This next game is somewhat of an interesting one on this list. I don’t really have any nostalgic childhood story attached to it, it’s just kind of a game that I picked up and fell in love with. I first was exposed to The World Ends With You on G4 TV’s X-Play. They were reviewing this really cool Nintendo DS Square Enix RPG, and they gave it extremely high marks.
The World Ends With You was developed by a good portion of the team that was responsible for the early Kingdom Hearts games, and Tetsuya Nomura, the creator of Kingdom Hearts, was actually the lead character designer for the title. Square Enix wanted to make a game that would take full advantage of the Nintendo DS dual screens, which led to the game’s unique combat system.
In The World Ends With You, players control two characters at once. On the bottom screen is Neku Sakuraba, the game’s protagonist, while the top screen is occupied by one of the other characters that Neku can team up with. Neku is primarily controlled by stylus inputs, while his partner is controlled through use of the d-pad.
Instead of more traditional weapons such as swords and spears, Neku fights using Psychs. Psychs are somewhat of a catch all title for a variety of different attacks and abilities, and each character manifests theirs through different objects. These can be a stuffed animal, a skateboard or even a cell phone, and Neku in particular summons his powers through an assortment of… pins.
Combat is pretty fun and interesting overall, but it’s definitely not the main draw of The World Ends With You. The game’s greatest strengths are its story and exploration. The game takes place in the famous city of Shibuya, and the development team went to great lengths to present as accurate a portrayal as possible. I’ve never personally been to Shibuya, but based on my readings and research, I’d say they did a pretty good job.
I’ve recently been playing Persona 5, another game that takes place in Shibuya and I was very familiar with certain locales and landmarks such as the Scramble Crossing and the Hachiko statue. The even recruited a few Shibuya musical acts to contribute to the game’s soundtrack (which is really great stuff by the way). While they did have to make a couple of alterations, like changing Starbucks to Outback Cafe, the game seems to present a really authentic representation of one of Japan’s most famous cities.
The city of Shibuya is also intrinsically tied to the plot of The World Ends With You. The game primarily takes place in an alternate version of Shibuya known as the Underground (UG for short). The Shibuya that exists in the the real world is simply called the Realground, or RG. The UG is the setting for the Reaper’s Game, which our protagonist Neku is a Player in.
The Reaper’s Game involves the titular Reapers tasking the players with various missions over the course of seven days, and each player must pay a unique entry fee at the game’s start. Upon winning the game, the Player is given back their entry fee, and granted one wish. I know that was quite a hefty info dump, and that’s honestly not even scratching the surface of this game’s lore, but for the sake of time and spoilers, I’m gonna cut the plot summary there.
One of my favorite thematic elements of Kingdom Hearts is the idea that we are who we are because of the people in our lives. However, it is also important for us to strengthen our own hearts for the times that we can’t rely on other people. I’m not sure if Nomura had any hand in this game’s plot, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, because The World Ends With You takes that idea and really expands on it.
Neku Sakuraba is a 15 year old loner. He doesn’t have any real friends, as he has chosen to block out the noise of the rest of the world by wearing headphones. But Neku is forced to change his ways once he becomes wrapped up in the Reaper’s game. Each Player has to have a partner, as they are powerless without one, and also at constant risk of being immediately erased.
It’s really hard to put Neku’s development in words without it just sounding like the generic story of a jerk who slowly opens up his heart to others, but I genuinely do believe that his journey is something special. One of the best moments in the game, and a moment that I actually took to heart for my personal life, is Neku’s conversation with Sanae Hanekoma.
Sanae runs a coffee shop in Shibuya, and serves as a mentor character to Neku over the course of the game. He says to Neku that, “the world ends with you. If you want to enjoy life, expand your world. You gotta push your horizons out as far as they’ll go”. He is essentially telling Neku, who has lived his entire life pushing others away, that his world and perspective will only grow if he creates meaningful connections with others, a philosophy that is perfectly analogous to real life.
Neku is amazing, but he obviously wouldn’t be anything without a great cast of friends. Every character is in the UG for a reason, and this reason in conjunction with their entry fee ends up greatly defining each character’s story arc. Again, it’s extremely hard to talk about any of this without spoiling the plot, but The World Ends With You has a really well rounded cast of characters, both friend and foe.
While the game doesn’t have a sequel (even though the Android and iOS port of the game teased one), Neku, Shiki, Joshua, Beat and Rhyme all appear in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3ds, making them the first characters in the franchise that didn’t hail from a Disney or Final Fantasy title. It was super cool seeing Sora and Neku interact, as the two couldn’t be any more different, and it was especially cool hearing the remixes of some of the game’s awesome tracks such as Twister and Calling.
Before I wrap things up, I wanna give a shout out to the game’s ending song, A Lullaby For You. It was performed by a J-pop star named Jyongri, and she actually recorded both an English and Japanese version, similar to Utada Hikaru and her Kingdom Hearts contributions. A Lullaby For You has gone on to become one of my all time favorite songs, and should the Kingdom Hearts series ever lose Utada, I think Jyongri would be a great replacement.
I wasn’t able to really gush about this game the way I wanted to because of spoilers and what not, but this game really does mean a lot to me. It has a special focus on real world themes that I was able to relate to, many of which I try to implement into to my everyday life.