The World Ends With You

by Grungi

I have some kind of a bad habit. Once in a while, I’ll go into a store selling books, video games or CDs, and there I’ll look through the available items to finally end up buying something I know nothing about. That is, a good cover art and an unusual title can be enough to make me buy something. In this day and age, many would consider that a little dumb. Surely enough would it be better to write down the title of the interesting discovery, then check on the internet to see if it’s really good or if it’s just a cool package with a boring content.

But I only rarely do that, and when I do that doesn’t mean I make the right choice: I researched before buying Electroplankton, and that was a quite expensive mistake. On the other hand, random buying introduced me to After Forever, Ayreon, the “His Dark Material” trilogy from Philip Pullman, and countless other great stuff.

So, not long ago, I walked into one of the video game stores I regularly go to, and browsed through the DS games they had for sale. I was almost done when one of them caught my eyes. Its title was rather unusual, and the art on the box looked classy enough. Only after I was out of the store did I take the time to read what was written on the back of the box, and find out that what I got myself was a new game by the RPG giant Square Enix : The World Ends With You.

I skimmed through the instruction booklet on my way home, and the more I read, the more it intrigued me. Square Enix, a company best known for their classic fantasy-styled RPGs, seemed to have come up with something really fresh, set in an urban setting.

The World Ends With You is about Neku Sakuraba, a teenager which is your typical angsty protagonist, unwilling to get to know those who are around him, in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of FFVII’s Cloud or FFVIII’s Squall at the start of their respective games. But at the beginning of his story, Neku wakes up lying in the middle of one of the world’s most famous crossroads in the middle of Tokyo’s Shibuya. Quickly, Neku gets attacked by strange frogs, and runs into Shiki Misaki, a girl with who he has to make a “pact” in order to be able to defeat those weird frogs. As the battle dust settles, things get explained a little : he’s part of a game run by people called the “Reapers”, and must complete a mission each day. And if he fails, he’ll be “erased”.

That’s the basic plot of this modern tale, and believe me when I say there is a lot more : the story will twist and turn in many ways, some of them you can see coming, some not quite. But the plot, great as it is, isn’t the first thing that’ll grab your attention.

First is the overall “look and feel” of the game. Everything, from the characters’ designs to the environment, including the in-game menus, are made to make the game feel “urban”, or “in”. And that works extremely well. Even if you didn’t like Tetsuya Nomura’s work for Final Fantasy X or Kingdom Hearts, here it really fits well, giving the various protagonists a trendy look fitting for the game. As for the places you’ll visit, they’re pretty close transposition of the real Shibuya landmarks (you could find some of the places on a real map after playing the game), albeit with slightly changed names – the 109 building is 104 in the game, HMV becomes AMX, etc.

Your ears won’t be left alone either. The game’s soundtrack really compliments the visuals, with a great variety of style represented. Takeharu Ishimoto, a really talented up-and-coming Square Enix composer that worked on FFVII Crisis Core for example, put together a score composed of rock, electronica, pop and hip-hop, with around half of the songs having vocals performed by various artists. And that choice was really a good one, as it help you get immersed in the lively Shibuya.

And lively the game’s Shibuya certainly is: dozens of sprites walk around the screen, making you feel like you’re really making your way around a busy retail district.

As you progress through the game, the overall design continue to be spot-on, and fun, but what’ll keep you playing are the countless great ideas that Square Enix put into their title. It is so full of neat gameplay elements that it’s difficult to know where to start…

For one, the game’s designers have succeeded in using two modern crazes to add to the experience : mobile phones and pins, or badges. The former is used as your menu, and is integrated nicely into the plot, so that you constantly use it, as would any other japanese teenager. The latter are one of the core aspects of the gameplay. Because to find the monsters (called the “Noise”), you’ll need to use psychic powers contained in collectible pins. There are more than 300, so you’ll have quite a bit of choice, from bullet-firing badges to healing pins.

And those pins are activated by doing various moves on the DS touchscreen. Drawing lines, slashing across enemies, tapping a spot repeatedly, shouting or blowing into the microphone, you’ll have to do all that, and more. And even if that alone would make for a fun battle system, you’ll also have to control your partner, who’ll be fighting on the top screen.

I could go on and on about the myriad of things that make The World Ends With You an atypical yet awesome game. Like how brands and trends are important (you’ll have to dress with the right attire if you want to be at the top of your abilities), how you can eat to raise your stat, but with a real-life time limit, how you gain experience by not playing the game (I’m serious ^^), how you can make the game as hard or easy as you like, or the huge replay value.

So if you want to test something fresh, with great concepts and with the careful attention to details that Square Enix can put into their games, do yourself a favor and buy The World Ends With You, you won’t be disappointed. Even if you don’t own a DS, I think this game alone would be a good enough reason to get one.