During battle, Spirits are pretty capable creatures, even if they never seem to do enough damage to turn the tide, or enough healing to prevent you from relying on the game's awkward command select system.Their real value, however, lies in their multicoloured furry bellies. Outside of fights, you can pet your, erm, pets by rubbing the touch screen, an act that pleases them so much they occasionally dole out points to help upgrade their abilities.
While it's clearly an attempt to tap into the over-saturated gotta-catch-'em-all market, it's a fairly good one. The only weird thing about the otherwise cutesy monsters is their bizarre eye-pounding neon colouring, which makes them look like they've lost a fight with a massage parlour sign. Looks aside, though, the Dream Eaters are easily the most accomplished new addition in this newest iteration, lending combat and character development a great amount of depth.
The problem with battles is that there's simply too many of them. Defeat a band of Nightmares and you only need to run a short way before another gang emerges out of the ether. Clear one wave and another invariably appears, full of irritating little monsters and armoured elephants that take an age to bring down. It's so exhausting that before long we found ourselves running from a lot of fights to prevent our eyes from crusting over in sheer tedium. This, of course, results in even tougher, longer fights down the line; a vicious cycle, and one that's only partly our fault.
Power of nightmares
There's another reason why you'll want to rush through each world, and that's the Drop gauge. It's an idea that might have sounded great in a design meeting, but having the main characters fall asleep when a special bar hits zero is kind of an annoying element to have in an action game. When the gauge runs out, whether it's in the middle of a battle or not, the game will forcibly switch characters from Sora to Riku, or vice versa.
While you're given a few bonuses depending on how you did during each brief stint, the drawbacks far outweigh the meagre benefits. Losing your progress during a common streetfight is one thing, but to have your good work washed away during a tough boss fight - causing you to restart the entire scrap next time you return to the character - is ridiculous, infuriating, and the source of some confusion. You get the sense Square Enix implemented this feature not for creative reasons, but in order to pad out the game.
That's because, naturally, Sora and Riku inhabit alternate versions of each world. There's some nonsense story justification for this, but what it boils down to is having to beat each Disney world twice, taking on the exact same environments and foes, usually in a slightly different order.
Very few of the Disney locations warrant the extra playtime, although the The Grid from Tron Legacy is one of the highlights. It's a combination of factors, from their tiny size, to the feeling that you have to rush, to the constant bombardment of enemies - but the involvement of each Disney world feels cursory at best. Worse still, the plot of each movie is summarised to a ridiculous degree; they're little bubbles of narrative that are usually tied up with some hogwash about being true to yourself.
We're used to Disney licenses being misappropriated in this series, but the treatment of the cast of The World Ends With You feels particularly cruel, considering how prominently they've featured in the game's marketing. Shorn from their native Shibuya, Neku, Beat and co flounder around Traverse Town being moody, annoying or upbeat, adding absolutely nothing to either the story or to battles - they only appear during a handful of cutscenes.