fbpx

NEO: The World Ends With You Review

iMusicin free music

I’ve thought about The World Ends With You often in the 14 years since its Nintendo DS debut. Its incredible soundtrack, the irresistible vibes of the city of Shibuya, and its compelling coming-of-age journey stuck with me even when the weird intricacies of its plot had faded. So my desire for its long-awaited Switch sequel, NEO: The World Ends With You, was not necessarily that it would answer every hanging plot thread that had been left at the end of a game I played years ago. Rather, I hoped it could recapture the feelings that made the original so special: themes of growth, connection, and love of a place because of its people.

While NEO mostly delivers in that regard, what’s also clear is that Square Enix was so eager to at last revisit the same stories, characters, and places of its predecessor that it left this follow-up little room to tell an interesting new story or reach a new emotional peak of its own. Still, it’s a homecoming that’s pulled off well enough, with a flashy signature style and entertaining combat mechanics that were translated surprisingly well to the Switch.

[widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=neo-the-world-ends-with-you-pre-release-screenshots&captions=true"]

NEO: The World Ends With You takes place in a parallel version of Shibuya, Japan, where the deceased are sent to play a sadistic week-long “Reapers’ Game” for the right to return to life. The passive new protagonist Rindo and his charming cinnamon roll of a best friend Fret are sent to this alternate reality after Rindo has a strange and upsetting vision of Shibuya in chaos, and are later joined by the fangirlish Nagi and returning, math-obsessed, former antagonist Minamimoto. Across seven days, the group completes challenges, fights off strange monster-like enemies called the Noise, and solves puzzles set by the death warden Reapers. It's a set-up that will be familiar to fans of the first game, but with the interesting new twist that instead of pairing off, players can form teams of unlimited size and work together as a group to "win" and set their entire group free. This welcome choice that allows NEO to explore a much larger party of allies at once than the first game could, while also opening the door to dynamics between competing players rather than merely implying their existence.

[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Just%20as%20in%20the%20first%20game%2C%20Shibuya%20remains%20a%20delight%20to%20explore%2C%20stuffed%20with%20fashion%2C%20food%2C%20music%2C%20and%20culture.%20″]

Even though Rindo and friends are effectively ghosts, they can still interact in limited ways with the real-world Shibuya by visiting shops or restaurants. And just as in the first game, Shibuya remains a delight to explore, stuffed with fashion, food, music, and culture. It's vibrant and exuberant, packed with real-world references and clearly assembled by a team of artists and designers that adores the actual city. Some of the best objectives in NEO involve getting to know its fictional Shibuya better, whether that’s by exploring its urban legends or seeking out notable landmarks. I loved popping into restaurants to stuff my characters with mouth-watering ramen, piles of fluffy pancakes, and spicy curry, or revisiting shops chapter after chapter to see what hot new couture I could buff them up with.

But beyond these bold strokes, NEO is full of small touches that bring its Shibuya to life. You can see them in its detailed art and character designs, and in the flavor text of equipment and the skill-tree-like "social network." But the best example stems from Rindo's ability to scan NPCs and read their thoughts. Apart from the required plot moments, scanning serves no gameplay purpose beyond giving you a better understanding of the world of NEO. Passersby will muse about their relationships, idols, TV shows, food, gaming, school, work, and plenty more. You can't do anything with this information, but these pensive moments are well-written and charming, and help paint a brighter picture of NEO's Shibuya and why its inhabitants love it so much.

Inseparable from all of this is NEO's music, which continues in the footsteps of its predecessor as one of the most stand-out and bopping video game soundtracks I've ever heard. It spans multiple genres including hip-hop, rock, pop, and metal, and includes plenty of new tracks alongside remixes of fan favorites – often perfectly timed atop big story moments that excited me as a long-time fan. There are very few songs in this playlist that aren’t earworms, though new hits like Kill the Itch, bird in the hand, Breaking Free, and remixes of Calling, Transformation, and Twister are stand-outs.

