For a company generally afflicted with an incurable case of sequels and remakes, Square-Enix took every risk possible when unleashing The World Ends With You (WEWY) on the gaming populace last year. Unrecognizable by any established Japanese RPG standards, WEWY is an amazing mix of new ideas and brilliant execution that adds up to one of the best DS experiences in the record-breaking handheld’s lifetime.
Designed to make use of every one of the DS’s unique features, WEWY will throw simultaneous two-screen real-time combat at you, requiring use of the d-pad as well as the stylus (and sometimes the microphone) in a rub your stomach/pat your head manner. Fortunately, you can set your partner’s control to fully or even semi-automatic until you get the hang of things, but fully-manual control isn’t that difficult once you’re used to it; usually just spamming left or right while you work the bottom screen will get the job done, although paying attention to the top screen for combos is far from impossible.
In fact, the defining feature of WEWY is scalability. Nearly every aspect of the game is adjustable to every skill level: besides setting the level of AI control over your partner, you only engage in random encounters when you want to (and a few times when you have to, but almost never randomly), you can set the difficulty from Easy to Ultimate (once you unlock each level), and you can even turn your experience level up or down (lower levels result in higher frequency of item drops). Along the way you’ll acquire a couple of hundred different pins (weapons, basically), each with their own command input, strength, number of uses, type of damage, and fashion brand; these pins gain levels and occasionally even evolve into different pins not unlike Pokémon. Further customization can be found in your threads (equipment), food (stat improvements… once you’ve digested them via combat, but only up to a certain amount per real-time day), and whether or not you pay attention to the ever-shifting trends in Shibuya which affect the strength of pins and equipment, with popular brands in a given area being stronger and the least popular brand being only half strength.
It all adds up to a bizarre RPG that defies all expectations. Even the narrative is out-there, pitting you as 15-year-old Neku trapped in some sort of strange “game” being contested in the streets of Shibuya, Japan. You and your partner combat creatures called “Noise” as you jump through hoops set before you by beings called “Reapers”. The Game takes place over a week, and each day kicks off with you receiving a timed mission via your cell phone. Eventually you figure out that you are in a parallel dimension from the normal world, and although you can see and interact with it to a certain extent, nobody from that dimension can interact with you except in special circumstances (i.e., shops). The exact nature of the Game and its participants will also unfold as you progress, and rarely in ways that you anticipate.
Don’t be too worried about those time limits, by the way. There is no actual in-game time restriction; even if your mission is to be completed in 15 minutes, you can safely spend hours grinding and exploring without penalty. In fact, this is the most enjoyable grinding that I have ever done in any RPG, thanks to the intense combat mechanics and the fact that I more or less choose which monsters to fight in a given area. And without spoiling too much, don’t worry that the game will be over after only seven in-game days, either (a quick read of the manual would have tipped you off about that anyway).
Despite all of the amazing things this game does, there is at least one shortcoming, however. While the amount of information recorded and provided to you is impressive, the game never tells you that some pins require different types of experience if you want them to evolve. You see, in addition to Battle PP, the pins you currently have equipped will also earn experience while you’re not playing (Shutdown PP); there is also Mingle PP, gained by having your DS sit in wireless mode for a while and picking up signals from other WEWY players, other DS wi-fi signals, and miscellaneous other signals (“Aliens”). Even when you do evolve your pins, there’s never any indication of how you did so in case you want to make some more. Anyone seeking total Pin Mastery and a couple of other “totals” that are based on that will have to consult a FAQ, but most completionists are probably used to that.
Once you’ve completed the main narrative, several post-game options become available to you, including the ability to jump to any one of the game’s chapters. Not quite a “new game+”, you can replay these days with all of your advanced equipment/skills/etc. to find certain items, and completing each of a day’s goals will unveil a piece of the backstory, which is a fascinating bonus. There’s also a bizarre “Another Day” chapter that takes place in a different universe but somehow all makes sense within the framework of the game’s world (especially as you read the Secret Reports). Finally, you can also play a Bakugan-style mini-game called “Tin Pin Slammer” with up to four players over local wireless; the game occasionally crops up in the main narrative as well, so you’ll at least have some exposure to it regardless.
It all adds up to a truly staggering amount of content. I really hate the fact that Square-Enix charges $40 for their new DS games, but WEWY would almost have been worth it just to encourage new ideas from The House the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest Built. Fortunately it’s now available at most locations for only $30. At that price it was just a matter of finding time to actually play the game, which every RPG fan should do eventually. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a sequel to The World Ends With You (probably… the story can support it, sort of), but I’ve definitely never seen anything like it before.
ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Mild Suggestive Themes. The usual.
Plays like: nothing else
Pros: A pile of unique ideas and DS-specific design combine to create one of the most enjoyable RPGs in a long time, on any system
Cons: Still suffers from some “Guide Dang It” design that plagues most RPGs, but most players probably won’t notice