[Shock Value is a monthly segment which runs down inexpensive titles that are more than worth the money spent.]
I was in search of a quality cheap thrill quite some time ago when our very own Editor Chad Awkerman mentioned a quaint little DS JRPG called The World Ends With You. Of course I’d heard of the game – it was from Square-Enix (who at one time was my absolute favorite developer) and critically acclaimed. So, I stopped resisting and went to grab the game, feeling completely embarrassed about being four years late to the party.
Boy am I glad I did. From the first fifteen minutes to the second dozen hours, The World Ends With You is wonderful.
- Title: The World Ends With You
- Developer: Square-Enix, Jupiter
- Publisher: Square-Enix
- Release: April, 2008
- Platforms: Nintendo DS
- Pricing: New: $20, Used: $20?
The story tells the tale of Neku, who begins the game with severe amnesia. The only thing he’s sure of is that he’s dead and before he can figure out why he’s cast into a nasty game where he’ll fight to return his life to normal and encounter both trustworthy friends and vicious enemies. The story flirts with some of the same parallel existence mumbo jumbo as a few previous Square-Enix games, including Kingdom Hearts. The characters are developed well, and it was extremely entertaining learning how Neku, Shiki and everyone else ended up in the game. There were also some big twists and plenty of excitement. I was thoroughly engaged by the story in this game. They definitely could release a graphic novel or something.
The game’s look is comparable to that of entries in the Kingdom Hearts series, which is understandable considering Tetsuya Nomura contributed the character design. Each character looks unique and unconventional, if distinctly Japanese flavored. The 2D graphics are striking and colorful and the unique art style looks very cool. The environments are static but they are highly detailed; The setting is a futuristic, kind of urban Shibuya (a district in Tokyo), and the developers have even gone as far as to use real-life locations and landmarks, such as the Hachiko statue.
When the characters speak to each other and during cutscenes, dialogue and images are presented in panes, making the game feel like a manga or comic book. The game has a very unique and eye-catching look.
I wasn’t absolutely crazy about the music in this game, but I can’t deny it was interesting. There’s a mixture of hip-hop, pop, techno and a few other things. I was surprised by how many songs had vocals. Rap songs don’t typically get used in JRPGs, but this just further demonstrates the fact that The World Ends With You is no typical JRPG. The music definitely contributes to the urban, cultured vibe, and you’ll appreciate this even if you don’t like the songs. There is really a wide variety of different songs you’ll hear, and you may like some stuff more than others. As for other sounds, most of the dialogue is presented in text. The characters do speak and make noises during combat, and a few other times.
The World Ends With You succeeds at crafting a compelling set of characters and environments and telling an entertaining story, but where it really excels is the game-play. The game is varied and there is hardly ever a dull moment. Players will travel throughout Shibuya completing missions, battling enemies and growing stronger. Combat in the game is handled very neatly. Players will utilize both of the DS’s screens to control Neku and his partner simoultaneously. Scratching and tapping the touch screen various ways will get Neku fighting while using the D-pad or face buttons will control the other character on the top screen. If this sounds a bit awkward or confusing, that’s okay because it is at first. But after some getting used to, combat will be a breeze.
Battles take place in real time, so players are kept on their toes. Paying too much attention to either character means abandoning the other, so you’ll need to constantly watch both of them. This is especially important considering the characters share a pool of health that is exhausted whenever either of them takes damage. When you lose a battle, you’re shown a list of options, including retrying the battle on a lower difficulty setting.
Instead of weapons and armor, in this game you strengthen your character by equipping them new pins and clothes. The pins give Neku and the gang new attributes and attacks to use in battle. Examples include an attack that shoots fire balls across the battlefield and another that calls down lightning strikes upon enemies. Pins can be acquired from stores, enemy drops, and several other ways. What’s cool about the pins is that they gain experience points and grow stronger as you use them in battle. Whenever I found a pin I really liked, I just had to keep using it to see how effective and powerful it would become.
Traditionally in RPGs, once you get a new weapon the old one becomes obsolete. This makes collecting pins quite different that collecting, say swords or something. You’ll also need to collect clothes for your characters to wear. Clothes don’t actually show up on the characters, but they do all have their own illustrations. Items include hoodies, gym shoes, accessories and more. It’s strange but cool to see ATK stats on a sweatshirt and this too contributes to the game’s individual style.
Brands deepen the pins and clothes system. There are different trends in every part of Shibuya. Certain brands and styles are more popular, and wearing the popular brands will net you bonuses during battle. These bonuses are worth pursuing if you want to kick up the difficulty or chain multiple battles together for greater rewards and experience points. Over time, you can even influence the trends in a particular area of the city by repeatedly fighting in less popular attire.
The shops in the city are cool because you can build relationships with the shopkeepers and net better deals and lower prices. You can also purchase food, which is digested over several battles, giving the characters a bonus when it’s finished. Additionally, there’s an in-game bestiary to fill, mini-games to play, tons of things to collect and an absurd amount of general content in this title.
If you haven’t played The World Ends With You before, then you’re just like I was and deserve to be ashamed. Shame on you! For the petty $20 fee of admission, you’ll be getting a perfectly stylish, entertaining and fulfilling RPG unlike anything you’ve played before it.