The World Ends with You iOS Review: The Matrix in JRPG Form

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The World Ends with You: Solo Remix is a fast-paced action RPG that’s nigh impossible to put down (literally and metaphorically)! Battles are short and sweet, leaving you hungry for more; the animations are fluid and the art style pops! Plus, the story plays out like the Wachowski siblings’ The Matrix. In short, get ready for some praise vomit!

Game Design

ART: The game brightens your day! Every color is bright, luscious, and full with thick black outlines to make the characters pop! If that weren’t enough, the design of the characters are deliberately distorted (proportion-wise) to draw your focus from top to bottom, literally filling your eyes so you can’t look away. Of course, they don’t skimp on the backgrounds either which flood the screen and transition like a wide-angle fish-eye lens, adding movement to an otherwise static backdrop. Plus, the animations are so fluid and exact, you’d think they were hand drawn by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s glorious!

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MUSIC: Not since Jet Set Radio Future has a game’s soundtrack been so diverse, catchy, and match the pace of the game. There are (it feels like) hundreds of tracks and with a handful of exceptions, they all embrace the busy, fluid landscape.

BATTLE: Rather than interrupt your flow with random battles, YOU decide when you want to engage in a fight by tapping your “player pin.” Speaking of pins, they act like a card game, with literally hundreds of pins to collect and upgrade. Each pin’s attack is activated by different touch commands and they take full advantage of the iOS’ responsiveness: slash, swipe, press, tap, scratch, shake device, draw circle, etc. My touch screen can perceive differences I never imagined… but the team behind The World Ends with You did.

Of course, these various touch commands would be meaningless if all pins did roughly the same thing, but of course, they do not. Some attacks are purely defensive, others invoke temporary assistance, others increase the effects of your other pins — it’s endless. Even pins that do — essentially — the same thing, vary. There’s a breed of “telekinesis” pins that allow you to pick up the randomly generated objects on the battlefield — literally “randomly generated” as you may get a handful of traffic cones, or you may get a pick-up truck. The telekinesis pins have different commands and you can decide which makes the most sense for you; for instance, there’s one that requires you to tap the object, then the enemy, but there’s another that has you press on the object and swipe it around the battlefield.

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As though this wasn’t enough, you’re also always partnered with another character and when the two of you attack a foe in sync, you build a super attack — that’s activated by playing a mini-game (essentially). AND YET, even with your two characters, the swarm of enemies, and various animated attacks flying across the screen, there is no lag — not that there should be, but with that amount of activity, I expected it to slow at some point, but it never did.

Additionally — and this I found unique in an exhilarating way — you can decrease how high of a level you are. For instance, if you’re level 10, you can make yourself level 6 — with the option to revert back to 10 at any time. Now why would you do this? The lower the level you are, the more money, pins, and pin points, your foes drop. As a result, let’s say you need 100,000 dollars, just drop your level from 60 to 25 and you’ll reap the rewards. It’s a fascinating function that helps you get more money, pins, and experience. And unlike EVERY OTHER RPG I’ve ever played, I never had enough money. I beat the game and still didn’t have everything I wanted. That’s saying something.

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STORY: Then there’s the story: Square Enix’s take on The Matrix. There’s the Matrix (Real Ground) and those who have been awoken from the Matrix (Under Ground). Neku, the Neo-surrogate, has just awoken in the UG. He walks among people in the RG, but is more or less a ghost, privy to what’s really going on when everyone else is clueless. Of course, he can manipulate the elements and attack in the UG unlike everyone else in the Matrix.

Meanwhile, there’re Agents (Reapers) that work to prevent people like Neku from changing the real world — most of these look identical to each other (veritable Agent Smiths). Of course, instead of being orchestrated by the architect, there’s a composer. Ultimately, it’s a bit convoluted, but never boring. Plus, it builds on the fast-pace the first week is spent learning what/where/how you are, the second week slows… but the third week is a countdown to oblivion — it’s very “shut-up-and-run” play style which adds a great deal of suspense.

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MISC: Additionally, you can read NPCs’ minds… which doesn’t do much aside from reinforce the thematic elements — which I’m 100% OK with. You can also pursue fashion trends rather than just buy the “best clothing,” but you need to build your relationship with the various shopkeeps to unlock additional clothes — which is an innovative spin on this RPG trope. Plus, once you beat the game, you essentially unlock a behind-the-scenes mode where you can go on quests and learn the mythology (or fill the plot holes) of the game. It’s really well thought out and answers your questions, but isn’t necessary to tell the story — so I love that they didn’t force it down your throat!

