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Stranger & NekuRulez
Welcome to a review of The World Ends With You I've been wanting to put on even before I finished the game. It was THAT good. Take a look at my hero image, my avatar, and even the music on my profile. Long story short, I love this game, Joining me today is someone I'd been wanting to write this with, one of the coolest people on GIO, the one and only NekuRulez! In case you couldn't tell, he's a bit of a fan of TWEWY as well. Got anything to say to the readers?
Hello my fellow gamers! I have to start off by saying that it's incredibly humbling to work with such an excellent writer as Stranger. I probably won't be able to sleep now for days worrying about how my participation in this review will pan-out. This is my first review after all, let alone co-review. But a co-review of my favorite video game with my favorite GIO writer?! These opportunities don't fall into my lap very often! So here I am! Hello Stranger!
How are you doing? :D And I'm sure you'll do fine, I've seen some of your writing in your bio as well as your first and only blog, I'm sure you'll do great. So, let us get to what the people came here for, and start our review of one of the most innovative games of recent years, the quintessential game for the Nintendo DS, The World Ends With You.
And what a game it is. I'd like to start of with the aesthetic of the game, how the graphics and world looks. Is it pleasing to the eye? The answer is a crystal-clear YES. With the Nintendo DS, you don't really have high-quality advanced technologies to render your games in. So, instead, Jupiter opted for gameplay graphics that are Chrono-Triggeresque if Chrono Trigger had the sprites and backgrounds highly polished. The characters are all easily identifiable, and monster battles are seen on screen after doing a technique for scanning the area for various hidden things with symbols that let you know what you'll be facing. The cutscenes are provided courtesy of anime-styled images that change based on the emotion the characters are conveying at the moment. And Shibuya, the heart and soul of the flavor the game provides has a completely unique urban Japanese aesthetic that only Jet Set Radio has come anywhere near. The game has great visuals, no doubt about that, ones that will stick with your memory.
You're spot on, Stranger! I think one of the greatest things about The World Ends With You (TWEWY) is how amazingly they tell this story using primarily music and anime-themed character stills. The opening scenes themselves are awesome. My favorite visual effect is probably when Neku uses his Scanning Pin to open the blue scan circle where you read others' thoughts and scan for Noise (enemies) in the area. The graphics created for the various Noise symbols are pretty sweet as well. Additionally, the various districts of Shibuya each have their own unique feel. The game paths are numerous, intersecting one another in various locales, so much so that one can get a little lost in Shibuya when looking for a specific place (something I'd imagine is probably true of the real Shibuya.) Finally, the graffiti art style coupled with the game's overall hard-edged design and heavy-outlines all build the vibe of a gritty, bustling, noisy, Shibuya. Take the time to really see it in the gameplay and you'll be floored.
Oh man, the music. THE reason I bought the game. One of my friends had linked me to some of the tunes, and they're those types of songs that you can't help but nod your head or tap your foot whilst playing. Three Minutes Clapping, The One Star, Long Dream, Deja Vu, Give Me All Your Love, Calling, Shibuya, Twister, every time you turn your head there's some new song for you to have stuck in your head for days. Lest you think that it might not fit near as well in the actual game, think again. You can tell the music was composed for the game, it fits superbly with the frenetic crowded streets of Shibuya and the Noise that inhabits it. There's battle tunes, overworld tunes, and even CDs you can purchase to choose what you hear when you turn on the pause menu. The soundtrack is, in short, fantastic, and quite possibly my favorite soundtrack ever. The sound effects and voice acting, while not as to the forefront of this game as some others, is used to great effect, adding to the experience the game provides. From Minamimoto's "Zetta slow!" to many of Joshua's sarcastic admonitions the voice clips enhance the experience while still allowing the art and story to lend an immense weight on their own. My only suggestion is using a good set of headphones, then you can hear every nuance of the aural ecstacy that flows in to your ears.
