Review by Chaotic_Fusion
"A game that's sorta fun to begin with, but soon becomes as awkward and annoying as its acronym"
The World Ends With You (Aka. Gantz: SquareEnix Edition)
+ Strong presentation and unique art style
+ Stylus based combat moves quickly
+ Stats are acquired through a unique food and clothing system
+ Game length is just right
+ No random battles
- Brand system is virtually pointless
- Double screen battles are annoyingly cluttered in their execution
- Battles are extremely simplistic
- Very easy to "cheat" some parts of the game with the DS clock
- Storyline is weak, and the characters are as poorly written as their dialog
In an industry where originality has become a relic Indiana Jones has trouble finding, it's no wonder The World Ends With You (TWEWY) has caught the eyes of a numerous RPG fans. With a distinctly unique art style and it's even quirkier title, TWEWY is definitely an RPG oddity. It's gameplay doesn't quite fit within any one single type of role playing category either. There is no debating that TWEWY is probably one of the freshest game presentations to come around since Okami. But whether or not the game's strange presentation and gameplay helps or hinders the title is another matter.
TWEWY doesn't play out like any RPG in recent memory, and it probably shouldn't because 95% of the game is entirely stylus based. Everything from combat, to exploration, to menu management, and mini-games, uses they stylus in some way or another. This is probably a good thing for those of you who love to man handle a touch screen once in a while. This is probably bad for those of you who are tired of DS games that play out like one gigantic gimmick. But we'll get to that in a moment. You're probably interested in what the game has to offer as a story. And if you aren't, why the heck are you reading a review for a role playing game? Go back to playing brain puzzles or something :P.
It's impossible to speak past the first first couple hours of gameplay unless I begin to divulge some critical plot points. So for those of you who don't want to be spoiled, all I will say is the story revolves around a young boy named Neku. Neku's story begins when he wakes up in the middle of a Japanese city called Shibuya without any memory of why he was there to begin with. In his hand is a pin with a skull shaped tattoo. The city is incredibly busy, but for some reason no one can see him or hear him. Before he can collect his thoughts, he's assaulted by living, animal tattoo things called Noise. A young woman springs in to help save him at this point. It is here that Neku begins a three week journey where he attempts to discover who he is, why he's suddenly become invisible to everyone but this one girl, and why he can now read peoples thoughts.
Let's get this out of the way early. If you've ever seen the show Gantz, which is a mildly popular anime/manga in Japan, then you've already seen TWEWY. It's not hard to tell where Square borrowed their inspiration for the game from. For a fair bit though, TWEWY is it's own story. Unfortunately, however, not much of it is told very well. Part of the reason for this lies in the extremely awkward dialog that moves along at breakneck speed. It doesn't help that the characters are poorly written. They're not only uninteresting, they are almost all horribly stereotypical stock types. The important villains have almost no screen time, never make clear any personal motivations whatsoever, and are dead before you get to know them. Some of them don't even really talk in anything but metaphors or incoherent garbage. The only two villains we do see very often simply repeat the same things over and over without change. Worst of all this though, the biggest offender is the main character, Neku. When the main character is cold, unsociable, and hates everyone who isn't him, you don't have much to like. His hate for everything human is unbelievable. The almost instantaneous 180 he makes regarding his feelings is just as awkward as the rest of the story... In fact, every character is given ONE dimension to their personality, upon which they make an instant flip in direction through all of about one conversation. Everything to do with the character development just feels so forced, which is a shame because there was some definite potential here. The main storyline suffers from similar issues. It not only repeats its own formula too frequently, but it's told awkwardly. The game really likes to throw your characters into a situation and then flip back in time to some conversation that was skipped over, or show a "missed" explanation on your current predicament. Believe me, you will quickly become tired of these fake outs. Oh, and the central storyline revolves around pins. Yeah. Pins. Like you wear on clothes. And this is in a game that uses a real life setting. So as far as TWEWY's story goes... It had the potential to be original and gripping. Yes there are plot twists.,and yes there are some interesting moments, but they really don't amount to anything until far too late in the game. By too obviously recycling it's plot from a popular japanese anime, using one dimensional stock characters, and delivering awkward dialog, the story loses any hope it had of breaking out.
