Neku finds himself waking up in the middle of the famous Shibuya scramble crosswalk in Tokyo. How did he get there and what are these strange messages appearing on his cell phone?
In The World Ends with You, you play as the overly confident youngster Neku as he struggles to understand what is happening to him. You soon find out that he's been dragged into a game that challenges its players to complete strange tasks in order to get a second chance. The challenges usually involve beating up enemies known as noise and making your way to a new location on the map, possibly helping strangers along the way. Neku teams up with a player named Shiki in order to defeat the noise and along his journey, he also comes across other teams that are fighting for the prize. The story themes are pretty stereotypical of your average JRPG that stars teenagers such as dealing with jealousy, friendship, and having too much or too little self confidence.
The world consists of the streets around Shibuya, Tokyo with many locations looking like cartoon copies of real-life places such as the 104 building, scramble crossing, Hachiko statue, and many more. Although I've never visited Tokyo, I was inspired to look up videos and photos of people's personal The World Ends with You tours around Shibuya to check out all the locations from the game. Now, that's a dedicated fan base! Even though there are a variety of locations to explore, it would have been great to get out of the city a little to mix up the scenery. I can't complain too much because what's here is an impressive representation of many interesting real-life spots.
The World Ends with You has a lot of style from its visuals and soundtrack to its items and pins that you can purchase and even its battles. The graphics are reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts with lots of dark edges and bright contrasting colours. Meanwhile, the music sounds like it belongs in an arcade from the early 2000s and it adds a lot of substance to the overall energy which had my wrists aching after long play sessions where I continuously slashed at enemies and really got grooving to the beats.
Each day, you get a message on your phone that details your mission for that day. If you survive then you get to keep playing and if you can make it to the end of the week, you might be given a second chance as the reaper (the guy who seems to be running the whole competition) says. In order to make your way around the world, you'll often have to get past guys dressed in red hoodies who block your exit. They ask you to complete tasks such as defeating noise, collecting pins, or answering trivia questions about the game world. I found the variety and difficulty of challenges to be well paced thus making moving on to the next area never feel like a chore.
The battles in The World Ends with You are unlike any other ARPG that I've played. You collect pins that have their own abilities, some of which can be leveled up then evolve into more powerful versions. As you progress, you'll unlock the ability to equip more pins with each new one giving you a different way to take down enemies. For example, some require you to tap on enemies to unleash a lightning ball, draw a circle on an empty space to drop a large rock, or slash repeatedly at enemies to perform fast-paced melee attacks. If you play on the touch screen, your fingers and wrists will ache often whenever you get carried away by choosing to chain a lot of battles in a row. You must carefully think about which pins you're equipping and when to use them, especially considering some pins do more damage in certain areas of the map and others have long recharge times that make you wait to use them after they run out.
Another aspect in battles is the involvement of your partner, Shiki. Tapping an enemy makes Shiki appear and hit them with her toy cat. Chaining Neku's and Shiki's attacks raises their sync percentage and it can also be raised by eating foods and equipping items. When it rises to at least 100%, you can unleash a powerful move on all enemies in the vicinity. After triggering this special move, you get a brief moment to increase the damage multiplier via a mini-game where a card is shown then you must tap on the two matching cards that flash for a second then turn over. It's incredibly fun and there will definitely be some battles where you'll desperately wait for your sync meter to fill in order to finish a fight if you don't want to escape and make Shiki mad in the process.
Collecting pins is quite enjoyable, too. They can be purchased from shops, picked up from enemy drops, or evolved from lower class pins. One setting that I found to be very handy is the option to increase the difficulty in order to acquire more experience but have a lower chance of getting pin drops from enemies. You can also decrease the difficulty to increase your chance of receiving new pins. If I had a lot of pins that I hadn't been leveling up that much then I would increase the difficulty and vice versa.
Besides pins, you can also purchase clothing, accessories, music, and food from the many shops dotted around the map. Equipping items gives you stat boosts but only if you have enough bravery to equip them. Assigning food items provides you with a permanent stat upgrade if you hold on to something for long enough so that the character can eventually consume it completely. There are quite a lot of items to collect even when it comes to just the available pieces of food.
One thing that bugged me when in the middle of a heated battle was that sometimes, it simply felt impossible to tell the game which attack I was trying to pull off. Given the facts that some pins share commands and that the swipe and tap actions on the screen can be a little ambiguous, you'll sometimes find Neku using a pin that you didn't want him to use or you'll start slashing away trying to do melee attacks at nearby enemies but instead, Neku will unleash long range attacks that don't make as much of an impact. Most of the time, it's actually quite surprising how well the controls map to what you're intending but when Neku isn't doing the attacks that you want him to and you're struggling to stay alive, it can be extremely frustrating.
In this Switch version, there are two methods of control that allow you to play with the touch screen (which more closely mimics the original DS release) or a Joy-Con with the Switch docked. I love that they decided to support both options but I constantly had trouble trying to get Neku to perform the attacks that I was gesturing while using the Joy-Con. There's also the addition of co-op in this release where you can have a second player pick up a Joy-Con and help out in battles as Shiki which is pretty cool.
The World Ends with You certainly stands out from its RPG peers by offering a unique art style and a battle system that makes great use of the Switch's control methods. That being said, I highly recommend keeping this sucker undocked.
- + Awesome use of touch screen controls within the battle system
- + Energetic music and colourful art
- + Interesting plot premise
- - Controls can be ambiguous and docked mode is especially tough to recommend
- - Only takes place within the same city
- - Stereotypical characters and story themes