The universal core of any game is, of course, its gameplay. The vast majority of them will use some form of combat system as their primary gameplay loop. It doesn’t matter if you’re stabbing, casting, shooting, or speaking; a significantly large amount of the game’s depth, if not most, within these titles will depend on that combat.
Released in Japan during 2007 and 2008 for the rest of the world, The World Ends With You is one of my favorite games of all time. Developed in collaboration with Square Enix and Jupiter, The World Ends With You was explicitly designed for the Nintendo DS.
Initially, this title’s combat system would have involved having card game-esque aspects on the bottom screen, while an action RPG game would take place on top. This would change drastically as development progressed, ending with a battle system I don’t think has been recreated at any reasonable level.
As you’d expect with something designed for the Nintendo DS, the finalized combat system of The World Ends With You involves the use of both screens with our main character, Neku, on the bottom screen and his designated partner, Shiki, on the top screen. Neku is controlled entirely with touch controls.
You move him by dragging him across the screen, with his moveset being made out of touch screen actions dependent on his currently equipped ‘pins.’ Each pin gives Neku a particular ‘psych,’ a psychic ability for you to defeat enemies with, that is activated by a specific touch command.
For example, the ‘Masamune’ pin gives Neku the ‘Shockwave’ psych, which allows him to perform melee combat strikes when you slash across an enemy. You can use these psychs to fire energy bullets, summon flames, telekinetically move things across the screen, as well as all sorts of other cool magical abilities.
These pins only have a certain amount of uses, though before they have to recharge. This means when you’ll be mixing and matching your pins to equip ones that best fit the scenario for you. To say there is a specific way to play is incorrect. It’s an action RPG; if your way involves defeating the enemies without dying, then your way is right. However, you’ve got the potential to combo, chain, and juggle your enemies by using pins with good chemistry together.
This by itself already makes for a very inventive and enjoyable combat system, but we’re still to talk about the top screen. The controls of your partner are more simplistic than Neku’s. Shiki can make a few simple combos to the left or right, depending on which direction you press. She has a few other basic abilities such as jumping, blocking, and a counter skill that interrupts her combos. Each partner combo finisher is marked by a symbol, which, if it matches, will lead to gaining fusion stars. Collect enough of these in a fight, and you can unleash a powerful ‘fusion attack.’
You’ll need to play both screens at the same time. Well, that’s a lie, because technically you don’t, but the game does encourage you to. Firstly each enemy spawns on both screens, and you can hit them on both. Hitting them on both screens will take them down twice as fast or even faster if you play your cards right.
As you perform combo finishing hits on enemies, a green ‘light puck’ will spawn and be passed between your team. Each finisher used by the light puck holder has its power boosted before being sent to their partner, with successive uninterrupted passes further increasing the multiplier. Stacking this up can lead to massive damage if you can stay both safe and on the offensive.
Removing the top screen in the Mobile and Nintendo Switch rereleases forces a few changes to how you fight your battles. You can’t manage two screens without the second screen, which removes the timing aspect. But to keep the ‘teamwork’ between partners in the battle system, the partner has now become an assist pin. That’s one more attack for you to harness in creating your own combos to take out enemies with.
The light puck mechanic has been replaced by ‘cross combos.’ Timing your attacks on enemies so that they hit simultaneously as your partners will boost the damage you deal and contribute to a sync meter, which condenses the rest of the top screen’s mechanics. Whilst it is a little bit less intensive than two screens, it also has the side effect of having you rethink your pins more and teach you to time other touch commands because you’ll be wanting to sync them up with your partners for the special attacks.
The battle system is fantastic on its own, but the RPG mechanics and its implementation into The World Ends With You really help it shine. Due to pins gaining XP from battles and having level caps, you can ‘master them.’ You’re then likely to sub them out for other pins to not ‘waste’ XP, encouraging you to experiment with new pins that you obtain.
This means the battles always feel fresh throughout the entire story. And due to how the game feeds you new pins during story sequences or through stores, you’ll frequently be finding new psychs with their own touch commands. So now, when you come up against a boss or a story battle that’s a bit tricky, you can switch over to your other mastered pins and figure out another way.
Another fun thing this game does is how it deals with levels. When you level up, only your health goes up. Your stats are impacted by the clothing items you wear, can be increased with food, and your pins have their own specific stats. Your level is attached to a slider on the menu, which you can decrease at any point to increase your drop rate.
The difficulty can also be changed, with harder difficulties netting you more experience. So as you play, you start keeping your level low, handicapping yourself to boost your drop rate, which both gets the player used to having a low amount of health and gets them more materials to get new equipment and pins from stores well as more experience points. Hence, they level up faster, and the cycle repeats. Then you get to a tricky boss and just bump your level up, so you get like 500 more HP, and it’s a bit easier.
The battle system of The World Ends With You isn’t just a fun 2D action RPG. It’s a battle system with incredible depth that constantly teaches you how to play it at advanced levels without actually giving you tutorials or dumps of text to read. It provides flexibility and choice to how the player wants to approach battles, rewarding you for trying new things, keeping everything fresh for as long as you play.
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