Thankfully for TWEWY though, other parts of it do, if not always very well. Describing the exact gameplay is somewhat odd because of the mishmash of play styles, so you might not understand it until you play. But more than anything it's akin to an action RPG. That being said, the game works like this: Every day, Neku and his partner will be given a specific task to complete by whichever Reaper is currently overseeing the progress of the game. To complete these tasks, you'll need to navigate individual sections of Shibuya and talk to the few inhabitants that can see Neku. Unfortunately, finishing the tasks is not quite as simple as talking to a few people and fighting a battle here or there. Reapers will put up road blocks you will need to remove by completing a specific fetch quest, battle, or quiz. Characters who can't see you, but need to be used, can only be motivated into certain actions by imparting specific words in their mind... Words you will need to obtain by talking to or overhearing other inhabitants of the city. Heck, maybe even a reaper here or there will decide to have a bit of fun with you...
The game utilizes some cool ideas in terms of the obstacles presented. TWEWY doesn't have an overworld either, instead dividing Shibuya up into a sort of grid that you navigate with each screen being one grid piece. It's quite unlike any other RPG I've seen on the system, or anywhere else for that matter. And that was a good thing. Good up until I realized how ultimately dull and repetitive the game became before I was even through 5 of the game's 21 days. As original as the game TRIES to be, you will quickly realize how much of the core gameplay actually is like every other mediocre RPG out there. The fetch quests become extremely time consuming and boring after you've done three or four. They're basically "go to this part of the city and then come back to me!". During one mission alone this can happen multiple times. It actually becomes core to the game after a small amount of time. It doesn't help that Shibuya is a very small place and you will find yourself running through the exact same pool of ten screens or so over and over again, only venturing out to the outer areas on a small number of occasions. The fetch quests wouldn't have been so bad if there was a sense of progression, but there never is. You're always stuck in the same areas doing the same things. The Reaper roadblocks become equally annoying. They'll ask you to perform a certain number of battles sometimes, which isn't too bad... But other times they'll ask you to purchase them clothes or a CD, which means yet again more fetching and backtracking through the same places. Worst are the quizzes... The questions are absolutely mind boggling at times. They'll ask you things like specific shop locations or what pictures are on certain banners in the city, etc. You definitely won't be paying attention to these, and it's not as if the large number of stores is easy to remember. So yet again there will be backtracking, writing down of names, fetching clothes, etc. It's a horrible, horrible way of making the game appear longer than it really is. The time extension here is so boring and artificial that the game begins to drown itself in it's own shallow structure.
I will give TWEWY this one without any punches though: The character customization and battling is definitely unlike any other game I've played. Neku and his partner level like you would in any other roleplaying game, through killing enemies and gaining experience. The difference is that this only really increases your HP. To obtain better stats, you need to equip clothing (which works like normal equipment in any other RPG), level up your pins (which you can actually obtain experience for during the amount of time you don't play the game), and you can eat food. Yeah, that's right. Pigging out is the only way to permanently raise your attack and defense values. Food works as such... Throughout the game you'll find stores that sell food. So if I want more attack power, I'd buy the food that gives me +1 attack or whatever. The more you buy from these owners then the more they like you as well, offering better foods or clothes. When you eat what you've bought, it'll take up a certain number of blocks in your stomach. You then need to fight the same number of battles in order to digest the food. Once it's been digested, yeehaw. You now have a permanent stat increase. There is a catch though (and it doesn't involve trans fats). You can't continuously eat food to raise stats. You literally can only eat so much... IN REAL TIME. So if you fill your stomach up, that's it baby. No more munchies until tomorrow in the real world. Because of this, you're going to have to plan which stats you feel you really need to raise. It's a cool idea, but it's foiled by two things... The first being that your progress isn't always proportionate to your play time, so it's pretty lame that you can blast through a bunch of areas in real time, and because f it your stats won't really fly with your character. The second is obviously the DS clock. You can simply set the game ahead 24 hours without punishment. Still, the stat system is interesting... And it's a definite advantage that it forces you to fight, because the battle system is a bit of an odd one and you will need these stats.
