Seriously, what average RPG player was dying to pick up The World Ends With You? Based on its aesthetic, it appeared to be a game about things that would probably alienate its usual target audience – that is, running around in the streets of a big city while being cool and trendy.
Developed by Square-Enix and Jupiter, TWEWY is not only one of the most refreshingly original RPGs from S-E in a long time, but perhaps one of the most original RPGs in a long time, period. Thankfully, it sounds like the game has caught on really well.
The aesthetic of this game is something not something easily conveyed in screenshots, because they make the 2D graphics look hideous; but in action, it looks absolutely wonderful. I also dig the character designs, except for a few oddballs; what’s up with the low-rise micro mini skirt on a fifteen year old girl? Takeharu Ishimoto, of Final Fantasy fame, wrote a whole bunch of neat rock, rap, and dance tracks for the game, accompanied by a ton of vocalists. Very appropriate, and very catchy songs.
Now, on to the important stuff. You are Neku Sakuraba. You hate everything, and you’re one of those jerks who walks down the street with their iPod and headphones on so that no one can talk to you. One day, you wake up in the middle of the streets in Shibuya clueless. You get a text message on your phone saying that you need to get to 104 in an hour or ‘face erasure’; whatever that means. Eventually, some crazy lady comes out of nowhere and makes a ‘pact’ with you, and informs you that you’re part of “The Reapers’ Game”. So, a reluctant Neku, along with the crazy lady,set out to play “The Game”. Since they made a pact, they’re partners, and can’t leave each others’ side, because you have to have a partner to fight ‘noise’ – the name given to the crazy monsters within The Game.
On their journey, the two meet some friends, and Neku learns all about the nature of The Game, and why he had signed up for it in the first place. I have to say, while the story bored me at first, it wound up being surprisingly good. The themes of TWEWY deal with individuality and trusting others, and they’re done very well. To boot, there are some really neat curve balls in the story, showing that you can totally come up with some interesting plot twists if you try. For the most part, the characters are pretty believable (for all their teen-angst, they really are teenagers, so it works).
The only part that fails to deliver is near the end of the game; not very much happens, and you just walk straight from point A to point B to watch something happen. This is in glaring contrast to the rest of the game, when Neku and co. had fetchy-questy missions to carry out. While this would normally bother me, it seemed appropriate in the Reapers’ game, where the Reapers would intentionally set obstacles in your way, rather than the usual set of unfortunate, coincidental mishaps that create fetch quests in RPGs.
Lastly, if you replay the game, you can see ‘secret reports’, which detail the goings-on behind the scenes. While some of the information you can gather from this is pretty cool, a lot of it is just extraneous information that fleshes out the story. “What’s the problem with this,” you ask? Because most of it hardly pertains to the main story; almost none of it pertains to what Neku and co. are doing, have done, or will do. Thus, it doesn’t serve to make the story – which was strong because of its themes, not its plot – more enjoyable. I recommend reading an FAQ, unless you’re just gaga about the combat.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the combat. First off, there are no random battles, per se; you have to ‘scan’ for enemies, in which case if you find an enemy, you touch it to engage it in battle. Consequentially, there’s hardly any mandatory combat in TWEWY, but you’d be stupid not to fight. You have to level up if you have any hope of beating boss fights, and if you’re underleveled in this game, you will seriously get laid FLAT.
There’s more to just leveling up than just your base ‘level’, too; you have to level up your attack pins. Neku fights by using attack pins, each with their own separate method of use. Some of them make you drag the stylus in empty space, while some have you make quick ‘slashes’ across the screen, and a whole bunch of other detailed methods. In any case, the pins level up, too, which extends how long you can use them before they have to recharge, as well as how much damage they inflict, how much they heal, etc.
TWEWY’s combat is action-style RPG combat that takes place on two screens. On the bottom screen, you control Neku. You can move him around by touching him with the stylus and moving it to a different place. If you move it quickly, you cause Neku to dash, which makes him invulnerable, too. Also, Neku uses a select amount of pins, equipped before combat, to attack enemies. On the top screen is your partner, who doesn’t move at all. Your partner generally can block or dodge attacks, and jump. They attack by pressing specific directions on the D-Pad (Or ABXY if you’re a lefty like me) to make combos.
If you execute combos properly on the top screen, Neku will be able to unleash a ‘fusion’ attack, a powerful attack that takes up both screens. Neku and his partner share hit points, so they have to work together to combat enemies. Just as well, all enemies appear on the top AND bottom screen, so Neku and his partner can attack the same enemy. If an enemy dies on one screen, they die on both.
Overall, I really enjoyed the combat, and a lot of its neat features (on-the-fly adjustable difficulty, pins level up while you’re NOT playing, and reducing your level to increase drop rates to name a few). While it can feel like cruel and unusual punishment at first, getting the hang of attacking and dodging on both screens simultaneously feels like a really cool accomplishment.
That being said, the battle system is far from perfect. Sometimes the touch screen controls are just not responsive. I died a fair share of times due to pressing the healing pin, only to realize a few seconds later (when I died) that it didn’t work. Moving Neku can sometimes be a pain, because you have to do a lot of calm, clear movements – in other words, the opposite what you’re likely to be doing during a hectic boss fight. Neku and his partner share HP, and since his partner can’t move, you have to pay a lot of attention to the top screen in order to dodge attacks. In a situation like that, you’re probably anything but calm.
There are a lot of pins that are just damn hard to use, like the ones where you have to draw circles (sweet Lord, you have to draw a near flawless circle in the heat of battle? Yeah right!), or the ones where you have to drag the stylus slowly or scratch an enemy. The clear winners of the day are the ones that require quick slashing motions, or little more than just rapidly touching the screen, giving you little incentive to try out a bunch of pins.
Lastly, some of the bosses are absurdly, this-is-not-even-fun-anymore hard. Thankfully, you can retry a battle on easy mode if you lose, but it feels really insulting.
What else? There’s some mini-game called ‘Tin Pin Slammer’, where you basically play bumper cars with your pins. It’s not really that exciting. Still, someone at Square ENix had the bright idea of making that the WiFi mini-game for TWEWY. Why couldn’t they have instead implemented a co-op mode? With a little work, this game would have been outstanding for two players.
The World Ends With You is a game all about expanding your horizons to see something new about the world. Uncoincidentally, there are some parts of the game that truly expand upon the perceived limits of the genre (while admittedly falling into cliche on other parts). Certainly, this game could have been a lot better – it starts out in the most tired, unoriginal way possible, it begins to feel tiring towards the end, and the ‘secret reports’ was a lame move to garner some replay value from the game. That being said, it’s a very good, very original game. If anything, fan reaction to the game proves that there are people who really are waiting for something new to hit the genre, rather than the same old repackaged dreck we’ve been getting for years. Hopefully Square-Enix (or someone) will realize that, and have the stones to try something WAY more groundbreaking. The world begins and ends with you: the consumers and developers.
Original style, original aesthetic, original plot, original combat...This game has it all.
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There's a high learning curve, and the stylus are really picky. Still, the game is undeniable intense, challenging, and fun.
Nothing else but your typical J-Pop and J-Rock would suffice for a game like this. Very appropriate, and very catchy.
It's not too short, and it's not too long. And, you can replay it for a ton of superfluous new story details if you really want.
The game gets off to a slow start, but it blossoms into something amazing that no one could have seen coming. Easily one of the best RPGs of the current generation.