The World Ends With You (TWEWY ) is a time-capsule of a game — a mid-Noughties tour of Tokyo street culture, an abrasive middle-finger to the mainstream, and a celebration of an otherwise overlooked era of art, music and attitude that seemed to burn out as quickly as it ignited.
If we remove those rose-tinted glasses though, some elements of the 2007 classic haven’t aged well. The pseudo-emo dressing and malaise of main character Neku, for example, now wears thin pretty quickly in 2018’s poppier, more woke context. But ultimately, the vibrant heart and inventive combat that lie at the core of the game have stubbornly withstood the battering of time.
Why? Because this was a game that dared to be different, oozing style and creativity in an era where Japanese role-playing games were lambasted for being overly formulaic. But while The World Ends With You: Final Remix still feels anything but formulaic, some frustrating design decisions and middling new content mean that this isn’t quite the definitive version that it’s being sold as.
Style over Substance?
First up, it’s worth noting that – as a JRPG – TWEWY breaks from the norm in a fair few ways. The battle system isn’t turn-based, but rather relies on physical inputs (slashes, taps, drawing circles and so on). In the original game, combat was split across the DS’ two screens, with your main attacks drawn on the touchscreen being bolstered by your partner’s moves on the screen above, who you could control using the D-Pad.
It’s also fairly pacy. The game takes an hour or so to get going (name us an RPG that doesn’t!) but once it’s warmed up, The World Ends With You offers a fairly blistering pace for the genre. If you’re keen enough, you can push through the main game in about 24 hours, but players who like to sniff out every quest, item and story beat will enjoy a more robust 40-hour offering.
Thanks to the game’s interesting setup – it takes place over a seven day format, with each mission lasting a single day – its narrative cadence matches the beat of the combat, feeling rhythmic, punchy and rarely dull.
Yes, the story is littered with genre tropes (we hope you like amnesiac protagonists, unnecessary sexual tension and secret societies full of baddies) but it also offers a fascinating window into the unique kind of disenfranchisement, apathy, and angst that defined so much of ’00s music and pop culture.
It’s not all fringe-flicking and darkness though. Protagonist Neku – the sullen, sulky amnesiac – actually ends up having a decent and heartwarming arc, and thanks to the daily structure of ‘missions’, there are lots of self-contained narrative vignettes that (if nothing else) will leave you with a little grin on your face.
In other words, if you’re after an RPG with something different to offer in both its writing and presentation, The World Ends With You is still very much worth investigating.
Standing in the Way of Controls
That said, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by this so-called Final Remix when it fumbles the most interesting aspect of the original DS game in a pretty significant way. Yep, we’re talking about the battle system. The weird control scheme and rhythm-based combat of the 2007 game is what many people fondly remember Tetsuya Nomura’s experiment for, and with the DS’ second screen now long gone, the Switch version frustratingly dilutes the combat in some key ways.
First up, the control you have over your partner is now entirely based on touch-screen inputs or a single Joy-Con’s motion control. There’s no option to use the Switch Pro Controller, a two Joy-Con setup or to really mimic the original DS control scheme in any meaningful way.
TV input is done using one Joy-Con like a Wiimote (the same is true of playing the game in Tabletop Mode) and, frankly, it’s abysmal. Some battles require you to have focused, precise movements or inputs ( and equipping different Pins allows different moves). One move, for example, means you need to draw a circle around Neku, for others you might want to draw a line to ‘tear a hole’ in the stage.
The problem is, this feels unresponsive and downright awkward to execute with motion controls. After an hour spent trying ( and failing) to make the waggle work, we ended up undocking our Switch for good and sticking with Handheld Mode’s touchscreen controls.
Initially, playing on the big screen wasn’t an issue that raised its awkward head, as in early battles, you can just about deal with the slipshod inputs. Yet once more enemies start to materialise — and bosses start to drop on you that need very specific methodologies to defeat — you simply NEED to use the more specific controls afforded by the touchscreen input.
With the Switch’s whole selling point being that you can enjoy games both on the TV and, on the go, it’s a solution that feels far from ideal. It’s also an issue made worse by the baffling lack of any kind of D-pad control working simultaneously with the touchscreen… which Square had kind of already nailed back in 2007.
On top of losing the top screen from the DS game and meshing all the features into one (bigger) panel, the neutering of the original’s coolest feature means we’re dubious to ever call this version definitive – even if it does include extra content.
Remix: The Additions
Let’s talk about those extra features, then, shall we? As fans will know, this is a game that can already be played on DS, 3DS and iOS, so what does a Switch version add? Well, first up, there’s the option of switching between the original OST and a new, Remixed version on the fly. The Remixed version feels more modern, better produced and just nicer all around, really, so that’s a great option for people coming back to the game after a decade or so.
The new HD assets are also remarkable. If you’re coming from having played this game on the tiny resolution of a DS screen (and can stomach the handicap the controls give you), then watching the Shibuya-based action of the title unfold on an HD TV really is something special. That said, the asset, character and world rework also shines on the Switch’s HD display, too, so you touchscreen adopters don’t have anything to worry about.
For diehard fans, the Switch version mostly sells itself on the ‘new scenario’ that’s been added. Thanks to embargoes and timings, we didn’t have an awful lot of time to get to grips with this mode, but what we’ve seen so far is essentially a set of ‘remixed’ areas, offering enemies with slightly different designs and more movesets, as well as ‘new’ missions that add extra clutter to the screen to make it harder to fight in.
Now, considering our issues with the touch- and motion-controls already, adding a ‘Raven Ball’ that flies around you character and that damages you if touched just seems… ill-thought through.
The ‘Remix’ content isn’t bad, but for people hoping they’re going to get something similar to a sequel (or something that equates to a The World Ends With You 1.5 entry), it’s probably best to temper your expectations.
Is The World Ends With You: Final Remix Any good?
The World Ends With You on Switch is as frustrating as it is brilliant. Whilst the story beats and core gameplay have fairly aged gracefully, despite the shiny HD sheen, the overall presentation of the game looks less flattering in 2018. It’s odd – in a game that’s very much the ‘how do you do fellow kids?’ of Japanese role-playing games, the story is the one element that doesn’t feel dated.
Simple updates – like the ability to use Joy-Con controls in handheld mode, or more new additions besides re-skinned areas – could have easily made this the definitive version of the game. But as it stands, Final Remix feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
While it’s an undeniably attractive package for anyone wanting to sample this cult hit for the first time, when it comes to fans revisiting this meta, self-aware RPG with a nostalgic glint in their eyes, Final Remix may not live up to expectations.