Friday, 17 December 2010

REVIEW: The World Ends with You

The World Ends With You
[DS] [Square Enix/Jupiter]
We all know Square-Enix. They're quite possibly the biggest name in gaming when it comes to RPGs, creating such popular franchises as Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. Let's face it, most people must have heard the name Final Fantasy before at some point in their lives. With Square raking in so much cash from their popular franchises, it's hard to imagine them exploring the unknown and developing a game that's obviously not going to sell too well, right? Wrong. Because back in 2008 they published a unique yet brilliant game by the name of The World Ends With You for the DS. Developed by Jupiter, the same team that worked on the Kingdom Hearts games, The World Ends With You (or TWEWY for short) is quite possibly the best RPG on the DS, as well as one of the best games to appear on the console in general. Get ready for a lot of reading, because this is gonna be my biggest and (hopefully) best review yet.

So, how to begin? Well, I guess I should start with the story. I'm obviously trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, just like my other ones, but with The World Ends with You it's quite difficult. Basically, I'll be talking about the first few days of the game's storyline only in this paragraph, so some very minor spoilers may ensue. Got it? Good, now read on. The story begins with Neku, a teenage boy who really doesn't like other people. One might consider him an 'emo', minus the black hair and self-harming buisness. Neku lives in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan, living out his life until something unforunate happens. One minute, Neku is chilling in Shibuya, the next minute he wakes up in the middle of the 'Scramble Crossing', soon receiving a mysterious text message on his phone. The message reads: "Reach 104" as well as giving a time limit. Neku replies with a subtle remark and treats the message as spam, therefore deleting it. This doesn't seem to work though, and the message stays put. Soon after that, mysterious graffiti-like monsters appear out of nowhere and attack Neku. Confused and frightened, he legs it to the Statue of Hachiko where he runs into Shiki, a teenage girl who, much like the protagonist has been put in the same situation. Unlike Neku, Shiki seems to know what's going on and urges him to 'forge a pact' so they can team up and fight the 'Noise', which are the monsters that attacked Neku earlier. And so, the protagonist meets his partner.
The dual-screen battle system is unique, and works very well for the most part.
Soon it becomes clear that Neku has been thrown into The Reapers' Game, a complicated and desperate challenge set in Shibuya. The game lasts one whole week, each day of which a mysterious group called the Reapers sets a challenge. The Players (Neku, Shiki and a variety of others) have to complete these challenges to win the game and return to their normal lives. There's a lot involved that can't really be explained in one or two paragraphs, but when it all comes together in the story you'll realise just how clever and extremely well written The World Ends with You is. It's a story packed with unthinkable twists and amazing character design (wait 'til Sho Minamimoto and Joshua show up and you'll see what I mean) put together by Testuya Nomura. Seriously, I would go as far as saying that TWEWY has one of the best storylines ever conceived in a videogame, despite being on a not so powerful handheld. My only flaw with this aspect of the game is that it takes a few hours to get started, but hey, that's the case with so many other RPGs so you can't really complain too much. I clocked the game's ending for the first time in about 25 hours, so it's a lengthy adventure and one you'll play through time and time again just to see what you missed out.
Cutscenes are well animated and make good use of the game's brilliant art-style.
 The World Ends with You is a sheer masterpiece. Not just in terms of visual quality, but as a whole. It's a game so epic in scale that it'll take at least 100 hours to master. This fact is probably thanks to the game's Pin system. This is an RPG, so obviously you have to fight battles. However, Neku doesn't equip swords, lances and other fantasy crapola to use as weapons, instead he uses psyches (That's how it's spelt, by the way) made available through Pin Badges. Each Pin acts as an item that will help you in battle such as a weapon, healing spell or some kind of stat booster. Some pins are different from others and require many different motions with the stylus to be used. Some pins such as ones used for healing simply have to be tapped in battle, but others require slashes, taps and symbols that need to be drawn to be used. For the first few hours the game's battle system can feel a bit cumbersome, but you'll get used to it and eventually start using psyches like a pro. You'll adapt to certain Pins eventually form your own definitive deck to use in battles. There are over 300 pins in total, each of which can gain experience points and eventually gain a Mastered status. I've been playing for around 100 hours, yet I've only mastered about 40% of the Pins so this adds to the replay value heavily. However, it's not just the Pin system you'll have to worry about in battle, oh no. You see, as well as fighting on the touch screen with Neku, you'll also have to keep an eye on the top-screen where your partner will be fighting the same enemies in an 'alternate dimension' (it's hard to make sense of that, but like I said it's all explained in the story and fits together very well). Your Partner is controlled by button presses either on the D-Pad if you're right-handed, or the face buttons if you're a lefty. I won't get too in depth with the partner system, since it involves different styles depending on Neku's partner, but let's just say you'll be pressing the face buttons a lot.
Meet Sho Minamimoto, also known as The Grim Heaper. He's a bit mental...
The World Ends with You is full of beautiful visual flair. A vast amount of detail has gone into every sprite and there's some superb cutscenes which, while not fully animated, look simply awesome. Heck, even the dialogue has style, as it's told in the form of a sort of manga comic rather than generic text boxes. The art style suits the game pretty damn well, so kudos to the art team for making this aspect almost perfect. The World Ends with You also packs a frankly astonishing soundtrack. Astonishingly good, that is. Featuring music from many Japanese music artists, the game will have you tapping your feet and nodding your head in rhythm to the awesome hip-hoppin' beats that are playing over the already awesome visuals. Square-Enix were aware of how good the soundtrack was and even decided to release it on iTunes, along with another album full of re-hashes and remixes shortly after. Did I also mention you can buy all 305 Pins in real life too? Square certainly know how to please a fan-base.

