Review by De5
"Will you be erased?"
t's not often that we get an original RPG these days. Pick one up, and chances you're either dealing with swords, castles, armies, magic, and summoning, or lasers, space, galactic travel, and aliens. It could have been another Final Fantasy or Draqon Quest, but Square's The World Ends With You for the DS takes everything you know about RPGs and throws it out the window, making for not only one of the most fresh and original RPGs in a long time, but simply one of the best.
The World Ends With You definitely has one of the first stories in a while to truly catch my interest. The World Ends With You begins to go against whatever you know about RPGs by placing you in the modern setting of the Shibuya district of Tokyo. The game starts off with the main character, Neku waking up in the middle of the scramble crossing, with no recollection of prior events. Some problems, of course, arise from this. One is that he doesn't like being around people, and doesn't like them in general, so obviously being in a huge crowd is not to his liking. It's even worse when nobody around you can see or hear you. The hundreds of people walking around one of the busiest places in Japan don't notice him at all. Trying to leave isn't much of an option either, as invisible walls block many of the exits.
As if Neku isn't already in a pickle, he receives a mysterious text message on his phone, telling him that he'll be erased if he doesn't complete the mission stated. He doesn't take it as much first, but after meeting Shiki and being bombarded by creatures called Noise, which are essentially the negative thoughts of Shibuya in monster form, he learns of The Game. No, not the game I'm reviewing, but a seven day challenge to survive, or be erased from the world. He doesn't know how or why he's in The Game, but all he knows is he has to win. How do you survive? Complete the missions given at the beginning of each day, and defeat the Reaper who acts as the gamemaster. He gets a little bit of help from a mysterious pin he seems to have acquired He can't do it alone though. He has no chance to beat the Noise unless he works with somebody else, through a pact. This obviously leads to some interesting situations and character development.
Speaking of character development, there's definitely a good chunk to be found here. Neku starts off not trusting anyone, but being forced to work with others, he begins to develop a liking for others, albeit slight. He continues to mature throughout the game, and begins to recall the events before he entered The Game, and why he's there. He's definitely the star of the show, and it's not hard to go more in depth, but then there would be some major spoilers there. The people he forms pacts with are may seem stereotypical at first, but given the modern setting, it could definitely be easier to relate to them. Shiki is a fashion crazed girl, Joshua is a sly individual who loves his phone, and Beat is a boarder who obviously isn't the brightest kid in the world. Even the Reapers manage to be unique and entertaining. One of them knows more math than your math teacher does, while another won't hesitate to get you in his kitchen and spicy tuna roll you.
The story definitely provides some good twists and turns, so be damn sure that you're going to be wanting more. The story is definitely one of the most original in a while, and has some underlying themes about friendship, trust, and individuality, wrapped in an even sweeter package.
You'll be traveling Shibuya a lot, working on reaper missions, and taking out Noise. You'll use the stylus to escort Neku around the city and navigate through menus. You'll see the many people of Shibuya walking the streets, and visit many of the shops to buy all the latest clothes. You'll occasionally find a wall blocking your way, and chances are a hooded reaper wants you to do a quick little mission, such as answer a quiz, or take out some Noise. When you complete a days mission, you'll move on to the next day, and get a new mission, advancing the story.
While nobody can see you, you can be sure all of the latest fashions and trends have an effect on your life. Contrary to all the armour and swords in RPGs, you'll be wearing backpacks, jewelry, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, and whatever other modern day clothes you can think of. Thankfully, the shopkeepers can see you to make purchase these, due to special seals at the stores. What you wear affects your stats. Each piece of clothing will increase something, or have an effect in battle, so you'll be looking good while kicking ass at the same time. But you won't get away with a fashion faux pas anytime soon. If you're not wearing what everybody else is, then it's gonna affect you in battle. If you're wearing what's hot, then you'll be getting some nice attack boosts, while if you're wearing what's not, you can be sure that you'll only be half as strong as usual. You can check what's hot and whats not by checking out a chart on your cell phone at any time, and you'll be making sure you're wearing the right clothes, as each area in Shibuya has it's own likes and dislikes.
So, you'll constantly have to be like other people, but what if they want to be like you? Don't worry, you won't be stuck having to wear pink to power up if you don't want to. Even if the rest of the world can't see you, if you're supportive enough of a brand, it'll start to climb the charts, and soon the same clothing that made you struggle in battle will now be popular around that area of Shibuya, and give you the extra edge in battle.
Hell, you may even end up with somewhat of a social life. Unless you know what something does, you can't use it right, and such is the case in The World Ends With You. Sure, you can look fashionable, but that's nothing without the boosts. You'll be able to check out what some clothing does before you buy it, but not all of it. The more you buy from a certain shop, the more the shopkeeper will take a liking to you, and befriend you. The more the shopkeeper likes you, the more he's gonna tell you about the clothes, and the more items he'll sell to you.
