Reviews July 1, 2010

The World Ends with You

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Reviewed by: Brandon “Nod” Trost
System: DS
Genre: Action RPG
Rated: T
Players: 1
Cost: $39.99
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Jupiter

The clock is ticking. You have less than an hour to complete today’s mission. The Game Master clearly has it in for you this time; you’ve got to travel the entire length of the district, half of which is guarded by Reapers who want your rarest pins. The Noise are even stronger today, the food shop is blocked entirely, and you still haven’t figured out what to wear. Welcome to Shibuya.

The World Ends with You comes from the Square Enix development studio renowned for its work on the Kingdom Hearts series, and it shows. Like Kingdom Hearts, The World Ends with You can’t decide whether it’s a button-mashing action game or an RPG, and so it compromises by playing up both masterfully. Every aspect has been polished to a gleam, and the end result is an experience that stands in a class of its own.

Neku awakens on a crosswalk in the center of Shibuya, knowing nothing but his name, and finds a timer etched into his hand, counting down an hour. Before he can question this, a group of oddly marked frogs launch themselves at him. He retreats and runs into a girl carrying a stuffed cat, who makes a pact with him and hands him a decorative pin which enables him to create a wall of fire to defeat the frogs, better known as Noise. She then explains to him the rules: the two are Players in the Reapers’ Game. Every day, the Reapers will send to their phones a text message carrying the day’s mission. If they fail to complete it in the time given, they will be erased. In order to finish these missions, they will have to work together to fight the Noise.

The most immediately noticeable aspect of the game is the combat system. Fights take place on both screens simultaneously, requiring use of both the stylus for the bottom screen and the control pad for the top screen. On the bottom screen, Neku fights using the powers granted from his pins, ranging from creating spears of ice to flinging cars around with his mind. Up on the top screen, his partner Shiki launches her stuffed cat in a series of combo attacks. Enemies defeated on either screen vanish from both, so battles require work to balance attacking on both fronts.

Stringing together a combo on one screen launches a glowing green puck to the character on the other. This puck doubles the damage of the last move of the combo, so in addition to avoiding attacks and launching counterattacks, the player has to try to keep bouncing the puck back and forth to keep damage at a maximum.

The top screen also houses a trio of playing cards, each hiding a different symbol. The end move of Shiki’s combo has a symbol attached, which corresponds to one of the cards. If she picks the right symbol, the card flips over. Flipping over all three cards allows she and Neku to use a Fusion attack, which damages all the enemies on both screens and refills some of the pair’s shared HP bar.

Between attacking, defending, passing the puck, and trying to unlock a Fusion attack, the combat is hectic and takes some practice. Thankfully, the top screen can be controlled by the computer, who understands it needs to help by passing the puck and working to build Fusion. Once the player becomes more comfortable with using the bottom screen, however, it’s advantageous to try to use both in order to better string together combos. The end experience feels like button-mashing at first, but by the fourth day becomes far more fluid. There aren’t any analogies that can describe it, because it’s like nothing ever done before.

Even outside of combat, there’s much to consider. Instead of boosting stats by leveling up, Neku and Shiki become stronger by eating. There are restaurants across the district, and different food will increase different stats. In order to raise Neku’s defense, he’ll need to eat a bowl of ramen, and Shiki’s attack won’t increase unless she has a hot dog. Then, before the bonus registers, they need to fight in order to digest the meal.

And everything in Shibuya obeys the laws of fashion. Pins and clothes will be made by different designers, and each area of Shibuya will follow different trends. If Jupiter of the Monkey is the hottest brand in the Scramble Crossing, any pins and clothing created by them will boost the user’s damage by 100%. But if Neku is using Natural Puppy pins when they’re yesterday’s news, they’ll only do half damage. Thankfully, every pin is useful, so following the trends gives a huge benefit.

While the story starts out simple if confusing and the characters seem shallow, as the Game progresses, and plot twists jump out at every turn, they become fully realized, likeable people. Gruff Neku develops into an understandable loner. Bubbly Shiki becomes a tragic hero. The true nature of the Game is an enormous shock, and every step is enthralling. By the end of the third day, it’s impossible to put down.

The World Ends with You uses a beautiful manga style that fits the feel of the game perfectly. It looks, sounds, and acts exactly like downtown Shibuya, and while sometimes the dialogue feels a little stiff and forced, it could have easily come from a manga book or straight out of the streets of Japan.

I can’t think of any reason not to pick the game up. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever played before. Even after the story ends, simply fighting Noise and following the trends is entertaining enough to be worth playing for another 20 hours at least. Between the deep story, the combat system, the characters, and the style, it’s like nothing before and likely nothing to come.

Graphics: 10
With sharp colors and a manga style, the game feels like being in downtown Tokyo.

Gameplay: 10
The story is gripping and the battle system is nothing short of magic.

Sound: 9
Sometimes the music doesn’t feel like it fits the fast pace of the combat, although it fits the Japanese feel.

What’s New: 10
Between the combat, the trends, and the use of food, it’s entirely original.

Replay Value: 9
Even after playing through the story, just fighting Noise is too much fun to stop.

Final Score: