There are many things that make a game rise above the others and stand out in a positive fashion. It could be because the game has superior graphics, it could be a highly-anticipated sequel, or it could be a concept that is so incredibly original that it changes the way we think about video games and takes us to a place in our minds that we've never visited before. What we refer to as a 'genre' is tested, with ideas that blur the lines which divert games into seperate categories, and when mixed in with an interesting narrative that constantly keeps you guessing, the combination is very exciting. For those who haven't caught on yet, The World Ends With You falls into this unique category, and with its great anime-inspired visuals and a style of gameplay that is absolutely packed with interesting, well-executed concepts, Square Enix has created an experience that is going to stay in the memories of all who play it for a very long time to come.
The narrative is one of the more interesting stories that we have encountered; your main character, Neku, has a shadowed past and an attitude problem. While hanging out in Shibuya, Japan, he's quickly thrown into an extremely weird situation, when he receives a message informing him that he will face erasure if he doesn't complete a specific challenge within a certain time limit. A creepy countdown timer is suddenly imprinted on the palm of his hand, and he's left understandably confused and concerned, as other citizens start getting erased around him. After being attacked by some creatures known as 'Noise', he runs into Shiki, who along with her optimistic attitude, seems to have some idea as to what is going on: something called 'The Game' has begun and you, among others, are a Player in it. If you don't solve the challenges set out for you by a bunch of odd folk called The Reapers, then you will be erased. The idea behind the story is rather enthralling to say the least, and without spoiling anything, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way as you attempt to discover just what The Game is all about, and why in particular Neku is an important part of it.
The basic idea that you'll constantly be using in the game is that Neku, along with other Players, has access to things called 'pins'. There are a variety of different pins in the game (over 300 in fact) and each one holds with it a different ability in combat, including being able to do your more basic slashing attacks as well as shoot lightning bolts down from the sky and create walls of fire in an instant just to name a few. What's great about the massive stockpile of pins that you'll collect throughout the game is that to use them effectively, each one requires different movements of the stylus to actually attack with them. After selecting a few to use in a 'deck' of sorts for your character, you'll need to combine skill with strategy, where shooting at an enemy means you'll need to excessively tap on them, while creating a bolt of lightning will require you to quickly draw a downward line from up above onto your enemy. Defeating the various types of Noise in this fashion is effective and fun, and despite some of the actions being a little repetitive, it never gets boring given the fact that you'll be able to switch around to different pins to attack enemies in different ways. As you use them in combat, the pins will also level up as you progress, meaning that using certain pins for extended periods will become a real benefit to you later against tougher enemies.
If the pin system is already sounding complicated, then here is the icing on the cake; while Neku will be your main controllable character on the bottom screen of your Nintendo DS, you'll also have your partner to worry about on the top screen the majority of the time as well. To attack using your secondary character, you'll have to use the D-pad by creating combinations that cause damage to enemies if done correctly. It's slightly reminiscent of Dance Dance Revolution in this regard, especially if you add in the fact that Neku and your partner pass a hockey-puck aura of sorts back and forth to each other throughout each battle, and if you time your attacks so that each character does their damage when they are in possession of this aura, you'll get combat bonuses such as extra damage or maybe even the acquisition of better items when the fight is over. Thankfully, you can set your partner to battle for you automatically if you wish so that you can focus on Neku, which can be a blessing during those harder fights. There are also specific moves you can do as a duo by completing mini games mid-battle such as matching cards via D-pad commands, which deal extra amounts of damage and can also recover some of your HP, which can be a saviour at times considering how difficult and daunting the game can be.
The most important pin you'll acquire is also the very first. It can be used at almost any time out of combat, and literally taps into the psychic layer of Shibuya, allowing Neku to see where Noise are hiding as well as granting him the ability to read the minds of its inhabitants, which helps for scouring the city for information or even just for some small sub-stories of specific people. Simply touching any of the visible Noise is how battles begin, and the size of the floating symbols on screen indicates the difficulty of the fight in question; if you feel like a challenge, you can even touch multiple Noise symbols at the one time, chaining together a series of battles without a rest and recovery period in between. This of course makes things much more difficult, but the rewards you gain from doing this are far greater than your standard battle... in fact, there is a lot of 'risk versus reward' elements in TWEWY. Even though you'll level up as you progress, you can choose to literally lower your level via a slider-bar in your options menu to increase the challenge of battle, and in doing so, you'll gain much more interesting pins along with other items which can make the entire experience much more satisfying.
It's not all just about the battling though. Shibuya is a modern society, and as such, each area of the city has its own fashion style which you'll need to take notice of if you wish to succeed on an even greater level. There are a variety of shops you can buy new clothes and accessories at, and if you wear an outfit that's fashionable in the area you're exploring, you'll get bonuses and better statistics; just like if you're wearing an outfit that is considered outdated and tacky, you'll find combat much more difficult. If you spend time and money at specific stores, those particular owners will remember your good patronage and give you tips and discounts as you get to know them, so it can be worth shopping exclusively at stores that have the items you want. Food is also implemented in a unique way, as you won't find an increase in your stats as soon as you eat it. You'll actually have to digest your dish of choice over a period of time, fighting Noise until it eventually has its lasting effect on your character. There are many more features and fun distractions in TWEWY that we'd love to talk about, but there is something cool about discovering these elements for yourself; as you can tell, there is a lot to keep you occupied here.
As we said earlier, the game is anime-inspired, and this is most prevelent when looking at the design of the characters and the city of Shibuya itself. The crazy hair, the stylish clothing, the so-cute-you-could-almost-die characters and all of that jazz are all present, and has a lot of colour sprinkled throughout every part of it, including the battles which are just explosions of colour and liveliness. All cut-scenes are shown via a series of still-images, including the dialogue which plays out like a graphic novel of sorts, complete with speech bubbles. While it may be annoying for some, it works within the context of the game and isn't too frustrating to tap your way through each conversation. There are some minimal amounts of voice-over work to accompany the characters, but the soundtrack featured in the game is very nice and faithfully J-Pop combined with a good use of sound effects accompanying the busy streets and the often hectic stages of combat. One negative here is that the J-Pop tracks tend to repeat themselves, and do so regularly; we can see people getting pretty sick of them rather quickly, even though we didn't find the repetition too damaging to the overall experience.
We absolutely have to tip our hats to Square Enix, who have simply outdone themselves here. With so many proven 'big' franchises under their belt, they could have easily just done a dip into the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest pools, created another by-the-books RPG for the Nintendo DS and sat back grinning while the fanboys of said big franchises flocked to purchase it in spades. The fact that they have taken a step in the totally opposite direction and really attempted to do something different with such unique concepts makes this game worthy of a play-through all in itself. The fact that these concepts work so utterly well with one another is a testament to the kind of quality they are capable of, and should be noted by everybody that developers don't need to simply cruise by with the same overdone concepts time and time again. Originality is certainly not dead, and The World Ends With You absolute proof of this. While it may not seem initially appealing to everybody and the ideas behind the game are definitely 'out there', we highly recommend that you give this game an honest try, as we fail to see how you could be disappointed.