Subarashiki Kono Geemu
Finding himself wandering around the streets of Shibuya, Neku notices that something is amiss. For starters, he receives an ominous email that he can’t delete. He doesn’t remember who he is, and none of the people in the crowded intersection seem aware of his presence. Not only that, he can read their thoughts using a strange pin he has with him. Strange invisible walls, cloaked figures, and weird monsters only add to the confusion. As much as he may dislike other people, he needs answers. Whether he likes it or not, he runs into another person in much the same situation he’s in, and she seems to have a better grasp on what’s going on.
The World Ends with You follows Neku’s involvement in the Reaper’s Game, a series of challenges where participants attempt to complete a number of seemingly random tasks for the sake of their very existence. It’s not quite as simple as that though. The Reapers do their best to make life difficult for the players, and Neku needs to find the answers to a number of mysteries along the way. Oftentimes, as many questions are discovered as answers, and there are a surprising number of twists as the story unfolds. The writing and execution are for the most part very well done, though a few of the more mundane missions can sidetrack things a bit. On the plus side, most of these offer a chance for character development or serve to set things up for future events. In any case, there are a number of cliffhangers and mysteries that will play out as the game progresses that help keep players pretty well engrossed even through the few slower portions. Each day shouldn’t take too long to get through, with the game taking between ten and twenty hours in total, but there’s plenty of bonus content for those who wish to keep playing.
Story is not the only thing The World Ends with You does right either. Despite taking a very unique approach with its gameplay, everything comes together pretty nicely there as well. For starters, there aren’t any random battles except in a few rare cases late in the game, and they’re still not common enough to really get annoying. The players themselves choose which battles they want to fight or avoid on their way to complete the day’s mission, though there are naturally quite a few mandatory story battles and a number of incentives for seeking out and eliminating additional foes. Another good feature is that difficulty can be altered at will once certain requirements have been met, and it’s also possible to scale down Neku’s current exp level for added flexibility. This allow the player to tailor the difficulty to their liking, with extra incentives offered to those who take on greater challenges in the form of better items or a higher item drop rate.
Battles themselves also take a step in an interesting direction, yet they still go a good job. Neku appears in the bottom screen, and his partner appears on top, while enemies appear simultaneously in both. Neku and his allies share a single life bar, and so does each pair of enemies, so removing a player or enemy from one screen will cause the other to become erased as well. Neku’s side of combat involves using a variety of attacks with the stylus, typically in the form of paranormal psychic abilities such as pyrokenesis, force shots, or hurling objects about with one’s mind, and his skillset can be heavily customized by equipping various pins. Neku’s partner, on the other hand, can be controlled directly using the DS’s buttons or set to automatic, depending on how involved the player wants to be. Fighting on both screens at once can indeed be a very enjoyable experience for those who can handle it, but it’s thankfully not mandatory.
Though much of the game is heavily customizable and allows the player to play the game the way they want to, there are a few setbacks to this. The first of these problems, though minor, is related to the otherwise spot-on interface. Most pins work just fine, so long as the priority order is taken into to account when they’re equipped, but some are activated by patterns that the game may have a bit of trouble recognizing. This makes it far less favorable to bring these pins along into battle. The other major interface problem is that there are many ways to level up and evolve pins, but it can often be very difficult to tell what the requirements are for this without a great deal of experimentation.
This leads into the next problem: some pins require exp that can only be gained while the game is shut off, and they seem to need an awful lot of it. By the time the player figures out how to make them evolve and gathers enough exp to do so, they’re likely to be well past the point where the evolved form would be useful unless they’re playing very slowly. This gives the player a choice between playing the game at the speed they want to or giving up on some entire lines of pins. Another example of this is that the game discourages players from playing more that a certain amount per day by cutting off food consumption, the largest bonus for fighting battles, after two dozen or so fights. Thankfully, this can be avoided after a certain postgame item has been purchased, but players either need to play the game in small chunks or forgo a large portion of control over character growth before the main storyline has been completed.
The good news about food is that, though the rules about eating may be restrictive, they open up another method of customization. Each character can also be customized to the players liking based on the types of food they eat and clothes they wear. Food will determine permanent statistics changes, such as minor bonuses to attack or defense, whereas clothing will have a more dramatic bonus, especially if the heroes have made friends with a shopkeeper that can unlock its bonus ability. Bravery plays an important role in which clothing can be worn, as do fashion trends. Each portion of Shibuya has an ever-changing set of popular brands which will raise or lower the effectiveness of a character’s equipped clothing and pins. It’s up to the player whether or not they want to be a victim of fashion and play along or set the trends themselves.
Indeed, fashion plays a large role in The World Ends with You, especially since it takes place in Shibuya, a city rich in modern culture. Not to disappoint its source material, the game too has a strong visual style of its own. Everything from sprites to backgrounds, character artwork to even minute details such as pin artwork all look very nice. There are even some very nice looking cutscenes thrown in at a few points in the game. The game really does do an excellent job of representing this version of Shibuya in its own unique style.
Another aesthetic portion that doesn’t disappoint is the soundtrack. Though it is fairly limited and a bit repetitive at first, despite the majority of the tracks being quite good, new CDs can be purchased as the game progresses. These CDs allow new music to be played, and a complete soundtrack has a sizable array of tracks that can play in battle or while walking around the city. It’s even possible to change the track that plays in the main menu at will too. It also bears mentioning that a large number of these tracks are licensed J-Pop. While this may not appeal all that heavily to everyone, the selection is good enough that even those who aren’t a big fan will likely still appreciate the soundtrack.
It’s rare for games these days to go out on a limb and try something new, and even more rare for them to pull it off so well on their first try, yet The World Ends with You manages to do this. It successfully combines a surprisingly engaging storyline with heavily customizable, enjoyable gameplay, and back these up with solid music and visuals. Despite the primary quest being pretty short, it accomplishes what a lot of games two or even three times longer often fail to, and players who enjoyed the game itself will find plenty of postgame content to continue with. There are a few annoyances that can get in the way of the play-the-game-the-way-you-want-to theme, but the game is overall quite well done. Perhaps one of the game’s themes sums it up best: sometimes it’s best to stop following blindly and set a new trend.