The World Ends with You

In Shibuya, Tokyo, an antisocial teenager named Neku Sakuraba finds himself at an intersection full of people, alone and unaware of how he got there. Then he receives a message: “Clear this mission…or face erasure.” Afterward, Neku is thrust into the Reapers’ Game, coming into contact with other Players while trying to piece together exactly what’s going on. The World Ends with You, developed by Square-Enix and Jupiter, is a unique RPG for the Nintendo DS, making extensive use of the system’s touch-screen capabilities and proving to be an enjoyable, somewhat addictive experience.

The Player Pin Neku receives upon beginning his quest somewhat drives the Game, with the player able to touch it to scan the current area for the inner thoughts of NPCs, not to mention Noise, serving as the Game’s primary foes. The player can touch a Noise symbol (or more than one, once a special item is acquired), with each symbol indicating one battle, and the size and shape of each indicating the size and power of Noise in a particular battle. Afterward, the player enters combat, with plenty of action happening on both the top and bottom screen.

Outside battle, the player can form up to four decks with various pins providing offensive, defensive, passive, and healing capabilities in battle, with the number of pins in each deck able to increase up to six during the game. The player controls Neku on the lower screen with the stylus, and can execute his pins’ commands by performing a variety of moves with the stylus, such as slashing across Neku, touching enemies or empty space, touching the pins themselves, and so forth. After a certain number of uses, most pins will require some time to reboot before the player can use them again, although certain pins have a fixed number of uses and do not reboot.

Interestingly, while Neku fights enemies on the lower screen, his partner fights the same enemies on the upper screen, with either the D-pad or face buttons (doubling as directional buttons) controlling his or her attacks that occur as the player navigates their combo map, with three paths ended by special icons that allow the player to fulfill certain conditions to build up a number of Fusion Stars. When the player has collected enough Fusion Stars, a special combo attack can be unleashed upon all enemies, with up to three levels of Fusion ultimately being available for each partner. Though the player can manually control Neku’s partner, options are available to have them automatically execute their attacks, albeit at a slower pace.

After the player has erased all of a battle’s Noise, either the results screen shows up or the player goes to the next battle, if more than one Noise symbol was selected beforehand. Experience gain for Neku to level up occasionally, though, occurs in the middle of battle, while experience gain for equipped pins happens on the results screen, as does the acquisition of new pins from erased Noise. Among these pins are money pins, which the player can exchange for a certain amount of Yen (although the player can also exchange any kind of pin for money if needed), and material pins, which the player can exchange at shops for special items.

Both Neku and his partner share the same HP meter in battle (which leveling increases), and once it runs out, it’s Game Over. However, the player receives several options when this occurs, such as restarting the current battle on the current difficulty setting (with up to four different difficulty levels), restarting the battle on the easiest difficulty, escaping from the battle (which isn’t always available), or going back to the title screen. Characters have other stats, as well, such as attack, defense, and bravery.

Necessary to increase stats other than HP (although it can still increase HP in addition to leveling) is the food system, where the player can feed Neku and his partner a food item, which will require a certain number of bytes to digest, with each character having twenty-four bytes. Fighting a battle will digest one byte; when all bytes have been digested, one of a character’s stats, depending upon the type of food, will increase a certain amount. Characters can only digest one food item at a time, with digested bytes remaining grayed out for a day (in real-life time), although a special item can remove this limit.

Furthermore, The World Ends with You, like many other RPGs, has an equipment system, where Neku and his partners can equip four Threads, but each Thread requires their bravery stat to be at a certain number to equip it in the first place. Threads naturally increase stats, but can have an additional effect that the player must “unlock” at shops. The shop system is also somewhat more complex than in most other RPGs, where, as purchase are made, the player’s friendship level with the clerk gradually increases, revealing more equipment to buy, and allowing the player to uncover the special effects of more Threads.

Moreover, the player can lower Neku’s level at the expense of lower HP, increasing the drop rate of pins from erased Noise, sometimes necessary to obtain the best pins in the game. Enemies actually have a fixed chance of dropping pins that decreasing Neku’s level can increase (with different drops for each difficulty, as well), with special kinds of food able to further increase Neku’s overall rate of obtaining items from Noise. Stringing together long chains of attacks, not to mention chaining battles, can also increase the odds of obtaining new pins from Noise.

