By Josh Speer / July 8th, 2020
It’s a rare occurrence for me to still be profoundly affected by a video game a decade later. Generally the names of games which affected me thus start with Mario or Mega Man. Series that I love regardless of occasional weak links. But there’s one game that came out of nowhere and still affects me to this day. That game was developed and published by SQUARE ENIX, and it’s called The World Ends With You, or TWEWY for short. It came out a little more than a decade ago, and it took my breath away. The sheer creativity and breadth of bold ideas on display were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It demanded complete investment in its complex systems and fascinating world. So of course after it came out, I expected a sequel to capitalize on its success. And I waited and waited. Sure, a mobile port came out a few years after the original release, but that mostly offered more of the same. Then SQUARE ENIX teased a new reveal, which turned out to be another port, admittedly for a system I love. Now that a TWEWY anime has been announced, I can’t help but ponder the arc of this series. It should have been a triumphant one, and instead feels utterly tragic to me.
Before I go much further, let me clarify one thing. I don’t hate SQUARE ENIX. I may not play every game they put out, but there’s plenty I’ve enjoyed. Take recent games like Theatrhythm, Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler, for example. SE has proven more than once they’re capable of greatness. But in my experience, their experimental titles are often best. I’m not a fan of how often SE tends to rest on their laurels, pushing reiterated re-releases or HD remasters. For a company with so many amazing series under their belt, you might expect they’d be willing to take a chance more often. But all too often, they seem more than content to play it safe instead. Which isn’t to say all their experiments are successful (looking at you, FINAL FANTASY VII Remake), cause they aren’t. But I’d rather take a chance on something new than keep paying for the same experience again. And I say that last bit as a fan of Mega Man.
See, the reason I’m being critical of SQUARE ENIX is I really feel they missed their chance with TWEWY. Timing matters, and letting a game go a decade without an actual sequel effectively dries up any expectations. Furthermore, when they tease that a sequel might happen depending on sales, they’re putting the onus of responsibility on the fans. And I don’t think that’s right. Square has plenty of proof that TWEWY was a success. Perhaps not a huge financial one, but certainly a critical success. And when you consider they keep bringing us less commercially successful entries, such as both original Tokyo RPG Factory titles, it seems odd to not give the same treatment to TWEWY. Knowing that, I just cannot understand why a sequel still hasn’t happened. Granted, there’s been little bits of new content in each port of The World Ends With You, but that’s still not a sequel. It’s especially infuriating given that characters from the game, such as protagonist Neku, have showed up in series like KINGDOM HEARTS. So it’s not as though SQUARE ENIX has forgotten about it.
But it’s one thing to complain about no sequel to TWEWY. Maybe I should give some insight why I feel we need it so badly. For one thing, the plot of TWEWY profoundly touched those who played it. I could resonate with a main character who feels invisible to the world, and who at times disdains it. But following that journey, with all the unexpected twists and turns, fighting to become a better person, was extremely satisfying. Neku starts a loner and becomes a team player. He finds his humanity amidst truly harrowing and mind bending circumstances. Throw in a really great supporting cast and sinister yet complex villains, and you have one hell of a story. But it’s not just that. TWEWY also has a really dynamic and deep combat system. Using the various pins to do crazy attacks, mixing and matching for new strategies, was a lot of fun. Sure, it took time to master, and it strained my hands at times, but I kept playing. Add in all the numerous side systems, such as eating food for stat boosts, wearing clothes to acquire benefits based on style, hell even the mini game, and it became a world I felt like I was a part of. Then you factor in how not playing the game rewards you with experience, and you start to realize this is a completely unique experience. Toss in emotional and catchy music and stylish yet tremendous art, and you have a game that should have been the first of a dynasty. Instead, to this day fans are still waiting for a true successor.
Now you could certainly make an argument that the experience was uniquely suited to the DS, and that it’s hard to bring it to other consoles. And that would be fair, except that the first port TWEWY got was mobile, and fans found it worked pretty well with touch controls there. Plus, given how bold and experimental the original game’s controls are, it’s not beyond reason to expect a potential sequel would have totally different controls suited to future consoles. Though smaller publishers could blame a lack of a sequel on budgetary reasons, SQUARE ENIX isn’t some small indie studio. If they really wanted to, they could invest some of the money they put into series like FINAL FANTASY and DRAGON QUEST into TWEWY. The only conclusion I can come to is that it’s a lack of will. Perhaps SQUARE ENIX feels it’s not worth the effort to make a sequel to this amazing game, fans be damned. Or maybe it’s not profitable enough. But I would counter that by saying that if it’s not worth the effort, why bother porting the game twice in the course of a decade to widely available systems? Someone at SE wants to keep the series alive, perhaps even Tetsuya Nomura himself.
All I know is that there’s a passionate fanbase behind TWEWY, and they’ve been waiting patiently for years. And while that fanbase will be there regardless of future moves for the series, I feel SQUARE ENIX truly squandered this game’s chance at greatness. By waiting years and years, it will forever be relegated as a curiosity, when it could have been a real game dynasty. Which is truly a shame. The World Ends With You has been with me ever since I played it on my DS. Amazing as that story was, there’s many loose threads dying to be sewn together into a vast tapestry. But ultimately, the world of this game will only end if SQUARE ENIX decides to kill it. I just hope, unlikely as this may be, that we haven’t seen the last from this incredible game universe. I’m ready to suffer like a KINGDOM HEARTS fan, waiting years for a new entry. Just so long as TWEWY finally gets the sequel it deserves.
Author’s Note: Many thanks to Brandon Rose for the awesome featured image!
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