What if a crew of terrified students witness the apocalypse during what appears to be a normal field trip? The World’s End Club answers this question by examining the various interpersonal relationships among its cast. However, janky platforming, predictable story beats, uninspired characters, and a memorable soundtrack keep the World’s End Club from reaching the height of the two franchises that informed it directly: Danganronpa and Zero Escape.
You spend most of your time in the World End Club analyzing extensive conversations that give context to the overarching narrative. These dialogue-heavy moments are glorified exposure dumps. Characters proclaim their ulterior motives and innermost feelings haphazardly, and when a primary villain steps into battle to “accidentally” reveal their diabolical plans (this is happening at an alarming rate), the narrative is robbed of its stakes. At times I was excited to see storylines being resolved, but the emotional stakes were turned upside down so often that I lost interest. This is especially frustrating as the World’s End Club, despite its cartoonish / lighthearted aesthetic, wants to be a game about complex subjects like cheating, trust, and lasting friendship. That could have been interesting, but by the way it looks, the narrative feels hollow.
The silent protagonist Reycho is the brave leader of the Go-Getters Club, a bizarre gang of outsiders. When a meteor suddenly crashes into Tokyo one summer afternoon, the world ends abruptly. Upon impact, the crew wakes up at an underwater amusement park where a swimming Pokémon-like creature named Pielope forces them to take part in a dangerous “game of fate”. The trials Reycho and his company face are marginalizing the close community. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that every member of the Go-Getters Club is just a flat archetype – from the unsuspecting Airhead Vanilla to the overweight, voracious Mowchan. Additionally, the voiceover varies from mediocre to downright ridiculous. It became increasingly difficult to take care of the playable cast when they are awkwardly robotic in emotionally tense moments, and even mispronounce each other’s names from time to time.
The World End Club’s gameplay loop is divided into three sections: Act, Camp, and Story. During the inconspicuous act phase, you jump over bottomless pits and push boxes to clear blocked passages. Combat usually means throwing blunt objects at slow moving targets or running for your life as you navigate a series of pesky hurdles. I enjoyed the last few moments, but I soon realized that escaping the crazy creatures of the World End Club was pretty easy. The less frequent stealth sequences required me to hide behind objects and schedule my escape sprints. The Go-Getter’s Club has its downtime at campsites where you can have a quick chat with each member to get a better understanding of the character motivations, which are just as shallow as the story moments.
The one-dimensionality of the World End Club characters becomes apparent the moment they open their mouths, but when their awakened abilities are activated, their personalities really come to life. These fantastic super moves will help you survive in this nasty world and they will slowly unlock as you progress through story acts. Awakened Abilities made me feel appropriately powerful and presented myself with most of the simple World End Club environmental puzzles. For example, I enjoyed using Reycho’s “Big League Pitcher” to throw stones at overhanging structures and force them to collapse on enemies patrolling below. I’ve used other awakened abilities to wipe out otherwise indestructible geographic formations or just slow down invincible bosses. The sheer number of applicable skills made the otherwise boring encounters with enemies a little more satisfying, and made uneventful platform sections easily entertaining.
That’s not to say I didn’t encounter my fair share of gameplay issues. Countless times I stared at a Game Over screen over wooden controls. Sometimes I would keep pressing the jump button to see Reycho stroll to the edge of a platform. At other times, the characters seemed to be struggling against me as I tried to take ledges or avoid one-hit-kill obstacles. On several occasions I was repeatedly spotted by opponents for implacable stick sensitivity; I would try to move a little closer to a ledge but just fall off the platform into the clutches of the enemies.
The monster and biome design, on the other hand, has turned out to be my two favorite aspects at the World End Club. My journey through Japan took me to abandoned prefectures full of overgrowth and dangerous obstacles such as molten lava, pools of quicksand and mutated foliage. Underground facilities that housed rabid two-legged canines and dusty mountain slopes housed gigantic, armored beetles. Some creatures were far more grotesque and interesting to look at, with serpentine limbs and annoying, convulsive movements. Even so, these features weren’t significant enough to distract me from the myriad narrative and mechanical flaws of the World End Club.
The World’s End Club tells an uninteresting story full of obvious twists and turns that is segmented by linear exploration and low-stakes action. On normal difficulty you will be killed in one hit, which doesn’t mix well with the finnicky controls. Some character designs and their accompanying skills are particularly inspired, but I didn’t fall in love with any of their static personalities. The World’s End Club ultimately felt like an unimaginative after-school activity.