Square Enix has put out a ton of
games in the past few years, most of them appearing under their banner title,
Final Fantasy. But if you’re like me and maybe a little tired of that mythology,
then you’ll be glad to know that their most recent effort, The World Ends With
You, is completely different – in a very good way.

The World Ends With You was
developed by Square Enix along with Jupiter for the DS and is the story of two
of urbanites from Japan. Neku is just your regular spunky, spikey haired
protagonist who discovers that he’s involved in some kind of underground game
that pervades the streets of Shibuya. He receives a special pin (the kind you
clip to your book bag) that allows him to scan people and read their minds.
Soon, he meets Shiki, who joins him on missions that require the kids, along
with many others, to complete goals and defeat the “Noise.” While avoiding The
Reapers (the puppet-masters of this game) Neku and Shiki explore many new
districts of Shibuya and meet interesting characters. While it all sounds very
strange, the game’s story is, in many ways, commenting on youth culture,
especially in Japan. And the main character, Neku, is perhaps the most emo
protagonist ever created. Frequently he’ll say things like “But I don’t need
friendship,” or “I can make it on my own.” Of course, gradually Neku learns to
lighten up a bit.

The special pin I mentioned above is
just one of many that you, the player, will acquire. The pins actually take over
the Final Fantasy equivalent of spells and potions, allowing you to customize a
“deck” of a select few pins you can use to fight with. And fighting is where
this game becomes very interesting. The battles utilize both screens at once:
the top for Shiki (your partner) and the bottom for Neku. Using the stylus, you
can poke, swipe, and draw your way through Neku’s battles. All the while, to
control Shiki, you mash buttons in a DDR like pattern to initiate combos.
Striking certain patterns on the top screen, or killing enemies on the bottom,
will send a glowing “Pong” like ball between screens. If you can keep the ball
going, you can get bonuses and even do a finishing move that helps wipe out the
Noise. It sounds complex, and, in the beginning, it really is. The game,
however, guides you along and after a while, as you get the hang of it and
unlock new powers and bonuses, the pay-off comes quickly.

Another interesting aspect of this
game is the fashion and food system. Every youth knows that buying the latest
trendy shirt or hat will boost your defense and attack! Well, that’s what the
gal at Old Navy told me. . . Anyway, buying new clothing and accessory items
will indeed boost everything from HP to attack. You also have to keep track of
the latest trends so you know what to buy. And the more you buy from a
particular retailer, the more she’ll like you and the more items will open up.
It’s win-win!

The food system in this game is
absolutely ingenious and should be incorporated into every new RPG. Your
characters are allotted a certain number of “bytes” and when you buy a hamburger
that’s worth, say, 8 bytes, it will fill up part of your food meter. Eating
certain foods will extend your HP, boost your sync rate, or many other bonuses.
But it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to DIGEST your food before the
bonuses set in. And to digest, you have to fight the “Noise.” The more you
fight, the faster you digest and accumulate the bonuses, and the quicker you can
pack in some more food. The system works great and is a lot of fun. You can’t
just keep eating however. You’ll become full eventually and have to wait another
day before you can eat.

The style of this game is
extraordinary. From the graphics to the music, the game radiates originality.
The story is told like a comic, using dialogue balloons and the streets have a
cool, stylized look that changes as you walk through the city blocks. And when
you scan people to read their thoughts, you really get a sense of the culture
these kids are from (presumably Japan youth culture). The music, while Japanese
Pop, is infectious and soon I couldn’t get the tunes out of my head (and why am
I suddenly carrying around all these pins?). The World Ends With You is a
fantastic game with a very strong and cerebral story – and it moves at a quick
pace. The best part of this game, however, is that every aspect takes advantage
of the DS, from the two-screened combat to the touch controls. Few DS games get
this good.

Review Scoring Details for The World Ends with You

Gameplay: 9.0
The game mechanics are tough and ask a lot at first, but soon you’ll be slicing
and dicing the “Noise” with the best of ’em.

Graphics: 10
The style of this game is phenomenal. From the streets of Shibuya to the
characters, this game radiates charm.

Sound: 9.5
The J-Pop music might not be for everyone, but I found it catchy. The beat
rhythms and sound effects are integrated nicely.

Difficulty: Medium
The game can get hard, but luckily it’s also very forgiving and helps players
get into the tough combat very easily.

Concept: 10
The story is totally original and all of the gameplay concepts are built from
the ground up on DS.

Multiplayer: N/A
While you can trade items with friends, there is no real multiplayer.

Overall: 9.5
This is the first contemporary urban RPG I’ve played since Earthbound, and it
had me from the get-go. Not only is the gameplay built from the ground-up for
the DS, but the story is actually about something – not just orcs and elves. The
World Ends truly hits the mark in DS gaming. While it has a few minor stumbling
points that reduce the aggregate score here, it definitely gets a 10 on the Emo
scale. Who ever thought those little pins with skulls on them would have
telekinesis powers?