The World Ends with You: Solo Remix review
It's Not The End Of The World
The World Ends With You is a strange little game even before you start playing. It's rare that a game that is the first in its series to garner so much hype and praise that this game has achieved. Then again, Square Enix are the ones behind it, and considering that the game has quite a resemblance to their other high profile series then it shouldn't be so surprising. The question comes down to whether the game is really deserving of all that praise though.
The visuals are mostly on the good side, although there are a few issues that don't come across as well. The art style is very nice, with half body artworks of characters sliding around on the top screen during conversations. It's bold and quite colourful. These sprites also work well to convey the emotions, as each character has multiple artworks to fit the moment. There's no real animation involved here though. Characters simply flip between the stills and slide around on screen to simulate movement.
The artwork for the areas is also well done, spanning both screens. The top screen has a static image representative of the area you are in while the bottom screen has the scrolling part your characters run around in.
Each area is also filled - often packed - with character sprites of the various NPCs, 'Noise' and other important characters. These people all have places to be and will walk all around and into different areas, which really helps to build a sense of a bustling city. The sprites have nice designs as well, but there are some issues. When sprites get close to the game's camera they become a little pixelated and there's perhaps a little too much repetition, where sprite recolours are used to designate different NPCs.
Battle graphics are very impressive though. Different characters animate smoothly and pull off some impressive looking abilites, such as engulfing the field in fire, launching missiles off or striking with lightning. Higher end abilities like the fusion techniques really go all out in the visual display as well, filling the screen with a spectacular light show. Whenever I earned a new fusion I found myself getting into fights just so I could see what it looked like.
In terms of the game's audio things just get even better. There is a very wide selection of J-Pop tunes that really fit in well with the whole urban setting, and many of them have quite a catchy feeling to them. Every track can also purchased and listened to in the items menu, which is a great addition to the game.
Sound effects also work hard, where every attack is accompanied by a sound effect that fits in very well. These effects are also sometimes used to signal a notice to the player, such as when you pass something you can investigate, your health is low or a special action becomes available.
There is also a selection of voice clips used in the game. Some of these are designed to be generic enough to be used a lot (such as gasps of shock) but you also get some proper speech samples in there. It's nice to hear characters actually talking, but it's not extensive so most conversations happen via onscreen text.
The story is another element that excels, helping to round out a fantastic presentation (bar some niggles). Neku is our protagonist - and another example of SE's apparent obsession with spiky haired male leads - who wakes up in the streets of Shibuya with no recollection of how he got there. Everyone seems to ignore him and he soon learns why. Neku is dead and is forced into a special game where failure means permanent death but winning gains a second chance at life. But winning this game means working with a partner, which is a problem for our anti-social hero who wants nothing to do with other people.
This game involves completing missions but Reapers are out to stop this. Unable to attack players directly Reapers instead summon Noise - strange creatures - to do the fighting for them. Some Reapers will also block off areas unless special conditions are met.
This by itself is a great setup. While some may feel it all a little overused I felt that witnessing Neku needing to open up and form shaky partnerships, and indeed to open up about his own feelings, a great element. But things aren't as they seem and the plot throws in a lot of twists and turns before the game draws to its final conclusion.
There is one issue with all this though, and it's to do with the delivery. Like most RPGs there is a lot of talking to set the scene. While some of this really helps with that aspect there seems to be far too much talking happening, even by RPG standards. The issue is that some of it is pretty boring and it becomes somewhat tiresome when you're just looking to head to the next location. Players may well find themselves bashing the next button just to cycle quickly through it.
Alright, wake me up when it's time to move on.
Generally speaking you are given instructions on tasks to accomplish, although this won't always be the missions issued by the Reapers. Tasks can be to reach a location, defeat a certain Noise or earn a certain item. However, even the simple tasks can involve some complicated solutions. One task involves helping a mechanic to fix the lighting on a stage, but first you have to convince him to get to work and figure out the part he needs. There's a lot of thought needing to be put into figuring out how to progress ahead, but that said there are some oddball tasks that can't be done until you're told how to do it, which seems like nonsense when the player has it already figured out.
Making your way around the streets of Shibuya can be a tricky task at times as well, due to the completely confusing layout and lack of help in that respect. Until you've played the game long enough to memorise where everything is then chances are you'll spend a bit too much time simply walking about trying to find your way. This is mostly due to the orientation of the camera. Sometimes you'll exit one area in a particular direction and enter the next area coming from a completely different direction, and since the camera doesn't rotate this can lead to a lot of confusion. There is a map of Shibuya on the pause screen, but since it's impossible to tell which route leads to where on said map then it becomes somewhat useless.
