Sunday, February 15, 2009

The World Ends With You: Psych Pins

The Psych Pin system is The World Ends With You is fantastic. It is a very simple and easy-to-use system that lets you completely build the combat abilities of the game's main hero, simply by equipping him with up to six Psych Pins, each of which has its own ability. Neku, the game's main character, can only attack by using a Psych Pin's ability, so he is ultimately a blank slate for the player to customize with the three hundred or so different Pins in the game. These different Pins can complement each other or interfere with each other in a wide variety of ways, leading to a surprisingly flexible and fun system, yet it is incredibly easy to work with.

The most distinct aspect of this system is its dependence upon touch controls. Each Psych Pin is activated by a specific touch command, and you can activate the Pin's attack in battle simply by using the command (you don't need to activate the Pin first, or something like that). Also, the order of the Pins in your "folder" is the order in which the game checks to verify the button input, and you can set Pins to a "sub-folder" so they will only be used if you hold down a button while inputting the touch command, so the system puts a lot of flexibility and control into the player's hands. As a result, you can easily and reliably perform a wide variety of combat options with very simple controls. However, these controls are not quite perfect. For one thing, some of the touch commands are less reliable than others. "Slash", "touch", "touch rapidly", and "yell into the microphone" all work perfectly well, and "drag" works well most of the time, but far too often "press", "draw a circle", and "scratch" can be a bit finicky. Far too often an attack that requires you to sustain a press or scratch will inexplicably cancel before completion, and it usually takes me two or three tries every time I try to activate a pin by drawing a circle. What is worse, several of these button inputs simply don't work well together. If you have a "draw a circle" or "drag" Pin at a higher priority than a "press" Pin, then it is nearly impossible to successfully use the latter. Many pins that depend on touching a specific type of object, such as an enemy, obstacle, Neku, or even just empty space, can often be a bit troublesome if you have another pin that uses a similar command on a different type of target. This gets even worse if the same Pin can target both enemies and obstacles, like some psychokinesis Pins or any drag command Pin (since dragging Neku will always move him, and this comes at a higher priority than any Pin). Finally, some Pins simply are not given a command input that suits the attack, namely Pins that launch an attack in a single direction, but have an input that doesn't actually control direction (such as "press Neku"), and as a result are very difficult to aim. As a whole, the system works well, but just has a lot of annoying quirks.

The annoying part about the whole touch command issue is that there are a number of commands which are under-utilized. For example, a small number of Pins require you to "slash down" or "slash up" on various targets in order to activate an effect, but not many. However, these commands are very reliable, don't contradict each other, and they only require you to place them ahead of generic "slash" Pins on the priority list. If this kind of specific command was used more often, it would made it much easier to combine different Pins. Also, a greater number of Pins with an automatic effect or the "touch Pin to activate" command would have been nice. Still, the fact that the system works as well as it does, even with a huge number of Pins, is a testament to how well this system was designed.

To get back to the topic of how versatile this system is, I really have to praise the variety of different Pin combinations you can create, each of which leads to its own combat style. There are Pins that cause status conditions alongside attacks, Pins that cause status conditions at the start of battle, and Pins that lengthen the amount of time enemies suffer from status conditions, so you can very thoroughly build a strategy based around any status condition in the game. There are healing Pins with differing number of uses, Pins that increase the number of times you can use your Pins, healing Pins with that mix different amounts of healing with the ability to cure various conditions, Pins that increase how much you get healed, healing Pins that have longer or shorter periods in which they leave the hero vulnerable, Pins that automatically activate a healing Pin when you become seriously injured, and Pins that just automatically heal you when you get hurt, so it is entirely up to you on how best to fit healing into a battle strategy and how many Pin slots you are willing to dedicate to that one aspect of combat. Because there are so many variables that control the ability of Pins, such as touch command input, attack power, number of uses, and reboot time, there are many different options for even a single type of attack, and thus there are countless options for strategies and combinations. Personally, I like to mix moderately powerful attacks that have a large number of uses with powerful attacks that have a single use and quick reboot time.

Finally, I really must say that I like the Pin folder construction rules, since they are so clear and created so much design space. Basically, all Pins are given a psych type (such as Psychokinesis, Shockwave, Energy Rounds, etc) and a class (C, B, A, Reaper, and Angel). You can only equip one Angel Pin and one Reaper Pin, but the other classes only come into play in combination with type. You can have up to three class C Pins of the same type, but only a single class A Pin of any given type. Because these rules depend on two different variables, it creates a framework that both restricts overly powerful combinations and leaves a very wide degree of flexibility. What is more, it is a system that generally encourages versatility, since the restrictions on C, B, or A class Pins will never come into effect if you use a wide variety of different types. I don't really think that every Pin is given a proper classification (some Reaper Pins are hardly worth the slot, for example), but the system as a whole is quite effective.

Next time, I think I will write about collectible nature of the Psych Pins.

No comments: