Review a Great Game Day – The World Ends With You

There’s always something to be said about a game that does something wholly unique.  The developers are trying to step out of the sometimes restricting box that is game design, and make a big splash with giving gamers something… well, different.  The problem, however, is that when developers try something “new and unique”, it tends to be less than perfect.  Perhaps the gameplay didn’t pan out, or the idea itself didn’t mesh well with the setting it was in, or maybe the idea with just a bad one from the get-go.  Regardless of the reason, though, games that are dubbed “unique” and “different” tend to carry the stigma of being… well, not always great as a video game itself, but more an interesting piece to ogle and marvel at. At its best, a piece to remember in the annals of gaming history as the stepping stone to a new genre or way of thinking within the industry; at its worst, a forgotten title that will squander in obscurity.

That being said, there’s little better than a unique, interesting title that manages to hit all of its high notes wonderfully; a game that both oozes originally and is still a solid, enjoyable game.  A package so completely new and refreshing that even the most jaded gamer can appreciate it… and that is precisely what The World Ends With You is.

The Reaper’s Game is what brings the plot together, but the characters are easily the more interesting part of TWEWY until the end.

The World Ends With You stars Neku, a somewhat socially inept teenager that is in a game for his life and very existence.  See, he and the other participants have died, but if they survive the Reaper’s Game, they are revived and allowed to continue their lives.  Surviving this game isn’t all that easy, though; since the Noise (the typical mob enemies of the game) exists in two different “zones” at the same time, so the only way to fight back is to make a pact with another participant in order to fight the Noise in both zones at once.  This is all wrapped around a plot involving the Reapers themselves and their motives, and the players that fight in order to live on.

This short synopsis might make it seem like the game’s story is obtuse and hard to grasp, but it’s really presented in a easy to digest manner.  The World Ends With You focuses on the characters first, and the overarching plot of the Reaper’s Game second.  The main character might be a bit cliched–Neku is an asocial moody teenager, Shiki has confidence and image issues, Beat and Rhyme have a typical example of a broken home–but they are still relatable and interesting enough to keep from getting stale.  A lot of this comes from the plot device of the Reaper’s Game entrance fee.  This involuntary fee is whatever the player holds most dear, and the revelations and mysteries surrounding what the characters have lost to play this game is really quite intriguing.  As you learn about the players’ past and what was taken from them, it’s all the more painful when you realize that only one player can win the Reaper’s Game.

The overall plot involving the Reaper’s Game itself is pretty interesting as well, but it takes a bit of a back seat until late- and post-game.  Even so, the reason for the Reaper’s Game and the politics behind it all is arguably the most interesting part of the game.  In addition, while all of the pertinent details of the game involving Neku and the others are revealed by the end of the tale, you can learn more by obtaining Secret Reports.  These Secret Reports are obtained by replaying through the various days and achieving certain tasks within each day.  These reports offer a lot of information on the Reaper’s Game and the reasons behind it, and offers a way for a curious player to learn more, while not bogging down those that only wanted the main plot.

Riding giant stuffed cats into battle; yep, this is Japanese all right.

It’s clear to see that The World Ends With You’s story holds up well, but how about the gameplay?  TWEWY is an RPG, but its battle system is wholly unique from other games of the genre.  As stated in the story, you’ll have to deal with Noise to survive the game, and the Noise exists in two zones at the same time.  Therefore, Neku has to team up with another player in order for them to effectively fight the Noise.  So, during battles, you control both Neku and you partner at the same time.  Neku is on the bottom screen, and you use the stylus and (generally) tapping the various pins you have equipped to attack.  Your partner, however, stays stationary, and you use the D-pad (or buttons, if you’re left handed) to attack the enemies.  Also, how your partner attacks depends on the partner themselves, so as the game progresses you’ll have to learn how to handle your new partners and use them effectively in battle so you won’t fail.  Partners share a health bar as well, so if either character gets hit too often, it’s game over for both characters (and for you).