While travelling about on foot is part of the experience exploring your surroundings comes in the form of the player pin. Always present on the touch screen while in the field tapping this icon causes the screen to fill with a blue mist, and this opens up a lot of things. While scanning the field like this Neku can pick up on the thoughts of the living folk and can detect and engage Noise in battle (more on that later). Generally speaking scanning is only really needed to fight Noise, as it is really only used a few times to pick up clues to progress forward. That said, it's amusing to read the various thoughts by the residents and visitors of Shibuya, ranging across all sorts of things from what a person should eat, who they like, thinking about success etc.
Throughout Shibuya are various shops that cater to the players of The Game. The shopping experience is a solid effort with a lot of diversity. Different shops carry different items, as one would expect, and the more expensive the item the more useful it tends to be. Some items are labelled as quest items, because unlike normal items getting these items involves handing over other items listed in that item's requirements.
Actually buying something is a straight-forward concept as well. All items are displayed on the bottom screen, where you can also tap through the available information. Buying an item simply involves dragging it over to the shopping trolley box. Below that box is another that displays how many of the currently highlighted item you already have, which helps to avoid buying duplicates.
TWEWY differs from most RPGs here in that buying items increases the friendship level with that shopkeeper. Raise the level enough and the shopkeeper may put out special items for you or reveal abilities of clothing items. It's also a nice touch to see that shopkeepers change their attitudes towards you based on their friendship level. If you're really friendly with one they'll stop complaining when you don't buy anything and will chat about random things with you.
So, let's go back to abilities then. Neku and whichever partner he is working with can equip up to four clothing items at once. Clothing items are restricted by a bravery rating (which characters increase by fighting battles and eating certain foods), which prevents characters from instantly equipping everything that might appear (though apparently there's no restriction on gender, which makes giving Neku that purple bikini a possible setup). Equipping is further restricted by only allowing one of a specific type of item (such as footwear) to be equipped at any given time, which makes sense since wearing three pairs of shoes at the same time would be a bit silly. Each item may also affect attack, defence and the HP bar (both positively and negatively). All items also have a special ability, which must be unlocked by having a shopkeeper reveal it to you. Abilities can range from further stat boosts, increases battle spoils, inflicting/resisting status ailments and even helping with the combo attacks of your partner.
This item setup is very good, and is sure to please RPG fans everywhere. However, it's fair to say that the item subscreen where you'll change clothes is definitely not user-friendly. Sure, equipping items involves no more than dragging an item into an available slot, but the problem is trying to find the clothing item you want. This is especially true when you have purchased a scarily high amount of clothing items. There are no sorting options available either, instead only offering a filter to only show items of a certain type, which only adds to the issue.
Yes, it's a nice CD, but that wasn't what I was looking for.
In addition to clothes you can also purchase food items. All characters possess a 'byte' rating that starts at 24. Eating foods takes up so many bytes, which is then digested as you fight battles. The byte value resets to 24 every day though, so the limit is more there to prevent players from devouring food in a mass food fest. Being dead, I suppose Neku doesn't really need food but this food offers special bonuses. As an immediate effect it increases the sync rate (although I'm not sure what effect that actually has), and then when digested the secondary (and usually much better) bonus is applied. Typically the bonus is a permanent boost to one of your stats (HP, attack, defence, bravery etc) and so is a good way to beef yourself up. Eating food is as simple as equipping clothes as all you do is drag the food item onto the food slot, although since there aren't that many food items you likely won't have quite the same issue finding the food item you want.
When you're not filling your wardrobe or chewing on that hamburger you will be looking to get hold of pins. These are the most important items to get, as these determine the abilities Neku has in battle. Some pins can be purchased in shops like normal items, but most will likely be gained as rewards for clearing battles. Pins must be equipped to gain access to their effects, but as usual there are restrictions on this. Neku can only equip a set amount of pins at a time (this number can be upgraded at certain points throughout the game), and he is also limited by the pin types and class. He can't equip two A class energy rounds pins for example, and he can't equip more than one Angel class pin.
Much of the game's strategy involves the selection of pins to enter battle with. Different pins have different stats, effects and activation methods, and so finding a setup that works for you is vital. Fortunately, TWEWY is flexible enough that many different combinations work well enough, so it's all about player choice. That's not to say that random selections will work though. Make bad choices and you'll be in for a hard time.
Pins have one of three usage restrictions depending on the pin being used. A usage bar is the most common one, where a small bar is displayed on the pin during battle. This bar depletes as the pin is used, then when empty the bar recharges to be used again. Some pins have a number displayed on them, which shows the number of times these pins can be used, and unlike others these pins don't refill during battle. Effect pins offer effects that are always in use, such as raising the effectiveness of certain pins.
