Review: Neo: The World Ends With You can’t shake off its predecessor

What do the video games in a series or category owe to each other? How do they notify and construct on each other? After playing Neo: The World Ends with You, a reboot-cum-sequel to a critically-acclaimed 14-year-old Nintendo DS video game, this concern sits at the leading edge for me. Particularly given that, a minimum of according to the series’ innovative manufacturer Tetsuya Nomura, Neo: TWEWY isn’t really a follow up to its computer game predecessor.

Back in April, Funimation started simulcasting a The World Ends with You anime season, 12 episodes developed to inform the very first video game’s story and remove the requirement to play the video game itself totally. Within the area of almost 5 hours, audiences can get all captured up with the story of Neku Sakuraba and his pals, Shiki, Beat, Rhyme and Joshua, as they all get carried to an alternate, afterlife variation of Shibuya, Tokyo called the Underground. Caught in the Underground with no other way to reach anybody in truth, Neku and his pals combat a group of supernatural executioners called Reapers for control of their lives and the fate of Shibuya.

I didn’t play The World Ends with You when it was initially launched on the DS, however it’s presently readily available as both a smart phone video game (which I did play) and as a 2018 Nintendo Change port. There are components of the video game that are absolutely dated — seeing flip phones all over is wild, and Neku uses a set of Bluetooth earphones linked to a marker-shaped MP3 gamer around his neck — and these components are what the anime tries to improve, while keeping the initial video game’s story and bringing its psychological beats to brand-new audiences without all the systems and tradition.

As the last episode aired in June, players got an opportunity to play the brand-new video game’s demonstration on PlayStation 4 and Change — the supreme marketing relocation. That demonstration guidelines, by the method — it’s a complimentary, almost-feature-complete taste of Neo: TWEWY from the beginning to the end of in-game Day 2. You can level your celebration approximately level 15, and your conserve rollovers to the primary video game.

Characters run through the streets of the Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan in Neo: The World Ends With You

Image: Square Enix

Is viewing the anime required to take pleasure in Neo: TWEWY? No, however it does supply some important context for a great deal of the appropriate nouns the video game tosses at you essentially from the start. Otherwise, the start of the video game concentrates on brand-new individuals in a brand-new circumstance with brand-new stakes. It doesn’t actually hold gamers’ hands throughout its course, despite the fact that there is a huge glossary of terms stashed inside among the menus. This indicates the video game can be complicated, however there isn’t much time to harp on that initially — since Neo: The World Ends with You is an extremely hectic video game.

Gamers handle the function of Rindo Kanade, a teenage Shibuya homeowner who, along with his good friend Tosai “Fret” Furesawa, gets caught in the Underground and is cut off from this mortal aircraft, called the Realground. Rindo and Fret are required to collaborate and get involved, along with 4 other groups, in a lethal video game called the “Reaper’s Game,” run by actual pale horses (Shinigami, as the video game describes them in Japanese).

The Reaper’s Video game sounds simple enough, if a bit alarming, on paper: the group with the most points at the end of the seventh day of play wins, and the group in last location deals with erasure from presence. To make points, groups need to finish obstacles the Reapers set for them, along with eliminate crowds of Sound, the personification of the rough ideas and feelings of all individuals moving through Shibuya. In order to do all of this, characters are provided metal pins called Psych Pins that transport their hidden psychic capabilities into a bunch of squashing energy attacks and helpful passive strategies.

A character gives a pin to another character in Neo: The World Ends With You

Image: Square Enix

As a set, Rindo and Fret remain in method over their heads, however thankfully they’re signed up with by Sho Minamimoto, who reoccurs as he pleases and assists them out when he discovers it practical. Minamimoto presses the set to discover a 4th colleague, university student Nagi Usui, after a number of days. Rindo, Fret and Nagi end up being the core of the Wicked Tornados group and the real lead characters of Neo: TWEWY.

