"...a fun and unconventional JRPG experience like no other."
The World Ends with You (TWEWY) originally released for the Nintendo DS a decade ago and became an instant modern classic that garnered critical acclaim for its unique art style and touch mechanics. As developers embraced the creativity and experimentation the DS's dual screens and touch controls afforded, its quirkiness was very much a product of its time. Although not the first port of TWEWY to be released (a mobile version with modified battle mechanics released for iOS in 2012), Square Enix has opted to take advantage of a similarly creative atmosphere invoked by the Nintendo Switch to expose the DS darling to a new generation of players. The Final Remix version of TWEWY comes with a number of enhancements, including upgraded HD visuals, a remixed soundtrack, co-op play, and additional story content. How well does a decade-old title made for specialized hardware make the jump to new and completely different specialized hardware? Pretty well, as it turns out.
The narrative opens when fifteen-year-old loner Neku Sakuraba awakens amidst a bustling crowd in Tokyo's famous Shibuya scramble crossing. As he struggles to get his bearings, he realizes that the fashionable pin he awoke wearing allows him to hear people's thoughts. Stranger still, it appears that the mass of folks hustling by can neither hear nor see him. As Neku ponders his surreal predicament, he receives an ominous message on his cell phone. "Reach 104. You have 60 minutes," the message starts. "Fail, and face erasure." After being set upon by a group of enemies known as Noise, Neku learns he's one of many Players involuntarily participating in a deadly trial known as The Reapers' Game. Players must successfully complete seven days of missions if they hope to escape this dangerous alternate version of Shibuya known as The Underground (UG). For the introverted and cantankerous Neku, his ability to open up and trust his allies will determine whether or not he survives.
The premise for TWEWY's plot is interesting if not entirely original and, for better or worse, the rapid-fire pacing with which the game opens is maintained through the end credits. The perpetual pedal-to-metal momentum effectively conveys Neku's confusion and sense of urgency to the player, but it comes at the expense of clarity and cohesion of both plot and character motivations. The game's core message that the world is larger and more wonderfully complex than any given person's selfish and myopic view of it is an admirable one. Unfortunately, that message is done a disservice by erratic storytelling, stilted and sometimes awkward dialogue, and clichéd character archetypes. While by no means a bad story, the fact that post-game content centers largely on explaining the plot you just experienced is quite telling.
The crux of TWEWY's gameplay involves exploring UG Shibuya's various areas and initiating combat with Noise as you try to solve the riddles associated with each day's mission. Most of those riddles boil down to determining which area of the map you need to get to (though this is usually pointed out to you on the map anyway), and your progress is usually hampered by Reapers putting up "walls" that prevent you from advancing until you complete certain challenges. Those challenges are typically straightforward and range from defeating specific Noise to acquiring particular pins. My biggest complaint with exploration is the usefulness of the map (or lack thereof), though you'll eventually memorize Shibuya's layout and various routes as you become more familiar with them.
The basic gameplay formula gets repetitive fairly quickly, but TWEWY's unique battle and gear systems have enough quirks to keep things feeling fresh throughout your playthrough. Neku's ability to attack Noise is tied to which pins he has equipped, and the variety in how each pin's attack (or "psych") is performed is both impressive and well executed. Pins require you to perform slash, tap, drag, or scratch actions against enemies, Neku, or empty spaces to perform melee, ranged, or area attacks. There are even pins that allow Neku to use on-screen objects as weapons or heal himself.
Additional factors in the battle system include Shibuya's fashion trends and the role Neku's partners play in combat. Most gear has a brand associated with it, and if your current gear isn't "hot" in a given area then your ability to attack can be severely impaired. Neku's partners support and supplement him by performing attacks when prompted by the player, which can be chained with Neku into combos that build a sync gauge to unleash special attacks. The various components of TWEWY's combat lead to frenzied battles that can, at times, devolve into frantic swipes and taps if things aren't going well. These mechanics, when combined with the generous variety of pin types, encourage experimentation that keeps combat fun and engaging.
How players control that gameplay presents a tale of two control schemes, though my opinion on handheld versus docked modes may run counter to what others have experienced. Handheld mode plays similarly to the game's 2012 iOS port, and all actions are performed by using your finger to swipe and tap at the Switch's touchscreen. I found the touch controls accurate and responsive enough once I got used to them, though there are certainly moments of frustration when attempting to perform actions that require exact precision. Those moments of frustration make clear how much better suited TWEWY's touchy mechanics are to stylus use.
In docked mode, players point a single Joy-Con at the screen to move a reticle that acts to simulate the slash/drag/tap functions normally performed with a finger (or the stylus in the DS version). Not only is this control scheme incredibly clunky and unintuitive, the reticle lost calibration so often I found myself recalibrating it after every three or four actions. You can imagine how untenable this is for a game where actions are directionally sensitive and require exacting spatial awareness. It's really a shame that the controls are so poor here, because it's the only way to use the co-op function where another player can use the second Joy-Con to control Neku's partner.
Visually, TWEWY's cel-shaded anime art style with a graffiti flair works fantastically, as characters and colors pop off the screen. I initially found the game's overall style direction a bit trite and borderline patronizing in a "this is what the hip kids wear, right?" kind of way, but it grew on me relatively quickly. The Switch version's enhanced visuals are one of the game's major strengths when paired with its remixed soundtrack, and that soundtrack is littered with catchy hip-hop, rock, electronica, and pop tracks that complement the game's overall aesthetic perfectly.
It's clear why TWEWY became such a cult classic after its initial release on the DS. Its stylish charm and unique mechanics worked perfectly on the platform for which it was built. While those aesthetic qualities have been enhanced for the Switch port, the imperfect and lower quality controls for both handheld and docked modes detract from the experience a bit. I would certainly recommend giving the Switch version of TWEWY a spin for those without the means to enjoy the original, particularly if you're in the market for a fun and unconventional JRPG experience like no other.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.