Pins also have a few stats to consider. The main one is the attack value (or the effectiveness of the support if not an offence pin), but there are also things like duraction/uses (how much you can use the pin before it is depleted) boot time (how long into the battle before the pin is ready) and reboot time (how long it takes a pin to recharge after draining its bar).
Pins have levels as well, where earning PP can increase a pin's level and thus its effectiveness. Some pins can also evolve, but this system simply doesn't work out that well, and it's due to how the PP system works.
See, there are three different types of PP to earn. Battle PP works well enough... well, actually it's the only one that works properly. PP is earned for equipped pins after successful battles. Chances are this will be your main source of PP. However, there are two other types that just seem utterly ridiculous.
First we have shutdown PP, where you earn PP based on how long you don't play the game. Yes, you read that right. Square Enix is actually encouraging you to not play their game, and unfortunately, unless you actually leave it for long periods or abuse the DS's internal clock, you won't amass large amounts of this. Bizarrely enough, mingle PP manages to be even worse. Once you've opened the option you can choose to pick up wireless signals in the local area of your DS. I mean seriously, they want you to walk around with your DS 'mingling' just to pick up some PP?
So, why does this affect pin evolution? The issue is that pins evolve if they've been levelled up using a certain type of PP as the majority. Even putting aside the pitiful amounts of PP shutdown and mingle gives out the game doesn't actually tell you which type of PP to use. A generic 'looks like this pin could evolve' comment isn't that helpful. If you're actually trying to evolve pins and you level up a pin using the wrong PP then too bad for you since you're forced to start over again. There's no real issue with pins that evolve using combat PP, but it's a pain having other pins that many people simply won't manage to evolve.
Alright, so you've picked out your threads, filled up on food and selected your pins. I guess it's about time to show those fools who's king of the combat scene, right? Entering battle is a simple concept. When you scan an area Noise symbols show up, with different symbols represent different enemy groups depending on which chapter your on, and colours also designate the Noise type. Most are red type, but there also yellow mission-specific Noise, blue boss Noise, green Pig Noise and black Taboo Noise.
Pig Noise are enemies that don't really attack but are tough to beat before they run off but offer special rewards for beating them. Taboo Noise will go straight for the player when scanning.
The cool thing about this setup is that, except for Taboo Noise, it's possible to avoid generic enemy encounters altogether, even when scanning, since Noise will usually only come to fight you when you choose to (Taboo and certain boss battles are exceptions).
Combat itself is split over the two screens, with Neku fighting it out on the bottom screen and his partner up on the top screen. Likewise, the enemies you face are also spread out across the two screens. One of the more interesting elements of this combat system is the HP bar. Unlike most games each character shares a single HP gauge with their partner. This applies to both Neku and the enemy. This means that one character receiving a big beating just dips into the HP on the other side of the bar instead of outright fainting and leaving the other character to fend for themselves.
Action is heating up on both screens, although Shiki isn't as concerned as Neku.
Fighting with Neku makes extensive use of the touch screen for basically everything. His abilities are based upon which pins he has equipped, and the activation methods vary according to that. Some pins require you to slash an enemy, another to simply tap them. You can drag across empty space to bring out raging fires, draw a circle to strike with a meteor or tap the onscreen pin directly to heal HP.
I can't help but feel that the game sometimes has trouble in trying to figure out what input was used, especially when pins with similar input methods are used (for example, you have to touch the screen before you can press it), so you may well use attacks you didn't mean to when pins interfere with one another. That said, there's not a big problem with this, as chances are attacking with something will yield some result.
Some of the input methods seem somewhat stupid or unresponsive though. The DS really has a lot of trouble in determining when a player is 'scratching' the screen. Then there are a few pins that instruct the player to 'shout' into the DS's mic to activate their effects. Sorry, but I can't help but imagine the strange looks you'd get off people if you started randomly shouting or even talking into your DS mic. That said, the mic is pretty sensitive to sound, which can lead to some unexpected activations of abilities if you're playing in a fairly noisy area.
The effectiveness of abilities is affected by trends. Basically, each area of Shibua is affected by trends where certain brands are more popular than others. Using popular brands increases offence output for those branded abilities, while using the least popular brand incurs offence penalties for those abilities. That said, the trends are affected by what the player wears into battle anyway, so it doesn't have that great an effect since the trends basically change to suit the player.
Moving Neku is possible as well, although doing it through the touch screen feels a little odd at first. Clicking and dragging Neku will get him to run to follow the stylus. Pressing Neku and doing a quick slash across the screen will perform a dash. Neku is rendered invincible during the dash, which is used as an evasive technique to keep Neku alive.
So that works out well, but the action that takes place on the top screen doesn't quite execute as well as intended. Unlike Neku, his partner doesn't really move about, nor do they possess the same pin abilities either. Each partner fights with a strange card system.