My favorite voice-overs in the game are probably: Joshua: "Follow my lead!" Neku: "Screw that!" and Shiki: "Are you ready to die?" Neku: "Then die!" both tied to initiating a battle sequence. When Neku uses Fusion (a pin-activated synchronized attack by Neku and his partner) I think the voice acting really hits it's peak. As Stranger mentioned, the voice acting is minimal. The bulk of communication is through text bubble, which actually works well in this game. The music overall, plays a HUGE part in what makes TWEWY such a magical game. Games like The Legend of Zelda and Kingdom Hearts both have their own unique sounds that add significant depth to their stories. The music in TWEWY is on par with these. The difference, in my opinion, is in the variety of sound used for TWEWY, which pushes it forward as being one of gaming's audio greats. A feat even more impressive when considering it was designed as a handheld title using Nintendo DS capabilities. Few can argue against the addictive nature of J-pop. I've seen many a musical "snob" fall prey to the siren call of catchy, electronic-synthesized beats coupled with the cute Japanese vocals of J-pop... and who can blame them! While J-pop makes up a fair portion of the tunes in the game, the sounds go much further than that. You'll find hardcore techo beats, unsettling suspenseful tones, and even emo tunes that will pull at the heart. With 34-distinctly unique tracks (all available in-game for swag purchase,) it's a feast for the ears! Just remember that AMX and Towa Records are not the only places to buy music in Shibuya. My only lament here in terms of audio was no voice-over acting for Rhyme or Shooter. I would have liked that.
The story seems like one only crazy enough for Japan to write, but as you're playing the game it comes together a lot more fluidly than my fumbling outline could ever give. But, the gist of it is that the protagonist Neku Sakuraba is taking part in a game put on by Reapers. He has no idea why this is happening, as he's lost his memories. He makes a pact with a girl named Shiki, and this allows him to fight the primary enemies of the Game known as Noise. He also has to follow an objective each day for seven days, or else face erasure. He uncovers more and more about his past, and thereby, his future as the game progresses. It gets more and more high-stakes as the Reaper's Game goes on, and genuinely makes you CARE about the characters. Even minor supporting characters and villains are interesting and have far more to them than meets the eye. The story is amazing, and will leave you open-mouthed at the plot twists interspersed until the amazing ending. You're going to remember the characters and the trials they went through long after you close the DS.
My main interest in buying this game was the idea of a modern-day JRPG. We've all played the usuals, medieval-themed, where our hero comes from basically nowhere, but learns of a legendary family history, weapon or whatever that helps our hero take his rightful place in history and set right what has gone awry in his time. Whether elf or country rube, our hero always comes from some rural, unassuming place. The closest thing to rural in TWEWY might be Miyashita Park! Our game setting is completely transformed into the busting, world-class City of Tokyo. Enter Neku Sakuraba. A shy, introspective, hesitant soul who keeps to himself and "likes it that way." Neku regards others as a kind of nuisance that will only hold him back in life. Neku's thinking is very black/white. He has his beliefs and other people have theirs, and that's that. Neku, closed-off to the world as implied by the visual of his headphones always being on, is seemingly a lone wolf adrift in a sea of humanity. The hustle-and-bustle that Shibuya (or any amazing urban place) presents, offers the potential for interactions that could change your reality, world or life path. Personally, I saw A LOT of myself in Neku, which is why he has been the greatest protagonist I have ever played in a game. The cold, cut-and-dried view of the world and Neku's chip-on-his-shoulder attitude serve a rationale for ignoring what may really be fear of interacting and mixing with others, growing and changing through others, and the risks that come with getting close to others. Essentially, for Neku, being alone is safe. Apart from his heart-stopping good looks, I could be Neku.... That's what really sucked me into this game. The Reapers' Game, forces Neku to interact with others for survival. Players MUST have partners or are ineligible to play and will be picked off and eliminated quickly by the reapers.
At the opening, Neku wakes in a parallel reality, the "Underground" (UG,) and rather hastily must form a pact with Shiki to be partners or basically be erased.... not a very hard decision.... Stranger has mentioned the general flow of the story, I will just add that a HUGE part of this JRPG is watching the changes in Neku as the story unfolds. The few times you get to see a big, beautiful, REAL smile cross Neku's face will make your heart melt (even if you're not totally in love with him like I am.) Throughout the bulk of the game, his mouth (and half his face) tends to be buried under his blue scarf-thingy. Generally, Shiki will soften Neku's attitude a bit and open-up his "shell," forcing him to confront and work with others. Her positivity, willingness to work as a team and overall patience could tear-down any social phobe's walls! Joshua will challenge Neku (while toying with him and generally driving him nuts.) Neku becomes much more "pliable" as a result. Neku will gain a new outlook on relationships and friendships, with a broadening view of others and the world around him. Finally, with the stakes of the Reapers' Game incredibly high, his third partner will be the flame that lights the fire of Neku's soul as they blaze though a Player's Partnership to get to the bottom of this crazy game. They don't like one another at the first, but in the end, the two actually have complimentary personalities, when they're not butting heads! Get ready for a great (albeit confusing) story!
