They can make Final Fantasy sequels till the end of time, but this thing gets ignored for almost a decade now?
If you owned a Nintendo DS back in 2008, you should have at least heard of The World Ends With You. It was crazy popular during that time period for its engrossing story/characters and unique gameplay that made full usage of the system’s hardware back when that sort of experimentation was seen as a good thing. But ever since then, nobody talks about it anymore. Aside from appearing in one of the Kingdom Hearts games, there’s been very little promotion for it, I’ve only seen one Neku cosplay at a convention in my life, and it’s never been remade (unless you count the phone ports) or revisited in any fashion. I didn’t play it myself when it came out, but that was because I wasn’t into the handheld scene at the time. It was all about playing Persona 4 on the PS2’s last leg in college.
But maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t play it then, because it’s more of a relevant game to me now than it was back then when I actually had hopes and dreams. Well okay, maybe high school would have been more of a perfect time, but my underdeveloped brain wouldn’t have gotten it back then. However, while you should never mistake fiction for reality, The World Ends With You ended up making me regret my no-handheld phase in my life for quite a while because not only was it a fun game, it was a game that really caused me to examine my life and ultimately aid in getting me out of a depressive funk that 2017 really seemed determined to put me in. Guess they had to counterbalance all the good anime stuff with something, didn’t they?
Anyways, for those who forgot about this game’s existence, let me remind you about it right here and now.
The World Ends With You, or TWEWY as it’s commonly abbreviated as online, focuses on a young headphones-wearing emo kid named Neku Sakuraba, who wastes no time in establishing himself as a whiny little bitch with no friends, only to discover that he’s dead and forced to participate in a series of games spanning a week by mysterious people called the Reapers in order to come back to life. Utilizing the special abilities required to beat the game is impossible without a partner, so Neku is forced to team up with a peppy girl with a really short skirt named Shiki Misaki – who he inevitably warms up to when she becomes his love interest/special person that can show him the bright side of life that he’s always rejected, especially when it turns out she’s got baggage of her own. Neku eventually grows into a more open person throughout the course of the week, and with Shiki’s help, manages to win the game.
However, the Reapers’ game turns out to be rigged, and Neku is forced to play it again with a douchey kid named Joshua, who teaches Neku that there are good and bad sides to closing off communication with others whilst saving his butt in a creepily obsessive way that borders on yaoi porn. Although Neku distrusts Joshua of being his killer, especially when it’s revealed that Joshua isn’t dead and has Jesus powers, a series of events occur culminating in the smug bastard sacrificing himself so that Neku can play the game one final time and end the Reapers once and for all. Realizing how much happiness friends can bring, Neku teams up with a street-smart kid he met near the beginning of the game named Beat in order to take down the Composer and finally come back to life.
Through Neku’s coming-of-age story, it is revealed that the Reapers are actually trying to erase Shibuya and remake it anew due to humanity as a whole closing themselves off to everyone but themselves, with Shibuya itself representing a large percentage of humanity’s sloth. However, the Composer has made a bet regarding Neku, and there’s some internal strife going on within the Reapers regarding whether it’s truly just to wipe out humanity, Texhnolyze-style. In order to truly stop their plan, Neku will not only have to change, but utilize what he’s learned in order to convince the Reapers that humanity isn’t as slothful as it appears to be. Will he able to accomplish said feat? Well I won’t spoil the outcome, but let’s just say there are a few twists along the way that shake things up a bit, even if it doesn’t truly change the end goal.
Do you know why the title of the game is called The World Ends With You? Because it literally means that a person’s world is only defined by his own perception of what the world is, and they’re the ones who set the limits regarding how much they want to expand that world so that they can include the Chinese language within it and whatnot. That’s the high concept for the game and I’ve got to say, it’s a pretty fascinating topic for a guy like me who grew up sheltered for most of his life – largely by his own choice. And given how I constantly wore earphones/headphones outdoors ever since college, while I never went so far as to attempt to kill a girl just so that I could come back to life, I really relate to Neku as a character.
I know supplementary material hints otherwise, but I find it refreshing to have a lead character who just dislikes people for no real reason and has to learn that despite everything, no one wants to be alone. It was really cool watching him grow in different ways depending on which partner he’s saddled with, and by the end of the game, Neku might have become my favorite Square Enix protagonist ever. The other characters sort of vary in quality. Shiki and Joshua are great due to their contributions as well as the baggage they both shoulder. Beat is alright. Rhyme (Beat’s little sister), despite heavy promotion, is barely in the game, so when the story tries to make you care for her, it comes off as awkward. And the various villains and supporting characters are likable for the most part, but some of them can come off as ascended extras because the script says so.
