With nary a word of challenge, The World Ends With You (formerly known as It's a Wonderful World) strides confidently into the back alley connecting action games with quirky RPGs. Although it's the new kid in town, its urban Japanese pedigree suggests style familiar to fans of other offbeat titles. The ghost of Parappa the Rapper floats above The World Ends With You, blessing its worldly beats and frenetic character design. Jet Grind Radio's touch can be seen in the clothing design along with a contemporary twist on the flap-and-strap aesthetics of the Kingdom Hearts series. The latter should come as no surprise, as Tetsuya Nomura is the lead designer behind both properties. This time around he doesn't dip quite as far into the realm of the fantastic, instead choosing to spray an extra layer of vitality over the world that already exists.
"Combating demon bears with arms made out of hardcore tattoos requires its own vernacular, after all."
Square Enix's marketing campaign focuses on how The World Ends With You echoes contemporary Japanese culture, and with good reason. The entire game takes place in Tokyo's fashionable Shibuya district, and all of its characters are influenced by fashions both "hip" and "fresh," including urban wear and Gothic Lolita. The game's unique, rough-lined art style continues the trend by blending traditional anime designs with street art. This mix isn't just evident in the graphics, but everything that the characters say and do; early looks at the English translation reveal dialogue more at home on MTV-idealized streets than among dragons and castles of yore. Combating demon bears with arms made out of hardcore tattoos requires its own vernacular, after all.
The sound is similarly influenced by Shibuya styles, grounded in hip-hop and quick-tempo techno, strong with vocal effects. English voiceovers punctuate the cool jams and hot licks, samples of which can be heard in the game's promotional videos.
The story focuses around a happening-yet-surly youth named Neku. Through no fault of his own, he becomes drawn into an underground organization's "Reaper's Game." From that point forward he has seven days to complete the tasks presented to him or else face total erasure. His situation isn't all bad though, as Neku possesses psychic powers that allow him to read the thoughts of passers-by and telekinetically strike the personifications of negative emotion which get in his way.
Combat sequences consist of targeting enemies with the stylus. The longer each enemy is targeted, the more Neku-blasting it receives. Neku can also use his psychic powers to dodge around the battlefield and fling bits of the environment such as police blockades. Although he starts out with a limited number of combat options, he can unlock more by buying or finding stylish pins and displaying them on his designer clothing.
Despite Neku's noted unsociability, he doesn't face the Reaper's Game alone. Each of the game's three chapters matches him up with a different partner who aids him in and out of combat. Each partner can be controlled manually or automatically, lending his or her strength to battle via a mini-game interface on the top screen, which is different for each character. Shiki, Neku's first companion, alternates between throwing green fire and her stuffed cat through a simple beat game interface using the d-pad and other buttons.
The World Ends With You is primarily a single-player affair, but features a mini-game that utilizes the Nintendo DSís WFC. Players are also able to trade clothing and pins.
It all goes down on April 22, 2008. American gamers will have the chance to see for themselves whether The World Ends With You offers a legitimate approximation of street culture or if it's just a work of consummate poseur-dom. European gamers will have the jump for once, receiving The World Ends With You on April 18. Both localizations are expected to include the same features as the Japanese release, with the exception of Japanese language options.