Nintendo DS Review: The World Ends With You

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


By Pierst179

For companies like Square-Enix that have a huge group of gaming series that are known worldwide and generate incredible hype among fans whenever a new installment is coming, it is fairly easy to create a new game. All the developing team needs to do is to use most features and characteristics that make those critically acclaimed series so amazing and bring them to a "new" game that will present a new world, a different group of enemies and a nice storyline. The result will obviously be a great package that unfortunately won't contribute neither to the growth of the industry nor to the genre itself.

The true challenge behind the developing process is taking the risk to create something so fresh and authentic that even people who are supporting the project will doubt its success. And when Square-Enix is willing to take such a leap chances are fans all over the world will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the experience. The World Ends With You is exactly that, a game overflowing with a unique vibe that appears on a moment where titles that are way too similar dominate the market.

The game takes place in Shibuya, one of Tokyo's wards, a place filled with many young people where big brands are fashion centers are the most popular subject among the local dwellers. It is in this vivid and vibrating place where we first encounter the main character of the story. Neku Sakuraba is a teenager with the "I don`t care attitude" that has many doubts about the world and people who live around him.

He wakes up in the main area of the district unable to remember anything about his life besides his own name and a couple of minor details. He has no idea how he got there but a few minutes later his whole world will change dramatically once he discovers that he is part of a game controlled by The Reapers – a mysterious organization – where in order to survive the players have to accomplish each one of the missions that are received via a cell phone on a daily basis during an entire week. Failing on a mission will lead to erasure.

In order to survive on this game players need to team up in duos. Neku quickly meets a young girl named Shiki and both of them form a partnership despite the fact that Neku somehow refuses to befriend with anyone. Basically that is all the information you will get in the beginning of the adventure, so questions like: Who are the Reapers? What is this game all about? Who Neku truly is? And what is the backstory of some of the characters? will be constantly hovering over your head as you progress through the game. The storyline therefore is extremely compelling because of the mysteries the game presents to the player as soon as the game kicks off and will be one of the main reasons you won't be able to put the game down.

In order to get through the game Neku and his partner will have to advance through Shibuya to solve the missions. Most of them are pretty straightforward as you will be battling your way to certain locations until you reach a big bad boss but some others require some more investigation and exploration. In certain occasions – those are rare though – you will feel like you are simply moving from one place to another while fighting enemies because the game can get very linear sometimes.

The battle system is one of the highlights of the game. Players who dislike random battles will be glad to know that you will only face enemies in Shibuya when you want to. This is accomplished by using the "player pin" which is displayed on the screen as an icon. By touching it with the stylus Neku will use his senses to scan the area where you are located. When you do so you will be able to read the minds of people who are nearby – except for other players – and also locate the "noise", which are the enemies of the game. Touch the noise icon and battle will ensue.

In batlle Neku will take the botton screen while his partner will fight on the top one, to suceed you will have to control both of the characters. In the beginning you will be fumbling with the controls a little bit since fighting on two screens at the same time can be confusing but after a few missions you will naturally perform movements with both characters. For those who are not able to master the dual battles there is an option that permits the CPU to take control of your partner automatically.

Both of the characters have different battle controls. Neku uses different pins for attacks, each one of them has a different function such as sending bullets towards the noise, generating an earthquake or dragging objects on the screen to attack the enemies. There is an endless variety of moves all of them being activated by different actions with the stylus like tapping the enemies, slashing neku or scrathing the ground. Sometimes the system will not identify those actions properly causing the character to perform the move incorrectly which can become frustrating sometimes.

Another minor flaw is that when you equip two pins that are activated by the same move the game will randomly choose one of them to use first, and you will only be able to use the other attack once the other pin has alread been used to its limit and is recharging its power for another usage.

Meanwhile, the partner faces the same enemies on the top screen by atacking them with moves made by pressing one of the directions of the D-pad. Once you press one of the directions a combinations of arrows will appear on the screen and by following them correctly you will land a combo. By succesfully performing many combos you will activate the fusion move which is a powerful attack performed by the duo that will heavily harm the enemies and recover a little bit of your HP.

Another noteworthy detail during battles is a green light puck that is passed from one character to the other. Whenever you land a combo one character will hand the puck to the other one this will temporally increase the attack of the one that received it, kepp the combo going and the puck will keep being passed and its attack boost will subsequently increase.

The battle system is very solid and it creates some truly memorable battles. It has some minor setbacks that could have been fixed but overall it is very original and most importantly a lot of fun. During the battle your character will receive some EXP points and his level will raise, improving a few stats automatically.

As on most RPGs out there, on The World Ends With You your characters should be well equiped to conquer the challenges but in the modern Shibuya there are not swords or iron ammo. All you are going to find are many stores that sell clothes from certain brands, buying them may make your character stronger.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is the fact that brand charts rule this place. Most of the pins and all clothes acquired during your adventure belong to a certain brand and if this brand is on the top-3 of the brand chart your stats will gain a very good boost – especially if the brand is on the top of the chart – however, if the brand is the least popular of the area your stats will be halved. So taking a look at the chart is always a good idea if you intend to enter a battle.

The presentation of the game is absolutely astonishing. Everything here transpires originality from the graphics to the stylish menus. The different locations of Shibuya are close to perfect reproductions of the actual place and when playing the game youi can actually feel how alive that corner of Japan is. The character models are very nice and the storyline is shown via text boxes and steady characters with a few impressive cutscenes appearing on some dramatic moments of the plot. You can easily see the producers were very careful when polishing this product to this level.

The only thing I think is missing is a map of the Shibuya. On most missions you have to visit some certain locations but since the world is pretty big sometimes is easy to get lost while looking for your destination, still a map is nowhere to be found and if you don not have a good memory chances are you will eventually go through the wrong path at least once.

The soundtrack is one of the things that makes this game so thrilling, you may not like some of the music genres that the game uses but truth be told you will probably end up enjoying them when you are caught up in a battle or simply because the songs perfectly capture the young and brand-new feel that the game has.

The World Ends With You also has an incredible replay value because during your first playthrough – which must take around ten to fifteen hours - you will find out the solution to all questions I listed in the beginning of this review but your curiosity about some details of the plot and some rather obscure characters will make you replay the game since some pieces of information can only be acquired by playing the game once again. Do not worry though, the first ending explain enough to satisfy all players who do not feel like going through an extra adventure.

In the end, The World Ends With you is as original as an RPG created by Square Enix can be. The game may have its share of problems but none of those will make you forget about how big of an accomplishment this game is truly is, because adventures with such a perfect storytelling and refreshing gameplay do not appear as often as we would all like nowadays.