Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: The World Ends With You


Every platform has its share of shovel ware,  gimmicky cash-ins, and blatant rip-offs. In contrast, there are the gems. These are the games with a whirlwind stranglehold that make silly things like food, water, or the need to expel waste irrelevant, and stay with us long after the credits roll. Ladies and gentlemen: The World Ends With You.

The game opens with our misanthropic protagonist, Neku, lying face down in a crossing in Shibuya. He wakes with no recollection of the events leading up to this point (amnesia in a Japanese RPG?!) and finds in his hand a strange pin that allows him to read people's thoughts. Things get even weirder when he receives a text message telling him to reach the 104 building within the next 60 minutes or face erasure, accompanied by a timer on his hand. Strange frog monsters then appear from rifts in the sky, forcing him to run, bumping into a girl named Shiki, who demands Neku form a pact with her. With his life in imminent danger, he reluctantly accepts. 

It is here the game introduces the battle system, which has a bit of a steep learning curve and might put some people off. Battles take place across both screens of the DS, with Neku on the bottom screen and the supporting character on the top. To fight the noise creatures Neku uses psych pins which are activated by every imaginable motion on the touch screen and even by yelling or blowing into the microphone. This is simple enough on its own but the top character also has to be controlled with the D-pad, or face buttons for lefties. Both characters share an HP bar, so the ability to switch focus between screens is key. Each supporting character has their own mechanics. Shiki, for example, has face down cards with symbols which, when guessed correctly, store up power to enable a powerful attack. The top screen can be set to AI, but I recommend learning and mastering the dual-screen combat as it is highly rewarding, and never once felt stale. This is the only game I can recall where I fought battle after battle simply because it was fun and not because I needed levels.

The basic premise of the game is another game, the Reapers' Game, of which Neku, Shiki, and dozens of other players are a part. Players have to survive for a week, completing a new mission each day. What's the grand prize you're wondering? Well, it's a second shot at life. That's right, everyone playing is dead, and in the end only one can win. This game takes place in the Underground (UG) which runs parallel to the Real Ground (RG). The Reapers after which the game were once players but now act as administrators, hunting down and eliminating players to extend their own existence.

In keeping with the modern aesthetics, players don't equip swords, staffs, or armor, but regular clothing. The leveling system is also far from traditional as only HP increases, and it can be raised or lowered at any time to affect item drop rates. Players can feed their characters food items, each requiring a certain number of bytes (battles) to digest for permanent increases in HP, ATK, DEF or BRV (bravery). The higher the bravery stat, the better tier clothing that can be worn. There are also different brands of clothing, and wearing the current trends will grant stat bonuses in battle. Mavericks can ignore this entirely, as trends can be influenced to favor the brands currently equipped by fighting noise.

TWEWY is a perfectionist's dream, keeping track of the number of different items collected, pins mastered, noise fought, and more. A detailed bestiary collects drop rates for specific items on specific difficulty levels for each of the 96 types of noise fought throughout the game. Players can choose six of the 300+ pins to take into battle. Not each of these is completely viable however, as pins gain exp from battles and some will actually evolve, rendering the previous form obsolete, but there are still a staggering amount of choices.

The quality of the music in this game is difficult to convey through written word, but take my word for it, it's fucking perfect. Half of the time I couldn't understand the words and these are genres I'd never listened to before, but the soundtrack now enjoys a directory in my mp3 player. There's a track fitting for every atmosphere presented by the game's deep, superbly-written philosophical plot. The characters are all unique, well-written, and memorable, including the 'extras' that only have a few brief appearances.

This review barely scratches the surface of this masterpiece and I could go on gushing but only first-hand experience can do the game justice. If there's one word to describe this game, it's synergy. Some games have a great story and lackluster gameplay or phenomenal gameplay and a story less gripping than the back of a cereal box,  but The World Ends With You does it all. Some games are made with the DS hardware in mind, but it's as if the DS was made with TWEWY in mind. It's a match made in gaming heaven and worth owning a DS for.

Find The World Ends With You on ebay | Amazon

It's also been remixed for the iPhone and iPad but for those with a 3/DS/i I strongly recommend playing it on the original hardware.

Released: 4/22/2008
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Jupiter


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