Platform: Nintendo DS
It might hail from the home of Final Fantasy, but The World Ends With You is a departure for Square-Enix, embracing a very different style and setting to the company's traditional epic fantasy RPGs. That's partly because, where previous DS efforts have been adapted from existing games or series for Nintendo's handheld, The World Ends With You has been built from the ground up with the system in mind. And if the result isn't quite as masterful as we might have hoped for, it's still one of the most interesting DS games we've seen for a while.
Here the setting is modern-day Tokyo, and the bustling, youthful Shibuya district to be precise. In a plot that seems part The Matrix, part Home and Away, a withdrawn and petulant teen - Neku - finds himself pulled out of conventional reality into the underground universe of the Reaper game, where teens like himself become Players, with strange messages appearing on their mobile phones, weird badges (or 'pins') arriving in their pockets, and a timer counting down towards their doom. Neku has seven days and seven missions. Each must be completed before the timer runs down to zero, or Neku will be erased. What more incentive does a young guy need to play along?
Well, when you're as much of a hormone-addled chimp as Neku, quite a lot, which is why he's lucky to fall in with a partner - cheerful wannabe girl fashionista, Shiki - who can drag him kicking and screaming through the game's initial stages. Together, Neku and Shiki must escape the clutches of the murderous Reapers who hunt down players, survive the challenges set by their masters, and get to the bottom of the mysterious game itself.
It's an intriguing setup, but not as intriguing as the style. The World Ends With You has a cartoon style reminiscent of Capcom's Viewtiful Joe or Killer 7, with a spot of Jet Set Radio in the mix. It's a sharp, exuberant look perfectly suited to the ultra-modern Japanese setting, and the character and creature design sits perfectly in harmony with it. Few games have used the quirky dual-screen format of the DS so effectively as a vehicle for comic-book cut-scenes, and the use of graphic novel framing devices and the game's episodic feel gives the game a slick, cutting-edge feel. Where Square-Enix has sometimes struggled in the past to make a home console style work on the DS, here the look feels perfectly tuned to the platform.