The World Ends With You - Staff Review  

Break Some Noise
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Highly original gameplay and story.
+ Excellent, deep, and engaging story.
+ Soundtrack works great with urban setting.
- Battle system has too much going on.
- Too many gameplay elements.
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This is Shibuya and who ya see on the streets ain't always
   who they see in the mirror.
   Is it fear or
something else that keeps 'em
    Talking the same,
        walking the same,
            doing the same things every day?
But you think you're more? Got something to live for?
This is your turf, prove your worth.

      7 Days
Play the Game or be erased.

   Over the last couple of years, in the midst of a staggering quantity of Square Enix titles, a strange DS title set in modern times known simply as It's a Wonderful World has been making appearances and disappearing just as quickly. Released in North America under a much bleaker moniker, The World Ends With You, Square Enix was quite tight-lipped as to the details of the story and combat mechanics, both of which promised to be a significant break away from the fare usually offered by the company. The game has now arrived on store shelves, and it was well worth the wait. Despite a few issues, The World Ends With You is the most original creation to come out of the venerable RPG megaproducer since Kingdom Hearts.

   One of the first things to note about The World Ends With You is that, despite its apparently depressing undertones, the title is actually far more uplifting than one might first assume. It refers to a particular sequence midway through the game, and until players reach that point, its meaning is difficult to discern. TWEWY follows a socially isolated young boy named Neku who wakes up in the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo, his memory gone, to find himself in the middle of a demented game where the cost of losing is his continued existence. After being set upon by roaming monsters known as the Noise, he partners up with a young girl named Shiki who is also a Player in the Game, and the pair must try to survive seven grueling days, completing missions for the malevolent game masters, the Reapers, in order to win.

Ooh, the ticking clock! Ooh, the ticking clock!

   After the first three days end within a few hours of gameplay, most players shouldn't have any difficulty discerning that seven days isn't going to make a very lengthy game, and they'd be right. Thankfully, by the time the first seven days have ended, the story is far from over, and where it leads from there is quite simply mind-bending. The World Ends With You features a highly original and incredibly deep story about individuality, conformity, the importance of trust and friendship, and other themes that can't be revealed without giving too much of the story away. All this is masked beneath a complex, creative, and brilliantly told plotline that is unquestionably the highlight of the game. The characters are all thoroughly developed and easy to identify with, particularly Neku, whose growth as a character is phenomenal. The story pulls no punches, and features several shocking and extremely dark plot twists that are sure to leave players reeling.

   The story is backed up by an excellent soundtrack of hip hop, rock, and pop tunes and a very urbanized, graffiti-inspired graphical style. The voice acting, though sparse, is well done, particularly in the ending sequence. Character designs, drawn by Tetsuya Nomura of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts fame, are as great as ever, and the 2D sprites mesh wonderfully with the stylized 3D rendering of Shibuya. The story itself is told mostly through character portraits and speech bubbles, and while certainly not the most visually stunning method, it works quite well.

   The gameplay, unfortunately, suffers from a lot of issues, mostly due to the overwhelming number of mechanics that come into play over the course of the game, in addition to a battle system that is extremely difficult to get used to, let alone become even remotely skilled at. Combat takes place on both screens at once, making use of two separate party members. Neku is on the bottom screen and is controlled entirely through the touch screen. Neku can equip pins that he acquires all over Shibuya, and each of them grants him a wide array of psych abilities, all activated through different actions on the stylus. Some of these include slashing across an enemy, slashing across Neku towards an enemy, drawing a line through enemies, or drawing a circle, but there are many, many more. Neku can also be moved around on this screen by holding the stylus down on him and dragging him across the battlefield, allowing him to dodge incoming blows and move into range to attack.

   Neku's combat is already exciting enough as it is, but that's only half the system. Meanwhile, on the top screen, Neku's partner is busy fighting the same battle from a different perspective, and this, unfortunately, is where the combat falls flat and becomes unnecessarily complicated. Neku's partners all control fairly similarly, but each have a few unique traits of their own. For the most part, they are controlled by using either the D-Pad or the face buttons, depending on which hand the player holds the stylus in. What appears at first as some sort of rhythm-based gameplay is actually a ludicrously long-winded combo system. By rapidly pressing the correct buttons, the combo meter moves towards a symbol of some sort. When it reaches it, the character attacks. These symbols are matched against other symbols at the top of the screen, and if they match up correctly, fusion stars are earned which eventually allow Neku and his partner to perform a powerful fusion attack that damages all enemies and heals the pair.

