The World Ends With You

Michael Abbott

Almost without exception, the changes to the standard JRPG formula in The World Ends With You improve the gameplay and provide a startlingly fresh take on the role-playing experience.

Publisher: Square Enix
Genres: RPG
Price: $39.99
Multimedia: The World Ends With You
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Jupiter
US release date: 2008-04-22
Developer website

Changing a successful formula is risky business. If it ain't broke...well, you know. Evidently, somebody forgot to tell the developers at Jupiter and Square Enix who made The World Ends With You. Their new game turns just about everything you think you know about JRPGs upside down and inside out. We hear it too often, but this time it's really true: you have never played a game like this before. And for the most part, that is very good news.

Of course, by itself, change is an indifferent thing. Significant revisions to proven successes can be a good thing (Metroid Prime), a bad thing (Super Monkey Ball Adventure), or a mixture of both (Burnout Paradise). Almost without exception, the changes rung on the standard JRPG formula in The World Ends With You improve the gameplay and provide a startlingly fresh take on the role-playing experience.

It all begins with the hero, 15-year-old Neku Sakuraba. An hour into the game, you would be forgiven if you mistook this taciturn, cynical kid for yet another post-Final Fantasy VII Cloud-derivative emo protagonist. He certainly starts out that way, accompanied by the predictable female sidekick who tries desperately to help him stop hating the world.

But by the time you reach Neku's seventh day in Shibuyu (the game is divided into chapters, each lasting seven days), you begin to understand the bitter but necessary journey Neku has embarked on, and his true nature slowly begins to emerge. Gradually, Neku's agonizing coming of age story achieves a poignant dimension that many other Square Enix games have strived for but failed to reach. Every great story involves self-discovery. The trick is to make us care about that journey and, in the best stories, find something recognizable in ourselves along the way. The World Ends With You achieves this surprisingly well and in ways you may not expect after only a few hours of play.

Aside from its novel hero, the game presents a fresh, stylized and cliché-free world set in a mash-up of modern Shibuyu Tokyo tweaked with manga visuals and hip-hop/electronica vocal music. It all looks terrific, which actually matters in the grand scheme of the game because fashion plays a vital role. Wear the wrong clothes in the wrong part of town, and your stats go down. Observe the trends -- or better yet, start your own -- and you get a stat boost. In between missions you can shop for clothes, music, and food, all of which can be configured in your inventory. If this all sounds a bit like a teenage shopping mall simulator, don't worry. It all makes sense in the context of the game, and each of these elements has a direct bearing on the status of the characters. You will become a clothes hound, and you will likely enjoy it.

More important than clothes, however, are psych pins. You will collect dozens of these throughout the game, each designed to unleash a specific attack executed by using the stylus. Battles consist of swiping, tapping, drawing circles or other stylus actions on the screen, all corresponding to the set of pins you have equipped. The action can be frenetic with many creatures on the screen at once, and it can sometimes be difficult to execute specific moves associated with a certain pin if those moves closely resemble actions associated with another pin. In the end, you will find yourself scrubbing, tapping, and scraping to stay alive, which adds a fun kinetic aspect to battles, despite the occasional pin confusion.

The problems created by the game's dual-screen combat system are harder to overcome, unfortunately. The player controls Neku with the stylus on the bottom screen while also controlling his fighting partner on the top screen with the D-pad. Both characters share the same health bar, and it is frustratingly easy to become fully engaged fighting a bottom screen full of creatures while your partner succumbs to her own separate menagerie of creatures above. Some with nimbler fingers or sharper reflexes may find battling simultaneously on two screens rewarding fun. I found it annoyingly difficult. Fortunately, the game provides an auto-battle setting which controls the top screen fighting for you. Many players may prefer this option, though it clearly diminishes one of the game's thematic premises: you must work together with your partner to survive in this world.

The World Ends With You presents a gallery of indelible characters (designed by Tetsuya Nomura), nearly all of whom defy the standard JRPG conventions. Each is driven by natural, identifiable objectives, and the obstacles they face exist as natural extensions of the world they inhabit. Their insecurities and fears stem from the mistakes they have made and the painful lives they have led. It is a tribute to the writers and designers of this game that all these things feel real, not contrived "angsty" banalities.

Of all video game genres, RPGs would seem the most conducive to powerful storytelling. All too often, they are not. JRPGs, in particular, have become mired in threadbare plot mechanics and recycled characters. The World Ends With You is different. No grinding. No random battles. No interminable cutscenes. The game even rewards you with a stat boost for turning off the system and taking a few days off.

But it's the storytelling that matters most -- the unique modern setting, the vivid characters, the memorable plot full of surprises that serve the narrative, rather than merely jolting it. Just when it seemed the genre had gone completely moribund, along comes a game that reminds us why we love role-playing games in the first place. Here's hoping this is the start of a JRPG renaissance.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.