Mechanics and Abstractions part.4
Thursday, May 15, 2008 at 1:00PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Abstraction, Action, Mechanics, RPG

When I first started playing The World Ends With You (TWEWY), I couldn't believe Square Enix made such a convoluted game for the Nintendo DS. It is as if they went out of their way to ignore the progress that games like Kirby: Canvas Curse, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and even Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword have made. But then I thought about the kinds of games Square Enix makes, and everything became clear. Square Enix has always had a very difficult time incorporating action elements into their games. They've been trying for years, but, like with so many of their games, the few concrete mechanics they get right are drowned in a deluge of abstract RPG mechanics. TWEWY is no exception.

The World Ends With You is an action RPG. Action RPGs are typically designed with fourth tier mechanics in their base level, concrete combat mechanics before abstract mechanics are added on top. TWEWY is no different. Playing TWEWY makes me realize how shallow and laborious abstract mechanics really are. Once again, Square Enix has thrown a ton of presentation and slick style onto a few decent concrete mechanics and the world eats it up. But before I get into the mechanics, if you haven't played TWEWY or seen it, check it out here. Keep in mind, the battles take place with both screens at the same time like in the beginning of the video.


To keep things simple, I'll break the battle system down into it's component mechanics and describe them using bullet points.

 

The Battle System


Touch Screen gameplay:


Top Screen Gamplay:

 

 


Combined Battle Mechanics:

Pre-battle Mechanics:


In the end, the battle system in TWEWY features one decent concrete mechanic (touch screen attacks and movement) buried under a mess of cluttered and abstract mechanics. Though getting the hang of the battle system can feel very rewarding at times, mastering any system concrete or abstract is rewarding. Being in control of chaos or a multitude of elements is a wonderful feeling. But for TWEWY, getting the hang of the battle system comes at a high learning curve mostly because of how unintuitive battling on both screens at once is and the shear volume of cluttered and abstract mechanics the player has to learn from scratch. The worst part is, the abstractions don't add depth to the gameplay. They only add complexities. Each abstract element from the card guessing mini game, passing the light puck combo system, to the top screen battling is either being executed successfully or it's not. There is no interplay between these systems, dynamic interactions/consequences from mistakes, or enough variation to each system and the basic battle mechanics to create emergent gameplay, the corner stone of action games.

 

Though I've only talked about the battle system of The World Ends With You, the rest of the game is equally unnecessarily complex. The game is overwrought with stats and abstract systems for just about everything you can think of. For example, characters can buy food and eat it to gain stat upgrades. But at the same time the food must be digested. When the character is eating food, they digest a little bit of food as they fight every battle. But wait there's more. Each character can only eat so much in each day of real time. So if you want to eat as much as possible, wake up early and start stuffing your face. Hold on, I'm not done yet. Each character's stomach size shrinks as they eat more and more, but then resets with each new day. But if you thought it was over, there's one more bit to it. ach character has likes and dislikes for different types of food. And this is just one abstract system out of many in the game.


Such a complex system for eating food is egregious because mastering the abstract system only gives the player higher stats in the end, which are abstractions in themselves. Mastering any of the game's abstract mechanics and systems only rewards the player with more points. More abstractions. Because the battle system has so few dynamics and interactions, all the work you put into learning and mastering the abstractions outside of battle won't show up as anything more than a higher number here and there. Also, because the dynamics are so low, understanding how to maximize one's attack power is obvious: Attack-attack-attack. In other words, use the attacks that have multiple hits so that you can effortless combo the enemies. Knockback, object positioning, and hit stun aren't factors to consider when you can optimize the game so easily.

Games like The World Ends With You prove that even some of the biggest developers have lost touch with what makes games so great. Though TWEWY has its charm, even the game's innovations aren't that significant, and it was supposed to be the fresh take on action RPGs. When you break it down, you're not really doing much throughout the entire game. The world ends with me? Too bad it didn't begin with concrete mechanics.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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