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The Player 

by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & The World Ends With You & r & Rated Teen; Nintendo DS & r & 4 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hings are complicated. Like eating food. Food needs to be digested, which takes time and activity. And only so much food can be consumed daily. But once it's been digested it makes you stronger, more potent. And stickers. They don't need to be digested, but once collected and stuck-on they also make you stronger. Don't forget pins -- the little round buttons that kids attach to their coats, bags. They're the source of all secret powers, the means to battle enemies, win the Game. And of course shopping is a vastly intricate system in which shopkeepers pass along the secrets of the clothes they sell and certain brands work better in certain neighborhoods.





I told you things are complicated.





Figuring out the Game is part of the fun. Most role-playing games start with the equivalent of a black screen and the words "Wake up..." The World Ends With You is a wake-up. The Nintendo DS has lacked an in-depth experiment with its unique technology. Aside from the mini games in Super Mario 64 DS and a few minor titles (Kirby: Canvas Curse, Yoshi Touch & amp; Go), the DS's touch/dual-screen potential has gone underutilized. Wireless multiplayer is nice, sure, but I want something new.





The World Ends With You is a real-time combat RPG with two different characters to control, one on the top screen, the other on the bottom. It's a system that takes some getting used to, and it's been integrated into a similarly unusual gameworld. Set in the Shibuya district of Tokyo -- a melting pot of young weirdos -- the game captures a Serial Experiments Lain vibe as it sends its off-kilter hero, Neku, wrapped in a face-obscuring hoodie and ensconced in headphones, into an alternate reality. Suddenly he's playing the Game: fighting demons in a contemporary, anxious society. Like wildstyle Shinto spirits, animals enhanced with flourishes of graffiti infect the world as invisible predators called the Noise.





Neku's partner fights the same demons on the top screen, controlled by the computer and the thumb of the hand clutching the DS. The result is two simultaneous, active battles: one directly controlled by the touch-screen and one indirectly controlled by the buttons. It has the feel of a genuine team effort, passing information to a semi-autonomous assistant, trying to make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. The unique style of combat and the game's skewed style twist The World Ends With You's solid RPG backbone into something complex and fascinating.





THE GOOD: From soundtrack to story to battle system, The World Ends With You seems intent on not doing what other games have already done. Fans of RPGs will either find this to be excitingly original or frustratingly quirky. Either way, it's a sly game that rewards patience with surprise.





THE BAD: I can't bond with two unmoving pictures talking to each other in boxes of text, accompanied by occasional changes of expression. It feels like a subtitled puppet show. In other games, Square Enix has shown a mastery of pre-rendered or in-game cutscenes, so it's a hard slog through this game's flat style of storytelling.





THE BOTTOM LINE: A stylized action RPG about adolescent angst that may well mark a new beginning for role-playing on the DS.

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