Review: 'World's End Club' is one half of a cult masterpiece

It's the end of the world. Kinda.

If you ever went on a high school camping trip and got to know your classmates better than you ever expected to, World’s End Club may give you some fond memories. Or at least its lengthy, strangely generous demo will.

The demo, originally released September 4th of last year on Apple Arcade. It contains about the first 5 hours of gameplay from the final version, which was released May 28th on the Switch.

Made by a development supergroup comprised of the creators of both the Danganronpa and Zero Escape series, the game certainly knows how to pull the player’s heartstrings by putting emotive kids in danger — fitting, as that was the main thing of those aforementioned franchises. I played and completed the demo shortly after its original release, and it left me salivating to see the adventure’s end. Unfortunately, the crushing letdown of the game’s latter chapters made the interminable wait feel rather undeserved and rather pointless, and only worked to leave me seeing the flaws of the game’s conclusion, rather than the potential adventure classic it could have been.

The game certainly knows how to pull the player’s heartstrings by putting emotive kids in danger.

But World’s End Club mixes things up a bit, combining visual novel and player choice with simple, breezy puzzle-platformer gameplay. Most of what you’ll be doing in the demo half is watching cutscenes of The Go-Getters Club — your friend group of Type A kids who all got together because they believed themselves so perfect in expressing their archetypal emotions and personalities — arguing, figuring out what to do next, and solving mysteries.

The game opens with all the kids trapped in a theme park in a Saw-like scenario that’s cribbed right from one of Danganronpa games, flush with a robot-villain of the same color scheme as the iconic Monokuma. But it's revealed to be a red herring and the kids leave their aquarium prison to find that Tokyo is destroyed — them seemingly the only people left in the country. In this new world, their friendships and assuredness in their own personalities will be tested to their limits.

The plot of World’s End Club is, simply put, outrageous. It’s a bouillabaisse of sci-fi and anime tropes: aliens, dad scientists, doomsday cults, amnesia, robots, and more. Its hyper-energetic, gee-willikers optimism, and message — If everyone works together as friends, any obstacle can be overcome — maybe wear on some, but it worked for me. While it’s silly, it’s also undeniably fun, and will keep you on your toes and excited for what happens next.

Each kid in the Go-Getters Club also has some sort of “special ability” related to their personality that has yet to be unlocked and the demo will have you finding about 5 of these. For instance, the small girl with the big temper will be able to shoot fireballs from her mouth after eating a bag of hot chips, and the nervous nerd of the group can transform into the alpha-male Power Ranger-like from his favorite TV show and shoot electricity from his hands.

While the game is heavier on story scenes — you progress through the game on a stylized map of Tokyo which clearly delineates story scenes, platforming bits, and sedate camping sequences, where you just chill and talk to everyone — you do get to use some of these abilities in the sides scrolling platformer gameplay. It isn’t rough per se, but it’s rudimentary and fairly easy, with some of the climbing, action, and collision animations in the demo being a bit rough. It functions perfectly well, but the bread-and-butter of World’s End Club are its story sequences. Thankfully, it’s nearly impossible to lose during the lenient gameplay, and the frequent boss fights are hilarious.

The game has a sharp sense of humor, and often mocks itself and the game’s premise in a metafictional way, while still doling out crucial bits of story and making its characters likeable. While we are dealing with severe archetypal personalities — they reminded me of the characters named Kung Fu, Fantasy, and so on in 1977 cult horror Hausu — the dialogue is zippy, and characters often joke around and mock each other. The animation in the game’s cutscenes is fluid, and the facial animations in particular are hyper-stylized and hilarious. We see the Go-Getters Club dancing together, throwing each other into enemies, etc. and it’s all, well, fun.

It’s all, well, fun.

Where the demo piqued my interest the most was in its diverging pathways in the story. As the silent protagonist in the friend group, you function as the tie-breaker in arguments about which direction to go. At one branch, you’re heading to find a missing member of the group who is presumed dead and find a poster asking for survivors to head to a specific location. You must choose between the two. I thought that it would be interesting to see how far down the line these choices would affect the story, and if the story would significantly. There was another point in the demo where one choice was blocked off completely, which led me to believe they had either not finished that bit of the game yet, or it would lead me too far astray of the demo’s ending. The ending is a surefire cliffhanger that will definitely leave the player wanting to see more out of this serialized yarn.

Unfortunately, the full game doesn’t capitalize on the promise of the game’s demo. After the mid-game cliffhanger leads into the second half of the game — which you can skip to in the full title by taking a quiz on the game’s story events, proving that you played through them — there are zero choices to be had, and the game rushes to its predictable (and disappointingly traditional) climax, adding only a scant couple hours to the final product’s runtime. There are no diverging pathways, and none of the twisty deaths of the creators’ aforementioned other series. As such, it feels like a stylish, but unfinished piece of work.

‘World’s End Club’ is addictively twisty, humorous, and adventurous.

World’s End Club is addictively twisty, humorous, and adventurous. It has an idiosyncratic character style that pulls you into its story, and I’m excited to see where it all goes or if its myriad story threads come together, imperfect platforming be damned. All in all, what better way to spend the Summer (ostensibly) at the end of the pandemic than with your best friends, trying to figure out how to make your way through a dying version of the world you once loved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick the landing and feels like it was rushed to its own finish line.

I look forward to more work from this studio, and like the kids of the Go-Getters Club. I’ll try to remember the good times.