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We can’t remember the last time a game was cooler than us. Sure, we’d shift our hat facing backwards when scrubbing our Corgis in Nintendogs, and hell, even smoke when catching them all in Pokemon. But Square Enix’s latest title not ending in “Hearts” or “Fantasy” literally drips style. The World Ends With You mixes graffiti-infused J-pop with Japanese youth culture in an alternate reality Shibuya, Tokyo, while introducing dual-screen combat to the DS. The experience is unlike anything we’ve played on the handheld and is as deep as RPGs come.
Surly 15-year-old Neku loses consciousness and wakes up an unwilling participant in The Game, a Running Man-esque mission-based death scenario. After pairing with tragically hip cutie, Shika, Neku will confront his deep-rooted feelings of betrayal while destroying monsters and evading The Game’s deadly puppet masters, the Reapers. Yes, pissy/happy-go-lucky teens, end of the world dynamics and adolescent wangst - this must be a modern RPG. But to Square Enix’s credit, most of these clichés are waded through and the story is actually relatable. Neku may be an ass, but you actually start to feel for the guy.
The real meat of World Ends is the bizarre form of combat you see in those screenshots. Using both DS screens, you control Neku with the stylus on the bottom screen and his partner on the top screen with d-pad combos. Your primary enemies are the “Noise” - mutated animals like giant bears, hellish bats and even bulbous frogs among other beasties. Fighting is not the least bit intuitive and is pretty overwhelming when you begin, but World Ends does an exceptional job easing you into each aspect of gameplay.
See, Neku’s combat is beyond basic stylus swipes. Over the course of World Ends, you’ll collect pins - granting a different psychic ability. Think of FFVII’s materia: each pin is upgradeable and unleashes a different magic or physical attack. Also, each one controls differently. Tap an enemy to fire psych bullets, or swipe an enemy to unleash punishing combos. Slash straight up for a devastating ice attack, or draw around beasts for a circle of flames. And like FFVII, the inherent fun in World Ends is strategizing which pins to use for battle. All at once, it’s immensely enjoyable to level grind in a game that isn’t WoW.
Conversely, Shiki and the other misfits you eventually control, behave much differently on the top screen. Initially, you’ll enter combos on the d-pad to bust some heads, but your primary goal is to earn Fusion stars. Each combo is linked to a symbol that you’re trying to match. You’ll need to match each combo with the corresponding symbol that appears on the top of Shiki’s screen. Doing so enables you to unleash a powerful screen clearing attack. Again, it’s a bit confusing at first, but the game gives you some training wheels in the way of auto-control over Shiki if you really can’t handle it. The more you fight - which is incredibly often - the more you’ll be ready to chain together battles.
Somehow Neku gets crazy psychic powers when he wakes up in bizarro Shibuya. Said powers enable him to read and sway people’s thoughts, but also psychically scan an area to see monsters in the area. By tapping the monster icons, you’ll engage in combat. If you’re feeling lucky, you can tap a few icons and chain a number of battles together.
Chaining increases an enemy’s drop rate and the spoils you collect. You can even open up your menu at any time and select the level at which you fight. The higher the level, the easier it is to defeat enemies. Lowering the level decreases your HP and makes enemies tougher, yet the rewards more enticing. Finding a balance amongst a sea of customization is one of the best things about World Ends. You can literally fight any way you want. We kept initiating battles just to see if we’d get any better at fighting.
But therein lays the downside of World Ends. Sometimes everything from pin collecting to customizable battles feels a little more complicated than they should. There’s already a lot to keep track of over the course of your 20ish-hour adventure and it’s almost like World Ends really wants you to know that there’s an epic RPG here regardless of how tiny the DS cart is. We haven’t even touched upon the clothing styles that raise or lower your stats depending on what region of Tokyo you’re in. It’s a really cool feature and engages you more in how your “armor” effects you at all times. But saying there’s a lot to do in an RPG is like whining about double-jumping in platformers - it’s really nitpicky and shouldn’t sway you from playing.
The World Ends With You is an amazing marriage of style and gameplay. The dual screen combat further stretches what the DS can achieve in gaming that is far from a lame gimmick. We haven’t played an RPG in quite a while that is not only engaging, but actually brings something fresh to the genre. Hell, we just want to see another World Ends soon. DS sequel? A Wii adventure using the Nunchuck and remote to handle two different characters? Sure, we’ll eat them up. Our hope is that you don’t pass this one by. With so much innovation and style, you won’t be sorry.
Apr 18, 2008