The Aggressively Japanese Excitement of The World Ends With You

So a few weeks ago, I was looking for a new DS game to play because–and I’m being totally honest here–Contra 4 is just too damn hard. Seriously, Easy Mode? No problem, I can bust right through. But once you set that thing on Medium, well… Let’s just say that if I’d been in charge back in the ’80s, we’d all be speaking Red Falcon right now.

In any case, I’d done all I could with it, and since the new Castlevania won’t be out ’til October, I had to find something to fill the gap, and settled on this…

 

The World Ends With You

 

RPGs–and especially JRPGs–aren’t really my thing, so I was a little apprehensive. I mean, the last one I played that I gave a crap about that didn’t have the words “Paper” or “Mario” in the title was probably Final Fantasy X, and even those fond memories are somewhat tainted by the fact that, well-endowed goth girl calling down lightning on your enemies aside, your main character was the dream of an ancient civilization whose father was a sea monster or something, which is a job that requires you to wear the stupidest outfit ever.

Beyond that, though, there’s the simple fact that it’s just not my favorite genre. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that, at least when you’re discussing the traditional Square game, they don’t offer the same sense of accomplishment. In other kinds of games, you get better as you play, like in Grand Theft Auto IV. The driving in the game can be awkward at first, but with enough practice, you’ll be drifting around corners and exchanging small arms fire with an entire police precinct in no time.

With RPGs, though, the emphasis is on the characters rather than the player, so it’s impossible to be good at them. You just have to be patient, because anybody with enough time to kill can level their guy up to Supreme Badass and get a Sun Crest or whatever and thoroughly demolish whatever token resistance the game offers up in the guise of a challenge.

Sure, there are games that manage to combine the two pretty well, like the stat system in San Andreas, and as much as I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the games modeled after it, there’s enough pointless grinding in them to breed a hundred Golden Chocobos, but they’re not easy to come by.

So needless to say, I was going into it as a skeptic, but it got some dynamite reviews, and with the urging of The Rack’s Benjamin Birdie, I decided to pick it up, even though it’s ten bucks more than any other DS title on the market.

It should be noted at this point that Birdie hadn’t actually played the game and was just really excited about the reviews. That’s just how he rolls.

In any case, he wasn’t entirely wrong, but within a few minutes of starting up, I knew it was either going to be fantastic or just awful, and even now, the only way I can think to describe it is aggressively Japanese.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s pretty obvious even before you get to the bat-shit crazy gameplay elements–which I’ll get to in a second–that the game designers are going to do their level best to hit every single RPG cliché that they can.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: You are fifteen year-old Neku Sakubara, and the game opens with you waking up with a ludicrously spiky haircut and a pesky case of amnesia in a world where the maximum age seems to cap out at around 22. Neku, as you might imagine, is a loner who can be heard to say things like, and I’m quoting here, “I’m not opening up to anyone. Ever. Other people just hold me back. I can do things my own way.”

As it so happens, you’re part of a mysterious Game where the object is to survive for seven days, which, coincidentally is also the plot of Ice-T’s landmark 1994 epic, Surviving the Game, but with Tokyo’s Shibuya district substituting for the Pacific Northwest.

Also, instead of being hunted by Gary Busey–which I think we can all agree would be terrifying–you’re given missions and obstacles buy guys in red hoodies called Reapers, which can only be overcome by teaming with a partner, starting with Shiki, who appears to be a Rastafarian child prostitute:

 

 

Shiki, in a stunning plot twist that turns the standard RPG love interest role on its ear, is a shrill but devoted harridan who puts up with Neku calling her a stalker and insulting her handmade stuffed animals and–buckle up, because this is wild–totally falls in love with him anyway once he learns a lesson about friendship and the value of other people.

And once she shows up, that’s where the game starts to get strange.

The combat is the game’s strongest point by far; everything’s done with the touch screen in a way that’s a lot like Phantom Hourglass–which was a great interface that was almost broken by the annoyances of the game it was wrapped around–and when you go into combat, you have different Materia–sorry, pins that are activated by different motions with the stylus. It’s intuitive, but thanks to the way you can stack different abilities that are activated with the same motion, it also brings some interesting customization into play.

