A long overdue review: The World Ends With You

I have played video games for almost twenty years, and in that time I’ve played dozens of great video games. I have spent hours playing and replaying universally acclaimed games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and at the same time given Quest 64 more chances to impress me than it deserves. The video game industry continues to impress me with well made games, but those same games often lack a uniqueness that makes them memorable after the game is over.

Despite all this, on rare occasion I play a truly unique video game that remains fresh in my mind for years. I consider these unique games to be among my favorites.

The World Ends With You is one of those games.

First impressions and second chances.

I received The World Ends With You as a gift shortly after it was released. I was very excited to have a chance to play it, but my first reaction was disappointment. I found the game to be extremely confusing, and after a couple of hours quit playing entirely. Without a doubt, The World Ends With You has a steep learning curve.

After my first experience, I mostly forgot about The World Ends With You. I considered giving the game a second chance on multiple occasions, but my first impressions of frustration kept me from playing the game again.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a handheld game to play that I had not already finished. I reluctantly decided to give The World Ends With You a second chance expecting the same disappointing results.

Instead, my reaction were the complete opposite. At first, the controls were a little finicky, but once the tutorials ended the game quickly picked up pace. To my surprise, not only was The World Ends With You not frustrating, but it was also a ton of fun.

It wasn’t long before I found myself reluctant to put the game down. For the past couple of weeks, I have spent my afternoons playing and replaying The World Ends With You.

Like few games before it, The World Ends With You is always fun. The characters and story are unforgettable, the setting is unique, and the battle system is one of the most original I have ever experienced. The World Ends With You is a very original game, but continually reminds me of three of my favorite video games.

The World Ends With You has the unforgettable characters and story of Chrono Trigger.

The game also gets points for having a character named Joshua who is completely awesome.

I replay Chrono Trigger very regularly; not quite once a year, but at least every two years. I re-purchase Chrono Trigger every time it is re-released, and I love it just as much every time I play it. The battle system used in Chrono Trigger is nothing remarkable, but the story and characters are…timeless.I consider the cast of Chrono Trigger to be one of the best used in a video game. When I hear the term “memorable characters” Crono, Marle, Lucca, Robo, Ayla, Frog, and Magus immediately come to mind. The cast of The World Ends With You is equally memorable, but has one key difference.

In Chrono Trigger, the main character and protagonist, Crono, never speaks. The use of silent protagonists was common when Chrono Trigger was originally released, but it is less common today. The main character and protagonist of The World Ends With You, Neku, could not be any more different than Crono.

Throughout the game, not only will Neku speak regularly, but you are also privy to his thoughts. While most of the characters are well-developed (there are a few throw-away villains and other relatively unimportant characters), Neku is given the majority of the spotlight. The Neku you see at the beginning of the game is very different from the Neku you see at the end of the game.

It is difficult to write about the characters and story (especially the story) without spoiling the experience. Simply put, the story revolves around a group of characters called “Players” who are competing and cooperating in a city-wide game run by “the Reapers.” The “Reapers” prepare missions for the “Players” to complete, and if the “Players” fail they lose their right to exist (i.e. they die).

Don’t let the simple premise deceive you; there is far more the story in The World Ends With You. The story will keep you guessing until the end of the game, and when you finish the game you are rewarded with the ability to replay any part of the game and complete missions to unlock more information to fill in plot holes.

While playing The World Ends With You, you will regularly believe you have every character and plot point figured out, but the game will prove you wrong every time. It is an extremely satisfying experience.

The World Ends With You has the unique setting of Earthbound.

Earthbound is well-known for many things; one of them is the modern-day setting based on the United States of America (known in-game as “Eagleland”). At a time when most RPGs had sword-wielding knights exploring castle dungeons and fighting dragons, Earthbound sent a boy armed with a baseball bat to explore alien-infested department stores. The writing is humorous and charming and fits the setting perfectly.

The statue of Hachiko is a real place in Shibuya.

The World Ends With You takes place in the modern-day Shibuya district of Tokyo. Earthbound is based on the United States of America, but The World Ends With You is a copy of the real-world Shibuya district with only a handful of changes (e.g. the real world 109 Building is renamed the 104 Building).

Earthbound gives you baseball bats, teddy bears, and hamburgers; The World Ends With You gives you trendy clothing, cell phones, and ramen. Like Earthbound, The World Ends With You fully embraces its setting. The trendy clothing acts as your armor and its effectiveness changes based on which brands are “in style” at the time. The cell phone acts as your menu. Ramen, and other foods, act as a way to gain permanent stat increases. Even the music in the game feels like it belongs in Shibuya (which could be a good or bad thing depending on your taste in music, but there’s no denying it fits the setting).

The writing is not your typical video game fare. The game is funny at times despite the very serious story, and manages to use phrases like “full of fail” and “eight kinds of boned” without sounding ridiculous. There are many lengthy reading portions of the game, but the well-written script makes it enjoyable.

The World Ends With You has the hybrid battle-system of Ogre Battle 64.

Ogre Battle 64 is a strategy game that employs both real-time and turn-based strategy at the same time. You command units (groups of soldiers) around a map in real-time, but when you meet the enemy in battle, the game switches to a turn based system determined by various factors. It is a very complex battle system that is unlike anything in another video game.

The World Ends With You does not use the real-time turn-based hybrid of Ogre Battle 64, but it does use a hybrid battle system of its own that is equally complex and even more difficult to master (I am an expert at Ogre Battle 64, but I am a novice at The World Ends With You).

The battle system’s extremely steep learning curve is where The World Ends With You receives most of its criticism. If you are not a patient player, you will quickly become frustrated with The World Ends With You.

The battle system requires that you use pay attention to both screens on the Nintendo DS. On the bottom screen, you fight with magical abilities activated with the stylus and touch screen. On the top screen, you control a second character with the d-pad or four face buttons (depending on whether you are left or right-handed).

Thankfully, the game will offer to control the top screen for you. It is possible to play through most of the game without ever controlling the top screen, but the experience is less satisfying and becomes more difficult near the end of the game. Nevertheless, the touch screen combat alone is a satisfying experience and makes the game well worth playing.

On the bottom screen, you activate various abilities powered by “pins” by performing commands on the touch screen (e.g. “slash across an enemy,” “touch empty space,” or “draw a circle”). There are tons of pins to collect that give you a near limitless ability to customize how you play. If certain pins don’t work well for your play style, you can switch them out for others that you find easier to use.

The World Ends With You needs to be experienced.

It has taken me several days to write this review because The World Ends With You is not an easy game to describe (and even harder to describe without ruining the experience). I think I have made it abundantly clear that I consider The World Ends With You to be one of the best and most memorable video games I have ever played. The World Ends With You needs to be experienced to be understood properly. The game is definitely not for beginners (there is an easy difficulty setting, but even then the game has a steep learning curve), but dedicated players will find a lot to love.

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