Looking at the front of the box, you probably wouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking from The World Ends With You. The characters have the usual spiky hair, ridiculous clothing, and silly poses. I’d be amazed at anyone without prior knowledge of the game to be able to decipher the riddle on the back. And the first 10 minutes of TWEWY will make you feel zero sympathy for the protagonist’s predicament. But all these seemingly horrific design choices are exactly why, if you can swallow your preconceptions, you will be stunned to find one of the most unique and satisfying games on any platform.
The game handles in an odd way, with its “Stride Cross Battle System”, which puts either half of your ass-kicking duo onto the top or bottom screen of the DS, giving them different controls. However, you will be fighting the same enemies on both screens, and just as your characters share a health bar, so do the bad guys. That means that if your partner is getting seriously wounded, it will only take a few hits on your end to see a Game Over. It also means you can focus on whichever screen is most convenient at the time to vanquish your foes. The bottom screen controls main character, Neku, solely through the touch pad and microphone, while your partner is controlled by either the D-pad or ABXY buttons (depending on your dominant hand) that require you to follow a path to the combo ending card of your choice.
It may seem overwhelming and frustrating, but the game does not drop you into the ocean without a life raft. You can set the top screen to auto-pilot until you want to take over to score the big combos and build up for the devastating “Fusion attacks”, or you can just ignore the top screen altogether and focus on the bottom. Playing the entire game like this is entirely possible, save a few bosses, but you are rewarded for watching both screens with a damage multiplying Light Puck that jumps between screens as you finish combos.
For the collectors, the bottom screen will have all you need thanks to the pins that give full control over how Neku attacks. There are hundreds pins, all with variations of slashing, tapping, drawing, dragging, and flicking movements, not to mention blowing or yelling into the microphone. The biggest complaint I have for this game is that by the time I was done with my second playthrough, I wished I had invested in a screen-saving cover. But with a good stylus, your DS won’t receive more wear than any other game with touch-heavy controls. Once you find the pin combination that works for you, your pins can level up and even evolve into new ones, with multiple ways of acquiring experience for them. Leaving the game off or putting it into wireless Mingle mode rewards your equipped pins with EXP, and some only evolve through these methods.
With a difficulty setting you can change at any time, you should never come to a fight that’s too hard to get past. In fact you’ll want to change difficulty often to collect different pins from the Noise: graffiti-styled animals representing human emotions. There are no random encounters to speak of, and aside from story progressing battles you get to choose every fight you enter. Customization and choice are the big themes here, reflected still in the stat-boosting clothes available from the robust shopping system. That’s not to say this game doesn’t present a challenge to those who wish to master it, as there are plenty of bosses that will test your mettle. You can even choose to lower your “level” (which is really just your max health) to make battles more dangerous but also more rewarding, with the rarest pins dropping for only the bravest players.
It’s hard not to get attached to a lot of the characters with the humorous and well-written dialogue. The soundtrack is also outstanding and quite large for a DS game. There are tons of collectibles to keep you playing, and even a mini-game to play against friends when you’re not mingling or pursuing each other’s in-game shops. If you’ve been craving something different and unexpected, do not pass this offering up. This world was made especially for you.