The World Ends With You is an innovative and hyper-stylised JRPG that arrived to warm critical reception and amassed a cult following, releasing in the west in 2008. It followed headphones-wearing and introverted Neko who appears to have died and found himself in a ghostly state, unable to physically interact with the busy Shibuyans around him. Neku partners up with another assumedly dead ‘player’ and is thrust into a Hunger Games-style competition called the Reapers’ Game, alongside other deceased souls in a purgatory plane that overlays upon the corporeal Shibuya. Neko and the players are given a week to compete in a series of challenges to win points and favour with the game’s overlords, the Reapers. Losing teams face permanent erasure, while the winners are said to have their wish granted at the close of the week-long game.
A deceptively long game, the supposed seven-day Reapers’ Game of the original ends with a significant rug pull moment that reveals a much grander paranormal mystery which then drives the next couple dozen hours. TWEWY then ends with a tantalising tease of a return, and the 14-year wait is over…sort of. After seeing the 3D visuals in the reveal trailer, I steered clear as my first impressions weren’t great. After spending a good 40+ hours with NEO The World Ends With You, I’m conflicted by a few minor issues but delighted to say that fans will not be displeased.
Currently hits a little different mid-pandemic, hey?
NEO The World Ends With You returns in full force as a title that lives up to every inch of the original’s culturally-defining glory while spending much of its runtime retreading eerily familiar ground both literally and figuratively. Composer Takeharu Ishimoto has returned with clout, touting a soundtrack that includes remixed tracks from the new game as well as the inclusion of genres such as nu-metal. The graffiti-punk world is dripping in big, bold tags and stat-boosting fashion choices right out of a Tumblr fashion designer’s imagination. It’s all extremely indulgent, extravagant, and anime in all the ways that have since become synonymous with series like Persona. NEO’s transition from 2D to 3D revives Shibuya as a wonderfully morphs around you, unfolding and contracting as new protagonist Rindo and his team of four sweeps the metropolitan streets.
About three years on from the first game, NEO works as both a reimagining of the first game and an effective sequel. Recall the rug pull I mentioned earlier? Returning players will immediately get a sense of the looming twists, due to the first third of NEO following an overly similar plot structure to the previous game. Rindo and co are surprisingly nonplussed about much of the post-life shenanigans occurring in this world, due to the cast lacking any real growth and having more than their fair share of eye-rolling dialogue. As such, I do recommend playing with the Japanese dub or at least switching back and forth. The main character’s English delivery is very ‘how do you do, fellow kids?’, while the Japanese dialogue has no closed captions or subtitles outside of cutscenes and visual novel-like dialogues.
Attacking the golden pigs is as cruel as ever. They’re too cute.
While the writing is not especially great, or even endearingly cringe-inducing, the presentation enveloping the package more than compensates. However, for those who demand substance over style in their games (or have become gluttonous for both at the same time in response to the Persona series), NEO may be a hard sell and that’s a damn shame. But as a unified whole, almost every aspect of this game comes together in both form and function to elevate the stylistic presentation that pervades every inch of this game. From the music, art direction, clothing, atmosphere through to the combat, a revamped pin system that uses a party of four instead of two, and a lack of gendered clothing/gear restrictions – NEO succeeds in every way as being the cultural touchstone that the original was.
Gameplay is a near-perfect translation of the 2D world and encounters of TWEWY. As the party of players can now cap at four, the pin-powered combat draws players into 3D arenas mirroring locations within Shibuya. Fights feature the teenage protagonists casting all kinds of wild powers at the Noise, who are effectively powerful super-sized animals filtered through street art. Fans of the first game will recognise the 3D renditions of these enemies, but disappointingly far too few are truly original. Enemy variation often comes down only to a colour change which indicates that they pack a greater punch. Fortunately, the return of the adjustable difficulty/reward system and the fast-paced nature of battles makes this easy to overlook.
The only combat screen I took that wasn’t an indistinguishable blur of effects
There are loads of combat pins to collect, level up, evolve, and take into battle. These pins initially look like badges one might wear, but each holds a power that can only be used in the world of the Reapers’ Game, or Underground (UG). Each character can equip only one, and it will then be assigned to a button or trigger. This means that you cannot take more than four abilities into a battle, and the strategic satisfaction of testing different builds is never not satisfying.
One build might have a pin that deals a damage boost, while another tethers enemies. The last two pins could be an area of effect flame attack and another that materialises fucking vehicles from mid-air to drop on enemies. Executing this build against a plague of frogs and scorpions is a thrill. All abilities can be executed simultaneously, with the player switching control between characters as their pins are activated. This leads to chaos, but the camera strives to keep the enemies in focus as they’re stunned with the tether, surrounded by fire, and then have buses dropped onto them. A coordinated barrage like this will mean cooldown time on abilities but can also lead to special attacks if the combos are deemed ‘stylish’ enough. It’s an absolute thrill that is elevated by the soundtrack, but the FPS does drop when the screen explodes in a flurry of colour and juggled baddies.
I’ve had this anxiety nightmare
The sequel to one of my top five favourite games will sadly not be sliding into my hall of fame, yet Square Enix has pulled a ‘The Force Awakens’ and given fans just about everything they could want to both service and redeliver on their nostalgia. A hard act to follow, NEO absolutely works as a ‘new’ The World Ends With You. However, the elements that make the original groundbreaking have only been refined here, not expanded upon with any great risk. New players that can endure the awkwardness of the characters and dialogue will be able to experience what makes this series such a culturally-defining JRPG, and returning players will find their expectations met but doubtfully exceeded.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher
- Square Enix
- Square Enix
- PS4 / Nintendo Switch
- July 27, 2021