Too. Much. Information! Too. Much. Information!

   Furthermore, the symbols at the end of each combo meter are randomly assigned and change with each attack sequence, forcing the player to check both what symbol is needed and the location of it before performing the attack, though most of the time it's easiest to just spam right or left and hope for the best. If the character is hit mid-combo, it needs to be started over again with different symbol positions, and all the while Neku is still under assault on the bottom screen. As if this weren't enough, Neku's partners also learn how to jump, dodge attacks, and even counterattack. There's also something called the Light Puck that travels back and forth between the characters as they trade blows, and making use of it is vital to dealing consistent damage to certain foes in the later parts of the game. It just gets to be too much to focus on.

   Thankfully, it's possible to rely on some rudimentary AI for Neku's partner, though it tends to be rather stupid and slow at generating the valuable fusion stars. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, the difficulty, particularly against bosses, ramps up significantly, and the game expects the player to have mastered the system by the time the final chapter rolls around. Luckily, Square Enix was also kind enough to offer adjustable difficulty settings, and while finishing the game on normal mode will likely prove incredibly difficult and frustrating for many people, on easy mode it is possible to simply play as Neku and virtually ignore his partner, making these battles far more enjoyable, though completely unchallenging. Normal battles, however, remain consistently fun throughout the game and players should have no trouble making it through these on easy, normal, or even hard modes.

   The World Ends With You doesn't feature random encounters in a traditional sense. Instead, Neku has the ability to scan the area, reading people's minds as well as detecting Noise in the area. By tapping on one or more Noise icons in the area, a battle can be started to earn experience, pin points, and new pins. Battles can be chained together to increase the drop rates, and Neku can also choose to temporarily lower his level for the same effect. Difficulty settings can also affect the Noise drop rates, in addition to changing the pins dropped, giving these settings more purpose than simply an added player edge or handicap.

   Neku and his partner can also purchase clothing at the various stores around Shibuya, affecting their stats. All clothing items as well as some pins are part of larger brand names, and trends throughout Shibuya affect how helpful these items are to Neku and his fellow Players. Irritatingly, it's impossible to see what Neku and his partner are currently wearing when buying new clothing, which can get frustrating quickly. Neku can also purchase food, which, when eaten, grant him or his partner bonus stats, though they take a certain number of battles to digest, and each character can only eat so much a day. That's real-time days, of course, not game days. The World Ends With You also grants the player pin points for however long he spends not playing the game. In other words, it rewards the player for taking his time rather than playing it right through. This is just poor design philosophy, and an extremely irritating mechanic.

Set a trend or follow the crowd. Set a trend or follow the crowd.

   There is much more to the gameplay, including a Beyblade-esque mini-game, pin evolution, and store levels, but frankly, spending any more time on it would be a waste of valuable space. In the end, The World Ends With You is a victim of its own overindulgence. There is simply way too much here. It seems as though the designers had too many ideas and didn't want to get rid of any, particularly in the battle system, and the result is that by the time the game has run its course, the player will still be learning how to play.

   The World Ends With You wraps up after about twenty hours, but also features one of the most unique New Game+ modes ever conceived. Rather than starting over with boosted stats, the player is instead given the ability to rewind the game to any chapter at any time. In addition, new items become available, and the player can work on completing a series of quests for each chapter which will unlock Secret Reports that may answer some of the game's lingering questions. There is also a light-hearted bonus chapter involving the aforementioned Beyblade-esque minigame.

   Though it's not perfect, one has to hand it to Square Enix for trying something truly different. While criticism abounds that the company has gotten stale and relies too much on ports and spin-offs, The World Ends With You proves that they are still coming up with fresh ideas, even if they don't pan out entirely as they might have planned. Regardless of its gameplay issues, TWEWY is a solid, fun game with an incredible story that is difficult to put down, and is certainly recommended to anyone looking for something different.

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