Pin-demonium

Alongside its joyous portrayal of Shibuya, what further impressed me throughout NEO were the myriad ways in which it was also able to translate the spirit of the original's mechanics and feel onto a very, very different console – one that, in case you didn’t notice, only has a single screen. Nowhere is this more evident than in the real-time battle system, which layers familiar 3D hacking and slashing with a timing-based combo system and a whole host of customizability. NEO succeeds at the unenviable task of following up a dual-screen, touch input-focused system with a button-based one, while still emphasizing teamwork and "flow" between the different characters.

The World Ends With You on DS had you activating ability-granting “pins” in battle by using different touchscreen motions, such as taps, swipes, or drawing certain shapes. In NEO, each character in your party can now only be equipped with a single pin at a time, with different pins corresponding to different kinds of attacks that are each cleverly assigned to a specific button. For instance, the X button will typically have pins with rapidfire, close-range attacks, while Y has fast long-range moves. Each character can use a pin a certain number of times before it must recharge, making it necessary to balance their usage so you're not sitting on your butt half the battle. The sheer quantity and diversity of pins available made finding them, growing them into stronger forms, and testing them in different combinations to achieve a smooth flow during combat a blast, especially in the later chapters and once I started chasing pins only accessible on harder difficulties.

[poilib element="poll" parameters="id=a9c10eaf-252c-4157-a84e-0da94096e65a"]

There’s also a "groove" system that rewards you with powerful finishers for correctly timing combos and chaining attacks between different characters that is especially satisfying. I loved the thrill of Fret pulling off a pristine combo with a flaming sword, followed up by a big aerial kick from Minamimoto, passing to Rindo to shoot electricity out of his hands for a spell, and wrapping it all up by having Nagi drop a semi-truck on an enemy's head before launching into a team finisher move, then passing back to Fret to do it all over again. That's a peak I was always chasing, but the reality was that I spent a decent chunk of the roughly 40- to 50-hour campaign experimenting to find the moments where it flowed just right like that.

Especially in NEO's first half, you won't have a wide enough arsenal of pins to have perfectly smooth battles every time – or even if you do, your favorite pins might be outclassed by less comfy ones in sheer damage numbers. The solution is usually to grind more or try harder difficulties in the hope of getting better pins, which isn’t necessarily an ideal answer. Though it's worth adding that, having appreciated the difficulty options and associated collect-a-thons from The World Ends With You, I was delighted to see these customizations return in all their robustness for NEO, further giving me reason to return after the credits had rolled.

[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Having%20appreciated%20the%20difficulty%20options%20and%20associated%20collect-a-thons%20from%20The%20World%20Ends%20With%20You%2C%20I%20was%20delighted%20to%20see%20these%20customizations%20return.”]

Hitting those good vibes are what will ultimately stick with me about NEO's battle system, but the groove had its missteps, too. For one, NEO's boss battles seemed to only either be effective but unmemorable, or flashy but frustrating. The later hours have a number of battles with some truly fascinating twists and turns, but its dodge and camera controls aren't always up to the task of keeping your team out of danger but also in view. Because you only control one character at a time (whichever one last used a pin), the AI is left to manage the rest of your party and will often walk them through poison clouds or directly into attacks that you correctly dodged, meaning you might lose a fight here or there despite doing everything right. This doesn’t happen often, but in fights with huge enemies boasting hard-hitting moves, it can feel more like you're fighting your comrades than the enemy.

I also ran into a few annoying bugs in battles, especially in later chapters. Multiple times, enemies mysteriously got launched outside the official boundaries of the battlefield, making them nearly impossible to hit and forcing me to randomly fire off long-range attacks in the hope a few would connect and eventually whittle down their HP so I could move on. One enemy turned invisible (it was not supposed to turn invisible, though there are other foes that do have this as a functional mechanic) and became completely undamageable by anyone for any reason, forcing me to start a chain of eight interlinked fights all over again. Another time, NEO completely crashed as I was entering a very dramatic boss fight. These were small blips in the grand scheme, but happened just often enough to frustrate and merit mention.