So, I've talked about The World Ends with You's visuals, music, battle system... So how does the actual gameplay match up? Very well actually. Outside of battling and reading dialogue you'll spend most of your time running around the streets of the real-world Shibuya district in Tokyo, entering shops and buying Pins, items and armour. However, this isn't the sort of fantasy crapola you'll be able to equip in other Square RPGs. In fact, you'll be buying the sort of clothing you'll find in real life, such as shirts, jeans and jackets. One big difference with the clothing in The World Ends with You compared to other RPGs is that the majority of items are under a different brand name (as well as most of the Pins). Depending on Shibuya's trends, you get various bonuses depending on which brands you wear and which Pins are in your deck. However, if a brand name is unpopular the system may work the other way round and the stats of your Pins may decrease. Also great is the fact that you'll very rarely engage in random battles. Instead, you tap a special 'Player Pin' on the touch screen to scan the area around you, pick fights with enemies and strangely read peoples minds. However, random battles wouldn't be such a let-down in The World Ends with You because the battle system is actually pretty addictive, unlike so many other RPGs.
The World Ends with You is set in the real-world Shibuya district, so you'll spot plenty of landmarks.
Now, I usually save the worst until last with my reviews and this time it's no different. Time to pick out The World Ends with You's flaws. First off, this isn't one of those sissy kid RPGs like Sonic Chronicles or that recent Final Fantasy Spin-off, oh no. It's a very, very deep game that will take you many hours to completely finish. Regardless, you can still just plough through the story and have fun with the game, even though you'll undoubtedly miss out a ton of key details on your first few playthroughs (I know I did). Another flaw is that the battle system which, while addictive and unique, is a bit cumbersome. You get used to it, but I still make the occasional mistake of moving Neku instead of using a Pin (everything on the bottom screen involves stylus control). Aside from these few flaws, I really couldn't find much else wrong with The World Ends with You. It's by no means a perfect game but it comes very close.

In conclusion, The World Ends with You is by far one of the best RPGs on the DS, if not the best. It's got an extremely enjoyable story, an addictive battle system, an amazing amount of replay-value, brilliant character design, great visual flair, the list of positives just goes on and on... I haven't even mentioned everything the game has to offer in this list, such as the real-time features, quests, Secret Reports and evolving Pins. There's too much packed into TWEWY to be written about in a 1600 word review, so why not head on eBay and buy a copy yourself? It'll definitely be worth it...



Jess said...

Great review, you've made me wanna play it now xD Very good job, I love your reviews :D

Noodle said...

Thanks very much Jess, much appreciated ^__^