Basically, the player directs attacks by pressing left or right on the D-Pad (or Y and A for those playing left-handed). Doing this opens a combo map. The idea then is to use the D-Pad or face buttons to navigate to a card(s) at the end to attack the enemies. Sounds fine enough, although there's another element to this. Partners can earn fusion stars through their cards, although it depends on who the partner is. Shiki (your first partner) must guess the symbol on the face down cards correctly to gain fusion stars. Earn enough fusion stars and a special pin appears on the touch screen, which unleashes a powerful attack that hits all enemies and restores some HP when the pin is pressed.
Shiki's Lv2 Fusion sends in an army of... stuffed cat toys?
Evidentally this was meant to induce some strategy into the top screen battle but it simply doesn't work. For a start, the action in the battles is very fast-paced and hectic. Spending even brief periods of time looking at the top screen will likely result in Neku getting his butt kicked. Looking up at the top screen to see which side the enemy is on is already running such a risk; looking at it to try and figure out which card branch to take simply isn't possible without suffering a lot of damage on the bottom screen battle.
The game does seem to account for this though. Simply hammering left or right to unleash combo attacks seems to work just fine, as the cards on the combo maps randomize every time, so you'll build up fusion stars without even needing to look up there for anything other than seeing which side you need to direct attacks to.
Two partners can jump and all three can dodge or block attacks, but both are largely useless because, again, doing either requires too much attention to be diverted from the bottom screen to make any effective use out of them. No point saving your partner from incoming damage if Neku ends up getting thrashed for it. Besides, not a lot happens to your partner anyway so constant attacking seems absolutely fine.
The game does offer an autoplay system, where the game takes over control of your partner for you if you leave them idle. It's nice but it's more effective to hammer buttons to attack. This whole button mashing setup on the top screen does somewhat lessen the impact the dual screen combat should have had, but combat is still quite entertaining if only for the action on the bottom screen.
There's a nice selection of enemies to be fighting off as well. Frogs bounce around and can leap at you from great distances, wolves dash around pulling off fast attacks, bears unleash wide slashes to knock you about and birds swoop around and may even snag one of your pins until you beat it down.
Enemies are supposed to have specific resistances to certain types of abilities, but this really doesn't translate into the battles. Only a small number of enemies have actual noticeable resistances, whereas any offence ability seems to work well against everyone else.
Players can earn all sorts of things from battles. Every enemy defeated nets exp to level up the characters, and level ups can even occur mid battle. Generally, levelling up simply increases the max HP though. As mentioned before, battle PP is earned for levelling pins. With this a base amount of PP is applied and then multiplication modifiers are applied based on things such as number of rounds, time taken, damage and special aspects (such as performing long combos). Players may also gain items dropped from defeated baddies based off drop rates.
See, each enemy has a base drop rate, and will drop different items based on the game's difficulty. Strangely TWEWY allows the player to adjust their own level to lower than their current max. Dropping their max HP increases the drop rate for items, and players can also chain battles (fight multiple battles in a row, where pin and fusion usage carries over through the chained battles), which also raises item drop rates.
There's a total of 22 game chapters to play through, and once the game is completed players can pick any chapter to play through again with all their stats, items and pins as they are. You can even choose who to partner with as well. Extra quests and items become available here too, so there's a lot of game time open here.
Adjustable difficulty is on offer as well. The game starts on normal but playing through unlocks extra settings, such as easy, hard and ultimate. However, rewards are relative to the difficulty, so playing on easy nets you less exp and less valuable rewards, while choosing the harder settings nets more exp and better rewards. It's nice to see rather sizable gaps between the difficulties as well.
Bored of the main game? Why not look into Tin Pin Slammer? Play enough of the game to unlock this rather amusing minigame. You use the pins you have equipped in a contest to knock the pins of your opponent off the table. The stylus is used to move your pin, with quick slashes for quick hits and longer drags to more powerful smashes.
You seriously didn't get hit by the hammer, did you?
The D-Pad is used for activating special abilities, although the number and effectiveness depends on the pin in play. The hammer is probably the least effective, swinging a hammer around the pin. The meteor causes the pin to jump up and crash down wherever the player targets. The spiked ball causes spikes to extend from the pins as a defence. The hand knocks the pin back onto the table if knocked off.
A pin hit by an ability becomes stunned and unable to do anything until recovered except for the hand ability if knocked off. Stunning the other pins is generally the key to victory.
There's not a whole lot of variation to the tables you play on, but it is a nice distraction from the main game.
So, I don't think The World Ends With You is the 'next big thing'. It's not perfect and it's not defining a genre. However, it is a good game with some solid gameplay ideas with lots to do, just so long as you're willing to work past some fairly noticeable flaws.
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