reviewed on NDS
Over the years, the JRPG has developed quite a reputation as a stubborn genre. While other genres have grown and evolved over the years, it seems the JRPG is content with sitting back and watching its brethren change. It’s a genre of conventions, a genre of predictability; at least, until Square Enix thought up The World Ends With You. This urban-themed action RPG eschews almost all genre conventions to try and create something completely unique, resulting in one of the most entertaining and engaging handheld RPGs I’ve seen in a long time.
The Reaper’s Game
Instead of the high fantasy setting used by most games in the genre, The World Ends With You is set in the real world; precisely, Shibuya, a shopping district in Tokyo. The main character, an unsociable teenager named Neku, finds himself alone in Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing with no idea how or why he’s there. After a cryptic text message tells him he’s to meet at 104 Building or face erasure, he finds himself fighting for his life in a deadly competition known as the Reaper’s Game. In order to survive, Neku must do something he has never done before: work together with another person.
While certain clichéd aspects, such as amnesia and a faceless ultimate evil, are present, the story is really it’s own. The large, complex cast of characters is what really helps the story take off. Neku might seem like your typical sullen teenage antihero at first, but he’s a much more dynamic character than the norm. Another particularly interesting character is Neku’s first partner, Shiki, who at first glance is just your average peppy sidekick but it turns out that she is dealing with a quite literal split personality and some intriguing motivations. The World Ends With You touches on some surprisingly poignant themes, such as friendship and love, betrayal, trust and jealousy. Together with the crazy premise, it makes one of the DS’ most engaging narratives.
Sightseeing in Shibuya
If you haven’t already figured it out, The World Ends With You is an incredibly stylized game, and the audio/visual presentation is virtually untouched on the DS market. The art design successfully mixes a Kingdom Hearts-esque style with the urban setting, and the aesthetic manages to look fantastic without relying on flashy technical effects. While the usually static backgrounds are all rendered in 3D, the characters, enemies and attack effects are all two dimensional. The use of character portraits for dialogue and the minimal animation in cinemas make the game feel like an interactive manga novel, and Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs are stellar and endearing. The art team also deserves special kudos for excluding any in-game advertising from the product-packed Shibuya, instead creating unique company names and logos.
The equally stellar soundtrack is a huge achievement for a DS game, featuring countless recorded tracks from more than ten different Japanese artists. Inspired by sounds from real-life Shibuya and drawing influence from numerous genres including rock, hip-hop, J-pop and electronica, it’s tough not to fall in love with the game’s catchy melodies and nonsensical lyrics. As an avid Jet Set Radio fan, the soundtrack struck a special chord for me - it seems obvious that The World Ends With You takes its influence from that franchise. Both use similar styles and for the most part, the soundtracks are interchangeable. Each character has numerous voice snippets that rarely grate, although most characters sound like they have a lisp. It’s hard not to be impressed with everything Square has done on what’s usually such a weak sound machine; this is the epitome of aural presentation on the DS.
Style is rarely enough to make a game, however, and Square has realized that. On the gameplay front, a unique combat system called the Cross Stride Battle System takes the centre stage. The Cross Stride has you in control of two characters at once, and while there’s a huge learning curve, it results in the most frenetic, fun battles ever in an RPG. You control Neku entirely with the stylus on the bottom screen, and can equip him with a number of pins prior to each battle. Each pin has its own unique attack and method of execution, and there are 300 to collect in all. Methods of pin activation range from tapping or drawing on certain areas of the screen to singing into the mic - the latter of which is rather embarrassing but extremely fun in public. There’s less interaction with your top-screen partner - his/her combos are controlled entirely via the D-pad (or the face buttons for southpaws) - but you still need to keep an astute eye on them as you both share HP.
No Pros and Cons at this time