The trio is wonderful, if a bit stereotyped, in their functions as the whiplashed teenagers brand-new to the Reaper’s Video game. Nagi is an otaku and a stan for a gacha video game, Elegant Method, and believes Minamimoto appears like a character she has a crush on from the video game. Worry is exceptionally too happy-go-lucky and constantly flirting with the leader of the Variabeauties group, Kanon Tachibana. Rindo is peaceful, withdrawn, and relatively indecisive to a fault, constantly accepting others in the group whenever something requires to occur. Nevertheless, he enjoys his pals and will do anything to keep them safe — even presuming regarding reverse time to do it.

The Wicked Tornados divided their time in between fights and hanging out in Shibuya. In fights, the barrier in between the video game’s fight mechanics and full-on button-mashing is thin. You appoint psych pins with various powers and button presses to various characters. These pins can be referred to as “rapid-tap,” or projectile, telekinesis, sword and melee attacks; “tap,” or bomb- and trap-laying attacks; “charge,” which are usually area-of-effect attacks that harm a big quantity of Sound or other groups at the same time; and “hold,” that includes a range of attacks and powers varying from effective laser beams to recovery relocations. Putting all of these various kinds of relocations into practice can seem like a complicated dance sometimes, and the finding out curve to improving this dance is relatively high.

Characters engage in an explosive battle on the streets in Neo: The World Ends With You

Image: Square Enix

There’s no control modifying beyond appointing characters and pins to specific buttons. In reality, the video game does not appear to be really available in basic – on Change, the settings are sporadic, with just a single toggle for subtitles, and there appear to be no alternatives connected to colorblindness or other visual problems. I do not know if this is the case on the PlayStation 4 version or on the PC release on the Epic Game Store due out later this year. This is a shame in terms of allowing the most JRPG fans possible to play the video game.

While Neo: TWEWY prefers fast-paced combat to slower fighting styles (you’re graded on speed and efficiency), you can mostly play however you want. Certain pin combinations will control the field, preventing enemies from moving and attacking; other pins will do higher damage to certain enemies based on elemental type. Each pin has a cooldown rate and an attack limit; reach this limit, and you’ll have to wait a certain amount of time before that character can use their psych again. If you don’t put thought into your “pin decks,” or sets of different combinations of pins, you might find combat starting and stopping a lot, with frequent awkward moments where everyone just stands around waiting for their pins to recharge before returning to the fray. This can have devastating consequences in certain contexts, like boss battles and chain fights.

You soon learn to rely on the Beatdrop system to quickly take enemies out. While individual pins might be powerful enough to defeat enemies on their own, Beatdrops let players link attacks together in wild and flashy combos. If you can successfully drop the beat (bring another character in to attack after staggering an enemy), you earn “Groove,” which can be used to execute a massive finishing move on the entire field. Fail to drop the beat quickly enough, and you might lose Groove progress instead.

Battles take place when you “Scan” a part of the city for Noise. They’re a bit like random encounters, except you can chain multiple encounters together. These “multi-reduction battles” increase the amount of experience both the characters and their pins get, as well as increase the likelihood for rare pin drops and more money — not to mention less time grinding spent overall. Adding to this effect is the ability to increase the difficulty before combat, which further increases the likelihood of rare pin drops, as well as the amount of experience points you get.

The characters battle in front of a storefront in Neo: The World Ends With You

Image: Square Enix

This difficulty toggle is one example of how much the game wants you to become more powerful. For example, setting the team level to 1 will bring you back to the amount of HP you started the game with while keeping everything else — attack, defense, etc. — the same, meaning if you can dominate the field, you stand to gain a lot of experience with no real downside. On top of that, at any time you can revisit earlier chapters with weaker enemies who nonetheless drop high EXP, making grinding a breeze. Having trouble with a late-game boss, like I did? Go back to week one and grind out some levels while your favorite podcast plays in the background. The one gripe I have is that if you go back to a previous chapter, you will have to sit through all the dialogue in that chapter again, with no “skip all” button in sight.

