Where’s my sequel to The World Ends with You?

A love letter to one of the best JRPGs of the last five years.

Last week was an exciting time for fans of The World Ends with You (TWEWY), categorically one of the best JRPGs of recent years bar none. A mysterious teaser page with a countdown appeared on the official Square-Enix site and everything about it screamed “this has to do with that great game you love!” Speculation abounded, fuelled by the recent appearance of TWEWY’s cast in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Were Square-Enix leading up to an announcement of a sequel, five years after they left TWEWY to gather dust on a shelf somewhere?

Are you kidding? This is Square-Enix we’re talking about. All the teasing and hinting and knowing-winks were just building up to an iOS version of the original called The World Ends with You: Solo Remix. Thanks for getting us all excited for nothing Squeenix. Alright so maybe not entirely nothing. I’m happy more people – those not put off by it’s $17.99 asking price – will have the opportunity to play this frankly stellar game. Solo Remix certainly has better audio and visual quality and I hear the gameplay has been redone for single screens in a way that supposedly works really well, perhaps even better than the original.

It’s not a bloody sequel though is it!

Now I’m not a huge JRPG fan, at least not in the sense that I don’t unfailingly buy anything and everything with Final Fantasy slapped on the cover. I am actually quite picky about them and the few I’ve genuinely enjoyed are either classics of the genre (Crono Trigger, Phantasy Star I, II & IV, Final Fantasy VI & VII) or so obscure most people haven’t heard of them (Defenders of Oasis). Part of this admittedly comes from having grown up with classic western CRPGs like the Ultima and Elder Scrolls series. I certainly don’t hate JRPGs but most bore me to tears and the few that really hooked me all had a certain special something. Perhaps an interesting or truly unique setting, genuinely memorable characters, interesting mechanics, or a story that wasn’t another by-the-book rehash of The Hero’s Journey.

Needless to say TWEWY had a lot of hurdles to overcome to win a place in my heart. What initially piqued my interest enough to buy TWEWY was its story concept, a comparatively radical departure from yet another bland, adolescent hero in some generic fantasy world whose village gets burned down. TWEWY’s dark premise is more personal in scope and best described as a tryst between Death Note, Battle Royale and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Mopey Tokyo teen Neku Sakuraba wakes up one day in the middle of Shibuya’s scramble crossing to find he’s been entered into The Reaper’s Game, a week-long competition overseen by Japanese death spirits in which the recently dead can win back their life at the risk of being erased from existence. Unfortunately Neku can’t remember either how he died, the “fee” (a treasured possession, physical or conceptual) he paid to enter the game or why he’s even taking part.

No Photoshop here. This is a genuine exchange from the game.

What follows is a delightful romp through a skewed vision of Shibuya packed with real-life local flavour and history battling monsters from humanity’s collective id. Not to mention reading the minds of the still-living with a magic pin badge and shopping for fashionable clothes in various subcultural styles (Gothic Lolita, Punk, Skater, Haute Couture) to increase your stats, as survival is all about style in Shibuya’s supernatural Underground. You’ll also watch characters you come to genuinely care about callously erased from existence in the blink of an eye. For a game with such a dark premise – dead kids fighting literally for their very being – TWEWY has rich seams of humour at times, and while the game’s story does make an inevitable turn into Save The World territory it remains unique and compelling right to the very end.

Equally compelling are the characters, who don’t fit seamlessly into arbitrary JRPG pigeonholes like something out of a Junji Ito manga. While Neku starts out as your typical mopey emo JRPG protagonist and matures over the course of the game, unlike Final Fantasy VIII’s Squall “insufferable prick” Leonheart he actually gets challenged about this by many characters numerous times. A lot of this ego demolition comes from the magnificent bastard Joshua, an archetypal JRPG pretty-boy equal parts admirable, detestable, sarcastic, compassionate, aloof and down to earth. Similarly the loyal bruiser character has surprising emotional depth and intelligence, while the love interest is quite capable and has greater ambitions than finding a boy to settle down with. In short they’re remarkably well-rounded. Y’know, like real people.

There are many things great about TWEWY but it’s nature as a JRPG, albeit an action-RPG, means there are also a few things that aren’t so great. Thankfully much of the good stuff in TWEWY comes from the way it mitigates, subverts or outright discards many of the insufferable tropes we’ve learnt to expect from JRPGs. You know how in most JRPGs you’re still expected to grind for hours to get anywhere? To a certain extent TWEWY makes that entire soul-crushing tedium somewhat optional by making combat itself mostly optional, excluding boss fights and story battles. In fact one of my favourite things about TWEWY’s combat – besides how completely it makes use of the DS’ touchscreen and dual screens – is how much of it happens on the player’s own terms.

