Where's My Sequel? The World Ends With You
Where’s My Sequel looks at standalone games and franchises that haven’t gotten enough of a follow-up since their debut. This installment looks at the cult classic DS game The World Ends With You.
What it is:
The World Ends With You is one of the most original RPGs on the DS. It stars Neku Sakuraba, an antisocial teenager who doesn’t trust anyone but himself. At the start of the game, Neku wakes up in the center of the famous scramble crossing in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. He learns that he has been thrown into the Reaper’s Game, a one-week competition with the grand prize being the right to come back to life. Neku has no memories of his death and no idea what the Reaper’s Game entails, but he agrees to partner with another player, Shiki Misaki. Surviving the Reaper’s Game, learning the truth behind Neku’s death, and watching Neku grow as a person are the driving forces in the narrative.
While the story and characters are the greatest strengths, the combat and presentation are also compelling. Combat in The World Ends With You is split between the top and bottom screens. On the bottom screen you control Neku. Through poking, swiping, and drawing with the stylus (and occasionally even by blowing into the microphone) you move Neku around and fire off his various psychic abilities. At the same time, you need to manage the top screen where your partner is also fighting. Each partner has a minigame involving cards that you control with the d-pad. Managing both fights at once is initially stressful, but ultimately rewarding – especially as you unleash powerful unison attacks to decimate foes. Each of Neku’s abilities is represented by a collectible pin that levels up through multiple types of experience points, and at max level it may even evolve into a new ability entirely. You get hundreds of pins, all with different effects, so you really can build out your character to your liking. Customization is a huge theme, as you can pick when to fight, adjust the difficulty for greater rewards, and choose the foods the characters eat to build their stats.
The slick presentation ties the whole game together. The art is all in 2D and features a punk/anime aesthetic that’s bold and striking, especially with its strong shadows and jagged outlines. The soundtrack deserves special mention, because a majority of the songs feature vocals (in both English and Japanese) in a wide variety of genres including rock, hip-hop, and J-Pop.
When it stopped:
The original 2008 DS version of The World Ends With You is the only main game in the franchise. A heavily modified port of the game was released in 2012 for iOS devices. The Solo Remix released in 2014 for Android devices. In addition to revamping combat (to account for the lack of dual screens) the Solo Remix included a remixed soundtrack, higher-resolution images, and an entirely new image teasing some kind of follow-up that hasn’t yet materialized. There was also a social-network spin-off game that released in Japan in 2013 in collaboration with GREE, but it was shut down in early 2014.
What comes next:
Choosing the essential elements for a sequel is tough, but I’m hopeful one will be made for the 3DS. The original art style is incredibly unique and should be maintained. While I wouldn’t mind the series transitioning to 3D – especially given how good the characters looked in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance – that kind of change would necessitate revamping the combat entirely, which would be a shame. I absolutely want an all-new soundtrack by Takeharu Ishimoto, given how well he established the mood of the first game, although a few remixes of the most popular songs (like Calling) could be appropriate. I also expect the game to double down on the customization elements, as that was one of the most refreshing aspects of the original. Street Pass could fully flesh out the Tin Pin Slammer minigame if that were to return.
Neku’s story was fully told in the first game, so he shouldn’t return as the main protagonist, but he could definitely support a new protagonist entering the next Reaper’s Game. A lot of characters were erased during the course of the first game, so new characters would have to be created, which is important for differentiating the sequel from the original. Parallel worlds were prevalent in the first game, so the writers could reinterpret familiar characters. Retaining a few of the cast members for the sequel is valuable, if only to see how they have progressed. The new world Neku and his friends created will undoubtedly be threatened, but the positive themes of the original should be reaffirmed in the end.
Square Enix has clearly not forgotten The World Ends With You. In addition to the mobile ports and new teaser image, the cast of the game was featured in a potentially canonical appearance in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Some music also appeared as DLC for Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Curtain Call. If the initial reaction to the teaser site for the iOS port was any indication, fans still deeply care about this game, even years after its original release.