Upon completion of the game and main story the game totally opens up! The Second Time Around, allows you to play any day of any week with ANY partner which is just awesome! All on-demand! The goal of this second play-though is mainly to satisfy three or four specific objectives for a given day to receive a "Special Report" that will offer more detail about the Reapers' Game and what's happening in the story by that day of the Game. The special reports really give more background and new information than you (and Neku) really didn't know at the time. Finally, after receiving all the special reports, a bonus "Another Day" chapter is opened! Neither myself (Mr. TWEWY) nor Stranger has gotten this far yet in the game... Shameful, I know, but I've been distracted lately by newer games and systems. Rumor has it that Another Day is a bonus day for Neku in the UG that has a completely fun and playful vibe to it! Not like the dark and serious nature of the main narrative. If this is the case, I really look forward to having fun with Neku in "Another Day." In short, the details in mechanic (discussed below) and storyline are just staggering! How many people did it take to make this? How long did it take? These people are friggin' geniuses! Will be some of the thoughts you're left with by the end of this epic tale.
And here we come to what the game has become widely noted for, the controls which most famously featured the patented Stride-Cross Battle System. Let's get this out of the way first, the battles have a brutal learning curve. What you do is control Neku on the bottom screen with the stylus, using various motions to attack with pins you've equipped and moving Neku by dragging him out of harms way. On the top screen, you use the ABXY buttons if you're a lefty like me and NekuRulez, or the D-Pad if you're a righty to control your partner. As you can imagine, this becomes a frenetic juggling act as you must go back and forth between two screens at once. But is richly rewarding when you do learn it, and it becomes a lot of fun. On the overworld, things are a lot simpler as you use D-Pad or touch-screen to move Neku and visit places as well as interact with the people within. The controls are great, and will pretty much never leave you frustrated.
The trick to mastering the Stride-Cross Battle System is control of the Light Puck. The Light Puck passes from top to bottom screen at a rate determined by you and your partner's sync level. While in possession of the puck, damage bonuses are awarded for all offensive moves. With Neku, the stylus is the key to your play (sometimes the microphone.) Upstairs on the top screen, a combo map will guide you on button
(or d-pad) pressing to unleash a finishing move and earn stars that enable Fusion
(team) attacks. You play a different move-driven card game with each of your partners on the top screen to earn stars that enable a Fusion attack. It's not as hard as it sounds.... While the learning curve can be a bit steep, Team Jupiter and Square-Enix do offer a little player support in the game's settings. Neku's cell phone is basically your passport to every option in this game. While it's true Neku will require 100% of your attention in battle on the bottom screen, there is an Autoplay function where the computer kicks-in and plays your partner for you if you don't make any moves on the top screen. Autoplay pickup is controlled by a low/med./high-type setting that allows either more or less "dead time" in top screen plays before the computer kicks-in, so you can gradually master playing both positions by yourself. Now I know what you're thinking. "Why don't we just let autoplay take care of top screen fighting in all our battles?" The answer is, autoplay works, but only adequately. It is there for support, not as a substitution. The card matching that earns stars is not the main goal of autoplay. Autoplay is more concerned with player survival. You can achieve finishing combos and even get a few stars with autoplay, but it will never work as well as you can, with practice. Get those stars! Fusion attacks are where the combat graphics really shine! Neku's partners all have three levels of Fusion with him. Get the stars, activate the Fusion Pin and watch the teamwork clear the field! By the end of the fight you will get a battle ranking (grade) and so many statistics it will look like you're trying to launch a shuttle! But the real trick, is whoever gets the final attack on the last Noise in the area will have a cool action pic and voice-over fly across the screen with all the fighting round stats. The pics vary from psyched victory, to troubled, to injured.
