After anticipation had reached critical mass, Nintendo finally aired its much-awaited January Direct this past Thursday morning. There were a handful of announcements made and one of the biggest was a remake of the 2008 DS cult classic in the form of The World Ends With You: Final Remix for the Switch. The original DS title made it into our own site’s recent “200 Best Nintendo Games” list and I, personally, could not be more stoked about this remake coming to Nintendo’s hybrid platform.
Those who have never played The World Ends With You, or heard of it for that matter, may be wondering what all the hullabaloo is about. What is it about this game that has fans up in a tizzy? What’s so special about it that Nintendo felt the need to lead their Direct with it; for them to use it as the hook that grabs the audience’s attention for the presentation to come? Take a seat, and let’s talk about The Reapers’ Game.
The Beginning of the End
Development of the original The World Ends With You began soon after the Kingdom Hearts team at Square Enix wrapped up work for the GBA Chain of Memories title in cooperation with studio Jupiter. The team looked at the then announced, but unreleased, Nintendo DS hardware and decided to create a new game specifically designed from the ground up for the handheld. They had the touchscreen in mind, in particular, and wanted to set the game in a real-life location as opposed to their fantasy modus operandi.
Eventually during development, the famous Tetsuya Nomura suggested utilizing both screens for battles in a revolutionarily unique system. Creating battles using touch inputs on the bottom screen progressed smoothly enough but creating a simultaneous system for the top screen was the source of, understandably, much anguish. After substantial trial and error, the team finally arrived at the zany, hair-brained solution we can find in the final product today.
Touch Screen Panic
To say The World Ends With You’s battle system is complicated would be one of the biggest understatements of the gaming industry. Our protagonist, Neku Sakuraba, is controlled on the bottom screen using the stylus. Various gestures activate his various equipped “pins”. For example, tapping an enemy repeatedly may activate a projectile pin while slashing them activates a close combat pin.
Meanwhile, Neku’s partner, the upbeat Shiki Misaki, occupies the top screen and is controlled using button inputs. By following an onscreen button map Shiki will attack and execute various finishers, with each finisher also corresponding to a card. Yes, a card. Because it’s not enough to just mash buttons for a finisher, you’re also playing a card game akin to Memory at the same time which charges your special Fusion moves.
By the way, Neku and Shiki share a health bar so don’t go neglecting one or the other unless you want them both to kick the bucket!
It’s a lot to take in on paper, and it’s a lot to take in in practice as well. In our “Top 200 Nintendo Games” list I described the screen-splitting action akin to learning how to pat your head and rub your stomach while playing the xylophone with your feet and the harmonica with your mouth. It is a system as obtuse as it is brutally difficult and it takes no small amount of effort to even begin to grasp.
When you put in that effort to learn the ins and outs, though, and that sudden “click” goes off in your head, you are rewarded with what is still to this day some of the most satisfying action RPG gameplay out there. You fall into a rhythm as you deftly alternate your focus between Neku and Shiki. This rhythm was only heightened by the game’s funkalicious battle tracks that came complete with vocals, which was an absolute marvel for a DS game’s tiny cartridge.
Fortunately, if that “click” seems to be taking a while, The World Ends With You provides a slew of ways to tweak your gameplay, many of which were almost unheard of in its time. Regular battles are initiated purely on the player’s terms, meaning you won’t get overwhelmed by an onslaught of skirmishes with an unfamiliar system. Difficulty levels can be changed at any time with harder difficulties yielding better loot. The real unique feature, however, is the ability to manually lower your own level from your max for an additional loot multiplier, adding an extra layer of risk vs. reward. You can even play the entire game at level 1 if you so choose. All these options allow the player to custom tailor the difficulty on an individual basis, and could very well be seen as precursors to the accessibility features found in modern games such as Square Enix’s own Bravely Default series.
