You take games too seriously.

Dance Dance Emo-lution

My recent posting hiatus can be blamed on a lot of things – my thesis being due, my job being insane, a few family crises – but really, what it all comes down to is this:

I don’t know what to say about The World Ends With You.

TWEWY (I hate to go the acronym route, but good god, I can’t write that title over and over) is, as anyone who has kept up with the trickle of non-GTA gaming news still on the internet knows, the new Nintendo DS action-RPG created by the Kingdom Hearts team and designed by Square character design mastermind Tetsuya Nomura.

In a rare and glorious departure, though, the game is set in a world that resembles our own. To the extent that Shibuya, Tokyo’s youth fashion epicenter, can be considered the real world. Instead of some steampunk future, some magical village, or Halloweenland, you’re travelling through packed intersections and ramen shops.

I’ve already talked a little bit about what makes the gameplay so special. The level of customization I talked about there – the on-the-fly difficulty adjustments that encourage playing the game at the exact level you like best, from super hardcore to blissfully easy – is just the beginning. The game allows you to restart failed battles at a lower difficulty level, completely avoids random battles, and allows you to play the two-character combat with as little attention to one character as you wish.

And that two-character combat model, the game’s odd combination of selling point and detraction, both pushes the possibilities of the DS to its furthest limit and shows just how insanely overcomplicated the system can be. You control one character with the stylus – the one you must control – and one with the d-pad (in Dance Dance Revolution-style combos), the one you don’t have to, necessarily. The game rewards you for playing as hard as you can, but you can take on most encounters with a decidedly casual difficulty level. 

How this pays off for the story and the direction, after the jump.

The game puts you in the shoes of Neku, who by all rights shouldn’t be in Shibuya at all – he is far too cool, or at least considers himself to be – but suffers from all-too-convenient amnesia that allows the rules and story of the game to be revealed gradually, at a pace that can be best described as glacial.

And this is my problem. For a game that purports to break the classic Square trappings, this game falls into a lot of them. 

The story, even though it reaches well beyond the Shibuya hipness it could sink itself into (and which things like the fashion label power-up system hint at), isn’t anything groundbreaking. In fact, it’s easy to imagine Neku’s quest being the same as someone like that of FF7’s Cloud – a slow realization of his past, his own issues, and his need for his friends and comrades (who just happen to possess miraculous magical skills he needs to survive). 

The characters and design are uniformly interesting, despite this, and there’s a lot to do – some of it even deeply enjoyable. Things like powering up come in the form of eating different kinds of ramen, a natural pastime for Chris and I, and turning off the game for a while, which GTA makes easier and easier.

Despite the story’s issues, though, I find myself coming back to the game. It has its problems, certainly, but the level of gameplay innovation is the most exciting thing about it. While the Final Fantasy series slowly pushes into the next-gen realm, in alternately brilliant and recursive forms, this is truly next-gen gameplay. It’s difficult and new, but with painstaking efforts to allow players to learn at their own speed. When you finally do cross the hump to controlling both at once – or even both for part of the time – the rewards are quick to come and varied, and worthy of your effort.

Above all, the game is fun, and as linear and blank as the plotting turns out to be, it’s an impressive show of the design prowess of the Square team, and a worthy subway companion for those of us who are spending our HDTV hours with the (brilliant, compelling, and soon to be further discussed) Grand Theft Auto IV.


Filed under: Commentary, Portable Media, Reviews, , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Davin says:

    Though the individual plot of Neku’s character wasn’t all that interesting, I thought the world-building and the mythos they built up around The Game was pretty fantastic. Moreso than finding out what Neku’s deal was, the story was a “page turner” because I wanted to know more about the game itself.

    The post-game gives more info in a way that is extremely user-friendly. New Game+ should always be like this.

  2. asher says:

    dude, forget nintendo. if you haven’t spent the last 4 days as snake in and out of high combat situations, well, then i dont even want to talk to you anymore

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