Wicked Plot Twisters

Story-wise, NEO is as direct a sequel to The World Ends With You as one could want, despite coming 14 years after it. Without getting into any spoiler-y specifics, put simply: if you liked The World Ends With You and are hungry for resolution to the numerous plot threads left dangling at the end of it, NEO is likely to be very satisfying. I highly recommend either playing The World Ends With You: Final Mix or watching the anime first, though – while the characters try their best to summarize certain major events key to the setup of NEO, the weird intricacies of that story can be difficult to follow if you're just listening to characters deliver rushed summaries to a confused Rindo.

What NEO unfortunately sacrifices in its success as a direct sequel are its new, original characters. Rindo, Fret, Nagi, Shoka, Kanon, and other new members of the cast have occasional moments of depth and development, but they never quite reach the heights of the arcs in the first game. The first World Ends With You was all about Shiki, Beat, Joshua, and especially main protagonist Neku coming to terms with their own weaknesses, reckoning with trauma, and growing up a little through their connections with one another. NEO's new cast doesn't get the same space to tackle that growth because they're constantly giving up their own time to returning plots and problems.

What We Said About The World Ends With You: Final Remix

[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/2018/10/10/the-world-ends-with-you-final-remix-review”]

Because of the Switch’s two modes, The World Ends With You: Final Remix is simultaneously a good port and a bad one. Using handheld mode and touchscreen controls, Final Remix holds up as a great JRPG with tons of depth. It packs all the flair and charm seen in the DS original, along with some new incentives to keep playing after the story wraps. But the moment you dock the Switch and try to use motion controls TWEWY becomes a pain to play, which eliminates the fun of the new cooperative mode. The rearranged and remixed soundtrack is great and the story delights, but if you’ve played before you may want to think twice before double (or triple) dipping.

Score: 7.8

Read the full The World Ends With You: Final Remix Review

When they do get a bit of character development, it's usually all smashed into one day here or there, with characters making bold pronouncements about themselves or others with little build-up or explanation. The main protagonist, Rindo, in particular gets done dirty by an arc that boils his problems down to a single, flimsy character flaw he only meaningfully exhibits once or twice. The rest of the time he's not much more than a plot delivery vehicle. Without your lead hero having a meaningful conflict or a central perspective, a lot of NEO’s intended emotional peaks don’t matter nearly as much as they should, whether you played the original or not.

That’s a shame, because Rindo and his friends are a genuinely fun group to spend time with, especially compared to the antisocial tendencies of their predecessor, Neku. The writing of NEO is, largely, a delightful bit of work that leans into modern youth and meme culture without coming off as too corny or "How do you do, fellow kids?", and it has both the English and Japanese voice acting to match. The one exception is a spoiler-loaded character that appears in the middle of the story, whose speech felt both awkward and appropriative in a way that was totally unnecessary given that character's setup.

[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=I%20found%20myself%20disappointed%20that%20NEO%20leaned%20so%20heavily%20on%20nostalgia%2C%20and%20didn%E2%80%99t%20do%20more%20to%20embrace%20its%20new%20characters%20and%20stories.”]

As someone who adored The World Ends With You as a teenager and waited eagerly for a sequel for over a decade, I found myself feeling a bit conflicted about what NEO tried to do and whether or not it succeeded. It’s a worthy sequel both in how it captures the feel and spirit of the DS game, as well as in the very direct ways in which it follows up its story. But with such a long gap between the two, I found myself disappointed that NEO leaned so heavily on the nostalgia I had for characters I loved as a teenager, and didn’t do more to embrace the new characters and stories I was excited to get invested in as an adult (and especially the ones that headlined all its marketing).

It’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but there’s a point about 20 hours into the 40- to 50-hour story where it becomes very apparent that NEO is not really about what the trailers and box art want you to think it’s about. That might be fine for some, especially those who checked out the Final Mix version of The World Ends With You or the recent anime, but even those connections can’t magically give NEO a theme and throughline of its own as strong as its predecessor. NEO feels like it’s here to finish what The World Ends With You started, and it does that well enough. I just wish it hadn’t sacrificed its own story and characters to do so.


This article was originally published by IGN.COM

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

      Leave a Reply

      Logo
      Compare items
      • Total (0)
      Compare
      0