Shibuya Hearts I.5 ReMIX
Few games have made as big an impact on me as The World Ends with You. Though ubiquitous with the JRPG genre today, it was the first title to give me a taste of what life is like in modern-day Tokyo, igniting a fascination with any and all games featuring the same setting. Without it, I probably would’ve never played Akiba’s Trip, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, or Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. These titles enveloped me into the cultures and trends of Tokyo, but it was TWEWY that planted that flag first.
After a decade of leading fans on with an iOS port of the original and inclusion of a few characters in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Square Enix is returning to the well once more to give supporters what it’s calling “the definitive version of a modern RPG classic.” The World Ends with You: Final Remix brings everything from the prior versions to Switch, along with a new chapter, co-op, HD artwork, and an amazing remixed soundtrack. The only thing it’s missing is a decent way to play it.
The World Ends with You: Final Remix (Switch)
Developer: h.a.n.d., Square Enix
Released: October 12, 2018 (WW), September 27, 2018 (Japan)
When The World Ends with You hit North America more than a decade ago, it was electrical. While Nintendo and many other developers were trying to broaden gaming’s appeal with their big, blue ocean, Picross-E developer Jupiter created something specifically for fans who enjoyed a challenge. TWEWY was not designed to be relaxing or a game you could unwind in. It required your full attention at all times, the ability to understand an opaque combat system, and a genuine love for Japanese teen culture. Those who stuck with it were rewarded with a Shibuya full of color and flair and the very best soundtrack on the Nintendo DS. The art, the story, the music, the combat; they all played an equal role in making The World Ends with You a masterpiece.
Final Remix keeps most of the experience intact. You’re still playing as Neku Sakuraba, an ornery, street-art-loving teenager who’s forced to play the Reapers’ Game with three partners over the course of three weeks. Win and he gets a second chance at life. Lose and he’s erased forever. Neku, Shiki, Beat, Rhyme, Mr. H, Joshua, and the rest of the cast look absolutely resplendent in high definition as do the carefully crafted backgrounds that give Shibuya its one-of-a-kind look. The soundtrack still slaps and players are able to choose between the original music or remixed tracks, some of which are pretty damn creative.
If you haven’t played The World Ends with You, the narrative is spread out over the course of 21 days. Each day, Neku and whomever he’s teamed up with will receive an assignment from the master of the aforementioned Reapers’ Game. The complexity of these tasks varies and oftentimes the story will have you completely ignoring the challenge of the day in favor of pursuing an alternate goal. Some assignments only require you to visit a certain location in Shibuya though most revolve around fighting the Noise and solving light adventure-game-style puzzles.
There are no random battles in Final Remix. Players are required to first mentally scan the area, giving them a look at the inner thoughts of passersby and the various symbols for the Noise they can fight. In theory, the bigger the symbol, the heavier the fight. Encounters aren’t initiated until selected, letting players choose which battles they’ll pursue as well as how many fights in a row they can handle. Neku’s attacks revolve entirely around the pins you collect throughout the game. Either picked up during the story or purchased from one of the dozen or so retailers around Shibuya, each pin will have a specific input associated with it you need to perform to activate its power. One of the first pins you receive lets you set enemies on fire simply by holding down on the screen. Most pin actions are simple, and while you can have up to six pins equipped at once, you can’t have two pins that share the exact same input.
The key to success in battle is figuring out which pins work best together in which situations. Some let you pick up objects on the field and throw them at enemies, but you’ll often come across a battlefield with nothing to pick up. Then there are the brands to consider. Each pin, as well as the all the clothing you can equip, come from a certain brand. If the label you’re brandishing is one of the three most popular in the area of Shibuya you’re fighting in, you get a boost in combat. Conversely, if you’re using pins from the least popular brand, your attack power is cut in half.
It can be annoying to continuously check which brands are in style with every area you visit, but in practice, players have a lot more control over the situation than initially implied. Continued use of the same pins will bolster their popularity, and several of the tasks you’re asked to perform to advance the story will require you to do just that. I have a set of Jupiter of the Monkey pins that are timed so perfectly I can continuously attack the Noise without worrying about cooldown. This collection got me through approximately 80% of the game, brand popularity be damned.
The more you fight, the more you can level up pins until they’re considered mastered or they evolve into a more powerful version. While I never once felt I needed to grind to advance in the story, I did spend a lot of time farming for supplies for those high-end pins. Where that might be a slightly unappealing route with the original game because of how combat is handled, it’s absolutely no big deal here because the experience has been conventionalized to a point where it barely requires any skill at all.
