Square Enix is known for milking any series with the words Final and Fantasy, in the title. So imagine my surprise when they announced a new RPG for the Nintendo DS would be an original IP. The World Ends With You was developed by the same team who created the Kingdom Hearts series, but outside of some similar character designs it is quite a different departure. However there’s a reason why Square Enix tends to stick with time tested IP’s as original stuff sometimes misses the mark in a bad way. So is The World Ends With You another smash hit like Kingdom Hearts or do we have another The Bouncer on our hands?
The World Ends with You is not your typical group of teenage stereotypes saves the world from evil forces storyline. It refreshingly takes place in modern day Shibuya, Japan and immediately introduces you to main character, Neku Sakuraba. He wakes up in a busy crossroad of Shibuya, voices in his head, little memory of how he got there and a text message on his phone saying if he doesn’t get to a certain area within 60 minutes he will face erasure. Brushing it off as a joke, he soon realizes it is real as a timer displaying 60 minutes appears on his hand. You soon learn that Neku is part of a game in which he and the other players are fighting for their lives against a group of people who call themselves Reapers. As you progress through the game the mystery slowly and slowly unravels itself never fully explaining itself until literally the last boss.
This story is both simple at its core and incredibly deep and profound if you wish to explore it in depth. At its heart this game is a mystery novel that throws just enough questions at you to feel compelled to play more, but not so much that you get bogged down or confused. I can honestly say that I was surprised at the ending and even more surprised when I read the epilogue of sorts.
I found the characters to be really likeable. Each one has their reason for being part of the game and you really feel for them when you find out why it is. Neku in particular was a great example of how to make a Square Enix emo character. I felt he had great character development without feeling like they forced a personality change into him. I remember not being able to stand Neku at the beginning of the game and slowly over the course of the game found myself cheering for him. I also remember making a big fuss about how if the characters were older I could relate to them more, but eventually I realized that even though the characters are in their teens, they feel almost ageless so it really became a non-issue for me.
Gameplay wise, The World Ends With You uses unique ways to take advantage of the NDS. During battles you have both a top and bottom screen. The top screen shows your partner and the bottom screen is Neku. You control both players at the same time with the d-pad controlling the top and touch screen based actions controlling the bottom. This initially starts you off with a huge learning curve as paying attention to both screens is quite difficult. Luckily you have the option of having the top screen go on auto-attack and honestly you never really have to control them.
Neku must equip different pins in order to attack and that changes the way you interact with the touch screen. Some pins will make you slash with the stylus, some will make you tap the stylus and some even make use of the microphone. It’s great to see a game actually integrate the touch screen controls instead of feeling like they were tacked on. There are many other little gameplay touches that make the game feel unique, such as eating food to increase your stats, decreasing your levels and being weaker in order to get more pins to use, different clothing brands that reflect equipment and pins that get stronger or weaker depending on what style is hot in the area you are in, and even a built-in mini game that can be described as marbles on crack.
After you beat the game you can come back and replay the chapters in the game to access additional storyline content. In addition there’s one mode where you play through a day with the characters as they exist in an alternate universe which ends up being really humorous. These do add a bit of replay value, but if you really just want the story and don’t feel like playing through the same game again, just do what I did and check out spoilers online. You’ll see how deep the storyline can really be for this game.
Overall, I feel the Kingdom Hearts development team hit it out of the park with this one. It was refreshing that it broke many JRPG stereotypes and it goes to show that new IP can be a success if done right. I realize the game is over a year old by this point, but if you missed out on it the first time around I highly recommend you pick it up and add it to your DS collection.