This week, Yahtzee tempts fate and risks insanity by reviewing a JRPG.
I know what you're going to say: "Yahtzee reviewing a JRPG? Perhaps I shall quickly look outside to make sure the sky is not falling and the sea's not running red with blood. Haw hee haw hee haw." Well you smarmy cunt, I had heard that The Word Ends With You does things differently than most JRPGs, and while I took that with mountainous piles of salt, I was intrigued when I noticed that it came out in the PAL regions before America. So, I thought, if the release dates are from Bizzaro World, maybe the entire game is too, and will turn out to be the first good JRPG. Sadly, this uncharacteristic optimism started draining when I looked at the box art and noticed all the characters are undernourished teenaged androgynes who do their hair in the morning by sticking their heads in buckets of lead-based paint and dress like they stepped on a land mine in a trendy clothes shop. But let's be fair. Once I started playing, I noticed that it does do things differently than most JRPGs. It just doesn't do enough things differently.
Things started well when I immediately identified with the main character, a sullen, hate-filled misanthrope. But sadly the developers seemed to think these were negative qualities, so before he could ascend the nearest clock tower, he was roped into a mysterious Challenge Anneka-esque game where he has to complete arbitrary challenges on the streets of Shibuya or die. And he has to team up with a partner, partly to make the most of the DS dual screen, but mostly to teach him a valuable life lesson about friendship and acceptance and everything else Sesame Street used to bang on about whenever Cookie Monster wasn't around. A major thing that turns me off JRPGs, and a lot of games in general, is when I don't feel that I, as a player, am contributing anything to the story. All I ever seem to do is wheel the characters from one whingy boring dialogue to the next. Events are driven by their actions, not mine. All I am is a little, angry id who takes over for the combat, spending the rest of the time jumping up and down in the back of the main character's mind yanking on nerve endings, trying to make him stop acting like a pillock.
I'll show you what I mean. At one point in the second part of the game, I was given the clue "30 + 74". Assuming your brain is located inside your skull and not your rectum, you could probably hazard that this adds up to 104, which was the pretentious name of a pretentious clothes shop near my starting location. But I couldn't actually go there, because the street was closed off. It only opened after I went to another nearby location and sat through another dialogue-heavy cutscene in which I was bold-facedly told the answer to the puzzle. This is not interactive storytelling, this is just reading. I know Japan has a very different culture to the West, but I will never understand why they like the visual novel style of games so much. The porno ones I can sort of understand, at least there's the promise of titties to keep you motivated. But most of them play like Chose Your Own Adventure books with half the pages ripped out, which kind of goes against the whole idea of gaming.
What I'm saying is that I like games where the story and gameplay go hand in hand, while in most JRPGs the story and gameplay are kept either side of a wrought-iron fence made of tigers. Getting through the cutscenes is like eating a bucket of wallpaper paste, but once you finally struggle down the last few spoonfuls and move on, the combat is probably the best thing about the game. Mainly because it's not turn based and there are no random encounters - two automatic gold stars in the special school that is the genre. Before fighting, you select a handful of badges that represent different attacks and activate them in battle by drawing on the touchscreen in their designated ways. The game does tend to frequently mistake one frantic scribble for another, and it seems to get really sniffy about what constitutes a circle. But chances are you'll find there's a handful of attacks that work well together, that you can pretty much get through the whole game using nothing but and let every other pin gather dust in the green room.
An aspect that doesn't work so well is the fact that the game expects you to switch rapidly between two screens and two entirely different control systems throughout the combat, and I couldn't get the hang of it. Maybe my mind isn't as vast and evolved as JRPG fans, but it was just too much of a clusterfuck, and this is coming from someone who can beat "Psychobilly Freakout" on Expert. Fortunately, the computer will take over for the other character if you can't be arsed, and you'll get pretty much the same results, which just hangs a big question mark over the point of it all. Speaking of which, there's also a fashion trend system that changes your stats a bit if you wear the right label's clothing and badges in the right parts of the city. I never really noticed any of it making much of a difference to gameplay, but I want to rag on it anyway because a), fashion victims are one step below nematode worms in the grand scheme of things, and b), like many ancillary JPRG elements, you need a fucking strategy guide spread across your thighs to make the most of it, and the only thing I like spread across my thighs is marshmallow fluff.
But let's get down to it. Is TWEWY a good JRPG? I have absolutely no idea. I feel like I'm on the edge of a frightening world I don't understand, treading water on the surface of a deep, deep lake full of weird-smelling creatures with completely alien concepts of fun and a tolerance for boredom to rival the Man in the Iron Mask. There's too much dialogue, the characters the same shallow stocks you get in every JRPG, and most of the gameplay outside the main story quest amounts to a big old grind sandwich. But working from the principle that these are all selling points for the intended audience, it's got an original aesthetic and the combat is okay, so if you're into this sort of thing, check it out. Now I have to go play an FPS before my body finishes absorbing my testicles.
Now officially in his mid-twenties: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Hang on, haven't we used this song before somewhere
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