Back in 2008, Square Enix released a unique JRPG for the Nintendo DS, called The World Ends With You (or TWEWY for short). Developed in tandem with Jupiter (since the game takes inspiration from their previous Gameboy Advance title, Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories) TWEWY was a fantastic and surprisingly deep experience that told the story of a lone teenager named Neku who finds himself in The Underground (or UG -, a parallel world based on real-life Shibuya), playing a dangerous game under the mysterious Reapers, alongside other teenagers and must work with them find their way back to the real world.
While the overall story may seem kind of cliche, what with the “amnesiac” intro and themes of friendship and unity, it’s still fantastically done, thanks to well written dialogue, brilliantly realized characters and strong art direction. Nope, I won’t spoil anything, so this gives you readers more of an excuse to play the game, alright? But just know that the plot and it’s message portrayal comes of as very natural, quite relatable (at least for me) and refreshing despite familiar tropes.
Moving on, the colorful and striking artstyle is one of the first things that’ll grab your eye, what with the urban, graffiti inspired design that is based off Shibuya youth culture, including environment artwork, food, accesory design, atmosphere, enemy & character design and so on – renowned designer Tetsuya Nomura (known for his work on the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games) has done a fabulous job here, as far as attention to detail is concerned. Overall, the game is incredibly stylish with a “modern” feel, and is bursting at the seams with personality.
This sense of glamour doesn’t just stop there though, it even extends to the gameplay mechanics, which is one of TWEWY’s more unique offerings as well. Featuring real-time, 2D hack & slash combat (that’s reminiscent of Chain Of Memories with all the dodging and dashing), it’s aided by solid mechanics like the Pin system, for example – allowing Neku to equip “Psyche Pins”, badges that grant a variety of powers (like telekinesis, shooting lightning bolts and even causing earthquakes) and then there’s Sync system, that has you work together with your partner to rack up the Sync Gauge which let’s you unleash powerful Fusion attacks on the tattoo-esque monsters lurking around the UG known as the Noise or the bat-winged Reapers that overlook the Game. The combat in both the OG DS version and the “Solo Remix” remaster for iOS & Android is the same but some mechanics have been simplified for smartphone due to the single screen – and the game loses its authenticity on phones in the simplification process, like lack of top-screen partner battles, tweaked set-pieces and simpler mini-games lending to an overall easier experience compared to the DS original. Purists should definitely stick with the DS version in this case.
But wait, there’s more: apart from combat, there’s other factors that can indirectly affect gameplay – like the food you consume (providing stat bonuses), the clothes you equip (like hats, shirts, jeans, accessories, etc) – all of which tie in to the brilliant “region popularity” and “brands” mehcanics (different kinds of gear and accessories are made by different manufacturers, like cheaper, cost-friendly ones like Mus Ratus and Natural Puppy to the only-for-the-rich ones like Pegaso and Pavo Real); this powers up or reduces your attacks based on what brand is popular in an area. Taken as a whole, the colorful, chaotic and fun combat is organically enhanced by these seemingly simple mechanics that could’ve been just window dressing, but were smartly woven into the combat system by the developers.
To top all this off, TWEWY’s OST is perhaps the second best video game soundtrack I’ve ever heard (just behind Persona 3), with a decent variety of sounds no less, ranging from catchy pop, to energetic hip-hop to adrenaline-pumping electronic tunes – again, all perfectly capture the wild, urban vibe of the game. Bravo, Square Enix, bravo.
Now of course the game isn’t without it’s faults – the game can get repititive in long sessions both in terms of gameplay and mission design. touch controls can be finicky (as is the nature of the control scheme) and the smartphone port being an arguably inferior version, but even then the pros FAR outweigh these cons. It’s such a refreshing and unique hybrid JRPG – the likes of which aren’t made anymore.
It’s been somewhat underrated and swept aside over the years, but people that crave uniqueness and creativity in games, cannot afford to miss it – especially what with the upcoming definitive remaster for the Nintendo Switch, subtitled “Final Remix” that will feature enhanced visuals and also include a brand new story arc that will expand upon the secret ending in the smartphone remaster. It’s everything an adventurous, free-minded gamer could ever ask for and is not only deserving of its cult classic status, but many more accolades.
With all that said, where’s the sequel, Square Enix?