Friday, October 10, 2008

The World Ends With You

My first few blog posts are actually on Myspace.  I might post those later.  For now, here's a game I've been playing for awhile now.

This game is just overflowing with the word "unique".  It just does so many things differently or perhaps unusually that many might just be at a loss for words at how to describe it.  I know I was, for a time.  To start, the name itself is rather interesting, don't you think?  "The World Ends With You."  It's got a dramatic feel to it.  The title itself was a minor hook for me, because I wanted to know what kind of plot would inspire such a name.  Though those of you with sharper, more informed eyes should notice this without my mentioning it, the game's character design was handled by Tetsuya Nomura, the same guy who designed the characters for Kingdom Hearts and quite a few Final Fantasy games, including FF7.

The first thing I should immediately warn newcomers about is that this game has an EXTREMELY high learning curve, which is atypical of a DS game.  From what I've seen, its a common thing for developers to strive for their games to be as simplistic as possible gameplay wise, so as to follow the trend of making the DS more accessible to a wide variety of people.  With this game, you'll STILL be learning new things and probably getting used to the battle and clothing system even 1/3 of the way into the plot.  This is because there's a lot to understand in The World Ends With You.

I'll start with the battle system.  Just about anyone will probably be overwhelmed by it at first glance, and it takes a lot of getting used to.  Battles in TWEWY are started by the player.  Besides plot specific battles, there are never any "random encounters".  Instead, a small "pin" will be present in the lower right corner of the bottom screen, which, when tapped, allows Neku (one the main characters, who is foremost in the above picture) to tap into the pin's psyche and scan the area around him.  Besides reading the thoughts of others, you'll be able to tap onto monster icons floating around the screen to initiate a battle.  Later, you'll unlock the ability to chain battles by tapping multiple icons before Neku and his partner warp to the dimension where it will take place.  Each consecutive battle will get harder, but the chance of rarer drops will skyrocket.

Once you're in battle, you'll be fighting on both screens simultaneously.  Yes, at the same time.
Of course you're not expected to be able to do this from the get go.  In fact, you won't really need to pay much attention to the top screen at all until maybe 1/3 of the way into the game, after which the enemies start to become a bit of a handful for your partner's AI to handle.  Though the game has a learning curve long enough to put many console RPGs to shame, Square-Enix obviously realized that stuffing all of this into a tutorial would not have been too player friendly.  The only downside of this is that, as mentioned earlier, you'll still be learning new things pretty far into the game.

So, battle on two screens.  On the bottom screen is Neku, whom you will likely devote the most attention to.  On the top screen is your partner.  Initially, your partner will be a cute girl named Shiki.  Though she's poor at psyches, she has the ability to manipulate her stuffed animal, which will fight for her.  And quite ferociously, I might add.  On the top screen, you'll control Shiki using the D-pad.  "Fighting" as Shiki consists of navigating your way across a map of cards as you play a classic game of "memorize the cards."  Each step forward equates to one slash from Shiki.  So, you could just ignore the card game and just keep mashing the forward and backward buttons to hack and slash at your foes.  However, it may be in your best interest to try to match all three cards.  The game doesn't make this too hard for you.  If you get the wrong card, the game will actually tell where the card actually does go, so it just takes a few seconds of trial and error.  Matching all three cards will unlock the Fusion attack, where Neku and Shiki attack in unison for an ultimate assault that heavily damages all onscreen enemies, and heals both of them a little to boot.  Shiki's AI will take over immediately after you stop controlling her to check on Neku, so you can leave her and not look back.

Back to Neku, who resides on the bottom screen.  Neku fights entirely with an assortment of "pins" that have special powers.  Each pin does something different.  For example, pins of the "Force Rounds" classification will allow to fire multiple shots of energy by simply tapping the screen.  Some pins let you swipe a line across an enemy to slash them.  You can combo by continually swiping them with the stylus.  Battle on the bottom screen is entirely touch operated.  Holding down on Neku then dragging somewhere will move him, while the Fusion attack is also activated by touch.  The system is very fluid and responsive, showing lots of polish.  Pins with similar attack commands (like slashing an enemy or slashing upwards to raise an icicle) are activated by priority.  The pin farthest to the left will generally activate instead of any others right of it, so keep this in mind when setting up your pins.

The plot of The World Ends With You is quite shady at first.  The main playable character, Neku, wakes up in the middle of a crosswalk in the bustling district of Shibuya only to quickly find that noone can see him.  Despite how incredibly crowded the area is, there doesn't seem to be a single person who can see him.  He also realizes that he can't remember anything of his life prior to when he woke up in the street.  He is attacked by strange creatures known as the Noise.  Though he barely manages to defeat them, it isn't long before he's attacked again.  As he's wondering what's going on, a girl rushes up to him and pleads that he make a pact with her.  Neku reluctantly accepts, and the girl reveals her name to Shiki, a cheerful, but slightly clumsy girl.  She tells him that they are Players in the Reaper's Game, a mysterious event that challenges a group of people to survive one week without being erased, either by the Noise or by failing the daily the mission.  The entry fee is the person's most valuable posession.  If they win, their entry fee is returned to them, and they also get "a second chance".  What this chance is isn't initially revealed.  The game follows the duo as they interact with other Players and participate (and learn more about) in The Game.

The game also features an extensive inventory system, which ties directly into battle.  In Shibuya, trends are everywhere.  As quoted later on, people will flock to a restaurant merely because its trendy and popular, perhaps regardless of the actual food quality.  The trends you'll be paying most attention to are the ones concerning clothes.  In TWEWY, what clothes your wearing are an essential factor to your battle performance.  Clothes and Pins whose brands are soaring on the popularity boards in a given area will be granted a 50% performance increase.  Unpopular brands have their products' performance halved.  So you certainly don't want to walk into a boss battle wearing duds that aren't all the rage.

I'm not actually finished with the game, but so far its pretty good, and I can see what the hype surrounding it was about.

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