You only ever get to make one first impression. A single chance to set the tone, draw in your audience, and leave a positive mark. Failure to do so and it’s an uphill battle to win back your audience, having to be perfect to avoid snowballing downwards further into a catastrophic situation. Games in particular need to make a good first impression. With no hooks to keep your attention, the game will be quickly abandoned for another. Every element needs to work in tandem, with the story, combat, and world all having an effect on the player.
By no means an unknown game, The World Ends With You: Final Remix was something I had always been intrigued by but was unable to find the time or chance to play it. Originally released on the Nintendo DS, this JRPG by Square Enix differs greatly from many of their better-known titles, and is heavily influenced by a Japanese youth culture.
Between my own previous knowledge and the praise my friends had given, my expectations were set high when going into the game. To say the opening came across as dismal would be an understatement. It failed to entice me wholeheartedly, and is an example of what not to do in every aspect.
For starters, the pacing is wonky as heck. The story takes off like a rocket with little introduction, and gives you nothing substantial to grab onto. Main character Neku wakes up with no memory in Shibuya, unable to interact with a majority of people. Attacked by strange creatures who are impervious to his physical attacks, he sees them causing multiple people to disappear.
Turns out, he’s in a game for his life, and without a partner, he’s doomed to be destroyed instantly. Enter Shiki, who swiftly calls for Neku to form a pact with her, and together they clear away the strange enemies. The quickfire-way this plays out helps highlight a major flaw throughout the game; a consistent lack of chemistry. Neku and Shiki in particular fail to connect on a character level, due in part to the poor pacing. Neku comes off rude and insulting, despite his obvious need for her assistance in their current situation, and Shiki is overly forgiving to the point of coming across as an airhead.
Sprinkled among the opening cinematics is a basic framework of map exploration, where pacing once again rears its ill-timed head. Throwing information at you in dialog, the map has little to no use, serving only to benefit the next conversation. because of blatant railroading, it took many hours to finally develop any sense of the layout. Masquerading with an open world identity, linear progression is all that awaits, but only serving the story and not to expand the world.
Combat, too, is mixed early into the game, and this is where I almost gave up. As The World Ends With You: Final Mix was ported to Switch from the Nintendo DS, there had to be changes. The original game used both screens of DS, something that, of course, isn’t possible on the Switch. Instead, there are two options for controls; touch and motion.
The motion controls were the weaker of the two choices. As I play my Switch mostly in handheld, I was attempting to use them on the smaller screen. However, it constantly lost synchronization, and while it’s easy to re-center, it became detrimental to the combat. Movement was easier overall, but attacking enemies was the problem. In the end, I was unable to get anything done with the motion controls.
The touch controls suffer from being too reliant on finger dexterity, though the bigger bugbear is the screen’s reaction to your touch. To active your spells, you make use of special pins, which grant Neku unique skills. Still, the touch controls work better for precision as they offer more control than the motion could. Draw in an empty space, or drag and tap enemies and/or items, and your pins damage and hamper the enemy.
This makes for a unique gameplay on paper, but in practice the game never does what you want to. What registers as an empty space or an occupied space fluctuates quickly, and the hitboxes are inconsistent. The touch controls will tie with Neku’s movement to drag him around, causing you to sacrifice mobility for increased and more consistent offensive output. As you can’t master the controls adequately, the combat doesn’t fit in with the story and exploration, making the whole thing feel incoherent.
Needless to say, the opening hours of the game were a mess. The overall goal was to survive seven in-game days, completing missions on each day, with a failure resulting in you disappearing from the existence. The first few days rushed by, jumping between story, exploration and combat, but with the attention span of a goldfish, I contacted one of my best friends, a big fan of the game, and asked if it would get any better, as I was ready to quit. But pushing onward like a professional, things finally started clicking together.
The controls are definitely an issue, but a major factor were the game failing to give time to grasp the combat system and a minuscule selection of pins. At a certain point near the half-week, though, the pin selection opened up, and I was able to finally create a custom power set. At the same point, I was given more time to play around with the combat, and finally mastered the nuances needed to adequately meet the ever-growing challenges.
One feature that really stands out was the level adjustment system. Like all RPGs, you level up with experience, gaining stronger defense, attack, and health pool. The World Ends With You: Final Mix allows you to sacrifice your levels, purposefully nerfing yourself, to increase pin drop rates. Later, this becomes a needed risk to take, as not only do the pins serve as your weaponry against your foes, the Noise, they also provide money as well.
The other reason why the combat improved was that the exploration finally got a chance to shine. The art style has a pleasant, street graffiti aesthetic, but the subtle differences and layout weren’t given a chance to leave a mark in the early stages of the game. As the pace slowed and I was given more agency, I was able to explore more and get a feel of the city. Subsequently, the game railroaded better, using less walls to open up Shibuya. Gate keepers were there to subtly guide me, keeping me from getting completely lost by just standing around with challenges.
The story also benefited from a slowed down pace. The narrative opened up as the characters were given more time to grow. Neku and Shiki really developed a more positive rapport, though some things still came across as forced or rushed. Especially later in the week, Shiki seems to just plain forget certain things Neku did, while he conversely went a full 180° on his character in a way that felt unnatural.
As I reached the final boss of the week, my sour mood had all but petered out. There were annoyances, sure, but I went from questioning why this game was so well-loved to getting what I thought was an adequate answer. I took out the big bad guy, and felt content. I was ready to start explaining how I had played a good, if flawed, game. The screen turned into a solid color.
And then Neku woke up, a second week starting for him. As I will not share spoilers beyond that point, but this is where the game finally had sunk its teeth into me. The next week shared some problems I already covered, but the good systems got better.
Combat was finally becoming fun, as diversity was the key. I started experimenting with new pins, finding out which ones were overpowered. The story was interesting enough and finally got into a more consistent groove. Even the rushed pace didn’t stop me from being invested in it. Likewise, the world finally was given life, weaving itself into the story and defining the city of Shibuya unlike before.
Everything finally came together enough to make every aspect of the game complete. Concepts that once alluded me finally started to make sense. One such thing was the style system, where branded pins and items give attack boosts and decreases, based on fads in different areas. The World Ends With You: Final Mix sure took its time to get going, and it caused me to think something that I hadn’t in the beginning; this game needed to exist.
My time with this game was a roller coaster, starting with high expectations, plummeting me into a low, low point, and then eventually climbing its way into my heart. What the game lacks in polish, it made up in character. By investing in it and fighting through some poor designs, I experienced a game unlike anything I had ever played.
At this point, I struggled to score it. Sure, I recommend the game, but how many stars can I give it? On one hand, I had thought at some points that the game was worth abandoning. The faults are there, and ever-present. After some deliberation, I feel comfortable with the score you’re about to see.
Gaming needs more entries like The World Ends With You: Final Mix. Perfection in entertainment isn’t about lacking a single negative aspect, but rather how those blemishes are overcome, and how the work makes you feel. The game has issues as it fails in areas that could potentially cripple it for some. But at the end of the day, I believe it to be worthy of a perfect score. Deserving the highest praise, The World Ends With You: Final Mix can, and should, be listed among the best titles in the history of the medium.