Once Shiki joins your party, though, the combat system decides that it’s time to flip right out. From that point on, battles are fought like this: On the bottom screen, you’ve got Neku and his materia–sorry, pins, moving around and fighting against multiple enemies in real-time combat. On the top screen, you have your partner, fighting the same enemies with a completely different control system, which in Shiki’s case involves trying to do attacks with the d-pad that match up to ESP cards at the top of the screen in what amounts to playing a game of Memory while you are also playing an actual video game on the bottom screen.

It’s complicated, and it only gets moreso once you get to your second partner, who does the same thing–and I promise I am not making this up–but with math. I’m sure there’s a certain kind of person out there who would be so into that, but I’m not him.

Fortunately, the designers realized this and put an option in there where you can tell the other person to fight their own damn battles while you’re busy doing the majority of the work, but seeing as you and your partner share hit points, it takes a pretty crucial element of the game out of my hands. And even though the game does tend to fight a hell of a lot better than I would anyway, it’s a little disconcerting.

This is what sets the pace for the rest of the game: For everything new and different, there’s something bizarre or counterintuitive to balance it out. There are no Random Encounters and you can fight pretty much whenever you want (which is great), but the story’s so bound to its rails that I got stuck on the first puzzle–THE FIRST PUZZLE–because I couldn’t just go and do what I needed to do. Instead, I had to go to another screen, read someone’s mind, make sure I was reading it while I was standing close to him so that I could then talk to him about what he just told me, and then go do the thing I figured out I needed to do like twenty minutes ago.

And then there’s the trend-following aspect of the game, where in addition to their normal benefits, each piece of equipment has a brand, and certain brands are in and out of fashion in certain neighborhoods. Which means that potentially, on each screen, the same equipment can have benefits or detriments. To which I said “Screw that,” and to which the game replied “Okay, whatever, if you wear the same stuff in an area long enough, that stuff’ll get popular there anyway,” which is a nice touch but would seem to make things needlessly complex when all I want to do is shoot monsters with an ability called “Sexy Beam.”

Plus, I’m not sure if a game that prominently features a character like this has any place to lecture me about fashion:

 

 

I might own three t-shirts with Galactus on them, but even I know that a long-sleeve halter top, half-corset, Daisy Dukes, and white Go-Go boots don’t quite go together, even if you tie it all together with a pair of wrought-iron fence wings.

And that’s not even the weirdest part, which is that this is the first game that I’ve ever played that actively encourages you to not play it. Seriously, you can level up your Pins to make your attacks stronger, but in addition to getting points from fighting battles, you get points for the time that you’re not playing the game. Which means that while I’m off doing work or watching TV or reading comics or even playing another game, The World Ends With You is leveling itself up. And the fact that it’s an RPG where I can get experience while I’m playing a mediocre platformer with a ridiculous name like Megaman ZX Advent (BONUS REVIEW: It is not very good) might just make this the best RPG ever.

Of course, the fact that I like an RPG that can essentially play itself half the time probably says a lot more about me than it does about The World Ends With You.

In any case, it wasn’t exactly the eye-opening revelation that sends me running back to RPGs, and its major diversion from the formula seems to amount to having a main character who doesn’t tote around an eight-foot broadsword, but it’s a solid game that does its job well and with a heck of a lot of style.

And also you fight bears. Lots and lots of bears.

31 thoughts on “The Aggressively Japanese Excitement of The World Ends With You

  1. This is your second post in a row that featured females in odd clothing. While this is a blog about comic books, where odd clothing is pretty much the norm, it’s still not a trend I expect to see on the ISB. Face-kickings, yes, and perhaps ROM.

    I am, however, curious to see if this trend continues. If you had saved that post about Orca, you’d have at least a three-day streak.

  2. You think Joshua’s high-card/low-card deal is irritating? Wait until you get to your partner for chapter three.

    While shutting down does level up your pins, only certain pins evolve via shutdown. others require you to battle or mingle.

  3. It’s a shame you stopped playing Final Fantasy games at X, because XII is probably the best game in the series next to Tactics. If you want to break into JRPGs, that’s the game you should be playing.

