The World Ends with a Crisis: Story, Gameplay, and the Handheld Experience

Pick-up-and-play games–puzzle games, especially–do well on handheld consoles for this obvious reason: handhelds are generally most often played in short bursts, often while traveling or waiting for something. But is it possible to make an epic, story-heavy RPG, adventure, or action game on a handheld while designing for portability? Crisis Core on the PSP and The World Ends With You on the DS both attempt to deliver such an experience, and I’d like to examine how they do so, whether they succeed, and what level of portability is truly necessary.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a game that takes a bit of figuring out to understand at first. As someone who is used to the standard RPG mission-quest distinction, where missions are part of the main storyline with quests being optional but rewarding side stories, I was initially confused by the delegation of what are called missions to an extensive series of short, optional instances where the goal was simply to kill everything.

Inclusion of the missions increases the portability of the game by providing goals that can be accomplished in a couple minutes. They also offer a change of scenery and a way to level grind if you’re stuck, and there are lots of them, adding to the overall length and content of the game. But there’s a problem: at any save point, the player can choose to take a break from the story of the game and teleport to one of these instances, complete it, and be returned to the save point to continue as desired. The problem with these missions is that you could be in the middle of a chase sequence or other intense story segment and can still choose to hop off and complete a few missions. It completely breaks the immersion and pacing of the story.

In contrast, The World Ends With You on the DS handles story and portability (among many other things) very well. The game is divided into many chapters, which take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to complete. This is much longer than Crisis Core‘s missions, but these chapters comprise the game’s main story. There aren’t really any side quests or necessary grinding to distract the player. The game uses a save-anywhere system. It isn’t until the main story is complete that a side-story and other gameplay options open up, including the ability to jump to any chapter at any time.

Both the PSP and the DS have sleep functions, which makes me wonder why story-breaking side missions are even necessary: both games can be paused at any time and the system put in sleep mode until the player is ready to pick it up again. Story in handheld games is already a fractured experience due to how handheld systems are used; in a story-heavy adventure game or RPG, these fractures should be sealed up as much as possible to keep the story coherent. By offering bite-sized gameplay with portability in mind, Crisis Core actually widens the fractures, making the already convoluted story that much harder to follow.

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3 thoughts on “The World Ends with a Crisis: Story, Gameplay, and the Handheld Experience

  1. This is a really interesting post. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on these two games! I guess I’m about halfway through Crisis Core and I really adore the Mission gameplay structure. I wonder how I’ll feel by the end of the game? Still haven’t played TWEWY (Don’t hate meeee! ;-), but now I really want to pick it up for comparison purposes.

    The biggest problem that I have with portable RPGs, that makes them less portable to me, is the sound issue. A lot of portable RPGs have voice acting these days, or cut scenes with awesome music. It’s sort of a to me to use headphones when I’m on the go with my DS/PSP and I don’t really use them unless I know that I am going to be stationary on the train for more than 20 minutes or something. Often times it’s simply too loud on the train to hear things clearly even with the headphones anyway, or I worry that if I become too absorbed in the story scenes I’ll lose track of where I am and miss my stop. So if I know a game has frequent cut scenes, or good music/VA, I am less likely to play it outside of my home because I want to be able to devote my full attention to the experience.

    To me, Crisis Core has done an excellent job of countering this issue of mine because I can spend hours hacking my way through missions without having to worry about missing out on the full story experience on the train, etc. How do you think TWENY stacks up in that regard?

    RE: sleep function. Do you use it a lot? I always worry with my PSP cause the battery life is such crap that I am afraid sleep mode will drain the battery to depletion when I’m not playing. I worry less with the DS, but I still feel anxious to find a moment to get myself to a save point whenever I leave either of them in sleep mode.

  2. Good point about the sound; I prefer not to use headphones while about either. I forget; does Crisis Core have subtitles in the cutscenes or no?

    TWEWY doesn’t have full VA so that’s not a problem. You also have to click through all the cutscenes, as opposed to it being a movie, so it’s easy to stop in the middle of one if you really have to. But to really answer your question, I think that the relative nonlinearity of the structure–you can wander around Shibuya almost as much as you want during a chapter–helps in that respect because you can just fight Noise and collect pins without progressing the story at all.

    I have to admit I’m kind of biased toward TWEWY because I loved it to bits and am pretty much obsessed with the characters and the world XD;

    I use the PSP sleep function a lot since loading from a UMD takes some time, which is annoying. Though one time I left it in sleep mode and forgot about it and when I went to play again the battery was dead! So it does have its downside but if you’re on the go I find it to be essential.

    (PS–sorry it took so long to approve your comment; I kept expecting an email notification lol. ^^; )

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