The World Ends With You – QJ.NET review

The World Ends With You - QJ.NET review - Image 1It’s somewhat rare to find a good RPG gem from Square Enix not based on one of its more popular franchises (i.e. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest). However, its latest original IP title for the Nintendo DS definitely classifies itself as a keeper. Read all about QJ.NET’s review of The World Ends With You in our full article after the jump.

Square Enix's The World Ends With You for DS - Image 1

Shibuya, one of the major fashion centers in Tokyo, Japan. With a bustling population of around 200,000 people, this is where youths and adults alike lose themselves in a literal sea of sights, sounds, and their own personal lives. However, little do these people know that a more insidious Game is being played behind the scenes of the humdrum lives.

This is the setting of Square Enix‘s latest action RPG to hit the Nintendo DS with The World Ends With You. While the game takes place in the real-life central business district, it wouldn’t very well be a Square Enix title without diffusing it in a surreal world of its own and giving it that Japanese RPG spin the company is best known for.

Originally released in Japan last year as Subarashiki Kono Sekai (translated as It’s a Wonderful World), it was developed by the well-known Kingdom Hearts team of Square Enix and Jupiter. Some veteran RPG players may even recognize the reminiscent art style, which was the product of character designers Tetsuya Nomura and Gen Kobayashi.

Screenshot of Square Enix's The World Ends With You - Image 1 Screenshot of Square Enix's The World Ends With You - Image 2 

The game places you in the role of a tough and apathetic Japanese teen named Neku Sakuraba. The giveaway spikey hair and swiss cheese memory instantly labels him as the reluctant hero in this adventure. Don’t let his generic looks fool you, though. He has a no-nonsense attitude about him that marks him as a Shibuya native who can take on the meanest of contenders.

When he wakes up in the middle of Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing, it’s just a tad bit strange that nobody seems to notice him lying in the middle of the busiest street in the district. Things take a turn for the worse when he receives an ominous message on his cell phone, telling him that he has an hour to reach Shibuya’s 104 Shopping Mall or die. Soon it becomes a seven day long trial to simply survive against the mysterious “Reapers” who issue Neku various missions to get through his angst-filled ordeal.

Played against the backdrop of some funky fresh sounds from various Japanese music tracks, this modern day action RPG involves many interesting plot twists and features that are sure to entice those of you who enjoy playing this particular genre.

Trendsetter Central

Screenshot of Square Enix's The World Ends With You for DS - Image 1As we previously mentioned, the game takes place in a modern setting based directly on Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The developers painstakingly recreated many of the real-life locations in the area while adding their own unique touch to each of them.

The opening scene depicts the actual Scramble Crossing intersection in Shibuya, which is considered one of the busiest streets in the world. Other famous landmarks like the Moyai and Hachiko monuments were also included, while other buildings like the 109 shopping center were altered into other similar facsimiles (case in point, the in-game 104 shopping mall). In any case, the result is a very poignant and surreal Tokyo in which gamers can totally immerse themselves.

In terms of character visuals, you’ll either love it or hate it. According to the designers, the distinctive art style Nomura and Kobayashi used was aimed at matching the trendy fashion style of the real-world Tokyo setting.

Couple this with some very upbeat tunes influenced by modern Japanese pop, hip hop, and electronica, and you have yourself a title which appeals both visually and aurally. Even if you aren’t a big fan of Japanese music, you have to admit that the soundtrack reflects the game’s setting perfectly.

Finally, to reflect the style of modern day Shibuya, the designers also included the various trendy labels which can mark one as a practical native of the area. However, these do a lot more than simply add some interesting local color to the game. In the case of Neku, these can provide him with veritable tools to survive his week-long ordeal in the Reapers Game.

The Power of Fashion Compels You!

Fortunately, Neku won’t have to face the Game alone. He’ll get to pair up with various partners as he takes on the Reapers and their monstrous Noise minions. This is where the unique gameplay style of The World Ends With You draws its focus – utilizing both screens simultaneously, you control each character through various battles with Neku on the Touch Screen interactive bottom half and his partner on the top, controllable with the d-pad.

While this may seem like a rather daunting task at first, throwing yourself into the thick of things and getting used to the system (known as the “Stride Cross Battle System”) is the best way to master everything. The real trick is actually learning how to use both characters cohesively to defeat the different opponents you’ll get to face up against. Once you’ve mastered the system, you can even pull off powerful Fusion moves which can turn the tide of a losing battle.

Earlier we mentioned how style can mean everything in this game – and we meant it! In lieu of using the conventional giant swords or standard issue high powered rifle, Neku and his gang will make use of trendy pins which power their deadly psychic attacks to dispatch their foes.

Aside from that, your choice of battle threads can also change your performance on the battlefield – all of which depends on the brand that you’re currently wearing… seriously. In Shibuya, where trends mean everything, knowing which brands are in and which are not can provide you with huge bonuses that can change the outcome of the battle. This innovative game aspect definitely speaks volumes for anyone looking for more dynamics in their RPGs.

