2008's Biggest Blips: The World Ends With You

Alisha Karabinus
A. Karabinus|01.28.08

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Alisha Karabinus
January 28th, 2008
2008's Biggest Blips: The World Ends With You

Developer: Square Enix/Jupiter
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: Spring 2008

We all love gaming, or we wouldn't be here ... but what if you were dumped into a week-long game with your life on the line? Welcome to the wonderful world of 15-year-old Neku Sakuraba.

The World Ends With You is something of a wonder among Square Enix's recent DS titles. It's not a remake or part of a long-running series, and while there are plenty of unusual characters in even more unusual outfits, the action RPG boasts a glittering artistic style that is both unique and yet clearly draws some influence from such sources as Viewtiful Joe, the impossible proportions of Æon Flux and the fantastic Jet Grind Radio.

Despite the bright colors and the game's dependence on the Shibuya youth culture, it's not quite as happy-go-lucky as it might seem at first glance. Yes, fashion and music play heavy roles in the title, and the game centers around a group of teenagers, but the underlying themes are much darker than one might expect. Not only is Neku's life on the line, but so is that of his new partner, the stylish Shiki, and they face the "Noise," which are physical manifestations of dark thoughts and feelings. As with many Square Enix titles, there are a lot of darker underlying themes hidden in the story. In fact, the game was adapted into a short manga that serves as a prologue to the main action, the death game that rocks the lives of the characters.

So what, exactly, is the game-within-a-game in The World Ends With You? That's complicated. We'd rather tell you what it isn't. We can pretty firmly state that this game of life and death is not:
  • THE Game of Death, as in the Bruce Lee film, unless we missed a particularly distinctive track suit somewhere.
  • a "boob of death!" (wait, we're getting off track here).
  • The Game (without the death, or at least, as much) starring Michael Douglas.
  • a barbaric ritual meant to keep the peace, as in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."
  • an episode of Sliders based on Jackson's short story.
  • an extended Mountain Dew commercial, a la The Island (at least, we hope not).
  • a more hilarious reality show lottery packed with satire, indie rock, and a dollop of New Wave.
  • Rollerball (sadly).
  • any sort of Bogus Journey.
So if it isn't any of these awesome (mostly) examples, why are we so into it? Not only does The World Ends With You boast an odd look and a freaky story, it takes a fresh approach to absolutely everything else, especially our favorite handheld's dual screens. When you control Neku in battle, you also control one of his partners on the top screen, so you've got to juggle the touchscreen and d-pad at the same time in what is termed the "Stride Cross Battle System." And what attacks do you use? It depends on the badges you've collected in your travels through Shibuya.

Plus, we'd really like to see the adorable preorder bonus make it over.

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