Nintendo certainly transformed the gaming landscape when it launched the Nintendo DS line of systems, offering up a distinct two-screen experience that had seldom been attempted before in hardware. Though there were plenty of first-party releases through the years that did a great job of showing off the dual-screen concept, Square Enix arguably produced one of the best examples of the concept done right when it put out The World Ends With You in 2007.
Featuring a chaotic and unique combat system that spanned both screens and employed touch controls, TWEWY quickly became a cult hit among RPG fans, later receiving a single screen re-release on mobile devices. Now, an ultimate version is available on Switch as The World Ends With You: Final Remix, and while this port notably stumbles in how it implements its control scheme, it does a great job of recapturing all the magic and fun of the original release.
The story centers around Neku Sakuraba, an angsty, headphone-clad teen with a serious aversion to any form of social interaction. One day, Neku wakes up in the middle of a crowded Shibuya street with no memory of how he got there, and the dozens of people milling about are seemingly incapable of perceiving him. After forging a ‘Pact’ with a mysterious teen girl and fighting off an attack by a strange group of monsters called Noise, Neku learns that he’s been entered into some sort of paranormal competition called the Reapers’ Game. From this point on, each day becomes a desperate struggle for survival, as alliances are made and broken in a dynamically shifting environment that constantly pushes the Players to their limits.
Characters are well-developed over the plot's three main acts, each one dealing with a personal vice or struggle that’s suitably challenged repeatedly as they battle for survival. In Neku’s case, this takes the form of him being forced to learn how to work with others and be more trusting, as cooperation is tantamount to reaching the end of the Reapers’ Game. There are some real stakes to the narrative, too, with supporting characters sometimes dying (or close to it) without any warning, reinforcing the notion that not everybody is going to make it out scot-free. By the end of the fifteen-hour campaign, you’ll have developed a deep emotional connection to this memorable cast and world; we were quite pleased with the writing and direction of this story.
Combat has been radically changed since the DS original, with the unique battle system having to be tweaked and retooled in the transition to one screen. You command Neku with a combination of taps and swipes, with his movements and attacks all being instigated by different inputs, a bit like the system used in Okami HD. Each attack and ability is represented as one of six equipable ‘Pins’, which give him a variety of PSI abilities like energy blasts and fire trails, and each of these has a certain number of uses before entering a cooldown state.
Your partner—rather than being an independently controlled character—now functions as another Pin, called into battle by an input of their own. As a way of replacing the energy puck that passed between characters in the original, combat is now centered around alternating attacks between your partner and Neku, building up a ‘Fusion’ percentage that lets you unleash a powerful special attack. These are some of the most riveting portions of a typical battle, as each fusion attack can be bolstered through playing a rapid-fire card memorization game, with each successful match adding to the damage multiplier.
All told, the combat system is mechanically solid and quite fast-paced in motion, but it stumbles with the awkward controls. Handheld mode is the most ideal way to go here, as touch inputs are easier to register and more intuitive, although this comes at the cost of having to play on the Switch’s small screen and of smudging it up with the oils from your skin. Playing in docked mode is manageable, but far from intuitive, as the player uses one Joy-Con in a Wii remote-like fashion to replicate touch inputs on the big screen. After a few hours, one figures out the rhythm to this motion-oriented gameplay, but it never quite comes together as smoothly as the touch controls; you have to frequently tap a button to recenter the cursor, and pulling off swipe manoeuvres can be tricky because you need excellent timing for when to hold down and release the ‘A’ button. Regardless of which control type you pick, neither feels like a completely satisfying option, which certainly comes as a disappointment given how the original release partially made its name on the unique controls.
The kind of equipment you choose prior to battles obviously has a huge effect on one’s battle prowess, but TWEWY finds an interesting way of integrating this even further into the experience through the fashion system. Shibuya is obviously a very fast-moving, fashionable place, and the effectiveness of the clothes and pins that you wear are directly impacted by these fashion trends. Each area of the map has a chart showing which clothing lines are hot and which are not. If you’re using pins and wearing equipment that’s in fashion, you’ll benefit from a variety of stat bonuses, while the opposite is true if you wear something that’s not cool. Even so, if there’s a particular line that you’re adamant on wearing, repeatedly battling in that outfit will set a new trend that boosts the brand’s effectiveness in the area. It’s a very compelling system and a fun way to reference the culture of Shibuya, and this is only further driven home by the shop system. There’re plenty of places to shop in Shibuya, and repeated visits and purchases at favorite spots will see Neku build his relationship level with the store’s proprietor, resulting in discounts and tips on hidden abilities in each item.
