By Jeriaska . April 28, 2008 . 10:17pm
The World Ends With You begins with loner Neku Sakuraba entering one of the most densely crowded corners of Tokyo. The character’s bulky headphones and shirt collar drawn over the lower portion of his face seem like markers of his introverted nature. Magnifying his annoyance are the overlapping clatter of the above-ground train, the distorted cell phone transmissions, and hollow-sounding jingles from the subway speakers. On the upper screen of the DS, Neku’s thoughts appear in a comic font script. “I don’t get people," he says. “Outta my face."
As if in response to his protests, the character is submerged deeper in his crowded environment than should be possible. A strange blue light covers the street and we begin hearing the thoughts of the pedestrians on the crossing. Neku looks down in his palm and finds a strange pin carrying a skull emblem. Tapping the touch screen with the stylus, Neku’s thoughts appear in dialog bubbles. You are asked to touch the pin icon in the corner to activate Neku’s “scanning," the mysterious ability at the center of the gameplay that lets the character progress through missions.
Activating the pin, Neku’s face fills the screen and we hear him say “focus.” All activity on the busy cross-section freezes and the pedestrians are replaced with glimmering points of light. You are given the option of selecting from among the half a dozen inner-monologues going on in the minds of the people around you. A woman with a handbag is searching for her grandfather’s store, while a man in a dress shirt is looking for a DJ friend at Cyco Records. Another is considering growing an afro. No sooner is the scanning deactivated than Neku receives a strange text message on his cell phone. “Reach 104 in the next 60 minutes” reads the letter from an unknown sender, signed “The Reapers.” Thinking it’s spam, Neku deletes the message–but he discovers that on his palm, where he just saw the blcak pin, a ticking clock is counting down the seconds until the mission's deadline. On the megascreen above the crosswalk appear the words “You have 7 Days,” and strange creatures in the form of frogs appear, initiating the first of the game’s battle sequences.
Being attacked by the spectral amphibians on the sidewalk, a tutorial screen appears, informing you that to move your character around, you drag the stylus in the direction where you want Neku to go. At this point in the game you are utterly defenseless, so you can do nothing to avoid the frogs latching onto your head and smacking you for hitpoint damage–that is, until you “bounce” by pausing the game and selecting the option to run. Once you’ve fled, you are given the dash ability, which lets you evade by sweeping the stylus across the screen away from oncoming attacks. The action cuts to the opening montage sequence, introducing you to the various characters you will meet during the game, set to composer Takeharu Ishimoto’s song “Twister.”
Following the introductory animation sequence, there is a brief conversation between two of the as of yet unnamed antagonists forcing Neku into the Reaper’s game. They seem to consider Neku’s perilous situation a routine part of their work. To make this business more interesting, they decide to wager a bowl of ramen over who can “bag the most Players” during the day’s mission. Whatever is meant by the remark, it seems likely to impact Neku's assignments at some future time.
We next meet up with Neku at Hachiko, the dog statue located in Shinjuku station. Surrounded by frogs, we are introduced to an extravagantly hatted stranger. Shiki introduces herself as a fellow "Player" and hurriedly urges Neku to form a “pact” to beat these creatures. This will allow them to destroy the enemies, which she calls “the Noise,” and complete the assignment before time runs out. Neku, distrusting of others, is reluctant to form a party, even when told that once the timer on his palm reaches zero he will be erased. He reluctantly joins Shiki, their alliance signaled by a flash of light. From Shiki you pick up another pin, this one having a flame emblem. Neku now has the ability to use “psychs” to damage the Noise in battle.
A tutorial appears on the top screen while the battle starts. Making circling motions with the stylus activates the fire pin, sending flames rolling across the ground and scorching the enemy. The gauge empties after a few seconds, requiring you to put some distance between yourself and your foe until the pin “reboots.” Soon the Noise goes up in smoke.
Neku, wasting no time in dropping his partnership with Shiki, heads back off to scramble crossing alone. But he finds that moving to the edge of the screen results in an invisible wall coming up into view. You see the character recoil in shock from being zapped by the unseen barrier. This is a problem, because the only way to the Shibuya 104 building is blocked. He notices that someone in a red hoodie and baseball cap is calmly watching the drama unfold. Scanning the area by touching the pin does nothing to allow you access to the hoodie’s thoughts, meaning that he is either with the Reapers, or another player in the game. Once you are done with your ESP, Shiki catches back up with you, and together you can move on to 104.
Once you have made it to your assigned destination, the timer on Neku’s palm disappears. However, from off-screen a Reaper shows up, alluding to the earlier wager over a bowl of ramen. Apparently your work is not yet done. More Noise is sicked on the protagonists, and this marks your first battle with Shiki stationed on the top screen. Hitting the D-pad allows Shiki’s stuffed animal to fight, Lulu style, and entering button combinations allow for the doll to perform combo attacks. You can ignore Shiki altogether and she will go into auto-combat mode, but focusing all your attention on Neku’s psychs will result in less damage to the enemy and greater loss to your characters’ combined HP. Neku and Shiki take turns fighting by passing a green “puck” back and forth between the bottom and top screens.
After a couple small battles, you face the boss. A Noise in the shape of an upright standing bear attacks the party. Getting too close, the enemy will maul you with his paws. Here Neku’s flame attack comes in handy. Alternating between Neku’s psychs and Shiki’s combos by following the puck back and forth, the boss can easily be defeated.
Though the party has gotten through the first day unscathed, Shiki says that the missions only get harder as they progress. It seems they will have to survive seven total before finding out what is behind the Reapers' game.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.