The voice overs also vary and are really cool. From Neku's "That's how it's done!" to Shiki's "I wasn't feeling it..." to Joshua's "That was a nice distraction" or "Neku, do you need a break?" I know it's a minor thing, but it's that attention to detail in programming and design that makes this game so awesome. Honestly, just trying to get the graphic and quote I want is a huge goal for me in battle! You can chain up to sixteen Noise fights in one series of battles. Stars will carry-over chained battles only. If/when you die, you can either retry the battle right out, retry it on "easy" level, escape the battle all together or exit your game. You can save and exit TWEWY at any time in the game, except when in combat or cinematic story shorts. Only ONE game can be saved on the game card, so this game is not to share (unless you're completely done or partnering.) Finally, there are two really fun actions in the game we did not mention but really deserve note. One is communicating with people in the Realground (RG.) There are side stories in the game that include helping people in the RG with problems and issues. Remember, the Reapers' Game is in the UG and Neku can only communicate directly with other Players, Reapers and select shop-keeps in stores that bear a Players Pin. To communicate with people in the RG you act almost like a ghost! You use "memes" to imprint ideas/solutions into peoples' heads while scanning their thoughts with your Player Pin. The memes, correctly placed, with pop ideas into that person's head that change the story. You can also try to communicate more directly with those in the RG through "Reaper Creeper" (it's like a Ouija board,) but the RG person must initiate contact that way.
Finally, PLAY Tin-Pin Slammer!! It's a fun mini-game using the pins you collect. It is really fun! The game forces you to play a little just to advance the story, but at virtually any time you can play Yammer or the adorable Shuto Dan (a.k.a. Shooter) in-game and often get bonus items. Shooter is basically TWEWY's take on a Digimon gogglehead or striving Pokemon master. He's outgoing, full of energy, and focused on winning. In fact Shooter could have goggles.... but I believe he already has a headband. You can also play Tin-Pin Slammer outside the formal game setting, against the computer or with another person on their DS via LAN. In Tin Pin you flick your pins across a board, trying to kick you opponents' pin off in a three pin match. Each pin has a different weight, which varies the inertia and force need in the flicking motion to make hits. Each pin can also perform a different number of select whammies (special attacks.) It's actually pretty fun, and hangin' with Shooter in general rocks! Overall, I have no complaints with controls in TWEWY. Sometimes the touch screen can be a little finicky and read a drag for a scratch or a circle draw initiation for a press, but that can usually be solved with complimentary pin slotting and appropriate pin designation to the "sub" menu (hold down L or R to activate the sub pins for play) to avoid confusion in activation.
As for the design of the game itself, all the elements come together to make the experience unforgettable. There are some deep RPG elements to interact with. The first and most obvious, are pins. These dictate what attacks you have during battle, as you can only equip so many at a time. You'll be scratching, poking, drawing, and shouting Neku to victory depending on what attacks you set him with. You can also level up these pins to make them more powerful. There are also support pins that can do things like refill HP. You can buy more in shops or win them from enemies. And speaking of shops, you can also buy food and clothes that boost certain stats. The clothes go in and out of style based on the current trends of Shibuya, and they can go anywhere from doubling or halving your attacks. It's a lot of fun to plan ahead and decide what to go into each battle with. You also have options to change difficulty or level on the fly, to either overcome fierce adversaries or slog through a fierce battle to increase your chances of getting a rare item. The system of the game in general is customization, and it works beautifully.
Customization is absolutely the name of the game, Stranger. When you think of all the variables in this game and the exponential ways these can be combined, it makes you wonder about the massive amounts of programming code that must go into this game card. There is not a whole lot else to mention that hasn't already been discussed. I'd just like to emphasize the importance brands plays in effecting your fighting abilities. All clothing (shoe, shirt, pants, accessories, hat, etc.) carry a corporate brand name and it's popularity in the area which you are playing effects a ton of battle stats. Many of your pins themselves are branded and there are some brands that are more complimentary (stats may change a little,) and some that clash entirely (pin may be useless or even a drag on you!) You can popularize a brand by battling successfully decked-out in as much swag/pins of that brand as you can equip. Neku is hottest with "Jupiter of the Monkey" brand swag (IMO.) There are 13-corporate brands vying for your love and cash infiltrating Shibuya. There is also some swag with no official branding. Independent designs for the hipsters!
Food items have the same variability on your players' stats like swag does. Used primarily to recover a lagging sync rate (after numerous battle losses or desertions) the various foods from numerous vendors all recharge characters differently based on taste. Food will also award a second abilities boost upon digestion that will also vary. Food is digested in "bytes" (I know... cute, right?) Digestion occurs over time (including time away from your DS) or through battles. The more battles you fight, the quicker you digest food. And you can find ALL manner of food in Shibuya! Finally, one of my favorite things to do in this game is collect stickers! Stickers are mostly new abilities or skills Neku and his partners will acquire throughout the game. A Shiki sticker will include a new special ability for Shiki, a Neku sticker a special ability for Neku, etc. There are 42-stickers in all! Along with the awesome CD singles, swag and stickers to locate, you will also collect books. Book swag will help those too impatient to read the colorful, instructive, and graphically stunning instruction booklet. Each book will fill you in on an important aspect of play. There are 55-books waiting to enlighten you.
