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.