As such, it becomes a battle of making Neku dodge attacks on the lower screen, and having your partner counter Noise on the upper screen before they get to attack.  This is enforced by the “sync puck”; basically whoever has the puck is the one that can attack, and after an attack they pass it off to the other player.  It sounds very hectic, and at first it is; thankfully the game makes your first partner very easy to control, so you have time to learn how to multitask and deal with the Noise before it launches its full force at you.  Eventually, the partners you control will be that much more complicated, and the enemies harder to manage and counter.  The World Ends With You manages to provide a good challenge throughout, so gamers aren’t likely to be bored when they get to a boss battle.

Pins, bro. You got them.

Another big part of the game involves the various pins you collect throughout the game.  These pins are what you equip to Neku for his various attacks, as well as the items used for the Pin Slammer mini-game.  Of course, different pins have different attacks, and they also level up and evolve when you use them.  How they level up depends on the pin itself:  Some level up from battle, others from Pin Slammer, and some even level up by other means.  While sometimes it’s difficult to tell how exactly to level the pins up, it keeps them viable throughout most of the game, where the “best pin” depends more on your favored play style than on a specific pin.  Granted, there still are ultimate pins, but getting them is by no means required to finish the title.

Even in the visuals department, The World Ends With You is a winner.  Graphically, TWEWY was stylish before Personas 3 and 4 made it cool to do so, and with good reason.  The setting of TWEWY is Shibuya, Tokyo, one of the biggest shopping/fashion centers in Japan.  As such, this game’s stylish nature is a bit of a love letter to the area it’s representing, giving the game the unique energy that the real-world Shibuya gives off.  In fact, TWEWY takes this one step further with its equipment system; you don’t really buy armor as much as you buy new outfits, but every outfit needs a certain amount of courage to wear.  It makes sense, considering that Shibuya is where fashion statements are made… and some statements are louder and harder to pull off than others.  It’s really a small thing (much like how many games restrict equipment by levels), but just the little details help bring make the title that much more refined and polished.

Then, there’s the music.  You’ve probably heard some of TWEWY’s tunes before; most of the tracks are techno-y, J-pop-y, sometimes rap-py conglomerations that are upbeat and interesting.  It’s not really for everyone, but given the setting, the music is a perfect final touch for this game.  The tracks are very catchy, and sound exactly what would be blasting out the various Shibuya fashion storefronts day and night.  This might sound worse than it is, considering the… somewhat unusual choices youths make in terms of popular music, but there’s no worries here:  The World Ends With You’s tracks are all solid, more like a hand picked “best of” album than a mountain of the popular songs of the week.

It’s almost criminal that The World Ends With You is not more popular.  The title did achieve some mild success when released on the DS in 2008, and has gained a cult following, but the RPG has since, for the most part, been forgotten.  There was an iOS port released in 2012 that brought the title back in the spotlight for a bit (mainly because of the secret ending that hints at a sequel), and Neku making a cameo in Kingdom Hearts III, but TWEWY is mainly ignored when discussions of RPGs or DS games are brought up.  It’s a bit of a shame, really, that such a unique RPG is left in the dust when it should be a beacon for gamers that are tired of the ‘typical’ RPG; while The World Ends With You may still use a few genre tropes, it is such a wholly different experience that every gamer should try out.

Are We Moving Towards Another Game Industry Crash?

Today, Amazon unveiled its new piece of electronic wonderment–The Amazon Fire TV.  Of course, this $99 device streams the typical video services and offers the ability to look at your photos on the big screen, but the interesting part is that the Amazon Fire TV also plays games.  There’s not many, of course; right now there’s the Minecraft Pocket Edition and a few Amazon exclusive titles, but the potential is there, and amplified by being able to use a touch device like a tablet as a secondary controller for the console.

But, the Fire TV is just another device in a growing pile of consoles (multi-purpose or otherwise) trying to bulldoze their way into the current gaming market.  Aside from the “Big Three” with their consoles and portables, and the always evident PC market, there’s the mobile market, the OUYA, Oculus Rift, a plethora of Steam Boxes, Amazon’s device, and whatever else another company may think is a good idea to release.  The market is being overwhelmed with people trying to get a piece of the profit pie, and this behavior could easily make the entire industry fall in on itself.

