Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Jupiter Corporation
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Games for the Nintendo DS tend to fall into two categories: ones that would work just as well on a console or another handheld, and ones that utilize the system's unique hardware in a way that makes it hard to imagine playing the game in any other way. The first category is the more common, and if it's a good game, then it shouldn't really matter on which system you play it. However, when you start up a DS game in the latter category, especially if it's a good one, it makes you proud to own a DS. Thankfully, The World Ends with You is one of those games and combines a terrific story, incredible soundtrack, stylized visuals and inventive combat.
The game opens with your main character, Neku, waking up on a busy street with no idea how he got there. No one is able to see him, and he has a black pin in his hand that allows him to read the minds of those around him. He's quickly befriended by a young girl, Shiki, who forms a pact with him when he's attacked by weird creatures called Noise. He learns that he's now a participant in a "game" orchestrated by people who call themselves Reapers. The participants have to complete a mission a day for a week, or they face erasure. Throughout the game, Neku learns everything about his past, the Reapers, the other players, and how he got into the whole mess.
Unlike most RPGs, which take place in fantasy worlds, TWEwY takes place in modern-day Shibuya, a sector of Tokyo that is focused on appearances, brands and fads. The setting perfectly fits the tone of the game, which focuses on individualism and what makes us unique from others. What we end up with is a phenomenal story that starts out a little slowly but quickly evolves into a complex narrative about the inner workings of teenagers and their constantly changing fads.
Where TWEwY truly sets itself apart from other RPGs is in its unique, frantic combat system. The battle system is separated into two screens, on which you control two characters at the same time, and your main character is controlled with the touch-screen and quick movements of the stylus. For example, melee attacks require you to quickly slash the stylus over the enemy, while a lightning attack may require you to tap the enemy multiple times, building up a combo and high damage numbers.
The insane part comes when you throw the top screen into the fray and input combos on the d-pad for your partner to do. While you're dragging the stylus around the bottom screen to dodge and attack enemies, you also need to keep an eye on the top screen and input combos so that your partner does some damage, too. It seems confusing at first, but it doesn't take too long to understand what you're doing.
Becoming proficient at it is something else altogether, and it will probably be a good three or four hours before you're even comfortable with the system. This is my first, and one of my only, complaints about the game. While the battle system is fresh and utilizes the DS hardware very, very well, the learning curve seems way too high for a handheld. I'm supposed to be able to take handheld games on a commute and sit and play for short periods of time, but if you want to beat The World Ends with You, you've got to be ready to invest some time and practice quite a bit.
Don't let the complex battle system scare you off, though, because the game helps you out. There's a setting that will make it so your partner automatically attacks if you don't input a combo for a while. Expect to keep this on for most, if not all, of the game because it's really quite handy, considering how fast-paced some of the battles can get.
The developers knew what they were doing when they made the battle system because it actually works pretty well. It would have been easy to end up with a product that's slow to respond or doesn't work in the way that they'd intended, but control-wise, everything works pretty well. It just seems really, really complex, and the complexity doesn't stop there; let's talk about "pins."
If you're a completionist, The World Ends with You will keep you busy for hours. All of your attacks on the bottom screen are handled by pins that you collect, and there are hundreds of these little pins in the game. There are various methods for obtaining pins, including beating enemies, completing missions, and buying them in the store. Some pins are completely different from anything else you have in your inventory, and some are more powerful versions of pins that you may have been using from the beginning.
And the pins get even more complicated when you start to level them up. Each pin can gain a number of levels, based on how often you use them. On top of that, your pins can also gain PP, or Pin Points, from other things. If you're done playing for a while, shut off your DS. While your system is powered down, your equipped pins will receive up to seven days' worth of PP when you start up next time. The game also includes a Mingle mode, which basically puts your DS into suspended mode but leaves on the Wi-Fi to search for other DSes. Even if they aren't playing The World Ends with You, just connecting with the other systems yields points for your equipped pins.
If that wasn't enough information to take in on its own, I haven't even covered brands. Almost every item in the game is manufactured by some corporation and has a brand name associated with it. Certain areas of the city really like certain brands and dislike others, so if you're using pins manufactured by NaturalPuppy, then you might get a bonus or penalized, depending on which area of Shibuya you're in, and what's popular there. You can also change a brand's popularity by using their pins and items in battle.
Overall, The World Ends with You is not a simple game, by any means. There are so many concepts here that at first, it makes your head hurt a little. However, as you play through the game, you realize that everything the developers put in actually make sense, add to the entire experience, and make the game really fun. The game also suffers from the same problems I mentioned with the battle system; while the complicated system isn't impossible to figure out, it requires a lot of investment from the player, and that might turn off those who are looking for a quick, casual handheld game.
The World Ends with You looks and sounds great, sporting some of the best presentation I've ever seen on the DS. The graphics are a terrific example of what the hardware is capable of and offer a stylized, urban design that just oozes of teenage angst. Considering the game focuses so much on fashion and fads, this appearance fits perfectly.
Now, I've saved the best for last, and that's the sound. While the voices are few and far between, the entire game is blanketed in one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard. I haven't been gripped by game music like this in years. Featuring over 30 techno-industrial songs, TWEwY will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet from the opening note. Buy a pair of headphones because playing this game with the sound lowered is an extreme disservice to the entire experience.
In terms of value, you can't go wrong with TWEwY. With a story mode that clocks in at 10 to 15 hours and enough collectible stuff to keep you busy for hours, the $40 price tag is easily worth it. There are a few multiplayer modes that come in handy if you have a friend with the game. There's a small minigame, Tin-Pin Slammer, which involves you trying to take your opponent's pins out of a ring by using weapons and power. There's even a sharing system that allows your friends to trade items with you, and beyond that, you can set up a store for your friends to buy items and pins from you. It doesn't take much to realize that the developers have invested a lot of thought and effort into creating a complete experience.
There are a couple of minor gripes that I had with TWEwY, but they're incredibly nitpicky when you consider that the game raises the bar on portable RPGs. Yes, they are a little annoying, but it's not going to detract from your gaming experience at all. For one, there's only one save file. One of my favorite things to do with RPGs is go through them with multiple strands and try different things at different points, and you can't do that here. It also prevents you from showing off the game to any friends in the hopes that they'll buy it. If you aren't within the first few chapters of the game, they aren't going to know what they're doing, and it'll probably turn them off.
Another minor problem I had with the game is the inventory system, which basically groups all of your items on one screen and allows you to further separate them based on type. This is fine, but the inventory includes items you're currently wearing or using, or have worn or used in the past. If you don't have an item, it's dimmed out in the inventory, but when you buy a new item, it has a pretty good chance of getting lost in the sea of items that you may or may not have.
The World Ends with You is a game that every RPG fan who owns a DS needs to have. Jupiter and Square-Enix have done almost everything right in this game to create a solid, fun experience. While the game seems overly complex at times and requires a lot of personal investment from the player, if you stick with it, you'll find one of the best experiences on the DS system. From the terrific soundtrack and visual style to the great story and unique combat system, there's more than enough to make any DS owner proud to add TWEwY to his or her collection.