So what is it that makes the battle system so odd? Er, well for one there are no random battles. This might sound kind of weird, but when you play the game it makes sense. Except for bosses and story events, you can skip battles altogether. Neku has a special pin that you press on the touch screen. When you press it, it scans the surrounding area and pinpoints noise. You can then touch these noise symbols to initiate combat. If you touch more than one at a time, you initiate multiple battles in a row, doubling the drop rate of items every time you throw another battle into the mix. You can even intentionally lower your level temporarily from the status screen to raise the drop rate even higher. Heck, it's even possible to raise the difficulty level on the fly, making for stronger drops you don't find on easy or normal mode. That's a lot of meaningful choice, and a well developed system. So it's too bad that the battles themselves are more gimmicky than thought provoking. Battle takes place on both screens, and both partners battle apart.
Neku uses the bottom half of the screen. You can equip Neku with a variety of "pins". These pins allow Neku to use psychic powers. There are a ton of different psychs that let you do things like create fire, lightning, bullets, barbed wire barriers, or even swing sword like force from your hands. Heck, some of these pins even evolve into more crazy stuff once you've earned enough battle experience with them. Each pin has a number of uses or energy though, which when used up forces the pin to recharge. The strategy comes in spreading out your attacks so you're not left waiting around to make an offensive while your enemies attack (later in the game though, this becomes a non issue). It's actually pretty fun to start with... until all the various elements of battle begin to break. To be blunt, you're handling way too much with just one instrument. See, you control Neku as well as every one of his moves by using the stylus. So when you want to move, you may accidentally use a psych you didn't intend to while trying to drag Neku along with the stylus. Pin moves also begin to overwrite each other. You might be trying to do uppercuts, but the stylus interprets it as sword slashes. Or maybe you'll want to fire bullets, but Neku accidentally uses lighting instead. It becomes frustrating trial and error when mixing pins and trying to utilize various moves at once. The silly thing is that many of the powers eventually become the same sort of attack, and once you've discovered the few true fantastic pins, you'll ignore 3/4 of the pins the game hands you. I had pins I kept on my Neku through a large number of early days into the later days, simply because (even with difficulty tuning) the game wasn't throwing anything worthwhile at me. Did I mention the battles are so shoddy that you can actually CLOSE YOUR EYES, swing the stylus wildly and win almost every time? I'm not lying, try it.
The second screen doesn't do much to improve the battle system either, but it will improve your ability to cross your eyes. Neku's partner fights on the top screen. Both of you share HP values, as do the enemies on both screens. The partner is controlled by using the D-pad. Pressing specific directions makes the character attack, jump, defend, dodge, counter, etc. depending on who it is. Both characters can simultaneously unleash a fusion attack that damages all the enemies on both screens. You earn this by pressing the attack button towards specific attack cards in what looks like a tree branch. Think combos in Xenogears or Zell's limit break in FF8. Once you've fulfilled the requirement, you can press a huge pin on Neku's screen to unleash the attack. If you save it and have leveled up the fusion power, you can continue to build its power on the top screen and use even stronger fusions. The hitch arrives in the amount of time it takes to earn these fusions. By the time I've concentrated enough on the top screen to earn them, I could have done double or more damage with Neku alone on the bottom screen. In fact, if you want to, you can just turn the top screen on auto which allows you to totally ignore the top screen. Even better, you'll still earn your fusions this way with a little time. It's a pain in the ass to constantly look up and down at both screens anyways. At the end of the day, the top screen battle thing is a pointless gimmick. If you pay attention to it you waste time, damage, and endanger Neku. It can play itself anyways, so why even bother? You're not gaining any advantage by utilizing it. It's a poor excuse for attempting to use both screens, and I almost wish they had excluded it to let the player move Neku around the bottom screen with the D-pad. It would have removed the pointless upper screen battles, and at the same time saved us from the awkward movement controls on the bottom screen.
