The World Ends with You is one of my favorite Japanese role-playing games. It was released for the Nintendo DS in 2007, when I was a moody teenager trying to make it through college. I loved the graffiti-inspired art style, eclectic soundtrack and unique touch-and-button-based combat. Most of all, though, I was enamored by the game's depiction of Tokyo. While many JRPGs take place in a fantastical land, The World Ends with You is set in modern Shibuya. Sprinting across the 'scramble' crossing and diving into ramen bars was a welcome escape from my daily bus rides.
I haven't played the cult classic or its mobile ports since. The new Switch version, which comes out today, tempted me however with its remixed soundtrack and bonus story chapter. With some apprehension I booted the game up earlier this week and discovered that, after 11 long years, it still holds up wonderfully. If you have any love for Tokyo and Japanese street culture, this is a near-essential title for Nintendo's hybrid console.
The World Ends with You focuses on a group of teenagers who have been swept up in a deadly Reapers' Game against their will. The only known way to escape is by deciphering and completing cryptic challenges sent to their smartphones each day. If they fail, or lose to ferocious monsters known as Noise, they'll be wiped out of existence forever. Scary stuff.
The 'death game' concept has been explored in movies, books and TV shows before. The World Ends with You has a unique take, though, that I found just as enjoyable second time through. The competitors, for instance, can use psychic powers tied to pin badges. They can't speak to anyone who isn't participating in the 'game' but they can manipulate their behavior by implanting thoughts and moving pieces on a ouija board-style game called Reaper Creeper. The only exception is Shibuya's businesses -- for some reason players can still walk in and buy clothes and food no problem.
Confused yet? In the beginning the teenagers are too. Thankfully, The World Ends with You takes its time explaining the design and sinister forces behind the Reapers' Game. The lore is complex but logical and gratifying to slowly piece together. Some of the plot twists are predictable and overly sign-posted, but others -- especially in the final third of the game -- will catch you completely off guard.