This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
I feel like I should be happier at that prospect than I am. Actually, I was pretty happy to get more The World Ends With You for a while, even if it came in the form of Kingdom Hearts. Now though, I'm feeling a little more ambivalent.
Some of my reticence stems from the fact that The World Ends With You didn't exactly end on a cliffhanger. It is very much a complete, self-contained story, with very little in the way of loose ends. Even the nature of the Director – the all-powerful being that runs the game at the heart of the story – and the fate of Shibuya is pretty much explained. Short of a prequel, or a whole new cast of characters in Kansai or something, there aren't a lot of places that a new The World Ends With You can go.
I'm also feeling ambivalent because sequels have a tendency to cheapen good ideas. They take creativity and turn it into a formula – something that be mass-produced. Just look at the Kingdom Hearts series, which is where the talk of a The World Ends With You sequel a started in the first place. As we head into a fourth spinoff, Kingdom Hearts is increasingly bereft of anything even resembling creativity, more concerned with addressing obscure plot points from the first game than forwarding any new ideas.
I realize that it's a little ridiculous to hold tight to an original idea in a genre anchored by two of the longest-running franchises in gaming. I like The World Ends With You a lot though, and I've been burned by one mediocre sequel to one of my favorite games. Back in 2006, I was thrilled when tri-Ace announced a sequel to Valkyrie Profile – still one of my favorite RPGs ever. I bought it as soon as it was released, and ultimately finished it, but came away disappointed. Where the first game was very original in the way that it encouraged you to go off the beaten path and disobey direct orders from on high, Silmeria was much more conventional. It was nice to look at, and its take on the battle system enjoyable, but I ultimately felt that it was a disappointment.
The World Ends With You is like Valkyrie Profile in that it has a very different approach to the traditional RPG. The entire story, spread out across three weeks of in-game time, is contained within one Tokyo neighborhood, Shibuya. Throughout the story, you explore every nook and cranny of Shibuya, constantly uncovering new areas, new shops, and new secrets. As someone who worked in Shibuya at one point, I find the setting to be one of The World Ends With You's most endearing elements.
I wouldn't be opposed to another jaunt through Shibuya, but I don't know what it would accomplish. New shops? More characters? A revamped party system? All of that would be fine, I guess, but there's also a part of me that's happy to leave well enough alone. It was a good story the first time around. If I want to revisit The World Ends With You, I can always pull it down from my shelf and start again. It's not like it's that long – about 20 hours, if I recall correctly.
Too often sequels are made for all the wrong reasons, particularly in the video game business, where publishers and developers are obsessed with creating profitable franchises. This console generation is riddled with unnecessary sequels as it is. Katamari Damacy quickly lost any vestige of charm or creativity after a few too many sequels, for example. Guitar Hero, too.
Now, assuming Tetsuya Nomura does actually get it in his head to do a sequel to The World Ends With You, I doubt I will complain. Much as I won't have any qualms with tri-Ace choosing to make a faithful sequel to Valkyrie Profile for the PlayStation 3. I'm not fundamentally opposed to the idea of more The World Ends With You – heaven knows that we need more RPGs so long as they aren't unimaginative or conventional sequels. At the moment, I don't feel like there's a lot that a The World Ends With You sequel could do to build upon the original. I challenge Square Enix to prove me wrong.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.