Review: The World Ends With You

A few friends told me a while ago that The World Ends With You is an amazing game and I should really give it a try. At the time, I had absolutely no time for gaming, but in recent months, I’ve specifically made it a point to fit in a game or two here and there. I’ve found that portable games are the easiest for me to get through because it’s vastly easier to fit in an hour or two of portable game time at my college than it is to sit down at a console at home. I have an hour commute to school every day, so making the trek home to play a game often doesn’t stack up well against the benefits of staying near campus.

That said, I remembered my friends’ recommendations to play TWEWY, so I decided to give it a try. What I got out of playing the game was not quite what I expected, but it wasn’t entirely good or bad. The game is good, but there are a few glaring flaws that can easily ruin the experience of someone not nearly stubborn as I.

In a nutshell, TWEWY is a wholly stylistic game that makes a genuine attempt at being innovative, different, and original. This proves to be both the game’s greatest strength and also its greatest weakness.

The World Ends With You
Systems: Nintendo DS
Developers: Square Enix, Jupiter
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: April 22, 2008
MSRP: $34.99

The game begins by throwing you into the middle of the Shibuya Scramble. The Shibuya shopping district turns out to be the setting for the entire game, with all of the different places reflecting strongly their real-world counterparts. The basis of the plot is something called the “Reaper’s Game.” The Reaper’s Game takes place in an alternate version of Shibuya called the Underground (UG). The people in the UG are people who have died and are participating in the Reaper’s Game to win a chance at being brought back to life. They can see the people who are alive and
well in the Realground (RG), but people in the UG
cannot interact with people in the RG.

The main character, Neku Sakuraba, does not initially realize he’s dead since he avoids interacting with people and is for all intents and purposes anti-social. After encountering “noise,” the game’s main battle opponents, he meets Shiki Misaki, who tells him to make a pact with her so that they can “erase” the noise.

Given that Neku has no memory of dying, does not realize he’s dead, and doesn’t realize he’s playing the Reaper’s Game, Shiki essentially acts as a well-written plot-based tutorial character. The way the story is written incorporates this learning period perfectly with Neku and Shiki’s interactions. This is so well done that I didn’t even realize this was actually a tutorial until later in the game. Games often have a difficult time introducing a tutorial into a game without stepping on the player’s toes and often simply give an option to skip the tutorial completely to avoid the problem. However, this ultimately induces an I’ll-figure-it-out-on-my-own attitude in the minds of players, which results in a number of people complaining about the difficulty of a game because they don’t know how to play it properly. TWEWY manages to circumvent this entirely in the most elegant of ways, and I feel it should serve as a good example to other game developers.

"I'm gonna r-r-r-rub you out see? R-r-r-rub ya out"

Although the method of execution is flawless, the tutorials in this game suffer from chronic too-long-didn’t-read syndrome. This probably sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but I assure you they are two separate issues. The problem lies in that the developers tried a little too hard to be innovative and ended up constantly introducing new mechanics one after another for the entire game. Considering the length of the instructions for each mechanic, this means there are countless pages that have to be read to have a full understanding of the gameplay. Simply put, there are too many damn mechanics!

This inevitably leads to the player skipping pages. In my case, I skimmed enough to understand that pins can evolve, but I didn’t understand how. Unfortunately, this led me to start having problems when my pins were far less powerful than they should’ve been. Eventually, I had to look up how to evolve the pins I wanted online.

I found out there are three ways to evolve pins: leveling them in battle, leveling them with Shutdown PP, and leveling them with Mingle PP. Shutdown PP is awarded by not playing the game. The longer you keep the game shut off, the more PP you earn, but the gains depreciate after each day so any length of time longer than seven days will not give additional PP. Mingle PP is awarded by leaving your game in Mingle Mode, a mode that is very similar to the 3DS’ StreetPass ability. I’ll go more into detail on this mode later, but the gist of the method is that you have to ensure that at least 51% of your evolution level bar for a pin has to be filled with the PP type the pin needs to level. In some cases, pins can evolve into several different pins based on the type of PP used.

Now, because Shutdown PP requires you to not play and Mingle PP requires you to have friends to pass, this probably sounds like a pain in the ass. Frankly, it is, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Shutdown PP can be gained by messing with your DS’s clock. This is a pain to do several times, but it can be done if you’re trying to get through the game quickly. Additionally, Mingle Mode also gives you a random chance of passing Aliens which give twice the PP as passing a player does. Furthermore, Mingle PP and Shutdown PP are counted nine times as much as Battle PP when used for the evolution level bar. For normal pin levels, they’re counted on a 1:1 ratio.

This means that it’s not quite as arduous as it sounds to level pins via non-battle methods. However, this does not mean that I enjoy being forced to not play the game in order to do well in it. This is compounded by how some of the best pins in the game can be achieved only by evolving pins this way. Despite not enjoying the required methods of evolving pins over all, I did enjoy the evolution trees for the pins. There are hundreds of different pins that can be used, and it really is fun to collect them all. If there had been several methods of evolving pins while still playing the game, it would have been perfect.

Given that strong pins are required to do well in battle, this brings up my next point: the battle system. The battle system is a tricky thing because if it consisted of only the bottom screen, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. During battle, Neku is on the bottom screen and can utilize a maximum of six pins in battle. Each pin has an ability and most are executed by using the stylus on the touchscreen in some fashion. This is not always the case, however, since some are also executed by talking or blowing into the microphone. Additionally, Neku can also be moved around using the stylus, which creates a rather free-flowing battle on the bottom screen.