The game does a lot to make you feel powerful without making you overpowered, and this balance maintains itself regardless of the difficulty setting you choose. Bosses are still tough as nails on Easy difficulty, but switching to Easy gives you just enough of an edge to eke out a victory most of the time. I just as often switched the difficulty to Hard and drained my HP to Level 1 in order to max out the amount of EXP I’d earn from combat and level up via grinding faster. This is not simply tolerated by the game; it is absolutely encouraged.

Battling isn’t all you do. Shibuya is fully-3D and explorable, and the different areas of the city look gorgeous. Despite being 3D-rendered spaces, they hold onto the painterly qualities of the 2D backgrounds in the original TWEWY. Shibuya is world-renowned for its food and shopping, so of course, the game puts these elements front and center. Between battles you traipse around the district, encountering a bevy of interesting clothing boutiques and restaurants that all make your team more powerful. Eating a character’s favorite food provides them with a small-yet-permanent boost to their stats; doing this repeatedly might earn good favor with the restaurateur, who will then offer a secret menu item to you with a bigger bonus. (Like other games with food systems, overeating is possible, and it means you won’t be able to eat again until your hunger meter is completely empty, which only happens when you fight.)

A status screen for meals eaten by the characters in Neo: The World Ends With You

Image: Square Enix

Similarly, most of the clothing shops you enter have a combination of clothes and pins that increase your team’s effectiveness via the game’s Threads system. They generally receive new shipments every in-game day, so buying clothes constantly is a must. Each item of clothing provides some kind of stat boost to HP, attack or defense, in addition to an active ability that gets unlocked when a particular character’s style stat reaches a certain point. The higher your style stats across the board, the more clothing you’ll be able to take full advantage of. The most interesting aspect of Threads is that every character can wear basically any article of clothing in the game, even if the item’s active ability is meant for a particular character, and regardless of the character’s gender. The main trade-off is that you don’t actually see the characters in outfits other than their main designs, so their utility is basically only for stat tweaking and battle-preparedness.

In addition to eating, clothes shopping, outfit-planning, and psych pin management, there is one more major system: the Social Network. This is a sprawling web of connections with various NPCs, including teammates, with Rindo at the center. Each node is a different person, and attached to each person is a perk that drastically improves your game. Some of the perks are fairly easy to achieve, like “eat at this restaurant three times to get a secret menu item,” or “reach level three affinity with this clothing retailer for new gear.”

This is where Fret and Nagi really come in handy. Everyone in the Underground has some kind of latent psychic ability, and Rindo’s core partners have particularly helpful ones. Fret can jog anyone’s memories, which can help to solve puzzles, open pathways, and get people to do what you want. Nagi can dive into people’s minds, which allows you to battle Noise that have attached themselves to targets’ souls. When this happens and you do well in battle, you can earn extra “Friendship Points” to spend on the Network and even unlock new nodes in it.

Two characters in Neo: The World Ends With You watch a broadcast on their phones of another character saying, “Greetings, sheeple of Shibuya!”

Image: Square Enix

Other perks are unlocked simply by playing through the story, and these include quality-of-life improvements like “Press B repeatedly to move through Shibuya faster and earn Groove if you can match the tempo of the background song.” Still other perks are earned through the completion of sidequests that start showing up after Day 4. Completing these sidequests earns you Friendship Points. There’s no right or wrong answer to how you spend your points. By the time credits rolled on my playthrough, just by playing the game as normal, I had completed two-thirds of my Network.

All of these different systems are fairly unobtrusive while actually playing the game. I didn’t feel like I had to juggle anything or that I was too encumbered by any particular thing. The game encourages you to find your comfort zone and doesn’t try to cajole you out of it really often. Even as characters were added and removed from the Wicked Twisters’ roster over the course of the story, I was able to keep gameplay moving smoothly along with just a few minor adjustments to my pin deck.