  4. “You think Joshua’s high-card/low-card deal is irritating? Wait until you get to your partner for chapter three.”

    My thoughts exactly.

    However, no matter how infuriatingly complex the combat system looks initially, you actually do settle into a nice, natural rhythm after a while. Combat is so addictive in this game that I found myself pausing the story for long periods of time so I could level up through combat. Something I would normally hate because everyone hates grinding.

    Also, some of the pins are BRILLIANT. The one that amplifies your shouts into the mic and deals area-of-effect damage to everything on screen is awesome.

  5. I love RPGs, but the new ones -possibly including the one featured in this post- are too confusing.
    I’ll stick to LUNAR & LUNAR 2 for the SEGA CD (or PS1 Remakes) after I finish Skies of Arcadia for the Dreamcast…. I have always been a fan of extra large heads on extra small bodies 2D sprites for my RPGs.

  6. The story does become too ‘emo’ for my tastes at certain points.

    It does distract you from the fact that all the slashing, tapping, and scraping is slowly eroding your DS screen’s will to live.

  7. Hmmm. I think Yahtzee might have said something about this game (the link is NOT work safe, but I think if you’re here you aren’t worrying about that much anyway).

    Oh, and I don’t know if you’ve tried it… but Civilization:Revolutions is AWESOME. A game takes about 2-3 hours, and you can have ninja tanks.

    NINJA. TANKS.

  8. I was actually going to link to the Zero Punctuation review, since Yahtzee was another one of the factors that made me so skeptical about it, but the Escapist site was down last night when I was writing the post.

    I know, I know. Lame excuse.

  9. All I want to know is … what is a “sexy beam?”

    stronger than a Lovely Beam but weaker than a Superfine Beam. yes, this game does have strange names.

  10. I know some RPGs Sims would like:

    Freedom Force, where analogues of well-known comic characters team up to fight aliens. Not original, but it’s clearly a tribute to golden age superheroes. Heroes include a guy loaded with alien energy that have to wear a metal suit because he might explode at anytime and surly fishing boat captain with water and lightning powers. Villains include a Communist made of ice and a GIANT RED T-REX. Has a sequel where they pummel Nazis. From the creators of Bioshock.

    Fallout 1&2, extremely violent and sexed-up (seriously, in 2, you can eff a lot of characters, not all of them human and become a porn star) post-apocalyptic adventure set in a future as envisioned by 1950s people but then having a nuclear war. Imagine The Jetsons transforming into Mad Max. Fallout 3 is coming out this fall.

    Really, after visiting your website for so long, these games just seem like your thing.

  11. I so wish I was playing that game right now.

    A better question would be, why the hell did you link people to that Megaman game? Do you want them to buy crap?

  12. Listen, listen!! This game is so fantastic! And . . . I think the partner in Chapter 3 is fantastic, if only because of [their] great offensive skills.

    I went back and played this some more yesterday to try and level up some pins and play a little Tin Pin. I love that the ISB is shouting out one of the best games in a while.

  13. See, hearing that there were math battles sealed my decision to buy the (horribly expensive) game.

    That said, my next RPG is totally going to be Unemployed Ninja. Entirely for the title.

  14. Oh, and Meho reminded me of my favorite pins–the shouting. Well, I made myself hoarse, and then realized that whistling worked just as fine. That drove my downstairs neighbor nuts (at least in my paranoid world, it did), and so HINT: you can just blow right into the speaker, it’s gets so useful you’ll never yell again.

    The only thing I regret is that I have nobody to mingle with to get that sweet, sweet mingley PP. Also, suggestion: if you are having trouble leveling up pins, fight a high-level multi-chain battle.

    My problem now–and yours will be to, YOU WILL BE–is to KEEP things from leveling so I can max out my maxed-out pin rate.

  15. If you want to break into JRPGs, that’s the game you should be playing.

    I appreciate the thought, but I don’t. And seriously, Tactics games give me hives.

    I have always been a fan of extra large heads on extra small bodies 2D sprites for my RPGs.

    Giant heads on scrawny bodies?! IN A JRPG?! You have just blown my mind.