With there being hundreds of Pins to use, and many of them having ways to ‘evolve’ into more powerful ones, players will no doubt want a way to quickly grind out experience for their pins, and this can be found in part through the Tin Pin mini-game. Here, you pick out a team of pins and control one at a time directly in small, top-down arena battles against AI opponents, with the goal being to blast the other pins off and be the last pin standing. There are all sorts of techniques for both offense and defense, like a hammer that stuns opponents or a temporary casing that prevents you getting bumped, and while this mode ultimately never amounts to more than a side distraction, it’s surprisingly more fleshed out than it seems at first glance. Those of you that don’t want to be bothered with Tin Pin can almost completely ignore it, but it certainly helps add some diversity to TWEWY’s gameplay, and many will no doubt find it to be a surprising distraction.
TWEWY also focuses on quality of life features that help to make the game feel much more manageable to those of all skill types. For example, there are no random enemy encounters; you simply tap a button to show you all available enemies in the area and then pick and choose which ones to fight. You can even chain together multiple fights back to back, creating a tough gauntlet of foes to get through, but with the advantage that drop rewards are much more profitable. If this still isn’t enough, you can directly adjust difficulty on the pause screen and you can ‘level down’ if you want, with higher drop rates and better rewards being given out for each notch you move down on your level gauge. Also, if you happen to have a friend on hand, they can pick up a Joy-Con and take control of your partner directly, with their own unique set of Pins. All of this combines to make for an extremely modular experience that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways; something which many RPGs could benefit from. If you’re just here for the story and want to get through the game at a brisk pace, it’s easy enough to lay off the level gauge and leave the difficulty on easy, but if you want to go deeper, TWEWY has plenty of options for pushing your limits and handsomely rewarding you for the effort.
As for its presentation, TWEWY manages to utterly impress, exuding a kind of offbeat angst that’s as memorable as it is hypnotizing; this is a game that’s about as stylish as they come. The HD art looks gorgeous regardless of which screen you choose to primarily play on, going for a sharp, bold anime art style that feels like a cross between Kingdom Hearts and street art. The characters, environments, and enemies all have an exaggerated, dreamlike quality to them, and bright, vibrant colors abound.
All of this is matched by an equally energetic and electric soundtrack consisting of J-pop, rock, and R&B beats, with several voiced tracks being dropped in for good measure. It’s especially notable, too, how TWEWY slowly rolls out this soundtrack as you progress through the campaign, with new tracks being played in old locales. Suffice to say, TWEWY is an audiovisual treat, even if it doesn’t push the Switch’s limits too hard; you’d be hard-pressed to find a more stylish game on the platform.
The question remains, of course, whether this is truly the definitive version of TWEWY or not, seeing as how Tetsuya Nomura has stated this is the last time he’s working on the game. The New Day scenario included in this version feels like a suitable extension of the original game, but not a monumental one; it’s rather like a three to five-hour piece of DLC. Otherwise, the Switch version is differentiated by the incredible HD art, some new Pins, and motion controls, although that last element is a little iffy. Indeed, this hardly feels like the definitive version, then, although the content on offer does manage to justify the price.
Over ten years later, TWEWY has lost none of the fun or style that made the original such a cult classic. Although the controls leave something to be desired, the chaotic battle system, catchy soundtrack, and engaging storyline all combine to make this an unforgettable RPG that hits all the right points. We’d give this one a high recommendation to anyone that hasn’t yet experienced this gem in some form; there’s plenty here to make this a game that’s worth your time. If you’ve experienced the game before, however, we’d advise that you think hard about how badly you want it for your Switch. If this is the last we see of this property, then The World Ends With You: Final Remix feels like a fitting sendoff, even if it isn’t perfect.