The World Ends With You - Review  

One Incredible World
by Anna Marie Neufeld

20-40 Hours
+ Gripping Story
+ Good use of DS mechanics
+ Major replayability
- Pin selection overdone
- Battle System may frustrate some
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Down on the ground, people walking around ignore the young man who is splayed on the pavement. Why can't they see him? He doesn't care anyways, so what does it matter? Then the monsters come, and he needs to escape! Along the way, a partner appears, someone who's desperately trying to hide herself as fervently as she's trying to learn the secrets of the boy. This is the intriguing start to the emotionally titled The World Ends With You. Though arriving without the fanfare of the latest Final Fantasy title, this is one Square Enix title no RPGamer will want to miss. With a gritty story, funky music and awesome visuals, there's little to say about this title that isn't glowing praise.

   The battle system isn't simple, but that doesn't make it hard to grasp either. Both screens are used during combat, though each in a different way. The bottom screen is where the boy, Neku, fights the enemies, called Noise, with a selection of pins the player equips through the menu. These pins are activated using the touch screen: tap, press, scratch, and draw shapes using the stylus. A few pins are also noise activated, though a deep breath exhaled over the microphone does the trick just as well. There are over 300 pins to be found in the game, which can be frustrating at times; finding the right combination of pins to suit the player might take a considerable amount of time since, as expected, old pins start to lose their viability the further the player goes into the game. On the top screen is Neku's partner, which can either be manually controlled by the player or left to the game's surprisingly bright AI. There are tutorials each time Neku acquires a new partner, so the player does become acquainted with their playstyle. At least once per partner, only the top screen damage will be effective in fighting a foe, so a player cannot ignore the top screen the entire time. As the top character performs moves they will increase a counter which, when at its max, allows the two to perform a combo attack. This hits all mobs currently on the screen for large amounts of damage and is often one of the only ways to kill bosses in a timely manner. The partners share one health bar and one experience pool. Once combat is over, the participants are given a base PP and ranked on four things: rounds, time, damage, and special. The lowest rank, E, will net the player about 80% of the base PP, whereas the highest rank star can net up to 300%. This PP is used to level up pins. Neku may scan for enemies using a special Player Pin. Though most are neutral, some are aggressive and will attack Neku simply for scanning them.

Action Two Screen Action

   An interesting facet of the battle system is the variable difficulty. Not only will both "Easy" and "Hard" be unlocked (Normal is default at the start of the game), but the player may opt to deliberately drop their character level as low as one. For each level lost, the player's drop rate will increase in a (1+n) fashion: so dropping two levels will give a player three times the normal drop rate. Neku can also string together multiple foes, multiplying the drop rate further — a battle with Neku's level reduced by two with three enemies will give a six times drop rate. This is a great way to hunt rare pins as well as yen drops.

   Money makes the world go 'round, and the adage holds true in this world as well. There's lots to buy from the various stores which offer pins, food, and clothing. Neku and his parther can chow down on 24 "bytes" of food per real-time day, though six slots will always remain open in case either gets the munchies. Food ups the synch rate between the partners (no surprise, a better synch means more damage and more combo attacks) when first eaten, and once digested via combat will either reward gains to HP or Bravery or boost the synch further. Bravery is the stat tied into clothing -- each piece requires a certain level of bravery to wear. Is it any surprise the girls' clothing takes the highest Bravery? Equipment bestows some attack, defense, and hitpoints as well as having an attribute. At first, these attributes will be locked but as Neku buys from each type of shop the relationship with the workers will rise and they will reveal the secrets of their fine threads. These hidden attributes have a variety of uses but many are specific to just one character. Much like the pins, there's about 300 pieces of clothing in the game, meaning there's a lot of variety but also a lot of trial and error. Like real life, Neku and his pals can't wear two items in the same category, but they can wear four items each from any combination of them: headwear, tops, bottoms, top and bottoms, footwear, and accessories. The good news is that money is relatively easy to make (and the player can increase the drop rate to ensure maximum benefits), so players shouldn't have too many problems gearing up in the latest fashions.

   Many pins and all clothing are associated with one of the thirteen hottest brands in Shibuya. The streets take their fashion very seriously, to the point where there's a list per zone of which items are hot — and which are not. Pins and clothing worn that are at the bottom of the list take a 50% penalty, whereas the top three brands get progressively better bonuses to their performance. It's important to watch the fads and be able to change pins and equipment to a different brand, because these trends are also present for boss battles, and the last thing a player wants is to be crippled by a bad fashion sense.

   The music in the game is fantastic, hands down. It's some of the best tracks so far on a DS game and very memorable outside the game. Even better, each track can be collected in-game for the audiophiles to fawn over. The music really sets the mood and keeps the player engaged in the urgency of the events. The sound effects are a perfect match to the musical quality, and the small speech snippets Neku and his friends have go a long way towards endearing them to the player. By the end of the game, they'll feel like friends. The visuals are also top quality, and the game looks outstanding. Monsters have a lot of detail and though there's obvious palette swapping , that isn't to say there isn't a lot of variety in the Noise Neku will combat over the course of the game. Both of these aspects of the game come away with lavish praise.

   As was mentioned previously, the difficulty of the game is entirely in the hands of the player, meaning the game can be as easy or hard as desired. However, the game does teeter a bit towards being easy, seeing as how bosses can be retried on the same difficulty level or one lower down to easy if the player chooses. The harder the fight, the better the rewards so the more challenge a fight has, the more the player reaps. Simply skipping through the game on easy is definitely not recommended. Digilent players could polish off TWEWY in as little as 20 hours, not including the content after the credits, but anyone rushing through this one is going to miss out on the finer details. For a thorough play including the after game, expect to put up to 40 well-deserved hours into this title. The game has an addictive allure that makes it hard to put it down, and a player might be surprised how much time has passed while playing!

Noise Rhino Noise

   The localization was crucial to this game's success, as a storyline driven game will fall flat if the player can't grasp the nuances. Thankfully the meanings come loud and clear through a great translation and the characters feel very real. The menus are simple and easy to navigate, which can be done either with the stylus or the D-pad, depending on what the player prefers. Realistically speaking, very little time is spent in the menus and the only real downside of them is the pin menu, where the sort options are limited and the seperation of mastered pins from the regular stock seems rather superfluous.

   The originality of the game is difficult to discuss as much of it is wrapped in deep spoilers. Suffice to say, the game takes a giant leap into territory most RPGs won't touch, starting with the main character and progressing throughout the game. There's no better evidence of the wonderful originality than in the story. Neku's memories may be gone but his core personality remains: a curt, self-absorbed jerk who really doesn't want anything to do with anyone; it's a refreshing change from the usual do-gooders that populate most RPGs. Neku's not going to change for anyone and his personality plays a pivotal role in the story and gives it an edge most games will never touch. It's a story with fantastic nuances and really drives the player to keep playing almost slavishly.

   Every once in a blue moon, a game comes along where everything is simply done right and The World Ends With You is a shining example of what RPGs can do when they diverge from the cookie-cutter molding. Though this title may fly under the radar of many, anyone who picks it up will undoubtedly have made an exceptional purchase, as this is one game that any DS owner would be insane to be without.

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