Here's a general list of things that irritate me in video games. I promise this will be relevant in a minute.
* Being forced to use finicky, imprecise stylus controls
* Being timed constantly
* Having some obnoxious ranking shoved in your face after everything you do
* J-Pop, especially in extremely repetitive snatches
* Adults trying to write teenage characters and relate to "youth culture"
* Tons of needlessly complicated sub-systems, especially when they're info-dumped on you during battles
* Being expected to control action on two screens at the same time
* General spazzy hyperactivity in the Japanese youth demographic manner
* Tetsuya Nomura belt-and-zipper-fetish character design
TWEWY is the only game I've played so far that has managed to have ALL of the above.
As with the old Sonic games, I really can't stand it and think it's unplayable, grating trash, but the overall tide of public opinion is so against me that I feel like I must have missed something crucial. But when I go back to this one and try to suss it out, as with the old Genesis Sonic games, I just can't find it. There's nothing enjoyable there. The game just irritates the shit out of me and I want to stop playing ASAP. It's like Square Scientists broke into my house, took brain readings while I was asleep and used them to design the ultimate game to piss me off.
Yeah, maybe pull your pants up a bit?
Anyway, TWEWY is fundamentally an action-RPG. But it's also one of those spazzy Japanese games that tries too hard to stand out with novelty for the sake of novelty in the combat mechanics (there's a lot of this sort of game on the GBA and DS). In this case, it's using both screens to simultaneously control two characters who are actually wailing on the same durable enemies. And even though the game doesn't use actual cards, there's effectively a card system in the form of "pins" that give you your battle attacks, and that you have to form "decks" of. Pins can only be used for a limited time, then you have to switch to another one, though doing that is flaky and part of the imprecise stylus controls I alluded to earlier. More on that later.
For now, let's get the general mis-en-scene established. Our main character is Neku, an unfortunate trip back to the mopey, antisocial jerk protags that Square was so fond of in the late '90s. In this case, it's actually a reverse "tsundere" trope, as Neku gets thrown together by fate with a bubbly girl with an unusual groin who he predictably warms up to as they fight a small army of giant frogs and J. Talbain from Darkstalkers together. The game is set in Shibuya and it's one of those plots where pampered first-world teenagers have to find "meaning" in their lives by getting thrown into "missions" by some vague supernatural force. You need "meaning" or to appreciate your existence, maybe just trade places with a Rwandan farmer for a week or something? Can we get a game about that with a J-Pop soundtrack?
Anyway. It's a very linear affair where you're given a "mission" by this unseen Saw-like malevolent force and have 60 minutes to complete it, then you get another one, and you're usually only confined to a limited area. The game actually tracks real-time, but it doesn't seem to ever be relevant as you're led by the nose to mission objectives and usually with tons of time to spare. There's very little in the way of actual investigation of the environment or figuring things out.
Instead, the game is padded out with lots of wailing on frogs and getting insulting rankings for not being good enough at it. Neku occupies the bottom screen, and his current partner occupies the top screen and is controlled with the d-pad. That means Neku is entirely stylus-controlled, including movement, which is exceptionally obnoxious. So basically, it's one of those action games where you can't move and attack at the same time, and that dynamic is frustrating enough by itself. But the stylus movements for the attacks are a little iffy and the enemies pretty much all relentlessly bum-rush both characters and don't have any kind of knock-back or much of a stun when hit. So trying to hit the ones right up on you sometimes makes the game think you're trying to move Neku instead. It's also easy to burn through your limited pin attacks with missed shots due to a combination of the imprecision and enemies twitching and jumping around all the time.
Just that would have been bad enough already, but then you add in having to simultaneously nurse the second character on the top screen. They can be set to fight on their own, but they almost always do a shit job of it. They're also taking damage from enemies too, and if they die the game is over. They also can't be moved from their position, they can only attack by doing combinations on the D-pad, and if they're not doing that then they're basically standing around getting hit.
Some of this you could see coming, as this is from the same team responsible for the GBA game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which was a similarly weird and unplayable blend of action-RPG with a card system. I guess I can understand the appeal to miasnthropic otaku who live in Shibuya, or just people who are really big fans of trendy Japanese fashion circa 2008. Beyond that, I'm kind of baffled.
But hey. Most of the rest of the Internet loves it. So take this as the dissenting opinion and only apply it if you've been reading this site for a while and feel mostly sympatico with my tastes. But if you're like me, this game will drive you right up the goddamn wall between the janky control, overly complex systems, generic animu writing and characters, typically clueless representation of young people and THAT GODDAMN J-POP VOCAL LOOP THAT REPEATS EVERY EIGHT SECONDS