Back in Fashion
In the eccentric library of the Nintendo DS, The World Ends With You was singularly unique. At the time, the 2008 handheld-only JRPG from Square-Enix shared more in common with the style of Atlus’ Persona games than SE’s own flagship Final Fantasy series. That style tied deeply into the game’s characters and setting, based in the fashion-forward Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan. A sense of curiosity around the game’s signature design has earned it a small but devoted fan following.
With the announcement of an anime adaptation coming in 2021, TWEWY gets an opportunity to draw even more interest to its 10th anniversary re-release on the Switch. It’s a second chance for the cult favorite one-off to make the jump to broader recognition. A second chance is all Neku Sakuraba wants. TWEWY begins with the teenaged protagonist awakening in the famous Shibuya Scramble crosswalk.
Run all you want, there’s no escaping your Kingdom Hearts crossover.
Invisible to nearly everyone around him, Neku must partner with Shiki, a young girl he’s never met. The streets of Shibuya have become a maze of death separated from everyday life, where both kids are harried by monsters called ‘Noise’ at every turn. Only by surviving these minions and their ‘Reaper’ masters can Neku and Shiki hope to return to the real world. Their struggle to escape the ‘UG’ (Underground) of alternate Shibuya will lay bare the secrets that brought them into these circumstances.
Off the Rack
The anime-ready tale unfolds in a visual novel format flavored by the unmistakable art of character designer Tetsuya Nomura. Running through the districts of ‘the UG,’ Shibuya’s alternate dimension, looks better than ever on a big screen. The result is what feels like a Jet Set Radio homage by way of Kingdom Hearts. Instead of skating around styling on public spaces and cops, though, the bulk of play is spent silencing the phantom Noise plaguing Shibuya.
When the Switch is docked, player control shifts to the Joycon for use as a Wiimote. An option to reset the cursor when it goes off-target is readily available, but players are better off swiping and tapping enemies in handheld mode. Whatever the player’s preference, mastering TWEWY’s pin system is the key to combat. Individual spells that Neku can call upon in battle are reduced to collectible pins, associated with the different trending brands in Shibuya’s various regions.
“To fight graffiti, we created graffiti of our own.” cue Pacific Rim theme
These can be won through combat or bought from brand-name stores, selling pins alongside the latest fashions (the RPG equivalent of equipment). Pins can level up and evolve but gain more effectiveness in areas where they are en vogue. Fighting enough battles in a given area will cause the brands the player uses to gain more popularity. It’s a clever way of keeping fashion in mind even during the heat of battle.
In addition to the clever marriage of mechanics and themes throughout the game, TWEWY is made for portable, intermittent play. The difficulty can be adjusted between to reap increased rewards or lower the frustration in encounters. When logging back in after not actively playing the game, pins can be leveled with up to 7-days worth of experience from your absence. One can only wonder what modern RPGs would look like if they had been willing to take lessons from the systems here.
So, for an RPG that respects one’s time as much as The World Ends With You, it’s a shame that the game seems incapable of respecting anything about Black culture despite how heavily it relies on it. Fashion as we know it is literally an industry built upon repurposing and reselling other cultures, but the Japanese street style on display here is glaringly devoid of any brown or Black faces beyond ‘ganguro girl’-style tans. From the ‘Bling’ onomatopoeia that comes up when collecting pins at the end of a battle to the design of the cast, it’s more of a wearying disappointment than a surprise.
Beat’s character design is ‘a living forum post about how ‘Eminem is the G.O.A.T.’
Considering the teeth-grindingly annoying stereotype of characters like Beat (a character that’s best described as every teenage white boy that listens to rap shoved into a skull beanie), perhaps it’s best the story goes no further than referencing Shibuya’s alternate dimension as ‘the Underground.’ Choices like Neku and company only becoming visible to the ‘real world’ in places where they spend money seem like accidental commentary on the game itself: like Blackness, the player only shows up as a commodity. Stripped of the gameplay that makes this worth revisiting, The World Ends With You’s eventual anime will have little more to bring than dated-sounding noise.
7.75 Out Of 10 Collectible Pins