The competitors can be difficult to root for, however. I had forgotten how sulky and generally detestable Neku Sakuraba, the main character, is at the start of the game. Eleven years ago, I probably thought he was a super-cool loner type like Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife. In truth, he’s a jerk that constantly criticizes his combat partner, Shiki, with snide thoughts like: “Ugh, stop laughing”, “Quit worrying about everybody else” and “Okay, Captain Sappy. Roger that.”
It’s a slow and rewarding character arc that plays into the wider message of the game.
Thankfully, Neku realizes that he needs a partner, and deeper understanding of Shibuya’s residents, to survive the Reapers’ Game. It’s a slow and rewarding character arc that plays into the wider message of The World Ends with You: that every person lives in a bubble, or ‘world’, limited by their experiences in life. If you stay open-minded and talk to different people, this ‘world’ will expand and make you a better, more well-rounded person. It’s a heady concept, especially for a JRPG, but one that the game handles with a surprising amount of tact.
The World Ends with You has a beautifully stylized 2D art style. The characters were designed by Tetsuya Nomura, a legendary artist and video game director who has worked on multiple Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games. They all have colorful outfits, weirdly narrow waists and thick, graffiti-inspired outlines. These make them distinctive and easily recognizable against the streets of Shibuya, which are portrayed in an equally grungy, manga-meets-tribal art aesthetic. It’s not the most detailed rendition of Tokyo — the game was originally designed for DS hardware, after all — but it captures the atmosphere and major landmarks perfectly.
You can walk past the Hachiko statue, for instance, or up ‘Spanish Hill’ (Supeinzaka). There’s also a bevy of stores with obvious real-life counterparts, including Towa Records (Tower Records), 104 (109) and AMX (HMV). Every type of fashion is represented in the game, including gothic, punk and vintage. Clothing can be equipped for stat bonuses that are affected by the area you’re fighting in. At the Scramble Crossing, for instance, you can wear Tigre Punks for double damage and Natural Puppy for a 20 percent attack boost. Don a brand for long enough and it will also become more fashionable in that district.
Food, too, can be slowly consumed for permanent stat boosts. These systems encourage you to revisit stores, spend money and slowly build a rapport with their employees. Other video game franchises, including Persona and Yakuza, have recreated Tokyo with a similar focus on high-street commerce. The Worlds Ends with You is still worth checking out, though, if you’ve ever dreamt of living in the Japanese capital.
The game’s diverse and youth-centric vibe is reinforced by its stellar soundtrack, which spans rock, hip hop and electronica. The remixed tracks are excellent but I prefer most of the original versions — thankfully there’s an option to switch between them in the menu.