Certain pins can also evolve into different forms, depending upon the kind of experience earned for them. There are three kinds of pin experience: Battle Points, naturally obtained from battles; Shutdown Points, obtained from, of all other things, not playing the game; and Mingle Points, obtained from wireless communication with other players (if other players with copies of the game aren’t available, “aliens” will randomly and somewhat rarely show up in Mingle Mode to provide MP). Pins that can evolve require a dominant amount of one of the three kinds of pin experience to do so, and if not, they will simply be “mastered” without evolving.

The idea of controlling a character on the bottom screen while controlling another on the top screen in combat is certainly daunting, but the game mechanisms still work surprisingly well, and while no player will ever master the art of controlling characters on separate screens simultaneously until they evolve another pair of eyes, battles still move smoothly, though touch-screen control can be imprecise, and pins with similar methods of execution can interfere with one another (although the player can assign pins to sub-slots accessed with the L and R buttons), and players can manipulate the DS’s internal clock to exploit the game’s time-sensitive features. Still, the battle system has more than enough variety to prevent players from becoming bored.

Control in The World Ends with You keeps both dextral and sinistral players in mind, with the face buttons, for instance, doubling as directional controls, and the stylus used entirely to navigate the menus and perform tasks like change equipment and manage pins. This setup works decently, although deciding how to change equipment can be a bit troublesome, given the lack of an “Equip Best” option. The in-game map of Shibuya, moreover, is somewhat misleading, since the directions during navigation don’t necessarily correspond to those on the map. While no player, moreover, will be able to complete post-game content without a guide, there are some conveniences that could have made doing so easier, such as a scene-skip option in addition to the ability to fast-forward through cutscenes, given the constant revisiting of chapters necessary to obtain a “perfect” file. All in all, interaction in the game isn’t bad, but could have been easier.

The World Ends with You is perhaps the epitome of innovation in Nintendo DS RPGs, given its emphasis on stylus use in battle, controlling two characters at once on separate screens, the pin system, the shop system, the story, and pretty much everything else. The game very much brings fresh ideas to a genre full of tired formulas and trite plotlines.

As with some of the game’s other aspects, the story certainly seems daunting at first, given its vague introductory sequences, although it does eventually come together, with some decent twists, and post-game Noise Reports adding a bit more backstory. The plot, however, flows somewhat unnaturally, given the number of fetch quests and mission-based nature of the game. The translation, though, is reasonably polished and adapted very well for Anglophone audiences. All in all, the story is a reasonable driving factor, but somewhat awkwardly executed.

The World Ends with You has a modernistic musical style mostly consisting of varied pop and techno tracks, many with vocals in Japanese and English. The music fits the game’s atmosphere and doesn’t detract at all, but is somewhat unremarkable and unmemorable. Most characters, major and minor, have voice clips, as well, which are decent and rarely annoying. Overall, the sound doesn’t detract from the game, but isn’t one of its strong points.

The art direction, though, is definitely one of the game’s best aspects. Though many have maligned his style, Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs are right at home in The World Ends with You, with a diverse fashion sense among Shibuya’s inhabitants. Still character portraits narrate most story sequences, with some anime cutscenes that themselves consist mostly of Nomura’s still designs. The environs and character and Noise sprites look decent, as well, though character and NPC sprites appear a bit pixelated at times. Still, the game is a definite visual treat.

Finally, while one can finish the game in less than twenty hours, plenty of post-game content is present, such as mastering every pin, collecting every item, unlocking every Noise report, and so forth, which can possibly boost playing time to well over a hundred hours.

In the end, The World Ends with You is one of those games that could have possibly been an absolute disaster, given the awkwardness of some of the ideas behind it, such as controlling two characters on separate screens in battle, although its execution shows that those ideas can actually work decently. The battle system is full of variety and enjoyable, even if players don’t fully “master” it, and the visual direction enhances the game’s unique feel. Some areas, though, do leave room for improvement; for instance, the interface is awkward at points, the plot feels methodical, and the music is something of an acquired taste. Regardless of these shortcomings, however, The World Ends with You is undoubtedly one of the most unique and enjoyable titles on the Nintendo DS, and a glimmering ray of hope in a genre increasingly populated by mundane titles.

The Good:
+Gameplay has endless variety.
+Excellent art direction.
+Lots of post-game content.

The Bad:
-Control could've been tighter.
-Story could have been better told.
-Music is hit-or-miss.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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