Music Mondays makes some noise with The World Ends With You.
The World Ends With You
Publisher: Square Enix
When Robert and I started Music Mondays over a year ago we sat down and brainstormed a huge list of things that we wanted to cover. We compiled dozens of games, composers, and series, including quite a few subjects about which we were both passionate. For the most part, we have avoided stepping on each other’s toes. Sure, he got to Bayonetta before I did, while I snagged Nobuo Uematsu, but I always knew it would come down to this. Someone would have to bite the bullet and write about The World Ends With You.
Jupiter and Square Enix’s DS JRPG is exceptional in a number of ways, so it is no surprise that its soundtrack is so impressive. However, it’s not the quality of the work–although it is very good–that makes it such a daunting task to investigate. The challenge is the sheer volume of noteworthy tracks to highlight. The World Ends With You topped the Music Mondays setlist from the very beginning, but even with all that time to think I find it difficult to narrow down the selection of essential listens.
The three embedded songs are my best attempt to sell the soundtrack to newcomers, but there are plenty of other worthy pieces. The title screen tune “It’s So Wonderful” is a dark and catchy thing that puts the player on guard right out of the gate. The overworld theme “Underground” manages an uncanny balance of being both haunting and upbeat. Then there are the battle tracks! “Make or Break,” “Long Dream,” and “Give Me All Your Love” are all incredibly effective, despite being quite unorthodox. Even the music in the game’s shops is catchy.
We could spend all day gushing over how great the TWEWY OST is, but I think this is the perfect opportunity to address why it is so special. The game is set in the Shibuya shopping district of Tokyo, Japan. This gives it a unique flavor that sets it apart from nearly every other video game, whether RPG or otherwise. These cultural influences inform the story and character designs of the work, but the impact is perhaps most potent in Takeharu Ishimoto’s score. In fact, the game is so unabashedly Japanese that it is a small miracle it was localized at all.
The western version of the game is different in a number of ways though. In addition to your usual translation nuances and minor artwork tweaks, the soundtrack was both subtracted from and added to on its way out of Japan. Whole tracks, like “Déjà Vu” and “The One Star,” were created for English speakers, so you will need to pick up the Subarashiki Konosekai + The World Ends With You – EP if you want to add these cuts to your collection. Then there are the songs such as “Lullaby For You” and “Owari-Hajimari,” which were re-recorded with all new vocals for the West.
Had we but world enough, and time, we could spend a few more paragraphs analyzing the sprawling and energetic soundscape of one of this generation’s best original role-playing games. We could compare the English and Japanese versions of songs like “Hybrid” and “Someday,” or maybe lament the loss of Japan-only pieces like “Satisfy.” Unfortunately, we only have a few brief moments to consider the most important question of all: What the hell is “Twister” about?
There are at least seven distinct arrangements of “Twister,” the main theme of The World Ends with You. This includes the iOS port -Solo Remix- and a mix from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Despite having heard over half a dozen iterations of the same lyrics, I still can’t figure out what it’s trying to say. Lines like “Collect and select/Show me your best set” clearly refer to the in-game pin collecting mechanic, that is obvious. “Morning rays, hairspray queens/Get on their way to their nests, the West” seems to be a reference to the fashion culture of Shibuya, which is appropriate enough. Then we reach the stanza that goes, “Psycho cane/You’re so keen/I need more candy canes.”
Who needs candy canes? What are they planning to do with them? Why? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.
Shibuya Needs Candy Canes Badly, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
When is the last time you played a game that you can say was truly unique? It might seem a bit a silly to ask if your game has an identity, but really ask yourself when the last time you played a game that really felt original. For me there’s no debate. The World Ends With You might not only be the most original game I’ve played recently, but maybe the most original I’ve ever picked up. Everything from the combat, the visuals, and even the story register as a unique experience that every DS owner should enjoy.
|PROS||Unique combat, visuals, story|
|CONS||Story can be confusing, overly complicated leveling|
|WTF?!||”The pudding… of their DOOM!”|
Like all RPGs the main focus of The World Ends With You (TWEWY) should be on the story which has its hits and misses. Without getting into spoilers, the story focuses on Neku Sakuraba who wakes up to find himself sitting in the middle of Shibuya Crossing without any memories (okay, maybe that part isn’t wholly unique). With a ticking clock on his hand he learns he’s been entered into the deadly “Reaper Game”, and if he doesn’t complete the tasks assigned to him in the allotted time, he’ll be erased. Early on this story can be confusing, and rightfully so as the story really takes time to unwind and reveal itself. Eventually the questions the linger early on are answered, and by the end we’re left with a rather interesting plot weaved around a unique set of characters who grow as the plot thickens.
While unique, the story is your traditional JRPG fare. Our hero is close-minded isolationist who distances himself from others just… because. I guess Japan really thinks moping is an admirable character trait. Actually from just the opening Neku himself comes off as the same whiny jerk that are often hated and despised by those who hate the genre, but honestly the kid gets a lot better. Like much of this game, Neku begins to define himself as his own unique presence, and by the end I find it hard to believe that TWEWY would have worked without a character like him at the helm.
The story might share some similarities to different JRPG games and tropes, but where the game starts to become fully unique is in the visuals. The game has a very urban feeling not all that unlike the Jet Set Radio series. The game’s use of colors, lines, and graffiti help give the game its hipster feeling, but it’s the music that really drives the point home. Where many RPGs fill their battles with generic hard rock or orchestral sweeping scores TWEWY uses original scores of rap, hip hop, and electronic to help really set the mood that your adventure is set around a cultural utopia like Shibuya. The choice in music really sets TWEWY apart and the soundtrack is so strong that I’d recommend giving it a listen to even if you never play the game.
Combat is also wildly different than most Square Enix entries. It isn’t a turn based system but rather an active combat system where you perform different moves based on using special movements on the touch screen. Some powers require you to slice your stylus across the enemies like a sword slash while others require furious tapping so you can shoot out energy balls like a rapid fire machine gun. You’ll do everything from drawing, dragging, and even shouting into your mic to perform a wide array of abilities based on what pins you have equipped at the time. This might sound a bit intimidating as tons of movement on the touchscreen tends to hurt the hands, but the game’s combat is so addictive that you’ll probably never even notice any discomfort. Besides, any seasoned game should be able to fight through the pain, right? We’re on Blistered Thumbs after all!