Neo: The World Ends with You is more than an endless series of fights bound together by a bunch of systems, though. Every character – protagonist, antagonist and deuteragonist – has quite a bit to say and do throughout the game, and their relationships to each other grow to be pretty complex over time. Dialogue flows pretty naturally, for the most part; these teens are not portrayed as Teens™, there is no overuse of Gen Z (or even Gen X or Gen Y) dialogue to drive home that Rindo and Fret and Nagi — to say nothing of the many members of the slightly older yet still supposedly hip supporting cast — are Cool and With It or whatever. Even when a character uses a little too much slang, it doesn’t feel super forced.

Sometimes, some of the characters do feel like the embodiment of archetypes and tropes. For example, the main antagonist of much of the story, a Reaper from Shinjuku named Shiba Miyakaze, can best be described as simply “a less goofy Maximillion Pegasus, from Yu-Gi-Oh!” Another antagonist, Tanzo Kubo, is simply bizarro world Columbo. There are fashion models and pop idols who act, predictably, like fashion models and pop idols. Sometimes the game feels a little bit black-and-white in its portrayals of people and depictions of moments, but everything in its narrative works together really well, creating a world that feels both stylized and relatable.

A huge billboard in Neo: The World Ends With You depicts a character wearing a blazer with nothing underneath, standing in a pink-lit room full of chandaliers

Image: Square Enix

There are very few fully-3D in-game cutscenes, and most of them are relegated to the very end of the game. Everything else is done in much the same way as the original game, with characters sharing dialogue in drawn, static panels, almost like a visual novel. These scenes are fairly long, but a good chunk of them are voiced, so you’re not having to just sit around silently reading thousands of lines of text. Takeharu Ishimoto (Kingdom Hearts III, The World Ends with You) returns as the freelance composer of the game’s soundtrack, and his tracks serve as a nice, constant background companion as you play. (The classic track “Twister” from the original game makes its return here in a neat way, so be on the lookout for that.)

Mechanically, graphically, from moment to moment, Neo: The World Ends with You is enjoyable, and for many players that’s going to be enough. The gameplay hits a sweet spot between deliberate turn-based combat and hack-and-slash mayhem; it almost feels similar to a fighting game like Skullgirls at times. The voice actors sound great, and the writing isn’t cringey. It’s competently made.

And yet, I felt like Neo: TWEWY desperately wants to get out of its own way and be its own game, but it simply can’t pull it off. Nearly everything in the game is a reference to its predecessor. Sometimes, the game manages to make this work, like with the pin-based battle system and its drastically improved inputs over the touch controls on the mobile and Change versions of TWEWY. Other times, the game really wants players to remember what happened in a particular, random moment of the post-game content in The World Ends with You: Final Remix — content that just wasn’t covered in the anime for which Neo: TWEWY is supposed to be the direct sequel, and which Square Enix indicated newcomers to the series should watch to get the lowdown. This problem just compounds as the game reaches its conclusion.

Characters in Neo: The World Ends With You face off against a huge, ram-like character

Image: Square Enix

I played the original, so the references landed for me, but the newcomers the game clearly expects to attract might struggle. What messes me up is the claim by Nomura that Neo would be a sequel to the anime and not the game. Neo feels much more like a sequel to the Switch port of TWEWY — as it should logically be. You can, right now, go back and play The World Ends with You: Final Remix on Switch, and I don’t understand why Neo is supposed to shy away from that. Ultimately, I think it’s a shame that Neo doesn’t know whether it wants to be a new thing for new fans or something for Hardcore Players Only.

If you’re a fan of the franchise, there’s a lot here for you specifically. If you’re coming in fresh, the game is going to throw a lot of jargon at you in a very short amount of time, and then it’s going to hit you with references to prior events with which you won’t be familiar. You don’t need to play the previous game or watch its anime adaptation, but doing so might help with context. If none of the narrative stuff interests you, there’s plenty of in-game stuff to collect: I’m currently working on completing my pin collection, whittling down my Noisepedia and hunting down graffiti (the game’s variation of achievements). When this game shines, it really shines, even if maybe too much of that shine is refracted by its past.

Neo: The World Ends With You will be released July 27 on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as on Windows PC later on in 2021. The video game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Square Enix. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can discover additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long included to this report.