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This is an expertly crafted game that I literally could not put it down (much to my wife’s chagrin). Even when I wasn’t playing, the songs (or soundbites) floated into my head. I was hooked from Day 1. In fact, arguably, this is the game’s greatest flaw… it’s too compelling.

The Problem with a Compelling Game

When I first started playing, I enjoyed the battle system right away and wanted to do more of it. I kept selecting monsters one at a time, but battles only go on for half-a-minute. I kept having to enter new battles. It’s not until you’re several days in that you’re given the option to select 4 battles at a time! Why not provide that feature from the get-go! It’s too fun not to run several matches back-to-back.

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I wanna kill ’em all.

Additionally, I ran into a problem when I was trying to evolve one of my favorite attacks — an uppercut pin. It was early on and I was accruing a bunch of them, but they wouldn’t evolve. I assumed there was a 50/50 chance of the pin evolving… but after 6 of these maxing out and not evolving, I figured there must be some sort of trick to it. Based on what I read online, pins have three ways of evolving: through battle, by not playing the game, and mingling.

Battle is easy! Fight and level up the pin for it to evolve. Done deal. The second though, “Not playing the game,” isn’t something I have the patience for. The game tracks how long its been since you last played the game. So if it’s been a few days, then you’ll turn your game back on and you’ll immediately accrue levels on your pins — great… But if you’re like me and you play through one iOS game at a time, then you’re never away from the game for more than 17 hours — and you need a lot more than that to level up pins. I call this a flaw, but it is more humorous than anything. The game is so addicting that I couldn’t put it down long enough to unlock the things I wanted.

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Pep talk

Of course, then there’s the third option I mentioned — the mingling. With DS(es), I guess you can put them to “sleep” and carry them in your pocket. If someone has a DS nearby, yours will activate. This is a strange feature, presumably popular in Japan — if it’s as crowded as Shibuya — but on the iOS, I don’t think this can be done. It’s not a huge gripe though because there are so many pins that even if you can’t get that one to evolve, there are hundreds of others to choose from.

ALSO, I lucked out in this department, but even though the game is available for iPhone and iPads, it’s not cross-compatible, i.e. if you buy it on iPhone, but want to play it on your iPad, then you need to buy it on your iPad as well. I didn’t know there were games that weren’t cross-compatible like this, so I lucked out in buying it for the iPad 2 — and would highly recommend the larger screen (vs your phone) to play.

Conclusion

The World Ends with You (TWEWY) is fun, fast, and filled with variety. It also has all the things I love about Japanese RPGs… but backs off the more tenuous tropes with a crafty writer.

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Oh… my dream job.

For instance, Neku starts as the angst-ridden “everyone-sucks-so-I’ll-stay-in-my-head” character, but evolves into a genuinely likeable kid. It’s a bit of a jarring evolution, but I’m happy with where he ended up, so I’m not about to question it.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that the team behind this was nigh identical to Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts team — with the same three chief directors and the art design by Tetsuya Nomura. Even Neku looks a bit like Sora, Beat like Riku, and Shiki like Kairi. That said, I’m a fan of Kingdom Hearts, so seeing them tackle a different universe was great! The whole concept is great and although it’s one of those universes where I’d be happy with a sequel, I’m also perfectly content with it as a standalone title. After all, the world ends with you.

In conclusion… and as a bit of an addendum, I found out the title is It’s a Wonderful World in Japan and, at first glance, that’s a much happier, poppier title, but — and I can only speak for the English translation — The World Ends with You is perfect in context. Off-hand it sounds like an Americanized action movie tagline, but (as seen from my screenshot at the top) “the world ends with you,” is their way of saying when you die, that’s the end of all you’ll ever know; you’ll cease to be. You can choose to fill it with negativity, or positive energy, but the choice is yours because it is your world even if its governed by extenuating rules. You have the freedom to enjoy it or hate it, but either way, the world ends with you.

What a fantastic $@&-ing message! … And it makes for a brilliantly ironic ending credits tagline.

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For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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