A second fall of the gaming industry seems a bit extreme, but it has happened before.  When the game industry crashed in 1983, we saw many of the same ailments within the industry as we do today.  There were far too many consoles in the market at the time:  The Ataris, Colecovisions, Odysseys, and so on flooded the market and led to consumer confusion.  You couldn’t know what to get without an absurd amount of research, and many people will end up either making a bad decision (and therefore end up distrusting the industry) or never partake in the purchase in the first place.

But it’s just not the consoles that were the problem with the collapse; it was the games, as well.  Shovelware flooded the market, further breeding consumer distrust and confusion.  Too many consoles, too many games, and not enough quality control are the main reasons that the industry collapsed in on itself back in the day.

But, doesn’t that sound familiar?  The supersaturation of consoles aside, we are accosted by multiple game releases every day.  The indie movement may have brought gaming development to a whole new level, a level where developers may make what they wish without the restrictions of a company needs for profits, but it has also led to an incredible amount of failed, broken games.  Moreover, the Xbox Live Indie Game program and Steam’s policy changes allow poor quality games to flood the market.  With the sheer quantity of games on the market and with more coming every day, it is difficult to know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s even out there to play.

So, will the games industry collapse again?  It’s hard to tell.  It’s clear there are signs pointing to it, but the first fall didn’t happen in one day; it slowly tumbled over a number of years.  Nintendo, the previous savior of the gaming industry, appears to be struggling to stay afloat.  Microsoft and Sony have turned their consoles into multi-entertainment devices, which may or may not be an effort to keep in line with the obviously cheaper options like the Amazon Fire TV which can also play games.  The “AAA model” of game development that companies so heavily rely on big bucks for bigger profits is beginning to fail the big numbers companies spend those big budgets on.  The PC market is suffocating under the strain of thousands of games spread over various distribution services, with little way to organize and differentiate.  If something isn’t done soon, it’s very likely that everything will fall under a slew of badly programmed mobile titles… although, industries in general are a very fickle thing; maybe nothing bad will come of it after all.

Dysfunctional Humans

Dysfunctional Systems has a very interesting setting to it.  Placed in the (likely) far-flung future, members of Earth have taken it upon themselves to monitor other worlds (dubbed “systems”) in order to make sure things don’t get too chaotic and steer the worlds’ growths to be as orderly as possible.  These Mediators travel to different worlds and more or less try and solve the immediate problems, sometimes “by whatever means necessary”.

But, let’s not talk about that.  Let’s talk about Winter instead.

Winter Harrison is the protagonist of Dysfunctional Systems (at least the first episode), a student Mediator that ends up getting caught in a rather nasty situation.  Winter’s mindset is a bit odd, though; she barely understands what the word “war” even means, and balks at the down trodden people as if they are simply playing at being poor and overworked.  She wonders why people “seemed to pick their outfits from a pile of rags” and why the President of Brighton threatens to launch a weapon at their oppressors because it would hurt people.  The whole concept of a world being less than perfectly operated is just a bit above her head, which leads to a slightly condescending attitude to the citizens of other worlds, even if she doesn’t verbalize this attitude.

She is not the only one that thinks like this, though; apparently many of the Mediators hold similar thoughts.  Their detached attitudes that a another other world is destroyed is rather unsettling, really.  But when you really think about it… these rather off-putting attitudes aren’t too far from what some of our own thought-processes are around these sorts of subjects.  In the United States, we only really see news that’s related to our country–whether it’s an address from the President, or of some guy that opened an amazingly unique shop in Minnesota.  While us Americans do hear about the major world news (such as the deadly tsunamis), we know little about the plight of others outside our own country.

This isn’t true in every country, of course, but we can easily see how this can be distilled down to an individual level.  Many of us have our hobbies, favorite TV shows, and whatever else have you; while we may garner information about subjects that don’t interest us as much, we generally do not care much about them.  If someone is following the The Walking Dead and not Game of Thrones, would that person particularly understand the impact of, say, Eddard dying in Game of Thrones?  Not really, though it’s likely they had some thoughts about when Jim died in The Walking Dead, whether they liked the character or not.