Clothes aren't the only things that are fashionable, however. You're gonna be equiping yourself with pins. These pins are going to help you fight off all the Noise in Shibuya, so you'll want to seek out the best ones. Defeating Noise will occasionally cause them to drop pins, or you can buy them at stores. Each pin has a different ability, like slashing through an enemy, or shooting fireballs. Pins, like clothes, are branded, so you can expect those to affect what Shibuya finds good looking as well. You can also make money off pins, by dragging them into the trash can in the menu, exchanging them for Yen. You'll only be able to wear three pins at first, but that can increase to six as you play through the game. The pins will also level up and get stronger with use.
You'll also need to satisfy your hunger. Eating foods gives you temporary stat boosts, as long as it's in your digestive track, and when you're foods gone through the full cycle (not including going out for number two), you'll get a permanent stat boost. Each piece of food takes a certain number of bites, and you only get a certain maximum of bites per each real time 24 hour period.
You'll also get the ability to read peoples minds by scanning, as well as imprint thoughts into other peoples minds, which are used consistently throughout the game to solve simple mysteries that you'll find throughout the story, and help move it forward. Scanning also lets you see Noise, and it's the only way you'll fight them unless forced through the story. Tapping the Noise will put you in battle with the Noise.
I guarantee that when you first see the battle system, you'll say something along the lines of "wtf do I do". The pins, as mentioned earlier, are used to fight off the Noise. You'll control Neku on the bottom screen with the stylus. You'll drag him around to move. Put the stylus on him and drag quick across the screen to dash and dodge. You'll attack the Noise by executing stylus commands according to what pins you have equipped. There's no generic attack, so make sure you have at least one pin that does damage (most of them do).
The kicker, however, and what makes the battle system pretty damn confusing at first, is the addition of the upper screen. Your partner will be on the upper screen, and you'll attack using the D-Pad or the ABXY buttons, depending on which hand you use. Pressing a direction starts a combo chain, and shows a branching combo map on the screen. Pressing the directions on the combo map will make the character on the top screen attack. At the end of each branch will be a card. What it looks like, and what it does, depends on the character that is on the top screen. You might have to match symbols, or pick the correct number. Doing so correctly a number of times lets you use a super move, which will hit all enemies on screen.
There's also a light puck that travels between both screens as you dish out the damage. Whoever has the puck will deal more damage, and attacking enemies will send the puck to the other screen. If you manage to rally the puck a few times, you'll get bonuses after the battle, along with the standard pins, Yen, and experience.
This is all confusing yes, but the game eases you into it, by telling you to concentrate on one screen at a time. You can also set it so that the AI takes over on the top screen after a few seconds of you not doing anything, or immediately. You can also interrupt the AI at any time if you feel like jumping in again.There are also numerous difficulty options available as well. You can set your level from anywhere from 1 to your current level. You can also change the overall difficulty at any time during the game. It just doesn't make it harder for the sake of being harder though, the drop rate increases and you'll also be able to get some stronger pins.
The amount of depth here is astounding, especially for a handheld game. There amount of pins to collect and customization is virtually unrivaled on the DS. The battle system is also extremely fun and addictive once you get past the dual screen mechanic, and the difficulty options assure that you're not going to have to do any power leveling on the way, save for maybe one or two bosses.
The art style is absolutely perfect given the modern setting. Tetsuya Nomura's style is clearly present here, almost resembling something of a modernized Kingdom Hearts, Neku and Shiki not to far off from Roxas and Kairi respectively. The game uses 2D sprites with stylized 3D backdrops. Dozens of people walk the streets of Shibuya, their clothing even representing whats topping the charts, and you'll see plenty of billboards, buildings, graffiti and such in the background. The quality is even higher up in battle, running extremely smoothly with many great looking 2D effects. The cutscenes are told through portraits and text, while a few animated scenes play for some more important plot points. The fact that one of the biggest appeals is the art style seems almost ironic considering that the only person Neku looks up to is an artist.
The music compliments the art style perfectly. The soundtrack combines hip hop, pop, j-pop, and techno to perfectly suit the modern setting, complete with vocals, and it stands out as one of the best soundtracks on the DS. It's surprising how high quality a soundtrack they squeezed on to the DS. Battles and some cutscenes also feature some high quality voice acting, as is to be expected from Square-Enix.
Overall, The World Ends With You is one of the most unique RPGs in a long time, and definitely one of the best of this generation. It couldn't have been done on any other platform, and incentive to come back and play it makes it all the better. There are tons of pins to collect, side missions to reveal more back story, and the battle system is addictive and fun. I haven't even gone into some of the more small features that make the package all the better. This is a must have DS game, and one of, if not the best game on the system.
Overall - 9.5/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/08, Updated 05/05/08
Game Release: The World Ends With You (US, 04/21/08)
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