When the original Nintendo DS was at the height of its popularity, some of its most interesting games were, well, incredibly strange. There was a musical toy that turned jellyfish into touchscreen pianos (Electroplankton), a story about a secret government agency that solved problems by singing (Elite Beat Agents), and an epic battle where giant tanks were piloted by cute blue blobs (Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime). One of the best examples of this exciting period of games is The World Ends with You.
First released on the DS in 2008, the Japanese role-playing game comes from Square Enix, the company behind the genre’s biggest names, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But The World Ends with You is a completely unique, energetic experience that blends together the stylish youth culture of Tokyo’s Shibuya district with a dark, foreboding story about death and friendship. Ten years later, there’s still nothing quite like it.
But if you missed out on TWEWY the first time around, you’re in luck: an enhanced version is out today on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s just as good as it was when it debuted.
The game puts you in the role of Neku, an amnesiac loner who finds himself in a strange, alternate reality version of Shibuya where supernatural beings called reapers task humans with completing various missions. If they fail, they’re erased from existence forever. Despite seeming to hate everyone, Neku is forced to partner with another player, a young girl named Shiki. The two work together to solve missions, fight off enemies called noise, and figure out exactly what’s going on in this strange world.
The story can be very confusing at times — the reapers’ game is full of all kinds of complex and arbitrary rules — but it also becomes fascinating and surprisingly emotional the more you dig into it. Neku may be a cliche, surly JRPG protagonist at the outset, but as he’s forced to literally fight for his life, he changes and grows in a way that feels natural as he starts to realize that you need help from others to succeed.
You also can’t talk about The World Ends with You without talking about how it looks. It’s not just a game set in Shibuya; it’s a game where the district’s fashion is a focal point of the experience. The game was helmed by Tetsuya Nomura who is best-known for his outlandish character designs for Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. The manga-inspired visuals can still be over the top at times — at one point Neku wishes that he had more zippers, a Nomura staple — but they’re also grounded in reality, and there’s a real sense of life and movement to the world and characters. Iconic Tokyo buildings twist and stretch as you run through crowded streets.
As in most RPGs, you equip new gear to enhance your abilities, but there’s a stylish twist; each area has its own trends, and you get bonuses by wearing the right brands in the right places.
This vibrant world looks gorgeous on the Switch’s screen or on a big TV, but there are some trade-offs in this new version. The Switch version appears to be based on the mobile port of the game that came out back in 2012, which makes sense; the DS featured unique dual-screen combat where you were controlling two different characters on each screen. That’s impossible to replicate on the Switch.
Instead, the combat has been simplified so that you’re swapping between various attacks from both Neku and his partner. But Square Enix made some curious decisions when it comes to controls. In portable mode, your only option is the touchscreen, which is fine because combat actually works really well in this mode. You can swipe enemies to attack or drag your finger to create dangerous trails of fire. It’s generally quite intuitive.
But when you want to play on your TV, the game doesn’t utilize the standard Switch controller. Instead, you use a single Joy-Con with motion controls simulating a touchscreen. You navigate menus by dragging a pointer across the screen and perform attacks by waving your hand around. It can be awkward, and in heated battles, it’s not as responsive as it should be. The World Ends with You looks and sounds great blown up on a big display, but you’ll probably want to play most of it with a good pair of headphones, tapping at the Switch’s screen.
If you’ve never played the game before, it’s worth putting up with some minor quibbles with the controls. The World Ends with You still plays as well today as it did a decade ago, and more importantly, it harkens back to a time when weird games were normal, and a J-pop-fueled story about a surly teen in oversized headphones could sit alongside the latest Super Mario and Pokémon releases as a best-seller.
The World Ends with You: Final Remix is available on the Nintendo Switch.