Before GTA IV sucked me into its sordid vortex of vicarious licentiousness, I was spending most of my time playing Square Enix's new RPG The World Ends With You for the DS. I encourage you to click on the link to the game's media-rich website, as it does a great job of conveying a sense of what the game looks, plays, and feels like.
Much has been made about the many ways Square Enix has revised or reconfigured the standard JRPG conventions in this game, and the experience of playing it certainly feels fresh. Part of this is due to the game's stylized environment and its mash-up of modern urban Shibuyu Tokyo tweaked with manga visuals and hip-hop/electronica vocal music.
But the revisions that matter most are under the hood, and one design feature in particular seems to me particularly inspired. The game lets you dynamically adjust its difficulty settings in two separate controls. One of these we've seen before: a simple "easy/normal" toggle selection ("hard" appears later as well) which influences the overall difficulty level of the game. This setting can be changed at any point.
The other difficulty adjustment is much more interesting. The game presents you with a slider which can be dynamically lowered to reduce your HP. Doing so makes staying alive much harder, but increases the drop rate and quality of pins you collect to use and sell in the game. Decreasing this slider to its minimum value makes battling a very hard, but very rewarding experience.
Playing with this 2-pronged difficulty adjustment system adds an incredible amount of flexibility to The World Ends With You. Other games provide such options, but often only at the beginning. I can't think of a another game that encourages and rewards such on-the-fly tinkering with dual gameplay difficulty settings like this (though I'm sure someone will let me know if I've forgotten one). Players who don't want this "crutch" can ignore it altogether. Frustrated players who get stuck (a frequent reason many players abandon RPGs) can get a leg up and move on.
And, of course, freaks like me can fight the same battle repeatedly, toying with various combos of difficulty settings and HP slider adjustments just for the pure joy of it. This is when my wife usually tells me that I need to seek professional help. ;-)
I'm working on a thorough review of the game, and I'll let you know when it's finished. Somebody please tell Niko Bellic he's on his own for a day or two.