Speaking of ignoring, there's something in the game called the "Brand System". See, every pin and piece of clothing you equip has a brand label attached to it. In certain areas of Shibuya, you get bonuses or demerits for wearing specific brands. It sounds kind of cool until you realize how pointless it is. Someone at Square must have realized how incredibly annoying it would be to change all your equipment and pins every single time you change screens. So instead, what they did was design it so that the brands you wear become the area's popular brand after a fight or two. So hang on... yes I'm penalized for maybe one fight. But immediately after I'm back to doing double damage with my pins? What the HELL. Why incorporate this system it at all if I've neutralized the penalty and turned it into an asset after only one or two fights? It makes as much sense as Cloud does after ingesting Mako for four years.
The presentation doesn't make sense either, but at least this time that's a good thing. Buildings skew at strange angles, everything is tinted with a shade of grey, monsters have various tattoo designs in replacement of limbs, etc. I'll be frank, here (even though my real name is Troy). The art style is going to be love or hate. But even if you hate it, it's hard to deny the obvious amount of effort and detail put into the execution. It's pretty cool to walk around a Shibuya just FLOODED with people. It's also nice to see some higher caliber 2D make its way onto the system in a big title. The music is going to be pretty love or hate too. It's not your typical SquareEnix orchestral performance... it's mostly all some kind of hip hop or pop or whatever. Personally I believe it works. It certainly fits the games visual style. But if the music turns you off, well, there's nothing to be done about it. The random voice samples for all the characters are kinda cool too... It's a shame the game lacks voices for everything though. All in all the game looks and sounds great, which is true about almost anything SquareEnix touches.
So, if you've made it this far through my review you know this much: There is a LOT to TWEWY. It's complicated, and it contains a large enough amount of content that I ended up having to write my longest review ever to get in enough detail. But maybe that's the game's largest weakness. Despite some very interesting ideas and some general fun to be had here and there, the game is too many gimmicks rolled into one for its own good. And yet, despite all these layers to the game, a huge number of them can be ignored. I don't need to bother with combat on the top screen at all except for a few boss battles on hard. I don't need to pay any attention to the Brand system whatsoever. I might as well ignore fusion skills too since they're almost useless, etc. It's just... weird. Why was so much time spent on the design of things the player never needs to use, or is even hindered by paying attention to, when the game's plot and mission structure obviously were suffering? And why is it so easy to get around the game's food/stat/pin leveling system? Wasn't it obvious how easy it was to cheat the game via the system clock? All these gimmicks might have been neat if they could have been correctly expanded upon or used in a different way, but for the most part they get in the way or are irrelevant. I would much rather have had a way larger area to explore than the ten or so screens I'm forced to repeatedly move through, and I would have much rather had more interesting things to do than fulfill endless amounts of fetch quests and quizzes to pass a few screens of the city or complete a mission.
The World Ends With You isn't a great game. It's an ok one, but not a great one. If you've been waiting FOREVER for a stunning and fantastically designed DS RPG... well, this one will keep you busy until it arrives I hope. TWEWY is mostly solid despite it's shortcomings, but it's not the massive ground breaker it could have been. I know it's getting 8's and 9's up the rear and, honestly, it's not really an offensive, poorly designed game. Compared to many other DS offerings, it's both different and it retains a sophisticated level of presentation. Unfortunately, being different does not make this game better. It just makes it needlessly complicated to begin with, and ridiculously repetitive and shallow once you've spent a couple hours learning how the game works. I really wanted to score the game higher. There's definite potential here. It's just that it's so unrealized and hacked up that I can't help but wonder if people are praising the game based on the fact that almost all the other DS RPG's have been pretty poor. Could it be that the other games have been so abysmal that this is now what we're considering a top tier RPG? Blegh. For a game that tries hard to be different, TWEWY is a distractingly fun title that eventually degenerates and becomes a mess of bad gimmicks, extremely repetitive missions, poor story telling, and horribly shallow combat. We'll see what Square and Jupiter manage to iron out of this thing the second time around.
And since when did cellphones become such important plot devices in Square titles? Jebus!
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/05/08, Updated 05/07/08
Game Release: The World Ends With You (US, 04/21/08)
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