I have to admit that when The World Ends With You was first announced, I was just a little bit sceptical. Spiky haired kids? An inventory based system themed around fashion and graffiti? An RPG that isn’t all swords, sorcery and mana counts?
Good God, I thought – this is the Japanese casual version of Mark Ecko’s: Getting Up! Why Square Enix? Why have you done this to the throngs of Tifa-fancying fan boys out there – why have you gone to the dark side?!
Just for the record; yes, I have been called a bit melodramatic on occasion.
Thankfully, my shrill screams were completely misplaced and the game turned out to be a lot better than I had hoped – precious few words were deliberately misspelt in order to make the game feel more urban and the game is actually quite close to the typical Square Enix values.
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Players cast as Neku, an amnesiac urbanite whose only passion is cultivating an intensely introspective personality and a mammoth hatred for everyone he meets. Neku thinks he’s better than everyone else in the world and he’s never seen evidence to suggest his thinking is flawed. In other words, he’s a bit of a stereotypical, lonely geek despite what his super-fashionable clothing might make you think.
Things go wrong for Neku very quickly in The World Ends With You though – he falls asleep and wakes up in the Tokyo shopping district of Shibuya. He has no memory, no clue what’s going on – the only thing he does have is a small black badge with a skull on it. Fiddling with the pin he finds he has the ability to read the minds of those around him – something bored players can do whenever they want, reading the thoughts of passers-by by touching the badge.
Slowly, the setting is unveiled. Neku discovers he has somehow become embroiled in a deadly game run by a group called The Reapers. The game, which lasts one week, has groups of players working to complete various missions within a set time limit under threat of ‘erasure’ – basically death. Not everything is simple though and Neku and Co. are often opposed by either the Reapers themselves, or the physical manifestations of peoples’ negative thoughts – called Noise.
It’s through battling Noise and Reapers, solving puzzles and working with his team-mates that Neku is reluctantly made to survive despite his constant bitching about how the all the world needs is him.
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Thus, the stage is set for some decent RPGing – there’s mystery in finding out why Neku is involved and what the Reapers want, action in the incredibly frantic combat system and loads of item gathering and power-levelling to do too. It’s in the latter point that fashion starts to come in to play as players can wear pins and items of different brands and labels to gain certain advantages over the Reapers and their stooges.
If you haven’t gathered by this point though, the game is decidedly Japanese and is filled to the brim with slightly zany charm and references to Japanese culture which range from the food (mmm, ramen) to the mission objectives.
Games like this that really embody another culture can grate on some people if they end up force feeding their foreign attitudes to players who just want to have fun, but The World Ends With You thankfully avoids this. Instead, the culture and wackiness is constantly drip-fed to the player in a way that never overpowers them, but does eventually leave them enjoyably saturated in the feel of the game.
Sometimes I think it’s wonderful how games can bring other cultures and people together, East to West. Then I realise it’s just my melodrama running away with me again and I go play some Lost: Via Domus as punishment.