April 6, 2012 | James Williams
Fans of the 2008 Nintendo DS release The World Ends With You (すばらしきこのせかい It’s a Wonderful World) have reason to rejoice. This long-neglected franchise is finally getting some love in the form of a cameo for its main character, Neku, in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. With sequel rumors flying, I thought that now would be the best opportunity to take a look back at this unconventional title that, despite its stylistic similarities to the Kingdom Hearts games, is definitely its own monster. Even though the game came out quite some time ago, as a study tool, it provides a fresh challenge for intermediate and advanced learners of Japanese.
The World Ends With You tells its story over the course of three weeks, each day revolving around quests that require players to collect information, solve riddles, or slay a specific number of monsters known as Noise (ノイズ). Your characters receive their missions via email, however, meaning that a fairly high level of reading comprehension is necessary for advancement. You could turn to an English strategy guide, but they are somewhat hit or miss; many missions are completely different in the Japanese version, most notably the quizzes. Besides, in a game like The World Ends With You, getting absorbed in the story and the missions is the whole point.
Learning the battle system is also a challenge. By taking full advantage of the Nintendo DS hardware, developer Square Enix has created many unique, engrossing and at times complicated gameplay mechanics, which means that players cannot skip the tutorials and guess their way to success. Reading instructions is mandatory in this game, but there is no voice acting or furigana to act as a guide, and the low-resolution screens make the text so small that looking up unfamiliar kanji by radical is almost impossible. This makes The World Ends With You ideal for intermediate and advanced learners, yet difficult to recommend to beginners. Gamer’s intuition will not get you through the game, but a solid grounding in kanji will.
So why bother importing? There’s tiny text, endless dialogue, no furigana and an English version came out years ago!
Well, The World Ends With You is fun. Once I got the hang of the combat system, the game was incredible to play. I had no problem getting motivated to read the text and dialogue, because there was always more fun around the corner. This is a huge factor when using games as a study tool; the more you enjoy a game for its gameplay, the less you’ll begrudge the effort it takes to work through the language
The World Ends With You also takes place in a modern setting, so there’s a lot less obscure kanji and keigo than in the average Square Enix RPG. Most of the dialogue is conversational and slangy, which is an excellent tool for making the jump from textbook Japanese to Japanese as it is actually used. Plus, the story and the characters were more than enough to hold my interest, since plot twists abound.
That being said, sometimes one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A beginner might want to steer clear of The World Ends With You until they’ve sufficiently leveled up, while a more experienced learner will enjoy the challenge. It helped me gauge the extent to which I could actually read kanji since I couldn’t coast by on furigana, and the unconventional battle system forced me to actually read the tutorials, something I usually blow off. This got me out of my comfort zone, which was a positive challenge that only a game like The World Ends With You can provide.
Hopefully Neku’s cameo in Kingdom Hearts 3D means I won’t have to wait much longer for a sequel!
The World Ends With You (すばらしきこのせかい) was released as “It’s a Wonderful World” in 2008 on the Nintendo DS. In 2012, main character Neku made an appearance in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on the Nintendo 3DS. Later that year, The World Ends With You was rereleased on iOS devices. The app is bilingual, so there is no need to import.