The combat takes getting used to, but it's an incredibly unique masterpiece and a must-have in the DS library.
First up, the most important part of any game: the gameplay, and I'll admit it's possibly a little bit lacking here for fans of more action-oriented games. For the most part, you just wander around Shibuya (or at least, the currently-open areas of Shibuya) doing whatever it is the game just told you to do, occasionally going into a shop for some food or new clothing. On the overworld, though, it's possible to 'scan' using a button in the corner, letting you read people's thought balloons - and serving a second purpose: allowing you to enter battles.
Unlike most JRPGs, battles are neither random nor turn-based. You use the 'scan' to pick out which symbol you want to fight: in general, a larger symbol denotes a harder fight. After a while, you also gain the ability to 'chain' battles to get more experience and pins, and you can also lower your level for the same effect. This adds an interesting challenge to the game: do you play it safe and just go for standard EXP, or do you try to get more pins by lowering your HP to dangerous levels?
After that, the combat comes down to two areas. On the bottom screen, Neku fights enemies (called Noise) in an arcade-brawler-type system, using the pins he has equipped to unleash psychic attacks. I won't spoil the minutae of the system, but suffice it to say that after you find a pin deck that works for you, you can pretty much just keep using it as much as you like - unless you want a bigger challenge that comes with levelling up as many different pins as possible. You also want to keep an eye on the brands of your pins and clothes: follow the trends, and you'll be a lot more effective. As for the top screen, Neku's partner uses the D-pad (or ABXY if you're left-handed) to attack and defend, but if you can't handle switching screens quickly it's possible to leave this part to the AI. Manual control, though, gives you advantages like getting super attacks quicker, so mastering the learning curve has more rewards than the satisfaction of clearing a large group of enemies or a boss in only a few seconds.
There's also a minigame that can be played at a few points in the story or wirelessly with friends, but that's just a small distraction (and the one time you're forced to play, you can just lose) so it isn't important enough to affect the game's score.
Overall gameplay score: 9/10. Non-combat areas aren't that interesting, but combat is fun once you get used to it and completionists will have a blast to rival catching 649 different Pokémon.
Next, the second-most-important part of most games from this console generation: the story. While TWEWY doesn't really make its storytelling too 'interactive', meaning it could (and did, once) work in another medium, it simply wouldn't be too interesting without the gameplay (read: combat) part. Anyway, back to the story.
I don't want to spoil too much of the plot, but I will say that speaking as a teenager, I found it rather gripping. Seeing as the main theme of the game is 'teenagers', there's certainly a lot of room for interpretation of each event as part of 'normal' life. The plot also has more twists than a giant pretzel, so you'll probably want to keep going just to find out what else the game is holding back from you. Here's where non-JRPG fans might also hate the game: most of the dialogue is shown through entirely non-interactive text, which some might see as defeating the purpose of a game. Personally, I'm a little more optimistic. Just a note on this: Just because it's dialogue doesn't mean you should just skip through it. You'll want to read it all, partly so you know where to go and partly, like I said, for the plot.
The characters, at first, seem like your pick-and-mix bunch of JRPG heroes and villains. As a sample, the first two characters you're introduced to are Neku, an androgynous male with a gravity-defying haircut, an abnormal outfit and a cynical, 'I don't need anyone else' outlook on life, and Shiki, a bubbly, optimistic young girl whose major clothing philosophy is 'less is more'. However, the characters have quite a bit of depth and development, and most of the twists come from the secrets they keep. Watching Neku's character arc from 'hate-filled loner' to 'decent human being' is certainly interesting, and the others (well, the protagonists at any rate) get a not-indecent amount too. The villains are mostly flat, but then again, they're villains.
Overall story score: 9.7/10. The dialogue can seem slow and uninvolving, but the plot and characters are worth caring about.
And finally, we have sound. On the overworld, there's a lot of chatter in high-traffic districts and more silence away from the crowds, and you can always hear Neku's running footsteps in a nice bit of attention to detail. Most of the other sound effects come from basic stuff for things like scanning and sounds, both animal and thing-hitting-other-thing, fill the combat with more pleasure for the particularly skilled player. Voice acting only comes up with grunts in dialogue, some talking in the cutscenes and communication in battles, but it's all good on those rare occasions.
As for the music, well…it's mostly inspired by J-pop (since this is set in modern-day Tokyo, after all), with slow songs for the overworld and fast ones for combat. And it's all awesome. Even if you can't understand the lyrics, and in some cases you may not want to, don't be surprised if you find yourself bopping your head like Neku's idle animation. And there's some music stores where you can buy all the songs and listen to them without the sounds of a heated battle laid over the top.
Overall sound score: 9.6/10. Sounds effects are mostly good, soundtrack is all good and the voice acting works well when it's available.
Overall score: 9.5/10. If you own a Nintendo DS, you should definitely play this game. If not, get a DS and play this game too. It's not like they're too expensive right now. Or region locked.
Rent or Buy?
Buy. Definitely buy. No ifs, ands or buts.