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The World Ends With You: A Reaper’s History

by Donald Theriault - October 5, 2018, 4:47 am PDT
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You have seven days. Fail and face erasure.

In a year chock full of major anniversaries, the 10th anniversary of a little DS RPG was going to fly under the radar. That is, until Nintendo announced a Switch remake of it in January. The World Ends With You: Final Remix’s October 12 release gives a new generation of players the chance to experience one of the most innovative and stylish RPGs ever made, with design choices that are still being seen in today’s biggest hits.

The original 2007 release of “It’s A Wonderful World” in Japan brought together two very disparate companies. Jupiter, known more today for their production of Picross titles, joined forces with Square Enix again following the success of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories with a new project idea. Square Enix greenlit the project and sent over one of their brightest stars, Tetsuya Nomura, to provide the art direction. Fresh off releasing Kingdom Hearts 2 and teasing the perpetually delayed Kingdom Hearts 3, Nomura’s character designs reflected the urban environment of the game’s setting: the fashionable Shibuya district of Tokyo.

Shibuya is reflected in everything The World Ends With You. All weapons – and much of the plot – spring from tradable pins. Stats are boosted by eating in various cafes, and more songs are unlocked on the soundtrack after buying CDs. (Digital subscription services were still being born, and video sites such as YouTube and NicoNico Douga hadn’t reached critical mass yet.) Even the armor system is based on fashion, complete with the opportunity for the male main character to cross-dress if their Bravery statistic is high enough.

The integration wasn’t just in the setting, either. About the only DS feature that wasn’t used was PictoChat. Combat took place across two screens, with the main character on the bottom largely controlled by touch and their partner controlled with the directional pad or face buttons. Certain combat pins required use of the DS’s microphone, and there was one optional foe in the game who could only be killed by closing the system. It put the system to sleep, and the enemy to sleep permanently. Outside of battle, tapping the touch screen showed the inner thoughts of Shibuya’s residents, and even imprint memes into them before the term referred to “that funny thing I saw on the forums the other day”.

A lot of the combat features that are common in RPGs today were first shown on a wider scale here before gaining true handheld prominence with the Bravely series. Game difficulty can be adjusted on the fly, and most enemy encounters can be avoided or made more difficult by dragging more enemies in and forcing consecutive fights with a single life bar. This could be chained as high as 16 fights later on, with some amazing rewards for survival.

One of the most underutilized features was Mingle Mode. Although not the first game to use the feature - 2006’s Magical Starsign from Brownie Brown used the feature under the same name - it was the first game I encountered that had the feature. Square Enix would later use similar features in Dragon Quest IX, where the feature would first gain wider acceptance outside Japan, and even Pokémon Black and White would use a form of it in its Entralink. The humble Mingle Mode would later become a core feature of the 3DS, and StreetPass helped me find a great deal of friends and even my current roommate. So in a way, The World Ends With You helped put a roof over my head.

Final Remix isn’t going to be as innovative as the original, but that’s an impossible feat to pull off. What we can hope for is that the world is stylish enough, and the game plays well enough, that it becomes a massive success for Nintendo and Square Enix, and proves that it’s possible to do with modern settings what Octopath Traveler did for medieval settings on Switch.

And if you’re playing the meme economy, you might want to go long on Sho Minamimoto.

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