"Let's play a game...."
WEWY, as the instruction manual likes to call it, isn't your typical Nintendo DS JRPG. It has many of the usual JRPG trappings such as gaining levels and buying items, but also sports a very unique combat system, an original story, and excellent style.
The only thing to be aware of before buying it is that it can be hard to find in some areas. I only managed to find one used copy (no new copies) after having looked in six stores. Hopefully you don't have the same difficulty if this game is up your alley!
The story revolves around Neku -- an anti-social boy who wakes up to find out he's in some sort of game. He receives a message on his phone saying he has to reach "104" or face elimination. He meets up with a young girl named Shiki who begs him to form a pact with her. He refuses at first out of skepiticism, only to join up with her when strange creatures attack.
Neku starts off as the typical Square Enix posterchild for main characters -- hating life and everyone around him. He hates others and thinks he's better off by himself. He quikly comes to realize that he can't accomplish everything on his own and that he needs to learn to trust others. I was afraid this would be another character that would be easy to hate, but developers did a great job of developing him at a good pace and he grows into an aimiable hero.
The supporting cast was also well-designed, for the most part, with each character having their own shady side and backstory that keeps you wondering about their motives and intentions. Even the "Reapers" -- the enemies of the "Players" like Neku, have their own stories and aren't usually stereotypical bad guys.
It's difficult to discuss much about the story without spoiling things -- revelations are made by Neku and his friends throughout the entire game, and as soon as you think you know what's going on, they toss another curveball. It's a well-done plot, even if there are questions that remain by the end of the game (some of which are answered in the extra content you unlock upon completing the game).
As the story progresses, Neku learns he has the ability to "Scan" the area. This lets him read peoples minds as well as find "Noise" that he can draw in and begin combat with. He can chain multiple groups of noise together to fight them consecutively -- boosting the amount of loot that will drop.
Combat is where the game really differs from others -- you're in control of two characters simultaneously (one per screen). One is controlled with the D-Pad or A,B,X,Y buttons, while the other is controlled with the stylus. While you fight, your characters build up a damage multiplier in the form of a green puck that jumps back and forth between them as you deal damage. If you keep the damage constant, you can dish out a ton of damage, which is a lot of help against bosses. On top of that, the character in your top screen is trying to accumulate stars by using the right commands in order. When they have enough stars you can unleash a combination attack that deals a significant amount of damage, and regens some of your health.
Having played through the entire game, I can honestly say I never felt like I mastered the system. Trying to keep track of what's happening on both screens, doing the right stylus actions, watching what spells are on cool down, trying to match the right card, or make a good poker hand, or do math (based on who your partner is), watching your players' HP, and trying to keep the puck going back and forth is a LOT to ask of the player. On top of all that, most monsters later in the game will only take damage from the character controlling the puck or if you attack them from their rear. All of this leads to an overload where I found myself just mashing on Left or Right with the D-Pad while focusing on stylus commands, or vice versa -- having my stylus controlled player hide while I focused on setting up chains with my D-Pad controlled character.
Maybe I'm just not good enough at multitasking, but it really felt like way more information than any person could handle without sacrificing or ignoring some of it (eg. only paying attention to one screen). On the bright side, you are given the option to set the difficulty level of combat to Easy, relatively early in the game. Doing so limits the number of PP you receive after combat and sometimes gives less items from mobs. Nevertheless, about three quarters through the game, trying to continue playing it on normal began feeling like something only masochists or people insanely good at multitasking could enjoy, and I gladly switched the combat to Easy and found the combat so much more forgiving, and dare I say, more fun.
One element that will affect how you approach more than any thing else are pins, and WEWY has TONS of them. Not only are there combat pins, there are money pins you sell for yen, quest pins you can trade in to stores for items, tutorial pins that you look at to view past turotial text, CD pins you can use to listen to different songs, pins exclusively used for a mini-game. However, combat pins are, naturally, the most important, as they give you different abilities based on which you take into battle. Each pin has a certain number of charges (or a length of time it lasts) before it has to recharge, and they all have a specific way you need to interact with the screen with your stylus (eg slashing at the enemies to use a slash attack, making circles around Neku to create an electric barrier, etc.)
Quite a few of these pins don't work so well, such as the ones that involve using obstacles as weapons. Also, some pins that involved summoning meteors or earthquakes took too much effort with the stylus before they activated to make it worth it -- they left Neku wide open to attack for far too long. A few also require you speak into the mic, and they were hit or miss -- I have a pretty soft voice and found I had to lean in close for it to pick up my commands (this would probably work better for people with more powerful voices).
On the flip side, there were lots of pins that did work well, such as the bullet ones, the slash ones, the healing ones, or the lightning ones. I got many of these early in the game and stuck with them, only upgrading as I found more powerful ones of the same type. This lead to my inventory becoming totally cluttered with pins I never even considered using and felt they were only really there for hardcore completionists who want to get 100% of the pins (and max out all their levels).
One of the interesting innovations in WEWY is the ability to scale back your characters' levels during combat. Doing so will mean you have less health in battle, but will receive more frequent rewards and greater amounts of Pin Points from the monsters. Of course, if you accidentally walk into a boss while your level is set ridiculously low, be in for a rough fight, but for the most part the monsters are managable even if you set your level all the way down to 1.
Style is what The World Ends with You is all about. From the excellent graffiti text, to the crisp art style, to different brands of gear and pins you collect. It's a great clash of East meets West with Western skater culture meeting Japanese pop culture.
Name brands play a large roll in the game, with each different brand vying for peoples attention in different districts of the city. Your characters are able to influence the charts by wearing those brands of clothing into combat and using brand name pins. In fact, you'll be required to do so in order to get through some areas. Wearing the top brands will net you some bonus damage in fights, while wearing the unpopular brand will handicap your combat abilities, so it pays to keep an eye on what brands are topping the chart.
If you've played Kingdom Hearts, or at least seen the character designs for it, you'll be familiar with WEWY's art style. Clean anime characters, who tend to wear baggy clothes, and have bold outlines. It looks great and works with the theme and atmosphere really well. The story is told mostly through typical JRPG dialogues with detailed portraits of the characters facing off and only changing when they express different emotions like shock or anger. While the dialogue takes place on the upper screen, relevant graphics will show up on the bottom screen, such as an image of whoever or whatever the characters are talking about.
The music of WEWY really feels influenced by the recent Persona's having a hip Japanese pop/rap feel to it. Some of the tracks are great, while some.... okay, one in particular, is so insanely repetitive I wonder if they only copied the first 6 seconds of the full song into the game. But you can open up your menu and close it to change the background music, which is really nice if you do happen to hit a song you don't like. The characters are partially voiced, making sound effects when they attack, or quick blurbs when they're convey emotion like "Gasp!" or "What?!" or "Thanks!" during conversations. It works well, and they even have some full dialogue at the beginning and end of the game.
The World Ends with You is a fresh, innovative JRPG for the DS. It has a great sense of style, some excellent artwork and music, great characters, and a riveting plot. It takes about 15-20 hours to complete if you don't include the TONS of optional quests, collections, mini-games available, or the bonuses that unlock after you finish the game.
The combat can be overwhelming even to veteran JRPGers, and chances are you'll either love it or hate it, but thankfully you can toggle the difficulty level and not suffer any nasty consequences for doing so.
If you're a fan of JRPGs and own a DS, you can't go wrong picking this one up.