Thursday, August 22, 2013

August of Games: Day 22 - The World Ends With You

The soundtrack is killer. I think it's the best the DS has to offer, and still beats many other games nowadays.

The World Ends With Us
Developer: Jupiter and the S-E Kingdom Hearts team (Square Enix)
Genre (Setting): Modern, Fantasy
Genre (Gameplay): Action, RPG (this game is genre-busting and doesn't match any traditional genre styles)
What is this game: This is the game where you are extremely asocial and wake up with amnesia to discover that you are part of a ridiculous activity  called the Reaper's Game. Only completable with a partner, with failure meaning complete destruction, the Game takes place in an alternate Shibuya coexisting with the real one. Players are invisisble and intangible, but with the ability to read thoughts of the real public and influence the trends of Shibuya. The plot is long and twisting, with a cast of colorful and unique characters.
Gameplay-wise, as I said, it's genre-busting. Out-of-battle, you go around the city, finding tasks and furthering the story. You can shop in the real world's stores (branded with a special mark that allows you to interact with the general public in order to buy stuff). At any point, you can tap your player pin in the corner to read the thoughts of the public and locate enemies to fight.
In battle, combat is split between the DS's two screens. On the bottom screen is Neku, your main character. Neku equips "pins", which are basically different attacks - for example, your starting pin allows you to drag the stylus over space to generate damaging flames that follow the stylus, while another one (my favorite type) allows you to slash across an enemy to have Neku leap across the map to perform a melee attack. At first you can only hold a couple pins, but by the end you can hold six. There's a LOT of pins to try out!
On the top screen is your partner. Each of the game's three partners has a different style of fighting with different commands, but they revolve around either the d-pad or the face buttons (depending on which hand you've got your stylus in). It's very hard to keep track of both at the beginning, but after playing a while you start to get used to it. Thankfully, the top screen will fight automatically if you ignore it (though not QUITE as competently as if you were doing it, but it's good enough that you needn't concern yourself with it all the time). You and your partner share a health bar.
That's a good general description I think. There's a LOT of nuance involved, and a lot of extra stuff.
The aesthetics (sound/art) are a pixeled art style with a lot of care in it and a blend of varieties of music, primarily j-rock and hip hop. The game has some heavy influences from music in general.
What's great about it: Let's get this out in the open: I just walked over and looked through my DS collection (a rather extensive one - overall the DS is my absolute favorite system), and I can say without hesitation that The World Ends With You is my favorite. This is a game made of solid gold, from writing, to theme, to characters, to gameplay, to graphics, to music. Jupiter may be famous for Picross (and Picross alone) and Kingdom Hearts isn't the best reputation ever, but somehow they pulled out a perfect piece. Let's examine.
The storyline is lasting. It's not some one-and-done affair, and even when you think it's coming to a head it manages to keep going, but without overstaying any welcome. I didn't see where it was going, and neither will you - it's unpredictable, but not in a "gotcha!" sense where it takes 90 degree turns just to trick you. I've fallen quite in love with the characters, and Neku/Shiki is one of an extremely small number of ships that hold in my head (the others being Tali/Paragon Shepard and Phoenix Wright/Maya). Tetsuya Nomura often isn't a great designer in my mind (being almost wholely responsbile for the zippers and belts style that has infected Final Fantasy since his work on VII), but his work fit perfectly into the Shibuya setting, as Shibuya is one of the world's hubs of outlandish and creative fashion.
Shibuya itself is remarkably accurate, and many local landmarks are immortalized in pixel not only as background, but as story and conversation pieces. Makes sense I guess, seeing as both Square Enix and Jupiter are based out of Shibuya.
Okay, here's a weird moment for me: so, I'm this huge opponent of grinding. I simply cannot take it. I put down the game after ten minutes, which is a limitation on me enjoying many classic RPGs. Well, TWEWY doesn't require it! Thank god. However, if you want to do EVERYTHING, meaning leveling your Pins, buying everything, making all the shopkeepers your friends, maxing your level, whatever, you're gonna need to do it. For the leveling one, sure, but fighting is also where you get cash. So this is the weird bit: I love shopping in this game. I have no idea why, but I love making friends with the shopkeepers and getting everything from every shop and this takes like a bajillion yen. And somehow, this game makes grinding not so bad! Literally the only other games I can handle grinding in to a large degree is the Pokemon series.
Theme is interesting. This isn't something that will speak to everyone the way it does to me. I'm naturally a fairly shy person, but I want to be outgoing, and the main theme through the story is Neku's coming to terms with the fact that he's not alone in society and that life is richer when we reach out and expand our own worlds. I shit you not: before the bigger social ventures I've done (particularly conventions) I've reminded myself of the big lesson of the game (also the title), The World Ends With You. The idea being that our experiences and understanding, our world, is only as large as we allow it to be, and we expand as people by expanding our own worlds. So yes, this game has some personal significance to me.
The graphics are a little pixelated dream. Real pixel-art, rather than mindless 3d modeling, is an amazing thing in this age, but it's even rarer to see if come up with quality this great.
Musically, well, "perfection" springs to mind! A soundtrack not bound by being stuck with the DS's speakers, it's a regular CD in my car.
So, gameplay. People often critisize a steep learning curve, but it's only bad if you demand perfection from yourself or have too much pride to mess into the very variable difficulty settings. See, there are three mechanisms for difficulty in this game: Mode, Level, and Chain. There are (as of post-game) 4 difficulty modes, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Intense. Higher difficulty modes cause enemies to drop different (better) items. You can alter your own level in this game, from your 1 to your current maximum. Manually reducing your level sets your stats back, but increases your drop rate for each level you removed. You can chain multiple fights together (usually 4, but in post-game your can reach 16), and each fight you add to the chain doubles your drop rate, though you don't recover between fights in a chain. Basically, if you want a very easy experience, you can set it to Easy, max level, and fight one-at-a-time and ignore the top screen completely. If you want a very difficult experience, you can set it to Intense, level 1, and chain together every Noise symbol on the screen at once and control the top screen manually. And if you want something in-between, you have the dials to provide a simply incredible number of different levels of difficulty so you can find the one you like most.
I'll stop gushing about this game now. Please, go buy it and play it. You won't regret it. Basically, this game took a company that is renowned for keeping gameplay the same game after game, and reinvented the whole damn RPG wheel into an innovative piece of glory - and if there's one thing you should know by now about me, it's that I prize innovation.

How do I get it: I'm guessing you have to get it used if you want it for the DS. They recently made an iOS port called The World Ends With You: Solo Remix, which I don't recommend as much - there isn't half as much nuance to the battle system without the partner being a constant control factor, and the redrawn (no longer pixeled) sprites aren't as great-looking. But it's currently the option it seems, and experiencing the game even with these flaws is still an extraordinary experience. It currently costs $20 there.

The Solo Remix fills me with a bit of bitterness because they did a week-long countdown thing in coming up to it in which it was incredibly obvious that it was new TWEWY material, but it looked like it was gonna be a sequel. It NOT being a sequel broke my fuckin' heart. The Solo Remix also comes with hope though: there's an extra little cutscene at the very very end of the game (after the post-game stuff) that heavily implies a sequel. Hope lives.

Oh, yeah. There was this special DS Lite they released alongside the game in Japan! It was a bundle thing. It's also very hard to obtain! I'd be willing to pay significant amounts for it if any of my readers happen to have one. You see, not only is the DS my favorite game platform overall, but the DS Lite in particular was my favorite iteration of the DS. Its size is absolutely perfect for me. Getting this thing would be a dream come true. this is what it looks like:

End Recording,

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