    The story does become too ‘emo’ for my tastes at certain points.

    A STORY THAT GETS TOO EMO?! IN A JRPG?! I AM FREAKING OUT HERE.

    I know some RPGs Sims would like:

    I actually played Freedom Force when it first came out, and it always seemed like the sort of thing I’d be really into, but I never really got much into it. It’s probably because I’ve always been more of a console/handheld guy than a PC gamer–Bookworm Adventures excepted of course, as it is probably the most perfect “Chris Sims” game there has ever been–but something about it just failed to click.

    That said, my next RPG is totally going to be Unemployed Ninja. Entirely for the title.

    I looked at that one when I was trying to figure out what to buy, and the plot sounded like a lot of fun, but the actual gameplay looked like something I’d absolutely hate. If anyone’s got some details or can compare it to something I might’ve played, I’d be happy to hear it. Otherwise, well, I spent my DS risk-taking allowance for the past two years on TWEWY and Phoenix Wright.

    Also, there’s a lot of stuff I meant to mention in the review but didn’t get around to, like the way the plot tries to build tension by telling Neku there’s a time limit on every mission, but, since this is a Square game and there’s not an actual ticking countdown clock, you can dick around as much as you damn well please.

  16. Those chicks are hawt. You should be listening to their fashion lecture.

  17. Final Fantasy XII is actually pretty good, mostly because it doesn’t have any romance in the plot.
    It’s basically Star Wars, except Leia uses a sword, Han uses a revolver, Chewbacca is a hot bunny-woman, Luke is literally there just because he’s got nothing better to do, and even though you have a damage cap of 9999, the optional ultimate monster has an HP gauge of TEN MILLION, meaning it takes as long to kill as some games take to play from start to finish.

  18. Nobody should want to break into JRPGs. JRPGs break into you, and leave you crying in a back alley somewhere, feeling dirty and violated, without even the common courtesy to throw some napkins at you and say, “jeez, clean yourself up.” JRPGs hit you because they love you, and leave you making excuses for them and saying you “fell down some stairs.”

  19. All I want to know is … what is a “sexy beam?”

    stronger than a Lovely Beam but weaker than a Superfine Beam. yes, this game does have strange names.

    I don’t feel like my question’s been fully answered.

  20. I’ve never really been into JRPGs. I tend to prefer my video games to be interactive and fun. Call me crazy.

    I’ll just get back to playing Advance Wars.

  21. Shame you never beat it, since there’s another chapter dedicated to making fun of the entire game

  22. I’m surprised to see this here.
    Anyway, I got TWEWY a couple months back because of good reviews (The ZP one made me a little skeptical, but it came down to “Yahtzee does not like JRPGs period,” so I took the chance).
    And I’m glad I did. This is probably my favorite RPG ever. From the subversive plot (I love me some deconstructionism) to the battle system…
    I hope it gets a sequel.

  23. Izuna: The Unemployed Ninja does really sound like something you’d hate, actually. It’s what’s called a “roguelike”, which means that you spend hours level grinding and exploring dungeons that all look the same (not to mention they’re all randomly generated). I’ve only ever played one game like this that was awesome, and that’s Persona 3. This may be because Persona 3 was only like that half the time; the other half was a high school teen drama sim to break up all the fighty grindy bits and it had a really compelling plot.

  24. Chris,

    You need to play Drill Dozer. It’s a GBA game, and you can find it in most Target/Wall Mart type stores for 9 bucks.

    It’s the story of a schoolgirl, her drill/tank/robot and her quest to steal back a jewel that was so wrongly stolen from her gang of thieves!

  25. Since I already have a feeling we’re basically the same guy, it’s really unsettling that we’re more or less on the same page here, even if some of the games idiosyncracies didn’t bug me as much. And I am perfectly okay with Ditzy Succubus Sis’s outfit. But yeah, I played a whole hell of a lot of this when we had our hurricane imposed power outage. And then I bought Guitar Hero DS and haven’t touched it since. I do have a drive to Austin to occupy my time coming up…

  26. This game kinda has an excuse for being ‘Japanese’. It was originally made as a Japanese game. What did you expect it to be? White-washed?