In the city of Shibuya, colorful buildings spar and rise against each other, and traditional ramen chefs butt heads against the newest trends and fashions. Young and old citizens fill the streets, plagued by the "noise" of their private anxieties. But if you're a teenager stuck in the underground version of Shibuya, you're practically invisible: You can read people's thoughts, shape the trends, and run wild through the streets amid a soundtrack of shockingly not-bad J-pop. The only catch is that you're trapped in a deadly game, and you don't even know who's out to kill you.
With The World Ends With You, the team behind the Kingdom Hearts series has created a role-playing game with an edgy, real-world aesthetic. To the usual grind of raising stats and beating bosses, they added a fast-paced style, with collectible pins providing your powers and combat that's executed with quick slashes and stabs of the DS stylus. But the aesthetic would be empty without the engrossing story and sympathetic characters—or if the game didn't so deftly balance the fear of losing everything with the charm of the supporting cast, local legends, and strange recurring landmarks like the infamous "phone booth of love." It's the perfect setting for a story about coming out from under your headphones and connecting with the world.
Beyond the game: The game's title in Japan, It's A Wonderful World, was changed in the States for copyright reasons. The new name ties more poignantly into the script.
Worth playing for: Writing inspirational self-help for teens seems totally tacky, thanks to all the anti-drug and up-with-people films that have become fodder for satire. So it's surprising how well The World Ends With You delivers its messages on finding trust in a ruthless city.
Frustration sets in when: The "tin pin slammer" mini-game—which is like marbles played with superpowered pins—could have been a frustrating obstacle for players who don't have mad stylus skills. Luckily, the game manages to weave it into the plot while offering a way through for the losers.
Final judgment: Addictive gameplay and stylish content make this the perfect handheld complement to your all-night Grand Theft Auto sessions.