EDGE REVIEW: The World Ends With You
A game designed as style before substance but with depths well worth exploring.
Tatsuya Kando, director of The World Ends With You, has admitted that the development team decided on the game’s setting – Tokyo’s youthful and vibrant Shibuya district – before anything else. While it might not be a case of style over substance, it’s clear right from the off that, like its closest reference point Viewtiful Joe, this is a game designed as style before substance.
From Tetsuya Nomura’s lithe, fashionista character designs to the graffito fonts, cute-dramatic- cute J-pop soundtrack and the self-conscious integration of mobile phones, MP3 players and pin badges into the game’s mechanics, this is a title precision-targeted at the young Japanese who populate Shibuya’s streets in both the game’s reality and ours. The relentless styling hits the target, never feeling like the soulless result of corporate focus-testing, but it’s also overpowering and, coupled with the vogue petulance of teen protagonist Neku, ultimately distracts from the game’s underlying merits.
The story provides the framework into which the gameplay slots. Neku is drawn into an esoteric seven-day competition hosted by a mysterious group of hooded gamesmasters known as the ‘Reapers’. Every day he receives a task via text message, which must be completed before sundown if he is to avoid being ‘erased’. Unable to leave Shibuya and with a timer etched onto the back of his hand, Neku has no option but to participate, rushing through the streets of Shibuya from target location to location aided by a single companion.
The game is stuffed with cutscenes and extended dialogue but when control is
wrested from the narrative, the action mechanics are deep and interesting, making unique use of both of the DS screens at once. Principally, you battle monsters known as the ‘Noise’. Neku and Shinki are controlled simultaneously, one on each of the two screens. Neku is controlled with the stylus on the touchscreen, different gestures executing different types of attacks (known as ‘Psychs’) depending on which badges (the physical metaphor for moves) are equipped. The second character is controlled on the top screen using the D-pad, combination button inputs dictating which moves she performs. Initially, it appears as though the game is asking too much of its player. Controlling two characters in parallel across two different screens with two different control mechanisms is a tall order, but in time it becomes manageable and then enjoyable.
Enemies drop badges which can be equipped to open up the move roster and, because both badges and characters earn experience separately, it’s possible to customize your team right from the start. As each enemy encounter is rated in a Viewtiful Joe style, the emphasis is on showboating through customization, meaning the game is deeper than it is wide. However, with a slew of different moves to discover and evolve, a fresh and exciting new way of framing an interactive challenge and an interesting story tied to a single small location, these are depths well worth exploring.
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