I’m about to admit something here that may surprise many of you, especially with my penchant for enjoying Role Playing games: I am not a big Square Enix fan.
Sure, they made one of my favorite games of all time with Chrono Trigger, but I personally think the company has had a tendancy to make the same game over and again with the Final Fantasy series. I will even run the risk of upsetting several fans of gaming, one writer on this site in particular, by saying I think Final Fantasy VII is over rated. It is a good game, but I do not think it deserves the adoration it often receives.
That all being said, every now and then the company does something different, creating a game that is both interesting and unique. Few games have fit that description more than one I listed among the most overlooked games of 2008, The World Ends With You for the Nintendo DS.
Our World, Our time
If you have played many games by Square Enix, you know they tend to follow the same formula: a kingdom in some other universe is in moral danger, and you and your team are the only ones who can save it. The World Ends With You breaks that trend completely, however. You play Neku, an angst ridden teen (I didn’t say it was all new) who somehow ends up stuck in a spirit world that runs parallel to modern day Shibuya. You are forced to team up with various characters in the game, competing against the Reapers for the chance at a second life. Neku really does not want to participate in this week long trial at first, but as the game goes on, he starts to find something worth fighting for: the friends he though he would never have.
The characters may be typical Square Enix, but the modern setting is not.
Having modern Shibuya the backdrop for the game really sets The World Ends With You apart from Square Enix’s normal fare of RPGs. Shibuya is one of the fashion centers of Japan, and that sensibility effects the game; your characters can gain attack and defensive bonuses by wearing the hot tends of the area, and you can even influence the trends by what pins you battle with.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before I start talking too much about pins, I need to give you a basic idea of just how you play this game.
Now this is how you use the DS
Anyone who owns a Nintendo DS knows that many games do not really take advantage of the dual screens. Honestly, most of the games Square Enix makes for the system don’t take full advantage of the touch screen. In the company’s defense, many of them are ports of older games. The World Ends With You breaks that trend. At the start of the game, you are forced to team up with Shiki, a girl who is not what she appears to be. When the two of you enter combat, Shiki is on the top screen, and Neku is on the bottom. You have to control both at the same time.
That’s right: I said you have to control both characters at the same time. You control Neku with the stylus on the touch screen, moving him around the battle area and doing different attack motions to battle the creatures on the bottom screen. You control Shiki on the top screen via the D-Pad (or the x y b a buttons if you are left handed), pressing in the direction you want her to attack and jumping in the air to do combos. The better you are at coordinating these two characters attacks, the more experience bonuses you will get and the faster you will build your special attack meter, which allows you to attack everything on the screen at once.
Sound difficult? That’s only the half of it. Neku can learn different kinds of attacks based on what pins you equip him with. You pick up these pins through combat, in stores and through completing quests throughout the game. As you use these pins in combat, they become more powerful, doing more damage and sometimes evolving into more powerful forms of attack. The issue is each pin has a different gesture on the touch screen you use to activate it, and you need to keep these different motions straight in combat.
That’s not all. You rank up throughout the game as in any RPG, but you can actually drop your effective level in battle in order to gain more XP (you gain more if you are more on an even keel with the enemies you are fighting). The only issue with that is not realizing you are about to enter a boss battle and not getting to raise your level back up beforehand. Take it from me; that can be frustrating.
A great story and innovative combat make The World Ends With You a game worth playing, even if it does become a bit repetative by making you relive the same week three times.
Sound like too much to handle? Well, you can set the game to take some or even complete control of the top screen character, though as you start to get used to it, you will find that is really not necessary.
Oh, and then there is Tin Pin Slamer, a mini game within the game where you use different pins in a kind of strange arena battle. Imagine Pogs with power ups, and you will kind of get the picture. Kind of.
Sounds like an interesting game? It is. You could almost say it is an ideal game, expect for one major issue: the game repeats.
Wait, didn’t I just go through this?
The point of the game is to last out the week as the last pairing of players in the games. When you do this, you win the chance to go back to the real world. One problem, however: only one of you can return. The Composer, the unseen entity running the games, decides that Shiki has come to grips with what lead her to this world and allows her to return. Neku, however, is forced to play through another week, this time teamed up with the enigmatic Joshua.
As if that was not bad enough, once you beat that week, you are forced to play through one more. Basically, you do the same thing 3 times. Even though the designers try to vary up the storyline and gameplay in these other weeks, it still starts to get repetitive. I had to put the game down for a while just to deal with it.
Oh, and you do not get to really understand the ending unless you do the secret missions you unlock after beating it. Thanks a lot, Square Enix.
One thing that never gets old: the music
There is one part of this game, however, that can never get old. It is a little hard to describe just what the music is like in this game. So hard, in fact, I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’m going to post the YouTube link to the best song in the game: “Calling.”
Yes, I will be adding The World Ends With You to my video game soundtrack list.
If you liked that, just look up The World Ends With You on YouTube. Several of the of the songs are there. Oh, you can also buy the songs throughout the game, so you can play your favorites as you make your way around Shibuya.
It’s not often that Square Enix tries something radically different. If this game is an example of what happens when it does, we can only hope the game company decides to give more innovations a try. The World Ends With You gets a 5 out of 5.