One the surface, there was a lot not to like about this game, conceptually. Set in Shibuya, a shopping district in Tokyo and fashion hub, this RPG was centered around clothes and shopping. The typical medieval or futuristic armor and weaponry was swapped out for clothing and pins. This, along with a modern setting, made the game seem like something I wouldn’t enjoy. Thankfully, I’m smart enough to not listen to myself on occasion.
Players controlled Neku Sakuraba, a freshly dead introverted emo teenager. His character was a little annoying and stereotypical. While being dead, he’s forced to compete in a game taking place across Shibuya that the living are oblivious to. Neku doesn’t remember dying, as his entry fee to compete was his memories. Winning will allow him to live again. To play, Neku needs a partner. Luckily, a girl name Shiki Misaki joins him. She gave up her body as an entrance, and instead looks like her best friend.
The story is actually one of the least nonsensical ones I’ve played from a Japanese developer in a long time. Actually, I would dare say it made sense at some points. Typical Japanese troupes are still abound, but nothing near the level of convolution as say, Metal Gear Solid or Kingdom Hearts. Regardless, the story was one of the weaker aspects overall. The gameplay showcased here was astounding.
The battle system here is one of the best uses of the Nintendo DS. Neku would be on the bottom screen, while his partner occupied the top. Using the touch screen, players controlled Neku with different gestures like slicing, tapping, etc. to activate different pins. Pins were equipped outside battle, giving Neku different attacks or abilities in battle. Simultaneously on the top screen, Shiki (or Joshua or Beat) would fight using inputs from the d-pad. I’ve read about this design in previews and reviews, but was never able to wrap my head around it until I played it.
Buying clothing and equipping trending fashions is the other major component of the game. Again, nothing about this seemed appealing to me on the outset. Quickly I became obsessed with the mechanic. Learning what was trending to equip the appropriate fashion for perks in battle was a very well thought out system. It added a layer of depth keeping me engaged. Games always run the risk of becoming bland. This one comes on where near.
The story will take the standard 15 hours to complete, but with leveling up, maxing out pins, collecting all the fashions, and more, the game could easily last 50 hours or longer (it did for me). The original game is only available on NDS, with a neutered version on IOS (iPhones). I say neutered because the lack of the second screen forced them to change the battle setup.
This game was a complete surprise coming from Square. By the time it was released, the company was well known for rehashing old concepts and beating dead horses (they still are – Final Fantasy XIII-3). With this, nearly all of it was fresh and inventive, reminiscent of the company’s glory days. Strangely, but perhaps for the better, there’s been no sequel released or announced. Hopefully we’ll see a re-release on the 3DS, preserving the game. Who am I kidding? It’s Square. We’ll get a hyper HD remix + tactics final launch version.
Avoided using the stupid abbreviation.