At first glance, The World Ends With You is a game about rebellious teenagers with a slick art style to match that tone. Underneath all that, however, is a heartfelt message about accepting others that are different, and living life by broadening your worldview.
The World Ends With You puts the crowded Shibuya, Tokyo front and center, renowned worldwide as one of the busiest sections of the metropolis. It’s a veritable mecca of fashion, technology, and trends, where thousands of different people converge. The game’s protagonist Neku knows this all too well, and at the start of the game, he’s an antisocial young man who knows he can’t rely on anyone but himself. Similarly, all of the other protagonists have their own specific hangups; like Shiki’s envy of her friend Eri, or Beat’s strained relationship with his parents because of his lack of ambition.
The Reaper’s Game requires that two players team up as partners, meaning literally no one can survive on their own. Neku and the others, at first, begrudgingly accept that they can’t do anything on their own, but slowly come to the realization that asking for the help of others isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At this point, the name The World Ends With You is applied quite literally to the game’s story, with a character named Mr. Hanekoma even saying the phrase word for word.
The game says your “world” ends with you, and the only way to expand that world is by learning about other people’s worlds, thereby broadening your own. It’s a pretty simplistic way to look at things, but a universal message that calls for diversity in general. Shibuya is a place where different ideas and cultures clash, and the problems that arise from this are initially what makes the leader of the Reapers (the Composer), want to erase the city. As Neku meets others and cooperates with them, the Composer also learns the same lessons about the power of people working together. Even the “villains” of The World Ends With You aren’t inherently evil, and are trying to save Shibuya in their own ways.
Everything about The World Ends With You is meant to encourage that core idea of diversity, from the story to the art style. It’s no coincidence that the game is meant to appeal to a specifically teenage audience, as for most people that’s the period of their life that their worldview really starts expanding. The World Ends With You isn’t subtle about its themes, in fact it uses every chance it can get to bring them up. Even considering that, though, the game manages to weave an incredibly compelling tale that uses its themes to provide deep character development while sharing a real-life message.
The World Ends With You makes a case for not boxing yourself in and not judging others, and to me that’s all it needs to be.