Update: Yahtzee has a ZP on it here.

I’ve been playing The World Ends With You after a good friend recommended it, and I must say, I’m impressed. I haven’t finished it yet, but the story so far is captivating and the battles make me reminisce of Star Ocean: The Second Story and Xenogears.

 The game corrects a lot of the things that people perceive as flaws in JRPGs, namely:

Random battles – You fight when you want to fight. If you just want to move the story along, or go shopping, you can do so without worrying about random battles.

Random battles, part deux – If you want to level, you don’t have to wander around aimlessly until wandering monsters run into you. You can seek out all the battles you want, in the numbers you want, and pretty much against the monsters you want, as long as you can keep tabs on what monsters each symbol represents.

Levelling – Levelling your character is pretty fast, but levelling up the pins you use in combat is insanely fast. You can level a pin from to max in relatively few battles, or in roughly ten minutes if you have a friend with whom you can mingle.

Levelling, part deux – The addition of the food system allows you to customise the growth of your character. While still combat-based, it is also limited by real time, meaning that you’ll want to extend your playing time over a few days to make the most of this aspect of levelling. At the same time, this is where your character’s growth truly comes from. Gaining levels increases your HP, eating increases all of your stats, depending on the food you eat.

RPGs as a solitary pastime – I’ve been saying it for years, the next big thing in RPGs, console or PC, is the ability to play with others. If you can remember playing Secret of Mana on the SNES, you know what I’m talking about. While TWEWY doesn’t let you play with your friends in the sense that SoM did, it does have a multiplayer minigame, a trade mode of sorts, and the trading process gives you experience to level your pins to boot. In fact, I’ve already met a couple of people at work whom I might not have talked to otherwise, were it not for the fact that I saw them with their DS’s during a break and heard the distinctive soundtrack of the game coming from their general direction. Which leads me to

Music – Another thing I’ve been saying for years, there’s opportunities for game developers to get together with musicians big and small to get some cross-pollination going. Square has been doing it for years, and so has Hollywood. And I’m not necessarily talking big name artists here. There’s a lot of budding musicians with lots of promise who could probably get their big break by having their music exposed to the masses through video games.

Combat – With games like Mass Effect blurring the lines between the RPG and other genres, I think it’s great to see a much less ambitious project doing such a great job of turning RPG combat upside down. I haven’t been this engrossed in fighting pixels since the days of, let’s say, Star Ocean: Second Story? Notice I said pixels. If we were talking polygons I would have said Valkyrie Profile 2. Although Valkyrie Profile was 2D, now that I recall.

Levelling, part trois – Not only do you gain experience for your pins through combat and mingling with friends, your pins also grow depending on how long it’s been since you last played the game. Also, pins not only increase in level, they have a chance of evolving into other pins, depending on the type of experience (combat, mingle, shutdown) they have acquired. To top it all off, the game keeps track of this with a colour-coded experience bar.

Combat, part deux – The amount of experience you gain in combat is static, depending on the monsters you fight, but there are ways of getting more experience during combat, and the amount of experience your pins gain is affected by your performance in combat – Time taken, damage received, highest combo sequence, whether you control your partner or have it on auto… There are a number of variables which affect how well you are rewarded for battles.

Difficulty – The game has several difficulty settings, your partner has several settings, and you can increase or decrease your level – increasing or reducing your HP total – all of which amount to a highly customisable experience.

Scope – While the game might seem a little short, it does have some amount of replay value, but best of all, in my opinion, it proves that it is possible to create a good game on a tighter budget for a handheld console as a prototype for a larger budget next-gen console game. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a TWEWY game for a home console within the next 2-3 years.

If you haven’t tried the game yet, I highly recommend it. If RPGs are your cup of tea, or if you’re looking for a different kind of gaming experience, it might even be worth forking over the dough for a DS if you don’t already own one.