‘The World Ends With You’ an engaging game

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Square-Enix and Jupiter, makers of the massively popular series “Kingdom Hearts” and “Final Fantasy”, dropped their new RPG, “The World Ends With You”, for the Nintendo DS on Tuesday. Not only is it one of, if not the best DS RPGs, it is a unique and engaging game and all around one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a long time.

“Kingdom Hearts” players will no doubt recognize the art style. The characters look like they were pulled from that Disney/Square universe. Similarities to other Square-Enix games end there, though; “The World Ends With You” is a whole new ball game.

The game takes place in an alternate version of a trendy shopping district of Tokyo called Shibuya (it’s famous for its huge crosswalk featured in “Lost in Translation”). You play Neku, a young man whose social skills and memory could use some work. He doesn’t remember much, or know why he’s in this warped version of Shibuya. His cellphone suddenly gets a cryptic message telling him to accomplish a task or “face erasure” and a countdown timer appears in the skin of his hand.

Neku is part of a game run by Reapers; he is given a task to complete each day or faces erasure (death).

Thus begins your foray into Underground Shibuya. There are certain parts of “The World Ends With You” that are standard RPG fare – a big story, a host of cool characters, character progress, battles, items, weapons, but it’s all done differently than other RPGs.

The look and feel of “The World Ends With You” immediately sets it apart from other RPGS. It’s ultra-hip and modern; enemies look like they’ve come alive from graffiti, all your items are “brand-name” clothes and subject to the latest trends, hot brands get combat bonuses, while brands that are on the out and out get punished in combat. The DS does a great job of rendering the ultra- cool world. As you move through parts of the game, the background scrolls at odd angles and buildings poke diagonally out of the ground.

The game really stays with the super hip look and it works very well.

The combat is weird. Prepare to be thrown off at first, but taking a few minutes to learn the moves is hugely rewarding. The combat is fun! You’ll find yourself wanting to fight all the baddies in a given area. Entering a battle is completely voluntary, there are no random encounters, and you can even stack battles one after another to get better loot at the risk of dying and having to reload your game.

Near the beginning of the game Neku partners up with another player in the Reapers’ game, Shiki, and she and Neku are present in all battles, Neku on the bottom screen and Shiki on the top screen. You directly control Neku with the stylus; you drag the stylus around to move him or dodge enemy attacks and various powers require different stylus movements to target enemies and attack them. It’s very frantic and confusing at first, but after the initial learning curve it is much more fun than a turn-based combat system as you directly control your character at all times.

You also control Shiki, or can, sort of. You can press the directional pad (or A, B, X, Y for lefties like me) to have Shiki pull off DDR-style combos.

Pull off the right moves and she and Neku can do a super attack. Ignoring her altogether works as well, since it can be pretty confusing to pay attention to both screens. But if you ignore her, she tends to activate combos much slower than if you help her out.

The combat really makes the game shine. Since it is so much fun, you’ll actually want to fight all the enemies you can and pump your characters up enough to take on the bosses.

It’s really a great system, though initially quite daunting.

Character progress is another interesting part of the game. Both Shiki and Neku can get new duds to power them up. They can also eat food for temporary energy boosts and collect passive abilities that work from the moment you find them.

All attacks in the game are in the form of pins – yep, just like you used to put on your bag in high school to show off your favourite bands – but these ones do stuff!

You have a limited number of slots to fill with pins. Each acts as an attack in battle. During battle, pins are used up and reset and a rate determined by their statistics and pins get PP, which levels them up.

So the more you use a pin the stronger it gets (though they all eventually stop leveling up)

Verdict: I love “The World Ends With You.” No random battles + super cool game world + excellent battle and level system = Great game

I recommend it to anyone with a DS regardless of what they thought of previous Square-Enix games.

Calen Henry is a fourth year student of Japanese studies and multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

© 2008 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.