After all the hype, I finally decided to cave in and play The World Ends With You (It's a Wonderful World), the second game this year with characters designed by Tetsuya Nomura (shocker!) after Crisis Core. So does it live up to its hype, or is this another example of a over-hyped game? So what is the appeal of The World Ends With You? For one, it is a new I.P. risk by Square-Enix (another shocker there). Then there is this new real time battle system that is very different. I will come to that later but let's get the storyline out of the way first.
You play as Neku (an"emo" teenager with an awful fashion sense, who hates people in general) who one day finds himself in the Shibuya shopping district (based on the famous shopping district in Tokyo, Japan) in possession of a rather odd and alien looking black pin/badge. Neku is a generic RPG hero, whose spiky hair and short term memory loss does nothing to prove otherwise. With the pin, he has the ability to sense the thoughts of people around him, but the thought of being surrounded by people disgusted him. But for reasons unknown to em, he is not allowed to leave. Neko later finds out that he is part of the 'Reaper's Game', a game that spans seven days. If he or other participants fail - they would be erased. To survive, Neku and his companion pact, Shiki Misaki, has to defeat 'Noise', which are physical manifestations of people's ill feelings, and complete mission objectives issued by the Reapers within seven days.
The gameplay revolves around searching for clues from people wondering around Shibuya, and fighting 'Noise'. Touching the black pin on the bottom screen will allow Neku to read people's thoughts and locate Noise. The game also has an innovative adjustable difficulty level for players who wants to take greater risk. The increased in difficulty is off-set through rewarding the player's risk with higher quality item drops. Customisation isn't a problem here, as Shibuya shopping district proves to be big enough to cater to the average cliché RPG hero, and then some. New techniques can be discovered during the course of the game, which allows Neku and his companion to unleash special attacks and combos depending on the pins (which can be stat boosted) equipped. Foods and clothings can be bought to augment Neku and his partner's stats.
Combat takes place across two screens, with Neku on the bottom controlled by the player via the touchscreen, and Neku's partner on the top screen. Controlling Neku is a fairly obvious process, with the player controlling his movements and attacks using a stylus, like slashing upwards on an enemy to perform an uppercut. Because battles takes place simultaneously, the player has the option to control the top character via the d-pad (lefties can use the face buttons). This takes some getting used, and for the first hour I did think it was a mess and often surrendered the controls to the A.I. (you can select how quick before the A.I. takes control back in the options). But once the initial first few combats, you will likely to get used to it and find a very deep and compelling battle system buried here, often trying to create combos and chaining battles.
The visuals aren't the most impressive technically, but the player is constantly showered in colourful and often psychedelic design giving the game a rather unique look, reminiscent Jet Set Radio. Character designs are generic enough, though more often than not, their vibrant fashion sense does liven up the screens. A bit like Viewtiful Joe and Persona 3. It is too bad that the developers has paid very little attention into creating an intuitive UI, as everything seems to be cluttered. It doesn't help that the colourful menu sometimes distract the player more than it assist them. The soundtrack on the other hand is a mixture of licensed J-pop, again reminiscent of Jet Set Radio. We should be thankful that a global company like Square Enix has decided not to dumb down the soundtrack (like Nintendo did with Elite Beat Agents) to cater for 'local musical taste', as the music provided here is infectiously addictive and catchy.
The World Ends With You does not live up to its hyperbole, but it is still a wonderful game. The imprecise stylus usage may annoy people seeking for a portable experience and the dual screen battle may scare people away, but the learning curve is there to be exploited. One thing I loved about the title is how 'unwesternised' the title is. It is refreshing to play a game infused with a foreign culture - something that is originally intended by the developers. With great style, wonderful soundtrack and a new innovative, fresh and deep immersing gameplay that actually takes advantage of the touchscreen (unlike gimmicky tacked on controls in games like Phantom Hourglass), I believe you will likely to enjoy your trip to Shibuya.
Get it now at Amazon UK or Play-Asia.