Speaking of sly commentary, even fashion plays an important role in the game. The impossibly trendy Shibuya district isn't just a funky backdrop for the action; it's the heartbeat of the game. As you move from one area to another, so the styles and fashions change. Present yourself accordingly and you get yet another stat boost. Yet even this concept looks positively vanilla when you look at some of the other ways the game uses the DS to continually tweak your statistics. Thanks to the rarely used internal clock, you can earn experience while the DS is switched off, for instance.
Not by a huge amount, and it tails off the longer you leave it, but as a way of encouraging players to keep the game in the slot and turn it on each morning, it's undeniably nifty. Wireless is another way of boosting your stats. Connect with a fellow player and you can swap stuff, just as you'd expect. However, enter Mingle Mode and the game will give you benefits just for being in the vicinity of any Wi-Fi DS owners, regardless of what they're playing. Again, it serves a dual purpose - as an interesting gameplay addition, and as a way of furthering the social theme of the game in the real world. Really, the games-as-art pundits are going to have a field day with this.
And here I am, banging on, and I haven't even had a chance to talk about the ice-cool artwork or the impossibly catchy soundtrack, both of which would be worthy of paragraphs of praise in most reviews. Judged purely as a piece of game design, The World Ends With You is a staggering achievement. It's easily one of the most original and confident games you're likely to see on any current platform - though the fact that it could only ever work on the DS is surely part of the genius.
However, I can't quite bring myself to give it the glowing endorsement of a 9/10 simply because it often feels like the designers were so much in love with their audacious new ideas that they neglected to put down a welcome mat. The game throws a lot of information at you, and then takes its time actually making sense of it. While this works in the context of the story, it makes for a frustrating introductory period made all the more distancing by Neku's irritating petulance. JRPG heroes are almost always selfish whiners to start with, but this surly little brat really isn't any fun to be around and it's easy to grow tired of his monosyllabic sulks long before he reaches the end of his (rather predictable) character arc.
The World Ends With You, then, is the sort of game I desperately hope will leave some scratches on the unyielding grey carapace of modern games design once it's bounced off into inevitable obscurity. It's bold, inspiring and bubbling over with dozens of ideas, any one of which would be cause for celebration in most games, but the over-reliance on a daunting sink-or-swim combat system that will leave many players gasping for breath ultimately counts against it. A truly brilliant game, it's just a shame that it couldn't ease off on the information overload and make that brilliance easier for everyone to appreciate.
8 / 10