Two hectic battle scenes. The combat is not as scary as it looks.

For a start there are zero random encounters. Whenever you want a fight you scan an area to reveal ambient Noise – represented by glowing symbols resembling tribal tattoos – and tap the ones you want to tussle with. You can also chain up multiple continuous encounters this way for more loot and XP. If you repeatedly get your arse kicked you can knock the difficulty down a notch at any time to get to the next part of the story. Alternatively if you fancy more of a challenge you can raise it all the way up, and if you’re a masochist you can raise the difficulty AND lower your effective character level for increased loot drops and rarer loot.

TWEWY’s combat mechanics are a deep, active and engaging system, requiring quick-thinking and movements whilst also rewarding patience and strategy. Touchscreen and stylus are used to move Neku around the battlefield and activate his various abilities by stroking, sweeping, scribbling, tapping and other stylus movements. Fiddly as it sounds it quickly becomes almost as natural as breathing.

At the same time the top screen is dedicated to Neku’s team mate whose attacks are controlled with the D-pad (A B X Y if you’re left handed). By timing the second character’s attacks you rack up star points to power up to three levels of Fusions: special joint-attacks akin to Crono Trigger’s Dual Techs, that damage all Noise on the screen. If controlling two characters at once becomes overwhelming you can turn control of Neku’s partner over to the AI, and you’re able to re-assume control again later at any time.

Concisely explaining how fantastic the soundtrack, ranging from J-Pop to Hip-Hop is would require a whole other article nearly as long as this one, and every other DS game at the time wished it had a soundtrack a tenth as good. I’m even tempted to give the new iOS version a spin in spite of Square-Enix’s obscene price gouging purely for the new tracks they’ve added. Find a playlist for it on YouTube if you don’t believe me. It superbly conveys the feeling of being in a centre of youth fashion and culture.

Which brings me nicely to the game’s fashion element. All the wearable gear you can acquire is associated with one of many different brands, some more popular in some areas of Shibuya than others. Popular brands give you bonuses in combat while unpopular brands give you penalties, but winning fights while wearing a particular brand makes it more popular since fashion is fickle after all. Win enough battles in Goth threads for example and you’ll see more NPCs dressed like they’re on a day trip to Whitby, and subsequent battles will be easier.

There is so much more I could say in praise of The World Ends with You. I can wax poetically about Minamimoto, the deranged Reaper maths nerd who is up there with Kefka in terms of memorable videogame antagonists. I could tell you there’s a minigame called Tin Pin Slammer that not only gives you unique abilities but is genuinely fun to play too. However that also means I’d have to tell you about the several hours long optional side-story, set in a parallel universe where Neku is a cheerful well-adjusted young man and Tin Pin Slammer is more popular than Jesus and The Beatles combined. You can also play Tin Pin Slammer with friends or leave your copy of the game in Mingle mode, which is TWEWY doing StreetPass before StreetPass existed and lets you to level up abilities without even playing the game.

Solo Remix: Sharper, snazzier, hopefully successful enough for a sequel.

Thematically TWEWY is perhaps the closest property Square-Enix has to Atlus’ Persona 4, and I do not say that lightly. Although Persona 4 is far larger in scale and more traditional in its mechanics both games share great characterisation, themes of young people coming to grips with who they are in a strange and frightening world, dollops of Japanese teen culture and hidden cosmic forces lurking beneath the surface of contemporary reality. A triple-A current or next-gen console instalment of TWEWY would allow Square-Enix to move away from chocobos for a while and dabble in something genuinely new and interesting. Final Fantasy as a franchise seriously needs a long rest period – ideally a chemically-induced coma – before it can ever be exciting again. I for one am so sick of it now I practically dry-heave whenever I hear it mentioned, and I loved Final Fantasy VI and VII.

Failing that I’d settle for a sequel on iOS – hell I’d even buy one on a bloody Nokia N-Gage if I had to. I’m not saying I want Square-Enix to turn TWEWY into another franchise to milk until its tits drop off ala not-so-Final Fantasy. I’d tolerate it grudgingly however if it meant I’d get one or perhaps even two more great TWEWY games out of it. Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 are still fun and the plot of every spin-off title since has been pointless meandering bollocks, only fully understood by people with unclassified brain disorders. Square-Enix could still do so much awesome stuff with TWEWY and if this tweet from the original game’s translator Brian Gray suggests anything we could still see more to come.

If Square-Enix are using sales of the iOS remake gauge demand for a bigger, bolder TWEWY then I hope it does very well although I know the high price point will people off. If that doesn’t bear fruit I’ll just pester them until I get what I want. So where is my sequel Square-Enix? Huh? HUH!? Where is it?

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.