Northern Ireland Gaming
game reviews07 Oct 2008 08:41 pm

By Sparky

So far, there’s been a decent number of RPGs on the DS, such as Contact, Final Fantasy III and Phantom Hourglass, but, even though they’re all decent enough games, none have done anything all that new. Then, Square-Enix released this picture to an unsuspecting world.

Looks just a little complicated, doesn’t it?

They decided to scare people even more by saying that you would have to control two separate battles at once, which are in some ways connected, using the touch screen and stylus for one, and the d-pad or face buttons for the other. Being Square-Enix, there was virtually no additional information released before the game came out, but, being Square-Enix, there was very little chance of the game being bad, so I got it anyways.

The plot is interesting, to say the least. It’s set in Shibuya, the setting of Jet Set Radio, Lost in Translation and the third The Fast and the Furious film (which was a bit crap, to be honest), sort of, with real life locations such as Scramble Crossing, the 109 Building and the statue of Hachiko. You are Neku, who wakes up in the middle of Scramble Crossing moments before receiving a mysterious message telling him to go the 109 Building or be erased. He meets Shiki, who forms a pact with him so they can fight together, which leads onto a very well told and surprisingly emotional story, given the shallow setting and continual attempts to relate to young people, mostly the fault of whatever idiots translated it. I don’t really want to discuss the dialogue as it makes me uncomfortable, but you get used to it, and it becomes another one of the game’s strange quirks.

Another is the combat. Trying to control Neku on the bottom screen with the stylus and Shiki on the top screen with the d-pad may sound like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, but you get used to it very quickly, and it works amazingly well. You get to a stage where you aren’t really looking at either screen for more than a second at a time, but you always have complete control over what’s going on. Enemies share health across both screens, and you quickly learn to focus your attacks, and the fights breeze past. You’re graded after each fight, and it’s a bit depressing getting D’s and E’s at first, but once you get into the swing of it, you’ll get A’s and stars all the time, which results in gaining more experience from each fight, with bonuses for things like ridiculously long combos (I had a fight which was just one one hundred and fifteen hit long combo). Every so often, you hit a bit of a difficulty spike and go back to the D’s and E’s, but that just motivates you to do better.

What really stands out in this game is the music. It’s a genuinely fascinating mix of J-pop, dance, electronica and a bit of god-knows-what chucked in for good measure. Each song stuck in my head, and the music will define what you remember of this game, especially the main theme and Calling. On top of that is the game’s general style, as you would expect, given the setting. While it isn’t pushing the DS’s limits back, with 2D background and sprites, the comic book-style cutscenes look brilliant, and the locations are all beautiful.

While the gameplay may not seem as deep and complicated as you would expect from Square-Enix, you begin to see it hides an unexpected degree of complexity, with trends in each area affecting a weapon or item of clothing depending on its brand. Pins, used for combat, can be levelled up and evolved, while many items of clothing have special abilities that you can only find out by speaking to the right person in the right shop. Also, the game may seem a bit short, only about fifteen hours long, there’s still an incredibly strange “Another Day” chapter, set in a parallel universe where the events of the main game didn’t actually happen, and a series of unlockable reports, which flesh out the story and unlock a new chapter to the game if you find them all. Which I still haven’t managed to do.

All in all, it’s equally brilliant, eccentric and startling, especially with the plot twists at the end of the main game. Just so long as you can overlook a character who starts every other sentence with a “yo”.

Nine out of ten.

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