On Nintendo DS, The World Ends with You presents players with an intricate control scheme that takes time to learn and master. You control Neku on the bottom screen with the stylus, unleashing his pin attacks with various gestures. On the top screen, the partner character attacks at the same time using specific inputs on the directional pad. It’s complicated — I make no bones about that — but also so damn rewarding.
When the game was ported to iOS in 2012, the set-up changed. That version is entirely touch controlled, which makes sense for a tablet or phone with just one screen. Neku moves and attacks in basically the same way as before, but partners now act as pins and only activate when you perform their specified action. While Square Enix could have given us a third control set-up — one that takes advantage of everything the Switch has to offer in the same way the original did on the DS — Final Remix rests on the laurels of the mobile port, creating a situation where there is really only one good way to play the game.
Well, “good” is a strong word. Let’s go with adequate instead. Playing in handheld mode, which uses the mobile version’s touch controls whole hog, is a perfectly adequate way to experience the game. It’s not without flaws — a finger doesn’t have the same pinpoint accuracy as a stylus — and it’s not exactly what I’d call engaging, but it’s serviceable. Some pins are less reliable, like those requiring me to draw a circle in an open space or hold my finger to the screen when I’m bombarded with Noise, but I didn’t have any issues defeating enemies and bosses alike on any of the available difficulty levels.
The touchscreen interface carries over in tabletop mode or on a television screen with the pointer controls of a single Joy-Con taking the place of my index finger. This is the first Switch game I’ve experienced using this control method and I’m impressed with how well it can recreate the feeling of playing with the Wii remote. In several ways, this is a far more accurate way to play. Outside of battle, Neku can be controlled with the analog stick. When I am engaging Noise, his movement is still pointer controlled, but the buttons I use to control him and his attacks are separate. The Joy-Con also makes some of those less dependable pins more feasible to use in action with the precision of the reticule.
For as precise as the pointer controls are, they don’t make the game any more gratifying. I played the entirety of Shiki’s storyline with my Switch hooked up to my television and I can say, without a doubt, it was the dullest experience I’ve had on the console. The mobile version already jettisoned the elegant convolution of the DS original, turning the game into something a five-year-old could complete if they got their hands on their parent’s iPad. Pointer controls simplify the experience even more. For the entirety of Shiki’s arc, I was a zombie, sitting on my couch, barely wiggling my wrist as I slashed, shot, and set fire to every Noise and Reaper that stood in my way. My brain turned completely off as no critical thinking is required to win. I just decimated my enemies and occasionally found myself doing my best Jack Donaghy “This is boring” impression. Continuing the adventure in handheld mode was the only thing that made the rest of the experience palatable.
I hate describing this game as simply “palatable” because of my absolute love of the original, but I did really didn’t enjoy this second trek through the streets of Shibuya. I kept with it not just because I had to for the review but because the promise of new story content was too sweet to pass up.
I will tell you right now you should probably temper your expectations of what the New Day scenario is. It’s probably not going to answer most of your questions, certainly didn’t answer any of mine, and the role of the three-hour, three-chapter addenda is made obvious once you beat the final, underwhelming boss. New Day transports Neku and Beat back to the Reapers’ Game for one last challenge: get out of Shibuya. The task is easier said than done as this Shibuya is different than before. Living up to the name of the game, this version of the city has been remixed. Street locations have been moved around and the Noise you face now have different battle modifiers that attempt to make the game more difficult. When fighting frogs, these matches are a nightmare, but I drop the hammer on every other enemy pretty easily with the pins I picked up in the final days of the main campaign.
While some characters from the original storyline reappear, the chief addition to the cast for this episode is Coco, the annoying little Reaper introduced in the mobile ports. Her “lols” and “jfcs” wear thin pretty quickly and her role in the New Day scenario can be easily deduced. While it does add a decent amount of content to the final product, something to be completed in tandem with the returning Another Day scenario and all of the unlockable challenges, its inclusion isn’t substantial enough to recommend this version of the game over the others.
My opinion of The World Ends with You: Final Remix is one of indifference. All the consideration that went into making the original a compound piece of craftsmanship, inseparable from the device on which you played it, is absent. In its place is a more user-friendly experience, and while I’m not against taking a traditionally difficult game and making it more accessible — something Square Enix already did when it ported the title to mobile devices — Final Remix‘s failure to utilize the extent of the Switch hardware shows a lack of understanding as to why so many people consider the Nintendo DS original to be the masterpiece it is.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]