The game has other good ideas too. For one thing, random encounters are out. Each Shibuya street scene has its own selection of Noise battles, but you only go into battle once you scan the environment and click on a fight. For another, you can vary the difficulty of battles or even string a series of fights together, the benefit being that you’ll get more experience points for your pins and their powers and more loot when you win.
On the negative side, the combat will still wear you down from time to time, and The World Ends With You is not a game I can recommend to anyone and everyone. It’s easy to see that the game was developed with a youthful Japanese market in mind, and everything from the milieu to the characters to the storyline bears this out. While there are some great moments in the plot and a nice arc that takes Neku from self-absorbed cretin to a more caring, sharing kind of guy, the narrative will play better to those with an interest in modern Japanese culture or even a little knowledge of today’s Tokyo. What’s more, there are some other irritations. There’s a limited selection of music, meaning your ears will be assaulted time and time again with the same Japanese pop tracks. Worse, there are several points where you can’t save in between cut-scenes and boss battles or between several difficult fights. While the difficulty level isn’t painful, to find yourself sitting through the same two minutes of cut-scene followed by an initial, pre-boss battle again and again and again can and will leave a sour taste in your mouth.
The World Ends With You is a fine game, but a bit of a niche taste. I’ve grown from not really getting it to liking it to getting mildly obsessed with it, and I suspect some others will feel the same. If you’re a Japanophile, or if you loved Jet Set Radio or the likes of Okami, Killer 7 and Viewtiful Joe, then it’s even more probable that you’ll enjoy it. If not, you may feel mystified or even hostile, and for that reason you should probably steer clear. That said, Square-Enix should be commended for venturing so far from the beaten track, and I’d still push The World Ends With You if you’re in the market for something more unusual. It might be too repetitive, too niche and too combat heavy to be the unique DS RPG we might have dreamed of, but it’s a compelling, stylish effort all the same.
The style, story and setting won’t please everyone, but anyone looking for a trip away from the RPG mainstream will be rewarded with a cool and surprisingly deep DS game.