That’s the key here:  Understanding.  We know of different situations that are worst than our own, and can even empathize with people within these unfortunate situations, but we don’t really understand what it is that’s the problem unless we go through them (and therefore care about it) ourselves.  For example, I personally know how it feels to be living below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet, but I do not understand the suffering that comes from being homeless and/or jobless, or starving because I didn’t have enough money to buy some food for a few days.  While I can sympathize and feel sorry for those in that type of situation, but I cannot truly understand what they’re going through.

It’s the same with Winter, really.  She may not sympathize with the people of Brighton, and her thoughts of them seem needlessly ignorant, but the world that she grew up in had none of these issues; in fact, it would seem as if most people of the future Earth that Dysfunctional Systems would never have to come in contact with such issues.  It’s only natural that she doesn’t understand why these people seem so downtrodden and desperate, when she comes from a society that’s (at least hinted at ) pretty much perfect.

So, perhaps if you think Winter’s being a little cruel, or harsh, remember that she’s really not that different from us, even if we can (usually) mask it better.

Blog Direction from Now On… Until I Get Bored, Of Course

So yeah, time to talk about my blog’s direction from here until… the next time it changes direction, heh.  I’m going to start working on some more… analytical gaming posts, more opinionated “editorial” type stuff, but that’s also a pretty big shift from what The Word Dump’s been about for the last couple years (keeping tabs and writing updates about my gaming progress).  So, I will be dropping a good amount of the ‘update’ type posts; I will no longer be doing the monthly updates, since it’s something I don’t really wanna do anymore (and something I keep up better on the NeoGAF threads anyway).  I’ll still be doing write ups for that Steam Recommendation stuff that I swear I’m still doing, and likely for the Summer Gaming Challenge when that comes, but for the most part those won’t be showing up anymore.  Granted, if I feel like writing a straight-up review of something, I will, but seeing as I’m doing that for Game Podunk and RPGSite, it’s not very likely.

Also, in terms of moving old posts over here (this IS The Word Dump, after all), I still have a couple in the queue that I’m too lazy to find pictures for and post, and then from there I’ll be moving most of my Game Podunk blog, The Dusty Corner, over here.  I haven’t written in that blog for quite a while now, and I might as well integrate the posts in here.

That’s about it.  See you soon!

An Internet Phenomenon

Eight days.  Over eight days this madness has gone on.  Eight days of fifty thousand people trying to play one copy of Pokemon Red, inputting basic commands and moving Red around like he’s an hyperactive child on a sugar rush, randomly looking at items in his pack and commending his Raticate to dig through floors of buildings to the exit.  It’s a crazy concept, but one that is so intriguing, so abnormal that it has gamers enraptured, having them type in commands in chat and argue amongst themselves whether cutting that tree again is really worth the effort.

It’s impressive that the collective whole has gotten as far as it has; about now the collective effort has gotten the group through the Safari Zone and Koga’s gym.  Eight days of playing Pokemon Red straight would certainly yield more than that for the single, normal player, but the chaos of a slurry of commands makes even healing your Pokemon at a Center a monumental task.  The stream has seen Pokemon aptly named AATTVVV, AAJST(????, and DUX (hey, for a Farfetch’d that’s pretty good).  Gamers have mercilessly released Pokemon back into the wild and shun the Master Ball like it was nothing more than a toy.

I can say, without a doubt, that this is the single most interesting playthough of Pokemon that I’ve ever seen, and the fact that more people are watching this than League of Legends matches makes me think I’m not the only one.

Twitch Plays Pokemon started as a small thing; a simple game ROM hacked to take inputs from the viewers as opposed to the player.  However, once a few big name gaming websites caught wind of the stream and advertised it, Twitch Plays Pokemon exploded into an Internet phenomenon.  When thousands of people get together like this, trolls are rampant, inspired people make art, and a slew of memes are created to honor… well, the craziness of it all.

Even amongst this mass confusion of button presses, people get together and plan, mapping out the best routes for success and trying to achieve it.  It’s an admirable effort, and certainly one to keep serious player morale up when they’ve jumped over the ledge for the twentieth time, but a playthough like this thrives off its chaotic nature; it’s more interesting when things don’t go as planned.  In fact, that’s when the players seem to get the most excited.

