Style over Substance

The World Ends with You

Tea: Herb Tea (sick again…)

I am still waiting for my next big game to arrive and only play small chunks of another one. So in the meantime I’d like to talk about a game I already played the hell out of and re-visited to check if it still holds up. Or perhaps my standards have changed so much I cannot endure it anymore. Without further backstory let’s jump into The World Ends with You on the good old DS.

The World Ends with You and its rather inviting title come from Square Enix which should be immediately noticeable by the cover art. All the character designs are done by the main guy behind Kingdom Hearts and it really shows. All of them have this absurd level of clothing with too many belts or zippers attached to them and their hairstyle is in a rather drastic conflict with the forces of gravity and common sense. It doesn’t help that it is a little hard to tell certain character’s gender at some points throughout the game and at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if it changes half-way through again. But it still intrigued me, mostly the title really, but I love Kingdom Hearts so I gave it a shot.

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– How many girls/boys can you count? –

The story starts with the main character Neku waking up on a busy intersection in Shibuya with no memory of how he got there. He soon discovers that he is locked in a deadly game with seven days of trials to gain his freedom or otherwise die. He must partner up with a different person every week, since only one week would make for a very short game. The first partner is a fashion-victim girly character beating on about values like friendship and cooperation. You see, Neku and I are kind of on the same spectrum. Meaning that no people around are good people. Blocking out the world is an acceptable solution to most problems and social interaction can piss off. Sadly, Neku’s character arc consists of him ditching these characteristics, therefore alienating the only anchor I had in the game.

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– Still waiting for a sociable main character that evolves into this throughout a game

Calling this an RPG is a bit of s stretch, since I don’t feel involved in the story at all. I’d call it a visual novel type of game and in that sense it works great. There are about five choices scattered throughout the entire game, but they don’t matter at all. The game has one option and if you pick the other one Neku will utter it and then devaluate it. Best example: I was asked near the end whether I’d like to help the villain and I said “yes”. And so did Neku and then continued along the lines of “that is how I once thought, but now…”. If my choices don’t have the slightest bit of impact can’t we just save the time and get on with the story? But as I said, if you play it as a visual novel with the occasional bit of involvement or puzzle solving then you are good to go.

The RPG elements come into play when you go shopping for clothes. Chain mail and helmets are replaced by articles of clothing like leather jackets and shirts by different brands. These varying brands enjoy varying popularity in different parts of the city. Align your choice of clothing and pins with the district will get you a boost in strength or a penalty should you act against the trend and try to be some kind of hipster. Let it be said that people who follow trends are as brainless as it gets and teaching children that actually turning off their free-will will get them a bonus in life is a strange message to send. Then again the system makes no real difference as I never used it, since I felt too comfortable with my set-up to go through the trouble of altering it every time I change screens.

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– Shopping Simulator 2008 –

The gameplay is probably the strongest aspect of TWEWY, since it is the opposite of most JRPGs, meaning not turn-based and not random encounter based. You can choose to fight at pretty much any moment and also how many waves of enemies you would like. The more you pick the stronger they get, put also your drop rate for rare stuff increases. You fight on both screens and once. You partner is at the top and while your ally changes throughout the game they all play the same. Even though their strength seems to vary it doesn’t. Example: The girl in the first week attacks with a stuffed doll. Androgynous boy in the second week blast heaven-lasers and does about the same damage. You control them with the D-pad and have to pick certain attacks to achieve a fusion attack. The bottom screen is inhabited by Neku and controlled via the stylus. Neku uses pins to fight. All of them have different attacks and different methods of activating the attack. Slashing, drawing, tapping, and so forth are all methods used to fight. Both characters share their enemies so killing one on the top screen eliminates him at the bottom as well. The learning curve isn’t so much a curve as a solid wall. I didn’t get into a rhythm until finishing the game for the first time. It is really hard to concentrate on both things at once and all of it feels very hectic and uncoordinated. The computer will take over the top part if you are too weak to do it properly and does a fairly good job at it.

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– Gets a lot more confusing when you are playing it… –

TWEWY has a rather unique visual style. From characters to environments and even the attacks have this tattoo-graffiti aesthetic to them. It is nice to see this much artistic work poured into a game. The enemy design is no exceptions. The noise, as they are called, are animals that have been stylized with the aforementioned tattoo paintbrush and now resemble a twisted version of the original. This makes battles a visual spectacle to behold. All the different pins trigger substantially different attacks. All of that is accompanied by an outstanding original soundtrack full of J-Pop that might either click with you or turn you of the game completely. Listen to ‘Three minutes clapping’ and  ‘Emptiness and’ to get a good idea of what you are in for.

The game shines in the boss-battle department making full-use of the dual screen mechanic and the visual design. Boss characters will usually only appear on one of the screens necessitating coordination and fast thinking. Sadly, or luckily, the villains have colourful characters, sometimes more than the main cast, thus transforming them into the more interesting party. My favourite has to be the math-loving second week Game Master Sho. His math quotes are funny and usually well-thought out, which is a huge surprise.

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– Sho Minamimoto: Making math-jokes funny –

To reach a conclusion. The World Ends with You is an entertaining experience in the story department, but not ground-breaking. The fast-paced gameplay is a lot of fun, whether you are learning it or already mastered it. Always keeping you on the edge and demanding full attention. The highly stylized game world in every aspect makes the game the unique stand-out experience from the mass of most JRPGs. If you are not into these games usually give TWEWY a chance, since it is a welcome diversion from the status quo. It demands a lot from the player, but rewards you with a unique and different experience.

Image sources in order of appearance:

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2 thoughts on “Style over Substance

  1. Hairstyle in drastic conflict with the laws of gravity? Rather looks like me when getting out of bed in the morning.
    Anyways, never heard of that game before but it looks rather interesting. Apart from the stuff with the clothing that´s just annoying in my opinion. You should be able to dress like you want, to express yourself and not to please some random people you cross in town and most likely will never see again in your whole life.
    The idea with the limited time creates a sense of pressure I don´t usually appreciate in games but I´m quite intrigued as to what happens after the time runs out.

    Like

    • I’d be rather impressed if you could muster up a hairstyle like that by simply getting out of bed, some of these are quite absurd.
      Then again, the clothing does not show on your character apart from the selection screen and thus ultimately is visually irrelevant. But I still wanted to draw attention to it.
      Don’t fear, the time limit is contained within the game and does not translate to real world time. A ‘day’ can last as long as you need. It is simply a narrative device to raise the stakes.

      Like

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