A cult classic from the DS is coming to Nintendo’s modern handheld this week. The World Ends With You, this version dubbed the “final remix,” is stylish, eccentric, and weird, but packed a lot of heart beneath its odd battle system and death-game atmosphere.
While the final remix might not be the most ideal version of The World Ends With You, it’s still that same odd journey at its core. If you’re looking for a way to experience it for the first or thirtieth time, you could do worse. In some ways, Final Remix is an even smoother entry point for newcomers, so if you don’t have a DS lying around or just want something new on your Switch, Final Remix is a solid replication of the original on a device with only half the screens.
The World Ends With You starts with an amnesiac teenager named Neku waking up in the middle of a fictional Scramble Crossing in Shibuya. After an ominous message on his cell phone appears, alongside a tattoo-like timer on his hand, Neku is beset by violent creatures called Noise. The only way for him to complete missions, fight the Noise, and survive to discover what sort of game he’s been dropped into is to bond with his spur-of-the-moment partner, Shiki. Seeing as Neku is a bit of a headphones-clad, drown-out-the-noise introvert with a strong distaste for any level of intimacy or dependence, it takes a while to form that bond.
Each in-game day brings a new mission, and along with it, a host of new Noise and challenges. While the main quest can often be solved with dialogue and navigation (and later on the imprinting of memes into people’s hearts), the hosts and actors within the “Reaper’s Game” will establish walls. Clearing these can require answering trivia questions or holding a certain kind of pin, but it always circles back to clearing away the Noise in battle.
The battle system was a big part of what made The World Ends With You stand out in 2007, and 11 years later, it can still seem complex at first blush. The original game had you manage both partners, one on each screen of the Nintendo DS. Neku was operated by the bottom touch screen, where you would load him out with pins that activated different “psychs.” Some manipulate the battlefield, creating earthquakes or sending nearby cars and signs flying at the angry Noise. Others were simpler, like tapping to fire energy bullets or slashing to make Neku swing his arm like a sword. On the top screen, you would input commands using the directional pad to execute your partner’s combo strings. An orb of energy called the puck would pass back and forth throughout combat, and whoever had the puck would have their abilities amplified. The more you passed the puck and the faster it went, the stronger you would get during battle. Add in an extra layer of memorizing certain card combinations to store up fusion stars for ultimate attacks, and you had a battle system that basically split your brain in two.
When I first played The World Ends With You in ‘07, that system was a huge stumbling block. Having both partners in play meant I was accountable for each; two potential sources of damage output, but two sources of input for enemies to slash away at your single shared health bar. Several of the early boss fights push you to master coordination between your two fighters. A bout with a bat in a darkened concert arena forces you to clear away the Noise around the stage lights with your upper-screen partner, then attack the illuminated bat with Neku on the bottom screen. It was tough, but it grew on you, and even by the end of the first arc of the game, I felt I had reached some state of nirvana. It was a system that made full, bold use of the DS’ two screens.
In the years since, The World Ends With You has been ported to mobile devices, systems without the signature dual screens. The iOS and Android versions of the game had to adopt a single-screen approach, and that is the same direction the Switch version skews, albeit with a few twists to liven things up a bit.
Your partner in Final Remix is, essentially, an extra pin. In the first arc with Shiki, this means tapping on an enemy to call her in, and watching her do a few attacks in succession. They can’t take damage when called in, and there isn’t a puck either; instead, you build up sync percentage by alternating attacks between Neku and his partner, eventually building up enough for a fusion attack.
That difference will be a sticking point for the diehard fans of this game, but honestly, it all pans out fine. Final Remix doesn’t have that same impenetrable luster, but it still feels rewarding to chain together a series of swipes, taps and general finger-spasms into a cohesive combo, capping it off with one big fusion attack. Some parts of the game can play out a little odd due to the shift to a single battlefield — the bat battle, for instance, requires you to call in your partner and execute a combo that ends in an uppercut, which will whisk them away to the upper area where you can then clear out the lights — but every memorable fight and boss is still intact and true to its original form in some way.
In handheld mode, you’re forced to use touch controls, which still have a good response and detection of different styles of swiping. I was able to easily use “slash enemies” or “tap empty space” alongside “swipe object” and “slash across Neku” pins, and it could tell the difference. There is also a Joy-Con mode, where you can use a single Joy-Con similar to a Wiimote, moving a cursor around and inputting the attacks that way. While touch controls are closer to my motor memory for this game, I was surprised by how quickly I could adjust to using the Joy-Con.
Through those Joy-Con controls, the Switch version also offers a surprisingly refreshing and altogether more interesting mode of playing through the game: co-op. Instead of your partner being relegated to pin duty, a second player with a second Joy-Con can command them, using a small assortment of base pins to do different moves. This way of playing is not only intuitive and easy to pick up, but it adds a new layer to the game. Now, you have to coordinate your pin assaults with your roommate, significant other, or random stranger on the plane sitting next to you. Instead of splitting your brain in twain, you’re now coordinating with someone else, only getting a good cross combo if you can figure out how to make your pin attacks work in unison. It’s a fun way to replay The World Ends With You, and even feels a bit more thematic to the game’s message.
Though it would be nice to have some sort of “classic control scheme” mode, The World Ends With You survives its jump to a single screen with all its charm intact. Neku’s journey through the Reaper’s Game still holds up, and the updated visuals and soundtrack give even more life to the fictional version of Shibuya. Though it might seem a bit novel, the co-op mode is a fun way to play an old favorite, and a great way to get some friends involved.
The DS version still stands out for all its quirks and oddities, and I even went back to see how I felt about it after playing the Switch version (it’s still good). But if you’re looking for a way to play The World Ends With You, maybe even for the first time, or you’re aching for a new twist on your favorite gem, Final Remix is as good a port as you can make without strapping a second screen to the Switch.
The World Ends With You: Final Remix was reviewed using a final “retail” Nintendo Switch download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.