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.
As always, the backlash was predictable, and Square Enix didn't help themselves with their countdown or the price point ($20 or $18 depending on iOS device – yikes). But I'm sure Square Enix had its reasons; those reasons being:
It's a relatively easy way for Square Enix to continue gauging popular interest in the series.
The World Ends With You was originally designed with touchscreen support in mind, which translates nicely to mobile devices (the lack of a second screen for Neku's partner is another matter).
It will probably turn a profit. I hear businesses like money.
Basically, it's a way for Square Enix to exhume the series after shoveling dirt on it and moving on four years ago. This isn't Square Enix dashing hopes of a sequel; it's Square Enix raising those hopes up a notch. At a guess, it's hoping to raise The World Ends With You's profile with mainstream gamers in such a way that the sequel will be a bona fide success, and not just a cult hit. Right now, there's no better way to reach the masses than to put something out on iOS, which might answer why the game hasn't found life on the Vita.
And you know what? The port doesn't look bad. As I've already mentioned, the touchscreen controls from the original are a natural fit for the iPad and iPhone – no virtual controller needed. Square has also redrawn the art for high-definition screens and added additional music, which is a huge step up from the rather rote Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger ports. One almost gets the sense that Square Enix is trying to tailor this version for mobile devices.
There is, of course, the whole issue with the lack of a second screen. Square Enix's solution seems to be to drop Neku's partner and add a few additional touch components. Is it ideal? Probably not. But the dual screen component wasn't exactly the selling point for the original game either. If anything, more people have complained to me about how hard it is to control two characters at once than about the character designs (which remain ... interesting).
If there's a problem, it's that Square Enix doesn't seem to "get" the iOS platform. The World Ends With You is a long way from the shoddy Chrono Trigger port from a couple years back, but the app is not universal across the iPad and iPod/iPhone. That alone suggests that Square Enix has only the faintest idea of what iOS users really want.
There's also a matter of the game's iOS price. I'm sure that Square Enix is thinking, "Well, $20 is half the price of a new Nintendo DS game. And there's a lot of content there." And they're right! But iOS also plays by a different set of rules than the 3DS or the Vita. My girlfriend has put a good 30 hours into Battleheart – a cute but admittedly limited RPG for the iPhone. It cost her all of $2.99.
I don't know that there's a solution to that issue. I don't think that all Square Enix iOS RPGs should be as simple as Battleheart; but I'm also aware that higher production values come at a price, and that iOS fans aren't always willing to pay that price. Maybe the solution is to make them free-to-play (or very cheap) and subsist on virtual goods. In any case, Square Enix RPGs are certainly welcome on mobile devices, but there's still some tweaking to do.
The feeling I get is that The World Ends With You is one step down the road to something greater. Maybe soon Square will figure out how to apply its properties to the iOS in a way that truly does fit the platform. Maybe soon we'll have a real, live sequel to one of the best RPGs on the Nintendo DS. We'll just have to wait.
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.