World’s End Club has a lot to live up to. Being helmed by the legendary Kotaro Uchikoshi and Kazutaka Kodaka, the game comes with a degree of pedigree and expectation that even the hypest of trains would struggle to transport. Known for their puzzles, intrigue, plot twists and dark undertones, does their latest foray manage to recapture that magic?
Game of Fate?
At first, yes. After witnessing the destruction of Tokyo via impromptu meteor, eleven kids wake up in an underwater theme park – their wrists adorned with mysterious bands. A small imp-like creature called Pielope informs the gang that they are about to compete in a ‘Game of Fate’, and only one of them is going to make it out alive. Having a bunch of kids murder each other is a compelling start to any story, and it certainly got me invested in what was going on.
The game doesn’t pull any punches in this opening hour either, with numerous instances of backstabbing and misdirection going on to keep things interesting. Fans of the director’s previous work will feel right at home here. Once this introduction is over, however, the game takes a thematic and directional shift and turns into something completely different. What was once an intriguing game of murder, suddenly becomes a wholesome road trip where a bunch of mates travel across Japan singing songs and advocating the power of friendship. It’s almost jarring how different the introduction is compared to the rest of the game. Like a bipolar lover, you think you are getting one thing only to be blindsided by a complete mood change that shatters your perception of the game’s established reality.
World’s End Club has a myriad of issues that hold it back. The most egregious, however, is the quality of writing and the characters involved. World’s End Club is not a deep narrative experience. Once it gets going, it becomes a generic, predictable mess. I was able to glean most of the game’s major reveals hours before the game was ready to unveil them and needless to say, most of them are worn out, and bland.
We Are Going Downhill
The game’s pacing is also all over the place, making some sections, especially near the end, feel incredibly drawn out thanks to a reveal that retroactively destroys any semblance of choice the game may have had prior. Even the game’s tone is a bit wonky. Introduction aside, the game can go from a devastating reveal to a musical number with accompanying video in seconds. It felt like the game didn’t know if it wanted to be lighthearted or serious, so did both.
Each of the 12 characters who make up the not-quite-so-eponymous Go-Getters Club is one-note, shallow, caricatures. You have your typical edgelord with a heart of gold, the fat kid who only talks about food and the nerd who dreams of being a hero. Technically each character develops over the course of the game, but it is surface-level at best. The game is self-aware, so the cheese and tropeyness are intentional, but just pointing out your game is relying on worn-out principles doesn’t make them any better. The same can be said for the hamfisted attempt to shoehorn in meta, the fourth-wall-breaking sections. Heck, the villain even exposits the entire plot at the end. It all feels so lazy.
The dialogue is also a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, it manages to convey its themes, story and characters effectively. However, It does stumble every now and then, resulting in really unnatural conversations between characters. Neyro and Mowchan being the most egregious of the bunch, frequently reminding the player of their single defining trait. World’s End Club also has a tendency to disrespect the player’s ability to comprehend simple concepts, and will frequently remind the player of what’s going on. It’s almost as if the game is holding your hand throughout the story.
How’s The Gameplay?
World’s End Club has two main sections – Story and Act. Story is where, as you can imagine, the story is told. This is where the game unloads its twists, turns and disappointment. Act the gameplay portion, and where you will take control of one of the 12 kids who make up the Go-Getters Club. These sections are the worst parts of the game and get much more frequent during the final hours.
Gameplay in World’s End Club boils down to awkwardly running left to right, using the same single ability over and over until the game graciously lets you stop. These segments are way too long and are filled with trial and error gameplay. Heck, they even feel bad to play. Every action is stiff and unnatural, with mistakes being punished with death. Between platforming, puzzles and bosses, World’s End Club totally fails to bring anything interesting to the table, and these sections felt like padding at best.
Where World’s End Club shines is in its presentation. Whilst not the prettiest looking lass at the prom, World End Club has a nice art style, well-designed characters and environments that are very verdant apocalyptic. Animations are terrible mind you, which feeds into my issues with gameplay, but when things are stationary, it looks pretty snazzy. Voice acting is also pretty top-notch, even when the dialogue is a bit naff. Aniki and Vanilla, however, knock it out of the park with some of the best performances in the game. The game’s music is also pretty great, with over-the-top bombasticity and eerie suspense being used perfectly to set the scene.
Despite all of my gripes with the game, World’s End Club isn’t terrible. Beneath all of the power of friendship spouting, single personality traiting, fourth-wall-breaking nonsense, there is actually a charming story to be had here. It’s just badly delivered and paced like a tortoise. It takes about 15 hours to get to the game’s true ending, and the game lost me in a third of that time. If the writing was polished up and all the fluff was cut, there could be a pretty decent 5-hour road trip here. I can see this being a good introductory game for kids who want to get into interactive storytelling and visual novels. It wasn’t really for me though.