A cult classic from the Nintendo DS is ported to iOS
The World Ends With You embodies almost everything I like and dislike about Japanese role playing games. In one hand, you have a sprawling story, infinitely customizable equipment, and a compelling character development system. In the other hand, you have grating characters, and your ‘equipment’ consists of sweaters, pins, and a fashionable handbag. Back when I played The World Ends With You (TWEWY) to completion on the Nintendo DS, I had to fight the game’s pervasive style to enjoy the juicy Role Playing Game mechanics within. The iOS release of TWEWY is no different, and I can only commend Square for bringing this title along with all of its deliberate stylistic choices to Apple’s devices.
The game is set within Tokyo, and more specifically the district of Shibuya. While I have never been on a pilgrimage to Japan, I hear that the game’s representation of Tokyo is evocative of its real-world counterpart. I can certainly say, though, that whatever the game is mimicking the artwork is fantastic. Crisp, clean, and colorful, TWEWY on iOS jumps off the screen and looks leagues above the original DS release. Square Enix has had the art redrawn for the retina display, and it certainly shows. While I’m not interested in the zippers, buckles and outrageous hats (what the heck is a Lolita bonnet, is that a pedophile thing?) worn by the game’s characters, I cannot deny the care and skill with which they are brought to life on iOS. The quality of the art extends through all aspects of the game; menus, environments, and even the game’s comic book style cut scenes are all executed beautifully.
The attention to style is again apparent when listening to the soundtrack – which is largely populated with J-pop, rap, and various types of electronic music. While I don’t personally care for the majority of the game’s musical score, I appreciate the clear attention to quality and commitment to the game’s world.
Within Shibuya, the player takes on the role of Neku – an angry teenager who wants nothing more than to be left alone with his headphones. Headphones, after all, symbolize that he is clearly filled with rage and a desire to shut out the entire world. The game harps on Neku’s headphones a little too often, to the point where it sounds preachy. I always walk away from TWEWY feeling that every character or theme in the game is a bit overwrought. There doesn’t seem to be any subtlety to the behavior of any of this fictional Tokyo’s denizens, and what few points of interest there are will certainly be dragged out for far too long. The idiotic bravado, the clearly frowned upon close-mindedness, and the hyper-purity that occupies a range of the game’s characters can become overbearing, and the game itself becomes overtly pensive during story sequences. It could very well be that my distaste for the game’s central narrative attributes stem from a cultural divide; this game could likely strike a chord with those more familiar to Japanese characters and archetypes.
I haven’t mentioned exactly what the story is about. Neku is thrown into a running-man like scenario. He is forced into a twisted game filled with time limits, strange demands, a fight for survival, and a struggle between good and evil. As much as I dislike the game’s characterization, the construction of the plot helped me to overcome that hurdle. The game gets interesting, and I won’t be the one to spoil it for you; although it was years ago I can still remember the game’s ending.
I will let slip that you will be fighting for your life alongside a partner. This partner character – who may not necessarily be your partner throughout the entire game – adds a secondary function to the game’s combat. Alone, Neku is able to use ‘Pins’ that are earned or purchased through gameplay. These pins grant Neku a variety of offensive and defensive abilities, and each one is called during battle with a unique swipe gesture. The options presented to the character are staggering, with a range of kinetic abilities to hurtle objects about the environment, melee attacks, elemental magic, and more. The original release of TWEWY attempted to utilize the second screen by adding a partner to battles who would attack separately as Neku used his abilities. While it was certainly a challenging thought, having to control two characters simultaneously, it was ultimately easier to “button mash” to control the partner while focusing on Neku.
TWEWY on iOS is limited to a single screen and one source of input, so the partner is brought to the main screen. Players no longer have to rapidly scan both screens. Instead, just tapping a monster will evoke a tag team attack from the partner character. These attacks can be chained with Neku’s, and if the synchronization level rises sufficiently the player can unleash powerful combo attacks. While there are ways around it, I often found that the command needed to use one of my pins was the same as the input needed to summon my partner. This event can lead to plenty of non-intentional summons, and only make what is already a challenging control scheme even more obtuse. As with the original release, Neku is entirely touch controlled, and adding the control of the secondary character to the touch screen fuses in an element that should really be controlled separately, or maybe just removed entirely.
Battles are action oriented, and give a feeling of controlled chaos as you madly jab, swipe and scratch at your touchscreen. Planning for battle, as is the case in many RPGs, is half the fun. Neku’s pins level up the longer you wait between physical play sessions – a mechanic that may be present to encourage putting the game down every once in a while and to have something to keep you pining for the next play session. As mentioned before, players can be decked out with wigs, zipper suits, stickers and more as part of the game’s equipment system. Like in a typical high fantasy RPG, equipped items endow characters with statistic bonuses, and certain brands have bonus statistics applied on different days. While I wouldn’t go near one of TWEWY’s clothing stores in real life, the game managed to drag me by the nose through every fashion store in Shibuya as I tried to collect the perfect gear. I cannot overstate how mechanically engaging TWEWY can be.
Technically the game is great on iPhone. I would have tested the game on the iPad, but it is not Universal, and Square has blocked its customers from playing the iPhone version on the iPad in 2x mode; they must instead purchase the iPhone and iPad versions separately (lame). While the situation is regrettable, I can only to advise that you purchase on the platform you can envision yourself playing for longer extents on. I did run in to a technical bug during which a trigger for a quest would not unlock. For what it is worth, the game looks, controls, and plays great on the iPhone. Most of the features are present from the DS version outside of combat, and the game even adds social and twitter aspects into the mix.
I can rattle on forever about how much I hate the angry teenager in hip clothes vibe of the game, but I can do the same for how much I enjoy the customization the game achieves through its style. For me, the fashion element is a necessary evil, it is what was needed to break free from the mold of “iron armor trumps leather armor” and provide us with a breath of fresh air. iOS users should not be afraid to jump headlong into The World Ends With You, this is among the finest RPGs available on the platform.