The end is near. Only two more weeks, and my list of the greatest video games of all time will be complete. Last week I mentioned that Final Fantasy VII, although it is the third greatest video game of all time, is not the greatest JRPG of all time. There is one JRPG that is better than Final Fantasy VII, and that game is The World Ends with You.
I think that most people would agree that The World Ends with You is a JRPG, but calling it that does require a very broad definition of the term “JRPG”. One might even refer to it as a post-JRPG. TWEWY came out in 2008 in North America for the Nintendo DS, and it was a massive breath of fresh air for a genre that had been stagnant for almost 10 years. JRPGs were – and are – stuck in a massive rut, with developers rehashing the same tired plots and gameplay mechanics with every new game. Arguably Chrono Cross, which came out in 2000 for the Sony Playstation, was the last really innovative and unique JRPG until TWEWY.
What makes TWEWY such a breath of fresh air is that it takes every generic and cliched element of traditional JRPGs and either throws it out or turns it on its head. Instead of taking place in a medieval/fantasy setting, TWEWY takes place in modern-day Shibuya (a district in Tokyo). Instead of playing as a band of rag-tag adventurers who have to confront an ancient evil that is dead-set on destroying the world, you play as a misanthropic teenager named Neku Sakuraba who is thrust into a mysterious contest called the Reapers’ Game. Instead of fighting random battles where you select commands from a menu that your party then executes, you scan the area you’re in for enemies (known as Noise) and then fight them with a wide variety of different attacks that are used by manipulating the DS touchscreen in a multitude of ways. Instead of weapons and armor, you fight with hundreds of different kinds of pins, all of which have different capabilities, and you power up your characters by feeding them hamburgers, salads and french fries.
Unless you’ve played the game, that last paragraph probably has you scratching your head, but it’s okay. All you really need to know is that TWEWY is totally unique, and utterly fantastic. I actually resisted playing this game for a long time after I bought it, because it seemed so incredibly complicated. And it is incredibly complicated. So much so that I won’t terrify/bore you by going into the details here. But one of the great things about this game is that it does a great job of easing you into it. New elements are introduced at a relatively leisurely pace, and you are given plenty of opportunity to acclimate yourself to a new element before the next element is introduced.
The game also is incredibly adaptable. Two examples of this. First of all, as in typical JRPGs, after every battle you get a certain number of experience points, and when you get enough experience points, your level goes up, and you get more powerful. What TWEWY does differently is let you adjust your level on the fly. In other words, you can go into battle with a lower level than your actual level, and this increases the quantity and quality of the items dropped by your enemies. So if you want lots of good items, lower your level. If the game is too hard and complicated for you, then you can raise your level and the game will be easier.
The other example has to do with the “buddy system” that the game employs. In order to survive the Reapers’ Game, Neku needs a partner. This partner helps you fight the Noise. The battle system of TWEWY utilizes the dual-screen nature of the DS. Neku fights on the bottom screen, and Neku’s partner fights on the top screen. You can control either person, using the touchscreen to control Neku and the buttons to control Neku’s partner. Doing this allows you to build up power and unleash more devastating attacks. However, it’s also more complicated, because you have to manage two different characters. Fortunately, there is an option to let the computer control your partner. This allows you to just focus on Neku, and let Neku’s partner do his or her own thing. This works out great for me, because I don’t have multitasking chops to be able to manage both characters at the same time.
The incredible flexibility of TWEWY’s gameplay systems is only part of why the game is so great. The other part is its fantastic story. As I stated earlier, the story of TWEWY throws away all of the usual cliches that plague JRPGs. I don’t want to go into details, because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody who is interested in playing this game and hasn’t yet, but suffice it to say that it is one of the best stories that I’ve ever experienced in a video game. The dialogue is well-written, the characters are complex and believable, the setting is rich and detailed, and the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways while remaining consistent and logical. Oh, it’s great. If it was a movie, it would probably win an Oscar. Okay I’m exaggerating, but still, you get my point.
The game also has a lot of replayability. Once you finish the game, you can go back and play any chapter in any order, and if you fulfill certain conditions in each chapter, you’ll unlock a page of a report written by a certain character that reveals more of the backstory of the game. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to do this myself yet, but one of these days I plan to.
So there you have it. The second best video game of all time is The World Ends With You. Lovely. Next week is the final installment of this wonderful series. The best video game of all time! I have a feeling that you will be surprised.