After 13 years, Square Enix surprised everyone with a full-fledged sequel to its Nintendo DS cult classic RPG The World Ends with You, with NEO: The World Ends with You for Nintendo Switch and PS4.
Making a sequel to such a unique game seems like it would be an impossible task. The original game was an experience that combined, street art, Japanese urban culture and a battle system specifically made for the DS. Combined with a profound story about an angsty antisocial teenager learning to connect with the world around him made for a stylish and relatable experience.
Now we’re back in the fashionable streets of Shibuya. While there are a couple of bumps in the road, NEO: The World Ends with You lives it to its predecessor, re-creating the same sense of flair, a solid plot, fun characters and a great re-interpretation of the battle system that continues the original’s theme of communication and connection.
NEO: The World Ends with You centres around Rindo, a high schooler who along with his friend Fret are trapped in ‘The Underground’ of Shibuya Tokyo. A purgatory-like parallel city with no clue how they got there. To escape, they must win the Reapers game, a series of trials against three other teams. To fail is to be erased from existence. They soon team up with the shy otaku Nagi and the mysterious Sho Minamimoto.
The game is split into ‘days’ where the team undergo a new trial, meeting a vast and colourful cast of characters along the way and uncovering more of the secrets behind the reapers game. The story is intriguing and able to keep the player on their toes. There are many mysteries to unravel with twists upon twists as various characters interact, betray, ally, and just reveal more about themselves. Despite this though, the plot never feels confusing, being delivered in nice bite-sized chunks for the player to digest.
With that being said the game isn’t for everyone. This is a very story-heavy game that relies a lot on visual novel like dialogue to tell its tale. The game also has some serious pacing issues at times. Certain days feel far more dragged out than they should. This is in part due to the rewind time mechanic that has you jump to earlier points in the day to avoid catastrophe. It usually involves replaying certain areas which, while not the exact same, are similar to what you’ve done before. Usually involving more walls of text with the same characters you’ve already spoken to.
It’s a cool concept but it also makes these sections feel padded out. This doesn’t ruin the story but it can get tiring when it comes up.
That being said, NEO makes up for this with just how fun the characters are to be around. The main group are likeable. Rindo is awkward and his indecisive small talk is relatable. Fret’s energetic support is admirable and Nagi, being a dork obsessed with a gatcha game is funny in her own way. Each character must deal with their own insecurities in how they communicate with others and eventually overcome them. Rindo in particular reminds me of myself and others introverts in their teenage years.
It sounds like your basic anime power of friendship plot and in many ways, it is, but what brings it to a level above most of those is how dynamic the cast’s interactions are. They feel like real people. They joke and banter with each other the way a group of dorky friends would. The small talk they make in battle, dialogue scenes, even their quips as they walk through the city really add to their personality. Likewise, when they’re scared or frustrated it feels genuine and the way they bring each other up or bicker feels genuine. Even as an adult I can see a few of my own troubles in these people. It’s easy to route for them and satisfying to watch them grow throughout their journey.
The game has a larger ensemble cast compared to the small close-knit original. The majority of characters are pretty fun and memorable both in terms of design and personality even if they aren’t given more in-depth development. Standouts characters would include the other team’s leaders; Kanon, Motoi and Susukichi who are all great foils to the main group. There’s also Shoka, the overly sarcastic reaper who’s a little more invested in our heroes than she lets on. Without spoiling anything, if anyone in this game is becoming a breakout fan favourite, it’s her.
Of course, several characters also return from the previous game. While you don’t have to play it to understand NEO’s plot, doing so definitely makes their reappearance and dialogue feel more powerful when you know what they’ve already been through.
NEO: The World Ends With You’s biggest challenge from day one was going to be replicating the battle system of the original, which was practically hard-wired for the DS.
Thankfully, the solution is a game that is different yet still familiar. The characters now move along a 3D plane with each character have one attack, designated to one of six buttons. As characters perform an attack they run out of energy and need time to recharge. The idea is to time each character’s attacks so that they combo into each other. This builds your ‘groove’ so that you can perform larger more powerful attacks.