A few issues I had with TWEWY, in terms of overall design, are minimal. One is simply the number of pins! I mean I guess that's not really a complaint as much as an observation. It definitely boosts re-playability, but 304-pins?!? Wow! 100%ing this game will be a challenge. Included in those 304-pins are 9-types of cash pins, which brings me to my second issue. While things in general cost cash, sometimes to get something the seller will want a certain number of specific Yen pins instead of cash to trade for an item. For example, a ¥100 item may require, 5 ¥1 pins, 3 ¥5 pins and 8 ¥10 pins for trade. Not just cash and buy. This becomes an issue later in the game when the easier Noise are replaced by harder ones, and it becomes virtually impossible to get ¥1, ¥5 and ¥10 pin drops from a fight. You will mostly cash your Yen pins for actual cash money, fundage and such. But you should keep some pins of every denomination in pin form for later trades (I learned that the hard way.) Finally, a third issue that was a bit irritating is, if and when a partner becomes no longer playable, you will lose all the swag your partner had equipped. Keep that in the back of your head.
With all the variety in this game, I'd say those are pretty minor issues. The level of statistical detail included with every item is staggering, and some of the stats (and even the item's usefulness) I still don't really understand. It's not necessary to know EVERYTHING in Shibuya to complete the game, but they must have had a mathematician design this crazy world of pins, food and swag, because just putting on a pair of sandals causes so many stat changes I'd need a Ph.D. to derive them myself! Again, not a huge deal in gameplay, but the level of detail is just spellbinding!
Stranger, however we close this out.... we MUST end with "Gotta Bounce!" We have to do that!! It will be awesome! A hilarious tie-in to the game.
That'll work, I'll leave that part for you! Now, as for the overview itself, how do I summarize such an amazing game? The graphics are vibrant and crisp, the music is excellent, the gameplay is innovative and exciting, and the story and characters are penned masterfully. I have a few extremely minor complaints regarding some of the less-useful pins and the difficulty of the final boss. Overall, I think this is the finest masterpiece to come out of the DS library, and would give it a 10 out of 10 (which is even better knowing the rarity of me giving out perfect scores). If you have any chance to get this game, any chance AT ALL, rush out and grab the nearest copy before it gets sold! And how about you Neku, what would you say overall?
Overall, I'd say if you're interested in a
refreshing take on the JRPG formula, this game is for you. If you
really enjoy music in games, this game is for you. If you can
appreciate the artistic quality and innovative storytelling in video games, this game is for you. If you're looking for massively open worlds
to explore.... well.... you might want look elsewhere. While there
are many playable districts of Shibuya
in this game to explore and enjoy, you will find at times areas that
were previously open to you, later close "just because." Sometimes you
have to find a way past the wall. Sometimes it's simply a limitation on
game design. The game is open enough to satisfy the explorer's basic
needs, but there is an overall narrative you are penned-in by that becomes apparent at times.
For me, TWEWY is not only the best game on the Nintendo DS, but the
best Nintendo game, and video game I have ever played! I also score
this game 10-out-of-10 with emphasis on innovative gameplay, visuals,
and sound. Endearing characters and creative storytelling carry this
game even further in terms of quality. Stranger, it was so much fun
putting this review together with you, and I'm incredibly happy you
finally got the chance to play my favorite game! The World Ends With
You is a production of Square-Enix and Team Jupiter. A 2007 release for
the Nintendo DS portable gaming system. Rated "T" for Teen. With a
co-reviewed double perfect score, all that's left to say is (in the words
of Neku,) "Gotta Bounce!"
(I'd like to thank NekuRulez for taking some time out and writing this review with me. I'd been wanting to do this with him after remembering how much I enjoyed both his Sim City blog he did as well as his extensive bio. This review took awhile to put together, but it ended up being well-worth it and thoroughly enjoyable, even if his writing DID knock mine out of the ballparkin both length and quality xD. So thanks again Neku, this is one of the many reasons why you're one of my favorite people on GIO.)
(I'd also like to thank PRjumpman124 for looking over my editing job and making sure it's adequate. He's awesome.)