Welcome to the Reapers’ Game
Why are Neku and Shiki fighting together in the first place, though? After waking up on the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo the two learn that they have actually already died in the real world and now inhabit a space overlapping it called “the Underground”. The pair is forced into The Reapers’ Game where they must compete against other pairs of players to complete tasks set out by the Game Master, with the winners earning the right to be returned to life. Pairs who fail the task in the given amount of time are “erased”.
The story is one filled with twists and turns that constantly make you second-guess yourself and reevaluate truths and falsehoods every step of the way. Neku’s character arc is a particular highlight as he rapidly develops from the angsty teenager he is at the start into a multi-faceted individual to empathize with.
That goes for every character in the game, too. From the upbeat Shiki to the snarky Joshua, and even the notorious Pi Face (aka Sho) who shouts out so many math terms you’ll be dreaming about triangles, each and every character is bursting at the seams with depth, style, and pizzazz. The artistic decision to go with a vibrant, stylized aesthetic complete with sharp angles took advantage of the DS’s limited pixel real estate to make the Underground inhabitants pop along with the concrete jungle that is Shibuya.
The Beating Heart of the City
The amount of care that went into mapping the terrain of Shibuya is astounding, with the game map corresponding almost one-to-one with its real-life counterpart. The development team even went so far as to enter rooftops without permission in order to obtain reference photos from the proper angles. Iconic landmarks such as the 109 Building were renamed to the 104 Building and such but the overall layout remains intact, so much so that some particularly avid fans even go on “tours” to record such locations found within the game.
The modern-day setting isn’t just for show, though, as it affects numerous aspects of the gameplay as well. In a twist that is distinctly metropolitan Japanese, every district of Shibuya has shifting trends and fashion and equipping popular brands of clothes and pins results in greater effects, with the reverse happening by wearing unpopular brands. Eating food at restaurants bestows various benefits, but only after digesting the meals through repeated battles. There’s even a silly, little mini-game called Tin-Pin Slammers that fits all too well as the “what kids play these days” game of choice on the streets. All of these aspects meld into this wonderful cacophony of a city that pulls the player in despite its pixelated 2D graphics.
The Aftermath 10 Years Later
With the announcement of The World Ends With You: Final Remix there are a number of questions floating around in the air. One of which is how the iconic dual screen gameplay will be translated to the Switch’s single screen. We have a hint towards this from the iOS and Android ports released back in 2012 and 2014, respectively, called The World Ends With You: Solo Remix.
The port more or less watered down the controls of Neku’s partner character by activating them with simple gestures such as tapping or slashing enemies, much like regular pins. Partners no longer shared Neku’s HP so players didn’t have to keep tabs on two characters at once. On top of that, the real-time card games were removed and are instead found as pseudo-quick time events after initiating a Fusion special attack to increase their power.
While it’s possible this control scheme may carry over to Final Remix as well, we do know that this Switch version will come with Joy-Con button controls. Additionally, we can see the return of the real-time card game during the battles shown in the Direct, so it’s reasonable to expect a combination of touch and button inputs to control both characters to return in this iteration.
The second big question has to do with the brand new epilogue chapter to be included with Final Remix. Fans of the original are painfully aware of the rather cryptic secret ending that raised more questions than answers. This was only exacerbated by Solo Remix’s addition of a single picture of a girl (which fans have lovingly named, Hype-chan). This girl also appeared in the Direct trailer and has caused speculation of her role to run rampant. Hopefully, the remake lives up to its titular “Final” and gives the closure fans have been waiting ten years for now.
And what a ten years it’s been. Demand for a sequel to The World Ends With You has only grown stronger over the years. It spiked initially with Solo Remix then reached a feverish pitch when Neku and the gang were included as Travis Town cameos in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. This remake for the Switch may not be that sequel so sought after, but it’s certainly feeding the flames. Who knows, if it does well enough maybe we will see that true sequel someday. Time will tell.
The game is afoot, and the countdown has begun.