Keeping track of four characters at once definitely takes some getting used to but it becomes pretty addicting. There’s a large variety of attack types in the form of different pins that you equip for each character. These can chain into each other in different ways and the game encourages a lot of experimentation to see which different pins suit your playstyle most. Almost like a simplified character action game, it’s all about getting into a rhythm. You and your buddies got to work in sync as a team and use the highly customizable number of weapons to chain together the perfect combo.
Pins, Threads and Food
Collecting and switching to new pins is the crux of the battle system. Each pin has its own elemental affinity, brand and differing abilities which can determine how they act in battle. Enemies will drop new pins, but you can also level up the one’s you already have and even evolve them into better pins. The best one’s usually come from stores though so it’s good to go in and check for better pins whenever you can. With all the customization and fun of preparing that perfect chain combo, you may find yourself actively seeking better pins to get that groove.
Speaking of stores, you’re going to want to drop in to check on the latest fashion. In this RPG, the character’s armour comes in the form of clothes you buy at brand outlets. The better clothes you wear, the more stats you can increase. Like with pins, certain clothes also give you certain abilities. Having a full set from the same brand can also unlock stat and skill bonuses. It further adds to the highly experimental character customization and rewards the player for being as style-savvy as they can.
Rasing your stats is further done through paying a visit to local restaurants. Eating food will permanently increase your stats as it digests over time. Each character has different tastes and choosing food they prefer will give them greater stat bonuses. It’s a quirky yet fitting way of boosting stats and fits with the urban atmosphere of the game.
NEO also gives you the option to not only change difficulties on the fly but also lower your maximum level and HP. The upside of this is that you can get rarer pin drops from enemies. It creates an extra challenge for those who truly want to be the best in Shibuya.
The World (Ends with You)
There are also a lot of side quests involving different characters throughout the game. Some are more prominent than others. They do encourage the player to explore the city but a lot of them aren’t that interesting. They do however increase your ‘social network’. This can give you some administrative skills like being able to boost your groove faster or select different pins before restarting a battle.
Finally, the graphics of the game are gorgeous. Combining Tetsuya Nomura’s bright and flamboyant character design with a graffiti-like expressionist flair. If you’ve ever played Jet Set Radio, it’s a lot like that. The buildings warp at surrealist angles and the NPCs are better dressed than I’ll ever be. The game just oozes an all-encompassing sense of personality. It creates a unique atmosphere of a bustling city that holds many secrets inside of its colourful aesthetics. Like the original, there’s this feeling of Shibuya being a living, breathing city that you want to explore, and home to interesting people you want to meet.
This is further highlighted by the amazing soundtrack. From remixes of old songs like ‘Omari Wa Hajimari’ and ‘Someday’ to brand new tunes like ‘Bird in Hand’ (seriously go look it up on youtube, it’s a bop). The hip-hop soundtrack fits the style of The Underground perfectly and has hits I’ll be listening to for years to come.
It’s worth mentioning, I played the Switch version and for the most part, it played well. There only real issue is that the loading screen between areas could be a little choppy. Not slow mind you, just a bit janky. It’s a fairly minor thing and doesn’t affect the game as a whole.
Despite all this time, NEO: The World Ends with You truly captures the essence of what made the original so special. The pacing issues may be a sore spot, but the game is able to continue the existing story in an interesting way. Most importantly though, the characters, new and old are charming and fun to be around and the world is filled with personality.
The new battle system adapts the original’s for modern consoles in a way that captures the tone of its predecessor but modernizes it for newer platforms. From the fashion-based levelling system to the strange and wonderful soundtrack, this is the return fans have waited for. If you’re looking for a new RPG to sink some time into, a trip to Shibuya may be right up your alley.
Neo: The World Ends With You is now available on Nintendo Switch and PS4. It will be available on PC later this year. You can find out more about the game on its official website.
The original The World Ends With You has also gotten an anime adaptation. Find out more about that here.
Game reviewed on own copy. Game reviewed on Nintendo Switch
NEO: The World Ends With You
- Characters are likeable and well developed
- Combat is well updated for modern consoles
- Steller Visual design back up by a killer soundtrack
- Narrative pacing can be slow at times.