The World Ends With You is one of the most unconventional RPGs I have ever played. There is so much style, so much substance and so much to see that it’s hard to cover the game in a review. Square and Jupiter took copious risks in creating this product that has so much stuff to praise with nearly the same amount of stuff to criticize. The world of RPGs is a better place thanks to The World Ends With You, but there is no denying that this game is not for everyone. You simply have to try to it to see if you’re someone that can overlook the game’s flaws in order to enjoy all it offers.
The World Ends With You (known as It’s a Wonderful World in Japan) stars a boy named Neku Sakuraba. Neku is an anti-social, somewhat angst ridden teenager that wants nothing to do with people. He is content walking the streets of Shibuya with nothing but his thoughts and his massive headphones that drown the noise of the outside. While minding his own business, Neku passes out unexpectedly and wakes up in the middle of a busy sidewalk. After waking up, he gets a message saying he has to perform an enigmatic task or risk facing erasure. Things get weirder when mutant frogs start attacking him, a young, fashionable girl named Shiki Misaki forms a partnership with him, and Neku starts having the ability to perform a variety of psychic powers through the use pins. Neku learns that he has been chosen to be part of something called The Reapers’ Game. Participants in the game need to follow criteria or risk being permanently erased. Obviously, Neku is confused as hell and needs answers. However, in order to get these answers he’ll need to change his outlook and learn to trust people. TWEWY has a captivating story that sinks its claws in you from the moment it begins. Taking place in a fictitious version of Shibuya, you get to see Neku and a variety of characters grow as individuals in a believable way. With a solid script, believable interactions and modern dialogue, this is a narrative that keeps you pushing onward in order to relieve Neku of his circumstance.
From the moment you take control of Neku, it’ll be obvious that the controls and game play are just as outrageous as the story. Neku and his partner need to explore the streets of Shibuya for one week in order to complete missions set by the maniacal Reapers. Not all areas of Shibuya are accessible; the Reapers enjoy seeing participants fail. Thus, Neku and his current partner must fulfill a variety of conditions in order to proceed. He has plenty of resources to do so – which can be a bit overwhelming at first. Neku can equip pins that give him special powers. These will be covered later. You can equip Neku and his teammate with a variety of clothes, but it’s not always apparent what benefits they provide. In order to learn about them, you need to continue to buy items from the shopkeepers. Furthermore, each store’s brand of clothing can be currently trending. If you happen to be wearing something trendy, then you will benefit from increased effects. However, the reverse is true when things are last season’s fashion. You can also consume food that will leave permanent stat boosts, but you can only eat so much per day.
By touching the pin icon on the bottom of the screen, Neku will scan the area to hear people’s inner thoughts and to identify Noise. Remember those frogs that attacked Neku? They’re considered Nose: manifestations of negative emotions that hinder the progress of the players in the Reapers’ Game. By tapping a Noise icon, Neku and his partner will begin combat. Using the psych pins, Neku participates in the Stride Cross Battle System. This is a battle system that requires you to focus all of your attention on all of the madness happening on both screens. At times, it will feel like it requires you to have four hands and two heads.
The bottom screen belongs to Neku while the top screen has his partner. The same enemies appear in both screens simultaneously. To attack, move, and dodge with Neku you will use the stylus. Your partner can be controlled with the control pad or the face buttons, but you can also set him/her to automatically attack. Neku and his partner will attack various enemies while a green orb called the Puck passes back and forth between them. The better you do in combat, the more volleys you have with the Puck. With more volleys, comes an increase in attack power and the chance for better rewards. Neku attacks by using his pre-equipped pins to slash enemies, set an area on fire, generate an icicle and much more. The partner has their own set of attacks that require you to match various criteria in order to earn Stars. When you earn enough of these, you can execute a powerful dual attack against all enemies. Finishing a battle will reward you with new pins and Pin Points. Earning enough Pin Points with your currently equipped pins causes them to become stronger or change.
Confused? Me too. While the game features plenty of tutorials to go along with each new feature, TWEWY is a sink or swim type of RPG because there is so much to deal with in each battle. Neku and his partner share a health bar, so you need to always monitor that. You also need to monitor their positions, monitor your pins’ usage and recovery time, monitor enemy placement, monitor enemy attacks and so much more. It’s madness, and while the battles do have their highlights when things go well, you will spend most of your time frantically swiping the stylus and mashing the control pad in the hopes of your attacks landing. Since the stylus controls are finicky, it adds an even greater challenge. The game’s difficulty can be adjusted at any time. Harder difficulty levels let you earn more rewards, but the benefits from playing on an easier setting are recommended.
And that’s just the start of it. For the sake of length, I won’t bother talking about Tin Pin Slammer, memes, or the online features. By now, you’ve probably realized that there is always something going on in TWEWY; just like its Shibuya setting. Speaking of Shibuya, this unique city and its colorful locals look great. The graphics in TWEWY are just as stylish as its denizens. With beautiful 2D artwork by Nomura and some nightmare inspired enemies, this is one of the best looking games on a portable console. The music is an audio amalgam of eargasm goodness. Fans of techno, trance, pop, Euro pop, chemical beats and electronica will enjoy an excellent collection of music that will keep the toes tapping and heads bopping.
Finishing this bizarre title can take as little as 20 hours or as much as 40 hours. By the time the game ends, you will have the chance to revisit previous chapters with all of your statistics and you can continue to power your pins or check out bonus missions. The World Ends With You is really difficult to rate because there are so many factors to consider. The game looks and sounds great. Beyond its shiny surface are features that only experienced RPG players will be able to handle. If you read through the manual and mess with the tutorials a few times, chances are you will still be overwhelmed by all of goings-on. This rings true the most with the battles. Just when you start getting used to something, the game throws a new feature at you that will require necessary mastery. This is an RPG that is not for everyone, no matter how seasoned you think you are with the genre. Those that do manage to learn the ropes are in for a sleek and substantial adventure in one of Japan’s most fascinating cities.
Overall, 6.5/10: Similar to the haut couture you can equip, The World Ends With You is a game some will find chic and others will simply not understand.