Review by PaperSpock
"A Breath of Fresh Air"
A Breath of Fresh Air
This summer, I had been running out of games that could enthrall me. I tried to fill this void with Nintendo's Virtual Console. I downloaded several games, but none of them did something that felt fresh or enjoyable. They were by no means bad, they just weren't unique enough to interest me at the time. Then, I went on vacation. I went to a GameStop and picked up The World Ends With You, an action RPG produced by Square Enix's Kingdom Heart's team and Jupiter, a development studio that primarily works with handhelds. The World Ends With You was just what I needed. It provided the best gameplay, story, and replay value I have experienced in ages.
The gameplay can be divided into two sections: story/exploration segments, and battle segments. The story/exploration segments put you in control of Neku and his partner. In this segment, you are given and objective to undertake, such as "remove the curse from the statue" and you must then try to complete it. Parts of these segments feel mildly reminiscent of the Phoenix Wright series. Most NPCs cannot be talked to in the conventional sense, but must instead be "scanned" to reveal their thoughts. Most thoughts that are encountered are more for amusement than anything else, however they also are necessary to progress from time to time. The NPCs that can be talked to directly usually advance the plot and the game. There are also stores to visit, which sell stat boosting clothing, pins (which will be discussed later), and food. Every vendor also has a meter which is filled up by purchasing from them. Each time a certain amount of the gage is filled, benefits, ranging from a wider stock to item abilities are given. Each item has a latent ability which only presents itself if a shop keeper has revealed it. They are helpful, but usually aren't overwhelmingly strong. Food can be bought and used to boost stats, but in a limited amount every "real life" day. This "overworld-type" portion of the game is usually enjoyable, and my only gripe is the occasional clothes changing mission. Most items have brands associated with them. In order to have progress breaking walls removed, you must change items so that you are wearing one brand, meaning you have to take off your best equipment, break the wall, and then put your best clothes on again. This was a little overdone, but the rest of the wall breaking missions were usually enjoyable.
The battles in The World Ends With You are somewhat confusing at first. Battles are initiated by scanning, and then tapping on an enemy. Combat occurs on both screens in different ways. On the bottom screen, you control Neku with the touchscreen and the microphone. His abilities are dependent on the pins he is wearing. Each pin has a different ability. One damages enemies when they are slashed at with the stylus. Another lets you shoot projectiles by tapping on the screen. Others are tapped to restore health, and others yet put a status ailment on enemies at the start of a battle. There are literally hundreds of pins. Although some of them are similar and have the same attack, they have different stats. This provides amazing variety in strategies. On the top screen, you control Neku's partner. To damage enemies on the top screen, you must press either left or right, which ever direction is towards them. As you do this, you navigate through a row of arrows. You can choose a different path by pressing up when allowed to select a different ending to the path. The symbol at the end of the path can award one points which can unleash devastating combo attacks that restore health. Through this all, Neku and his partner are fighting essentially the same enemies. That is, there is an identical copy of every enemy on the bottom screen on the top screen as well. Damage to an enemy on either screen causes damage to both. Similarly, Neku and his partner share a health meter. This may sound very complex, and it is initally, but it is simplified by time and adjustable difficulty levels. The combat on the top screen also becomes automatic if no controls are input for a selected amount of time (there is also an option to turn auto-control off entirely). To prevent the top screen from being ignored, there is a green ball of light refered to as a puck that boosts the damage of attacks. However, strong attacks cause it to shift to the other screen, so focusing on both is required. Leveling up occurs in several ways. Normal leveling occurs in real time during battle, in that the moment you have enough experience, you will increase levels. The pins you wear also level up, but not until the battles end. The pins that you have equipped will also gain experience for the amount of time the DS is turned off. Overall, the gameplay is
enjoyable. It does many unique things, as well as a few
old ones, providing a fun mix.
The story in The World Ends With You is one of its strong points. It starts with Neku, and anti-social teenager living in Shibuya in Japan, getting a text message telling him to go to a building or face "erasure". He then teams up with Shiki, a girl he's never met before, to participate in "the game" a week long event with daily objectives. Failure to comply results in the aforementioned "erasure". Telling any more would ruin the story of the game, as even things considered to be basic knowledge later in the game are a mystery early on. For this reason, I do not recommend reading the instruction manual. It could spoil part of the plot for you. What I can tell you is that the plot is very good, has many twists and turns, as well as some great characters with intriguing character development.
The graphics in The World Ends With You, though not impressive technically, are very artistic and fitting. My only objection is that Neku, his partner, and NPCs can come off looking somewhat blocky during the exploration segments. I think something could have been done about this. The characters as they appear during dialog segments, however, look very good. They are expressive, as well as very fitting with the art style of The World Ends With You.
The sound in this game is great for a DS game. Most of its background music has vocals, and there is even some voice acting, used to emphasize text and at key situations during in battle. You don't need to worry about keeping your eye on the health bar because your partner will always tell you when it is running low. I found the music in the game very enjoyable and catchy, which is saying something since I typically don't listen to music anything like it. Sound is used quite effectively in The World Ends With you.
The World Ends With You has some limited multi-player options. There is a mini-game called "Tin Pin Slammer" where you use your pins to try and knock other players' pins off the playing field. Consider it a real-time version of marbles. You can also create custom shops (the inventory is what the person you are contacting has currently equipped). Multiplayer is not the focus of this game, but it is an appreciated feature.
The World Ends With You has a great replay value. After you beat it, you can replay portions of it to unlock secret reports that reveal additional plot and clarify a few things. Even after this has been completed, you can try to collect all the pins, or fight every beast in the game at every difficulty. In most games, this would be tedious, but The World Ends With You is different in that it makes this sort of thing is fun! Using different pins forces you to adapt different play styles, and so long as you keep using different set ups (the number of pin set-ups is practically limitless) you can keep battles fresh, making hunting for rare pins a joy.
The World Ends With You is a very unique yet entertaining game. I highly recommend it. It turned my summer around!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/16/08
Game Release: The World Ends With You (US, 04/21/08)
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