REVIEW: ‘The World Ends With You Final Remix’ Offers Fun With Lack-Luster Controls (Switch)

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The World Ends With You

There’s nothing quite like playing a game from 2018 that exclusively relies on touch controls – and that’s not necessarily a compliment. The World Ends With You: Final Remix, which was originally released by Square Enix on Nintendo DS over a decade ago before h.a.n.d. and Nintendo helped bring it to Switch last year, is an action RPG that was inspired by Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and shares many similarities with the Persona franchise, namely its focus on music, Tokyo, and fashion. Although knowledge of its DS origins helps explain the outdated mechanics, it does not make either the gameplay or the story itself any more digestible in our modern era.

You play as Neku, a stereotypical video game protagonist who has an interesting sense of style, always wears headphones and hates other people. Oh, and he’s dead. The premise of The World Ends With You: Final Remix is a weeklong game where players partner up and compete to finish tasks within a certain amount of time. Whichever team survives all seven days gets a second chance at life and can return to the real world.

If your team is unable to win the game or complete the task, however, you are “erased” and permanently killed by the Reapers, the organization in charge of conducting the game and controlling the city. The tasks range from simple things like making it to a specific store across town in 60 minutes to more difficult missions like fighting waves of enemies by equipping pins with various abilities. My favorite pins, for example, allowed me to create ice spikes, slash enemies, or drag objects around depending on how I touched or swiped the screen.

At its heart, the story of The World Ends With You: Final Remix is incredibly unique and its emphasis on second chances and the importance of human connections should make it a memorable and touching experience. Unfortunately, much of the story is bogged down by overused character tropes, which makes both your personal connection to the players and their personalities feel pretty surface level. While the game does try to expand on Neku’s character, allowing him to grow as he realizes that having friends isn’t that bad after all, the writing makes his growth feel less like actual growth and more like a couple of out of character sentences until the last hour or so of the game.

That said, The World Ends With You: Final Remix does do a fantastic job at making you care about what happens to the players because of just how many times the Reapers manage to unfairly trick and deceive them. Even though I found that by the end of the game I didn’t particularly care about Neku as a character, I was rooting so hard for him and his team because of how sick I was of the Reapers treating him so terribly – it wasn’t that I necessarily loved the good guys, but I disliked the bad guys so much that it motivated me to keep playing against them.

However, while parts of the story and some of the characters were a little lackluster for me, I was intrigued enough to want to finish the game and see how the competition turned out. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself makes it frustrating to progress through the story, no matter how invested you are in what’s happening. Sure, touch-only mechanics are something Nintendo fans had to come to terms with during the height of the original DS, but swiping furiously with one hand as I tried to hold my awkwardly-sized Switch in the other did not make gameplay particularly easy.

On top of that, I frequently had issues with the game not registering that I was slashing at the screen at all, causing me to stand still and get hit by enemies instead of attacking during combat. When this happened, it wasn’t even possible to get Neku out of the line of fire because movement in the game is entirely controlled by touch as well, meaning that if attacks weren’t registering, the movement wasn’t either. As a result of the faulty touch controls, there were multiple times that I would try to get Neku to dodge an incoming attack but the game would misread my actions, causing him to stand there fighting the air until I got hit by an enemy anyway, making the combat experience incredibly draining, especially when there were a lot of fights in a row.

Moreover, the pins you use in combat and the clothes you can wear to boost your stats have an additional layer of complexity that you are supposed to pay close attention to before every fight. Just like in real life, each pin and piece of clothing is made by a specific brand. However, these brands aren’t just for appearances in The World Ends With You: Final Remix. In every area that you can explore, popular brands change, which you can check from the pause menu. Wearing the most popular brand will strengthen your attack power in battle while wearing the least popular brand will cut your attack in half.

The World Ends With You

While I think this is an interesting mechanic, in theory, having to check which brands are popular in every area becomes exhausting fast and I found myself not checking at all the longer I played the game. Nevertheless, I was still able to easily overpower every enemy even when wearing weak brands, which made me question how strong or important the mechanic really was if I was able to push through the whole game without touching it after the first three or four hours.

Although the clothes are primarily for use in combat, if you end up like me and get tired of checking what’s popular before each fight, it doesn’t mean the clothes are necessarily useless. In fact, there are many different stores that sell clothes, music, and other collectible items throughout the game, making it a fun challenge for anyone who enjoys sinking hours and hours into unlocking as much as possible. Every item you buy has a functional use as well, even if it’s not for story progression or combat. For example, I had a ton of fun buying music from stores and messing around with the different tracks in the pause menu when I wanted to take a break from combat.

In general, the music in The World Ends With You: Final Remix is one of the best aspects of the game, offering dozens of catchy rap and electronic tunes. Unfortunately, however, the in-game music often gets distracting when you’re traveling from place to place or fighting enemies because of how often certain songs are repeated and how abruptly changes between tracks happen, although this definitely does not lessen the fun and value of buying music on your own for experimentation. Be warned, however, and realize that committing to unlocking the various songs or other collectibles means sitting through hundreds of fights to grind for money since buying from stores is your only option for acquiring these items.

Overall, The World Ends With You: Final Remix offers some fun story beats, unique gameplay mechanics, and a brilliant aesthetic that never quite live up to their potential. There were many times that I would become engrossed in the story, only to be pulled out of my immersion by a cheesy, stereotypical line or characterization for Neku and his friends that felt completely random or too much like an overdone anime trope and the touch-only controls are by far this game’s biggest pitfall.

Having to drag characters around your Nintendo DS screen with a stylus in 2008 was annoying enough at times – having to drag your finger around the much larger Switch screen a decade later is even more difficult, especially when there’s a high chance your actions won’t register with the game anyway.

The game’s not a total bust, however. The well-written parts of the story sucked me in for hours and, when the touch controls worked, the pin mechanics and combat system were very fun to experiment with and like nothing I had played before in a video game. Paying $60 for the Switch version is not exactly something I would recommend, but if you can find it on DS for a lower price, experiencing the raw uniqueness of this game’s story, art, and music is definitely worth it – especially if the stylus makes gameplay easier and faster.

The World Ends With You Final Remix
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL; DR

Overall, The World Ends With You: Final Remix offers some fun story beats, unique gameplay mechanics, and a brilliant aesthetic that never quite live up to their potential. There were many times that I would become engrossed in the story, only to be pulled out of my immersion by a cheesy, stereotypical line or characterization for Neku and his friends that felt completely random or too much like an overdone anime trope and the touch-only controls are by far this game’s biggest pitfall.