Now we have an over-leveled Pigdeot so powerful it’s dubbed “Bird Jesus”, an All Terrain Venomoth, and of course the BigDig Rat.  The players’ accidental usage of the Helix Stone over the course of the game have given it an allure of a religious object.  There’s not even different sects of users, dividing themselves amongst their ideals and Pokemon mascots to simultaneously add both more order and chaos to the entire ordeal.

Some people even view this as a social experiment; can these many strangers really coordinate long enough to beat a game of Pokemon?  Given the arguments and different ‘factions’ of people adhering to Anarchy and Democracy to the point of reverence, there’s certainly a few things to be learned from watching this unfold.  All colors of the Internet have gathered here, from trolls to overly serious types to those that just want to have fun, and watching them try to play a game of Pokemon Red together can lead so some intriguing discussion… well, if you could parse it out amongst the flurry of input commands.

The whole ROM hack itself has been becoming more sophisticated during the duration of this, adding an “Anarchy and Democracy” system to help players progress in more maze-y areas.  Anarachy is, of course, the normal mode of chaotic button presses, and Democracy has a voting based system where the majority rule of button presses decides which way to go.  By nature Democracy is slower and a tad on the boring side, but practically a necessity for the Step limit of the Safari Zone or Silph Co.  Other little sophistications have been added too, such as arrows instead of the words for directional arrows, and the ability (in Democracy mode) to vote for multiple button presses at once, such as “left3up2″.  Even Twitch itself had to work out some errors, as the popularity of the stream caused some major chat lag, and Twitch Plays Pokemon had to be moved onto its own server; and on top of that, chat tweaks had to be made to keep it running smoothly.

This playthrough of Pokemon Red isn’t even alone, though it is by far the most popular.  There are also similar streams of Blue, Yellow, and even Crystal.  These tend to have a bit more sophisticated layouts, including current objectives and the current party, but the lack of viewers (and by extension players/inputters) doesn’t make the other games as interesting to watch as the original read.  Of course, it’s also worth noting that the Blue and Crystal runs are much farther along than the Red run, but that is due for the most part due to a smaller, and more serious, group of players controlling the protagonists.

 

It’ll be a while before the stream can beat the game, but when it gets there, it’ll be a sight to behold; the result of probably a million people over the course of weeks slowly progressing through a Game Boy game together.  Maybe someone other than Bird Jesus will lead the way.  Probably not, though, it IS the only high leveled Pokemon they got.

Maybe the sacred Helix Fossil has something to say about it.

Gaming Update – January 2014

My gaming updates are going to look a bit different from now on.  Because I’m posting and taking part in NeoGAF’s Backlog Blitz, I’ll more or less be copy/pasting parts of my posts here.  You might think it’s a cop-out… and it is slightly, but the post more or less encompasses what I write here every month, so no need to really write it all again!  With that, here’s my January update:

My Backloggery
52 Games – 1 Year Challenge

End of January Update (1/31)
Bought in 2014: 3
January (3)

  • Two Brothers
  • DemiKids: Dark Version
  • Chibi-Robo

Beaten in 2014: 4
January (4)

  • Tales of Destiny
  • Hector Episode 2: Senseless Acts of Justice
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • Drakengard

Thoughts on my beaten games (from the Challenge thread):

Game 1: Tales of Destiny – 24h3m
# [Started in 2013] It took a lot of motivation (and a FAQ) to work through the final areas. Overall a great game, I just don’t have the patience for vague puzzles anymore.

Game 2: Hector Badge of Carnage Episode 2: Senseless Acts of Justice – ~2h
# [Beat Episode 1 in 2013] I really dislike these games. I’m only playing them to get them out of my unfinished percentage on Backloggery.

Game 3: New Super Mario Bros. U – 7h54m
# [Started in 2013] Stopped in the middle of last year in World 3, decided to go back to in the new year and finish it. I do enjoy the game, and the graphics look neat too, of course. Those World 8 stages were sort of bastardly, though.

Game 4: Drakengard – 14h6m
# [Ending A] This game pretty much sucks.

As for next month, it’ll probably be filled with Bravely Default and scrambling to beat more RPGs.  Also real life will probably get in the way of both a lot.  See you at the end of February!