Screenshot of Square Enix's The World Ends With You for DS - Image 1 

The typical RPG exploration mode is pretty standard fare as you walk the streets of Shibuya through the simple Touch Screen interface on the bottom screen. However, instead of gathering information through the usual NPC conversations, Neku has the ability to read people’s minds directly and help him make use of the knowledge gleaned to advance his daily missions.

The game takes another step forward using this rather innovative system by allowing players to actually choose their random battles seen through the various Noise symbols that filter across the screen during a mind scan. You can theoretically even finish the game without fighting a single random encounter and go straight towards your objective instead.

The amount of customization is rather extensive as well. The pins you receive during the course of your adventure can gain experience points through various methods and even evolve into different incarnations – giving you more ways to slice, fry, electrocute and dismember your opponents. With over 300 pins to choose from, Neku has a veritable arsenal of fashionable weapons at his disposal.

Level progression is a rather multi-faceted aspect in itself. You have the rather risky option of lowering your attained levels via an in-game slider in exchange for higher drop rates from your defeated enemies. This means each battle can really pay off should you decide to go the more hardcore route and see just how low you can go when it comes to this rather exciting battle option.

In addition, each battle ekes out experience and pin (note: not Materia) growth points based on the performance and special achievements you were able to rack up. This makes fights a little more efficient instead of the usual grind-fest you find in more mainstream RPGs. If you’re also the type of person who doesn’t have the patience for mindless leveling just to beat the next end stage boss, The World Ends With You offers an “out of game” leveling system which allows you to gain pin experience points from the time you shutdown your handheld until you play it again.

This is also one of the few games on the DS which creatively makes use of its wireless function by allowing you to gain additional experience points. By simply mingling with other DS units communicating through Wi-Fi, you can quickly level up your pins and possibly evolve them into alternate forms through this method. Aside from that, there’s the standard multi-player mini-game that you can distract yourself with, and also an option to exchange items and pins with friends you’ve met through Mingle mode.

Balancing all this seemingly complicated stuff is a very solid cast of characters, as well as a very entertaining yet deep, plot-driven story. It certainly weaves a very interesting RPG tale compared to most other similar titles released on other consoles.

Neku Sakuraba, main protagonist of The World Ends With You - Image 1 

Cheer Up, Emo Kid

If it’s one thing that we have to give this game credit for is that it does a good job of utilizing all of the functions of Nintendo’s pocket platform. From the various touch screen controls to its very flexible Wi-Fi capabilities, The World Ends With You definitely gives gamers bang for their buck.

However, for all the features crammed into this action-packed RPG, some people may find it treading the border of being too “gimmicky”. Even near the final stages, the game still introduces you to new game aspects and mechanics which can literally scream information overload for the more casual player.

This does not mean that the game is bogged down and less fun to play in any way. On the contrary, this can become quite a treat for the more veteran RPG gamers as they can enjoy themselves thoroughly by trying to complete the game’s many obsessive compulsive aspects.

It may also be interesting to note that the main storyline is fairly straightforward, with very few side quests to veer away from it should you feel the need to, for whatever reason (out of boredom or simply a need to waste time before facing the big, bad final boss). There’s only one mini-game to speak of, and even then its accessibility can be quite limited considering it can only be played efficiently through Wi-Fi.

Fortunately, due to the somewhat brief nature of the game’s chapters the story tends to be quite well-paced and rather gripping right up until the end. In most cases you’ll find yourself sidetracking just enough to level your characters to an appropriate range to defeat the day end boss.

While the main storyline boasts around 10 or so hours of gameplay, you can probably double or even triple that amount of time by just completing the different power ups and the background profiles behind the main plot.

Who knows? You may even get to like the various e-em-oh (read as: “EMO”) characters as you progress through the game.

The World Ends With… the Letter “D”

Square Enix and Jupiter took a calculated risk introducing a new RPG game which didn’t have the word: “Fantasy”, “Mana”, or “Quest” in it. While original IP games from the company have been few and far between, this one literally takes the cake when it came to delivering a very imaginative and truly unique title for its genre.

For a handheld title which makes use of nearly all of its platform’s functions, it does a great  job of utilizing each one without messing up the game’s fun factor. It’s been a long while since this blogger has actually picked up any RPG and stuck to it with as much dedication as The World Ends With You. It certainly appeals to both old school and new gamers alike by introducing something completely new into the mix and treating everyone out to a veritable gaming smorgasbord.

We certainly recommend the game for anyone who’s hunkering for a new RPG which breaks the mold of the more traditional titles. This blogger also hopes that Square Enix doesn’t let titles like this end with this one and will be certainly be on the lookout for more promising games in the future from the same team.

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