When Square-Enix is mentioned in any video game conversation most people immediately think of the Final Fantasy series and the traditional turn based game play elements that accompany it. The World Ends With You (TWEWY) breaks this format and delves into the realm of the action RPG. Using the DS’s dual screens and stylus you control Neku, a shy, anti-social boy who always wears his signature headphones, as he tries to get back to his own world. Just about everything in this game from the colorful graphics to the easy to understand, but engaging story is unique and will immerse you in this game to the point where you won’t want to put it down.
The setting is a fictional version of Shibuya, a popular shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo. However, it is an underground Shibuya where people will not see, hear or notice you. This is because of a game where the contestants are select people who have passed away. Using their most prized possession as an entry fee, players play against each other and the Reapers, who give them missions to complete everyday, but also try to impede their progress. If the mission is not complete, the contestant dies completely. After a week the winner of the game is brought back to life.
The story in TWEWY revolves around Neku. He shows up in underground Shibuya not knowing what’s going on or how he got there. After a little while he partners up with the first of his three partners, Shiki, and plays the game. The reason he needs partners is because of the enemies you have to defeat: the noise. The game is designed in a way that two people are required to defeat the noise, and they come in many forms. The noise can be anything from sharks to birds, but they are always bad news.
Along the way he figures out the rules of the game, such as only shopkeepers can see you when you enter their stores, and he continuously gets closer to figuring out how he died. The story is full of fantastic characters, twists and turns, and with everyday that passes by Neku’s character evolves and starts seeing the world in a new light.
The first thing that came to mind when I looked at the cover art on the box is the art style is very similar to the Kingdom Hearts series. However, there are differences that make the TWEWY art unique. The style has a mix of elements from hipster and graffiti art that are tagged throughout the game. The characters and the environments are very angular in appearance and the colors really jump out at you from the screen. Every character and location has their own unique look and the only things I noticed that were similar were some enemies and items. Overall the art style really helps immerse players into the world and gives the fictional Shibuya its own personality.
Like the graphics, the soundtrack is very different from most Japanese RPGs on the market. Normally when you think of video game music, you probably don’t think of rock or hip-hop unless you’re thinking of a sports or a racing game. TWEWY employs both of these, plus electronica, into its soundtrack. What makes it so great is it integrates with the art style and the game play really well. The first thing I noticed was some of the battle music has lyrics and that was strange at first, but soon I found myself keeping time with the music and really getting into the battles. The soundtrack is very unique for an RPG, but it fits TWEWY like a glove.
Although there is not much of it, the voice work in TWEWY is also very good. Most of the story is told through a comic book-like form with the characters on either side exchanging dialogue through speech bubbles. Every now and then the character will say something or yell in surprise and the voice acting really helps the player identify with the character by giving him or her a unique voice. Also, when you go into battle, Neku’s partner talks to him before and after the battle as well as during special attacks. For some reason, Neku being told he did a good job after every battle never gets old.
Even some of the sound effects were noticeable in terms of originality. You have your standard footsteps, shooting and slashing noises, but then you have others that are pretty unique and fit the game pretty well. The one that stands out to me the most is the over-exaggerated record scratch that usually acts as the selection noise. The sound effects and voice work show that even small things can have a large affect on the overall impression of the game.
The most unique aspect about this game is the game play hands down. There are many different elements to it, but most of them are easy to learn. The best part about all of these aspects is none of them feel like chores. They all integrate really well with each other and give the player a truly unique experience not found in any other action RPG.
The first and the most different aspect of game play is quite a large one: the battle system. The player utilizes the bottom screen to control Neku with the stylus, and the top screen to control his partner with the D-Pad. The stylus movements are dependent on what equipment Neku has equipped and his partner has different button combos to press. The button combos also govern the special moves. The top screen will show you a specific order you have to press the buttons to get the special move, but they usually show up enough even when pressing the D-Pad at random.
I, like most people, was very skeptical about this because I didn’t think I would be able to pay attention to both screens at once. Once I started playing and got used to the system, I realized that you don’t need to spend that much time looking at the top screen. A glance every now and then will work fine so you can focus most of your attention on moving the stylus the right way. There’s even an option that lets the AI control Neku’s partner for you.
When you’re not battling you’re either walking around, talking to people or managing items. Most of the stylus controlled DS games available are not my cup of tea, but this one controls really well. You use the stylus to walk around, select your items and during battle, and most of the time it feels solid and never out of place. The only time the stylus controls are a little shaky is during battle. Since different pins require different strokes, the DS might mistake one for another and do a different attack than intended.
The two main items you manage for Neku and his partners are pins and clothing. The pins govern the moves Neku can perform while battling and most of them are a blast to use. They can also be sold. The pins gain experience and there are different ways to do it. You can battle the noise, play with other people, or even shut the game down to level your pins. The only annoying thing I found with this is different pins evolve with different types of experience. One pin may evolve with a majority of battle experience, while another evolves with a majority of shutdown experience. There is no way of telling in game, so you either have to experiment or look them up in a guide.
The other influential item is clothing. There are many brands of clothing available in Shibuya and the popularity of the brands depends on whether Neku and his partner get an increase in stats like attack and defense, or a decrease. Characters can wear a variety of different types of clothes including hats, shirts, pants and accessories. They never change the character’s appearance, but it is a clever alternative to just equipping one standard set of armor.
In addition to these items there are some other ones that play important roles in the game. Materials you get, such as various linens, can be used in certain shops to make articles of clothing that benefit you more than ones just bought at a store. A certain amount of food an be eaten each day and after digesting it by fighting in battles it gives the characters permanent boosts in their stats. Last but not least are the stickers. These are obtained after battles or in shops and they give characters instant stat boosts depending on which character the sticker is for.
TWEWY is one of the most unique and pleasant experiences I have had on my Nintendo DS. The unique graphics and sound combined with the engaging story will immerse you in the game and glue your hands to your DS. The game play looks a little daunting at first, but once you get used to it the elements of it will all fall into place and it will feel very natural. The only thing I saw that is not unique is the token spiky-haired main character that is full of self-loathing. Even if you are not a fan of Japanese RPGs, I would still recommend this game. If you are, and like action RPGs as well, this title is a must buy.