district in Tokyo. To make matters worse, he receives a text message telling him to get to another part of town, or face erasure. The story that enfolds from there is intriguing at its best, corny at its worst. It's certainly worth following, and throws some nice curveballs at you here and there, but it's far from the best Square has to offer. In fact, it's extremely similar to the plot of Gantz, a slightly obscure manga series, but it would be spoilers if I told you too much why. Neku himself just makes matters worse, as he's far from a likable character. He's a spiky-haired, arrogant brat with amnesia. Hmm.. where have I seen that before?

Luckily, Neku doesn't mope the entire game, but in the first few hours you'll be secretly hoping for his erasure as he fills every conversation with snarky, introverted thought bubbles. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from Paper Mario syndrome – there is far too much dialogue. There are also quite a lot of characters, and you'll often find yourself wishing you could just skip a conversation and get back to the gameplay. This is especially true during the tutorials, which will continue to appear throughout the entire game. Square seems to think that WEWY is so complicated, it needs to introduce the numerous elements of the game gradually. This was a good idea up to a point, as there is a ton of things to learn about the game mechanics. However, when the third day comes and you STILL can't use items, it starts to get frustrating.

The gameplay admittedly does appear intimidating, but really, Square makes everything seem much more complicated than it actually is by putting numbers and stats and experience everywhere you look. The nice thing about WEWY though, is that it's only as complicated as you would like it to be. The majority of gameplay elements that are introduced to you are completely optional. Sure, it's beneficial to learn how to use them, but it's far from necessary. The best example of this is the battle system itself. Aside from event-triggered battles, fighting enemies (or Noise) is completely at your leisure. Once you've decided to fight, battles take place on the top and bottom DS screens at the same time. You control Neku using the touch screen, and your current partner with the D-pad. At first, this seems to be hopelessly impossible, but you'll soon discover that you can achieve victory by slashing your stylus wildly and pounding the D-pad left or right. Although there are 300 different “pins” to collect in the game, each one granting Neku a different kind of stylus-powered ability, the game often doesn't recognize what attack you're trying to activate. Plus, the battles are extremely fast-paced and hectic, making the frantic button and stylus mashing that much more imperative. In Shibuya, offense is the best defense. This isn't to say that the battle system isn't fun, however. It's incredibly addicting, and I often find myself choosing to erase all the Noise in an area rather than move on to the next part of the story. The pins that grant you your powers also level up, and some even evolve. What's cool about this though, is that the pins get experience even when you're not playing the game. It's a nice incentive to come back and play again after you've set it down.

The rewards for battling are great, and change depending on what difficulty the game is being played on, and what level your character is – both of which can be adjusted at any time on the pause menu. In fact, the game has seemingly infinite re-playability, since you can start a New Game + once the game is over and change your settings as you see fit. However, if you always play on an easy difficulty at a high level, you'll never make much money or get good items. The game encourages you to take risks, and they usually make it worth your while.

Somewhat early into the game, a minigame also becomes available to distract you even more from the main plot. Tin Pin Slammer is basically an advanced version of marbles that you play with your collected pins. It isn't nearly as engrossing as the rest of the game, though it can be played via wireless multiplayer.

Another source of innovation comes from the items and various shops in Shibuya. Every area of the city has its own trends and so-five-minutes-ago fashions, which appear to change every day. You get bonus attack points for wearing what's currently in style, and penalized for being unhip. The stores where you purchase your attire (and stat-boosting food that you actually have to digest) level up along with everything else in the game. Make friends with the shopkeep and you'll be privy to new items and new abilities unlocked in stuff you already have.

The whole fashion aspect of the game actually makes sense when you look at it as a whole. The entire game is stylish, not to mention drowning in Japanese culture. Square should be commended for taking a risk on bringing over such a Japanese game to a largely unsuspecting audience here in America. Of course, the dialogue has been translated to include as much American slang as possible, and the items you picked up in battle are referred to as “bling,” but it's still very much an Eastern experience.

This style carries far past the artwork and extends into the music, which is a fabulous mix of J-Rock, techno, and J-Pop. Most of the songs have lyrics, both English and Japanese. However, to really get the most out of these tunes, you need to use headphones while playing the game. For example, I never realized that the excellent title screen music had a bass line until I popped in my earbuds.

The World Ends With You is the most fun I've had with my DS in quite some time. Sure, it's not perfect, but it is wonderfully innovative and maddeningly addictive. Anyone with a DS owes it to themselves to check this one out. Word.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/30/08

Game Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)


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