There are many times when reviewing video games that those doing the writing state that a game will be a "love it or hate it" type of game. Such is the case with The World Ends With You. This is a game that screams of certain styles and preferences that really will polarize players.
The World Ends With You starts off in an almost comically typical way. Players start with Neku, an extremely angsty teenaged boy who wakes up with amnesia. Very quickly, he is thrust into events that have him fighting for his life. If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Yet despite these ho-hum starts, the story and game don't take very long to pick up and become an incredibly unique experience.
The game is set in Shibuya, a district of Tokyo known for its unique trends in fashion. The Shibuya that Neku is in, however, is not the one he knows, but rather one in which he and other youth are stuck in a game that pits them against monsters known as "noise" in battles for their lives. Neku begins to find out that he is in a world of new rules and dimensions, as, layer-by-layer, the story reveals more and more intricate sub-plots and takes a long time to develop. At the beginning, it's honestly hard to feel any empathy for Neku, but as the game progresses, it does an amazing job of making all its characters genuine and likable. It isn't very often as a role-playing game reviewer that one finds oneself in the position of being able to say they didn't see plot twists coming, or that the story is superior to most other games' they've played, but in the case of The World Ends With You, this is very true. Despite its typical beginnings, The World Ends With You eventually introduces an emotionally engaging plot with superb, unexpected twists.
|There's always a lot going on during battles.
Thankfully, Jupiter, the game's developer, didn't stop at making a storyline that continued to peel back layer after layer of depth. The gameplay in The World Ends With You has so much depth that it can be almost overwhelming at some points. The good news is that each layer of depth is introduced in a way that makes sense in the story. Not only that, but these new layers almost always come right at the moment the players believe they may have everything figured out. It's not overwhelming, but refreshing.
The battle system is definitely the most innovative and fun part of the game. Essentially, players control Neku on the bottom screen, using pins--items that Players in Shibuya are able to use for attacking--to unleash attacks using the stylus on the touch screen while using the control pad to guide Neku's partner through attacks on the top screen. Pins come in an enormous variety. Ways to attack using pins include, but are not limited to: rapidly tapping the screen to fire bullets in the direction of the taps, slashing up on the screen to raise icicles, drawing circles around enemies to drop boulders on them, slashing across enemies to have Neku use a burning sword on them, blowing into the microphone to cause an earthquake, dragging the stylus across multiple enemies to lock onto them for lightning blasts, etc. Needless to say, this is a good game to have a screen protector on the DS for. It should be noted that the wide variety of attack types lead to a huge amount of different tactics. Some players will prefer the types of attacks that hit everything on screen, while others will want the higher damage, single target pins.
Then there's the added element of controlling Neku's partner. For players who aren't capable of monitoring the top screen while frantically attacking enemies on the bottom screen, there is a fairly competant AI system for Neku's partners. Using this AI, however, generally means that players wont be racking up combo stars that are needed to unleash powerful full-screen dual attacks that not only damage all enemies, but also heal Neku and his partner. In order to get these combos, players will have to use the D-pad to guide Neku's partners through their individual combos. These vary by character, and the last partner Neku has is notably the hradest combo to hit. This helps add to the challenge of the game, and is never an annoyance. Speaking of the difficulty, The World Ends With You has an extremely rewarding way to adjust the difficulty. The game features the standard three-tiered (easy, normal, and hard) difficulties, but also has an adjustable level system. Basically, there is a slider that lets players willingly lower their own level. This of course makes battles harder, but also yields a multiplier on loot. The more levels a player is willing to shave off, the harder their battles will be, but the more money and pins will be dropped. It's a rewarding system that players will find themselves utilizing often.
|There are some memorable baddies here.
If that's not enough depth, there's plenty more where that came from. There's a mini game reminiscent of Beyblade that has players shooting pins at each other, in addition to using special abilities of the pins, in order to knock enemy pins off the board. There's also a shop system that lets shopkeepers show better items off to players the more they buy from each shopkeeper. Furthermore, players can get involved in the style trends of Shibuya directly by wearing lots of one brand of clothing and pins. This influence on style in turn makes attacks from pins of these styles more powerful, thus giving players a direct hand in the game world. There's plenty more depth to the gameplay, but writing about all of it would take far too long. Suffice to say that there's an awful lot of game packed into the cartridge. One final note about the gameplay should be that there is a ridiculous amount of content after one beats the game. There's the option to go back through and play any chapter again, but rather than just having it be a simple "New Game +" experience, The World Ends WIth You packs plenty of extra story scenes, unlockables, etc. throughout the second playthrough. It adds a whole new level of gameplay that most RPGs seem to lack--super replay.
The game features an amazingly unique soundtrack. There's tracks that will certainly rub some gamers the wrong way, but overall the quality of the soundtrack is excellent. The music ranges from straight j-pop to techno to more somber melodies. Sound effects are very suitable. The only complaint here is that the voice acting featured very infrequently throughout the game is sub-par. Surprising, given the high overall production values.
Visually, The World Ends With You is pretty darned good. The backgrounds all look quite nice, the enemies are unique, and the cut scenes are simply dripping with style. This too, is a hit-or-miss for gamers. It's love-it or hate-it and that's really all there is to it.
The World Ends With You is certianly not a game for every RPG player, but for those that it hits the right note with, it will be nigh unto perfection. There are few games that deserve the highest possible score, but with its innovative battle system, superb plot development, awesome replay, and unique style, it would be hard to argue that this isn't one of the best games on the Nintendo DS. Not only that, but its one of the most fun games this reviewer has played in years. To put it quite simply, try this game.