Facing the wrong way with Shiki. A common problem when the player is not a chameleon.

The problem with the system lies in that the battle also occurs on the top screen. Your partner is located on the top screen and must be controlled using the directional pad, which makes it somewhat awkward to hold the DS during battle. Holding a direction on the directional pad initiates a combo sequence, in which a combo map is displayed and the player must hold the directions shown on the map in time to achieve the most desirable result. Executing the combos properly gives fusion stars, which allows the player to execute very strong fusion attacks once enough stars are generated. The problem with this is that it seems like it was designed for a creature with independently moving eyes, and given the distance the DS sits from my face, there’s no way I can concentrate on both of the screens at the same time. To cope with this, I found the best option was to powerlevel Neku and his pins, and on the d-pad hold whichever direction had the most enemies on the top screen, praying that the RNG would favor me and generate fusion stars.

In addition to the aforementioned problem, there is also the light puck. The light puck can be very helpful, as it bounces from character to character, increasing the damage of the character currently possessing it. It behooves the player to focus on the character with the puck; however, this becomes a problem when it lands on the character on the top screen. Whereas the character on the top screen doesn’t have to worry too much about avoiding enemies aside from hitting the dodge direction, Neku must always remain vigilant about not staying in one location too long. This effectively means that focusing on the top screen is much more difficult than focusing on the bottom screen, to the point of not being worth it.

The battle system was the single most infuriating aspect of the game for me. As stubborn as I am, I almost quit playing halfway through the game because of how impossible it is to master the battle system. It’s a shame that the developer didn’t have time to change the system as they had planned to for the North American release. It would have made the game much more enjoyable over all.

On that note, something that should also be taken into consideration with the battle system is the ability to adjust your level whenever you want. The purpose of this is to raise your drop rates. By fighting battles at level 1, your base drop rate for pins is as high as your max level. Your drop rate is essentially your chosen level subtracted from your max level, plus one. This allows you to get much better pins and acquire much more money to buy better items. In order to excel at the game, I recommend that you play at level one and on the highest difficulty available at all times. This will ensure you have the highest chance of acquiring rare pin drops and will allow you to get used to the occasionally punishing battles.

Since I played on hard difficulty at level one through as much of the main game as possible, it was not uncommon for me to have to make more than fifteen attempts on particular fights. A good gauge for whether or not I was ready for a boss fight at those levels was whether or not I could chain four of the toughest enemies together and survive. Doing this pointed out a glaring flaw in the game design: When you die in battle, you’re given the option to retry or retry on a lower difficulty. However, if you’re playing on hard, there is no option to retry on normal mode. You can only select to retry the battle on hard again or on easy. This was infuriating to me because I knew I could win on normal. As a result, I saved obsessively before every single battle, and this undoubtedly wasted a good amount of time.

I'm pretty sure this attack was borne of a game designer having some fun.

One of the aspects the game really shines in was the stylistic nature of the game: the music and art are both fantastic. The perspectives and art of each area present their own unique character, giving each a particular feel. This feel is further solidified by the large variety of music, with particular tracks characterizing each zone. The tracks are also particular to certain battles, and this hits a particular note with me because I’m a sucker for highly important battles accented by an amazing track. It really energizes me as a player, and is easily one of my favorite aspects of a game design. That said, this game executes that aspect flawlessly. As a whole, the game manages to capture the spirit and diversity of Shibuya culture rather well, and it creates a unique and immersive experience for the player.

Finally, the game has astounding replay value. Playing through the main storyline is really only the tip of the iceberg. There are a ton of extra missions and extra storyline that are only accessible after the main storyline has been completed. Additionally, the hundreds of pins and items, as well as the noise report, add some lofty goals for completionist players. At the end of the day, if you don’t mind putting up with the occasional frustration from the battle system, this game will provide well over 100 hours in entertainment.

The game is very, very original, and although there are some elements that probably should’ve never made it past play testing, the things the game does well are fantastic and worth a look.

PROS
* Fantastic storyline
* Amazing soundtrack
* Superb graphical style
* Interesting gameplay
* Good replay value

CONS
* Infuriating battle system
* Steep learning curve
* Too many mechanics
* Large jumps in difficulty
* Retry difficulty can only be changed to Easy

FINAL SCORE: B

Disclaimer: This game was purchased by the reviewer and was not sent by Square Enix. At the time of writing, the reviewer had logged 44 hours and 23 minutes of playtime, completed 76% of the noise report with a rank of B, collected 59 (19.4%) of the pins with a rank of E, collected 290 (61.4%) of the items with a rank of B, and had finished the main storyline. The reviewer was currently working on postgame content.

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Joshua Moore

About Joshua Moore

Joshua has been a gamer for a long time, starting back with the NES as a child. Since then his interests branched from game systems to general electronics; an avid fan of technology and computers, Joshua graduated with honors from the University of South Florida and now holds a degree in Electrical Engineering. His favorite games include Valkyrie Profile, BlazBlue, Left 4 Dead 2, and Ocarina of Time. Additionally, he attends various BlazBlue tournaments and tries to pick up other anime or air-dasher fighters whenever possible.