Really, Neku’s journey and how the story integrates what it means to function in society through his growth is the main reason why I like the game so much. The overarching plot revolving around the Reapers and such is not quite as impressive, not helped by how several key points are intentionally left vague so that the player can do the post-game and find the extra material that clarifies everything. Extra material that comes in the form of documents, meaning not only is it a cheap way to milk more hours from the player, but the missing story is told to us rather than shown, and I could just as easily find these details on Wikipedia rather than go through all the trouble. I’m sorry Square Enix, but you really need to get your storytelling priorities straight. There’s a reason most Let’s Plays/streams fall in viewers after the final boss is defeated you know.
The gameplay has its highs and lows. Everything combat-related from movement to attacks are controlled through the touch pad, and it can get very chaotic if you’re not in the right mindset. In order to do use an attack or drink a healing soda, you need to equip a set of badges beforehand and you can’t change them or pause the game to read what they do during battle. Also, badge space is limited, and since badges level up over time, you’re mostly pressured to experiment with as many of them as you can so you can be prepared for any situation. And you will need to, because a lot of enemies can only be defeated efficiently when using a certain set of attacks. Especially certain bosses. Yeah, be prepared to see that game over screen a lot if you’re playing this game blind.
It’s a very unique combat system and I really got into grinding levels for hours after a few tries, especially given the ability to set the difficulty as easy or hard as I wanted (although harder difficulties yield more rewards), but I could never control my partner on the upper half of the screen whilst controlling Neku at the same time for the life of me. This gets really annoying in regards to the bosses because you need to control both party members in real-time to damage them, and you share an HP bar with your partner. The game also has a nasty habit of giving you challenges with pre-selected badges out of nowhere without telling you how they work. I ended up using Joshua and his Jesus powers to solo a bunch of enemies at one point because nowhere is it indicated that I had to yell in the DS’s mic to defend myself. And eventually, I had to resort to a strategy guide so I can buy the inventory space and get the best clothes needed to increase my stats.
Everything outside the combat is straightforward enough. You explore the city to find the next cutscene, occasionally battling enemies or finding pins so that you can progress. Since battles are not random, but initiated through the player’s own choice, I found these sections to be very reasonable for the most part. The Beyblade-like minigame, I could do without quite frankly. And since the map is limited to Shibuya for the entirety of this game, you’re going to be seeing the same locations all over again every time a new day starts, only with new walls to prevent freedom of movement. However, there’s such a colorful liveliness to the setting that I never got bored with it. Shibuya in real life is a colorful place in general, and I’m glad TWEWY captures that to a tee.
Finally, there’s the music, which is phenomenal to my ears. The battle themes are amazing from Calling to Someday, and Give Me All Your Love is one of the most brilliantly raunchy songs I’ve ever heard. Background music without lyrics is great too. I honestly haven’t been this in love with a video game’s soundtrack since Final Fantasy VII and pretty much everything composed by Shoji Meguro. Apparently the composer, Takeharu Ishimoto, doesn’t work on many games I’m interested in, so I have no idea if his other stuff is consistently amazing. Nevertheless, TWEWY really makes good use of its beats, creating a sort of hip hop feel that really fits given how this is a game centered on disgruntled youths whose names are Rhyme and Beat.
TWEWY’s gameplay and intentionally bad/dated design can be pretty frustrating at points, but the good parts really carried me through, and by the time it was over and I read the truth about what happened in the end on Wikipedia, I felt an immense satisfaction like no other. I can see why this game caused such a big splash around the time it came out, although I can also understand why it faded from people’s own worlds over time. The game has the distinct honor of being my favorite DS-exclusive, but it definitely could have been better. There aren’t really many Japanese games I can think of that deal with social anxiety in such an insightful way outside of the Persona series, and it’s a shame that we haven’t seen Square Enix go back to handling such subject matter ever since because they want to focus on making more badly told fantasy epics.
Will they ever do it again? Who knows. Should they? Eh. Maybe satisfying Yoko Taro’s ego is more feasible at this point in time.
- Knowing Square Enix, any attempt to make a sequel out of this will just result in “more please” or whatever you call Final Fantasy X-2.
- I wish I knew a girl who would forgive me right away after I tried to kill her.