Neo: The World Ends with You is a sequel that recreates everything that worked about the first game — as well as a lot of what didn’t work. The result is a vibrant, joyful, and imperfect game that positively drips with style. When Neo: The World Ends with You is firing on all cylinders, you’ll feel right at home on the stylish streets of Shibuya, fighting for your life in the intriguing Reaper Games and absolutely dying (heh) to find out what happens next.
On the other hand, Neo doesn’t reach its full potential, due to a confusing combat system and a general sense that your job, as a player, is simply to shuffle an interesting cast of characters a few city blocks at a time, then sit through a bunch of cutscenes. When the original The World Ends with You debuted on the Nintendo DS in 2008, the small setting and imprecise combat may have been side effects of a handheld platform with limited power. Those limitations shouldn’t really exist in a modern console game.
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Still, fans of the original TWEWY should find exactly what they’re looking for here. If you want to explore a colorful subsection of Tokyo, listen to a killer hip-hop/J-pop soundtrack and laugh out loud as some truly preposterous characters exchange witty banter, there’s a lot to like in Neo: TWEWY. Otherwise, you might be better off with a more traditional JRPG — or at least by starting with the first game. This Neo: The World Ends with You review will explain why.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Switch, PC (release date TBA)
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Neo: The World Ends with You review: Gameplay
In Neo: The World Ends with You, you take control of Rindo Kanade: a teen from Tokyo who gets drawn into the deadly Reaper Games. Rindo and his friend Tosai "Fret" Furesawa find that they've died under mysterious circumstances. The only way to come back to life is by competing against other players, completing bizarre missions in the Reaper Games. These take place entirely in the real-world Tokyo fashion district of Shibuya.
Perceptive players may remember that this is precisely the same setup as the original TWEWY, save for a different protagonist. Still, it was a good premise back in 2008, and it's a good setup now. Gameplay has three major components: exploring the streets of Shibuya, upgrading your characters' stats and abilities and doing battle against the animalistic Noise that inhabit the Reaper Games.
For the most part, you can walk around Shibuya at leisure, stopping to eat and shop. You'll also read people's minds — sometimes just to hear their colorful asides, and sometimes because they hold clues for completing your missions. After a while, you'll realize that while Shibuya is a colorful and varied neighborhood, it's not actually that big, making you revisit the same old areas again and again, with artificial gates between them. This might work if there were a ton of things to do on each screen, but it's usually just shops, and plenty of Noise to fight.
You can increase your HP by gaining experience in combat, and increase your stats by stuffing yourself at Shibuya's various restaurants. The majority of your character-building comes in the forms of Pins, however. Defeating the Noise and completing quests grants you Pins, each of which lets you use a certain attack. Characters in Neo: TWEWY don't have intrinsic attacks or special abilities. Everything they do is dictated by which Pin they have equipped.
For example: one Pin may allow you to pummel an enemy by tapping a face button as quickly as you can. Another one may unleash a Wind-elemental attack, which increases in potency the longer you hold down a shoulder button. Each Pin gains experience, and takes only a few battles to master. Many Pins can also "evolve" into new forms once you max them out. As such, you'll swap pins frequently and have to learn how to use a wide variety of them before the end of the game.
The freeform and creative Pin system was one of the best parts of the original TWEWY, and that's still the case here. The combat, however, is a bit more uneven.
Neo: The World Ends with You: Combat
Whenever you're not watching cutscenes, talking with non-player characters or purchasing new gear, you'll probably be in combat. Neo: TWEWY has a fundamentally good battle system, marred by some frustrating ideas that drag the experience down on a regular basis. (Perceptive players may remember that this, too, was precisely the same criticism of the original TWEWY.)
If you tackle one Noise confrontation at a time, you'll find them pretty short and simple, albeit also fairly chaotic. Rindo can recruit up to three allies to aid him in battle, and each one of them uses a different attack, depending on which offensive Pins they have equipped. You control each character with a different button, meaning that when battle is in full swing, you'll have to hold, or tap, or mash the shoulder and face buttons simultaneously. For context, the PS4 version of the game requires you to hit the L1, square, triangle and R1 buttons at the same time, holding some and tapping others. All the while, you'll also need to worry about dodging enemy attacks and activating special abilities.
If that all sounds very confusing, well, it is. Battles often evolve into big button-mashing-fests, where your best bet of defeating enemies is simply by having more HP and better stats than they do. Bosses can be particularly tough, as each of their attacks take off huge chunks of your HP, and healing Pins are hard to come by. At the same time, most random battles are trivial — unless you up the difficulty.
This is where one of Neo: TWEWY's best ideas comes into play. You can change difficulty at-will, as well as "chain" battles together and lower your HP level. Doing so ensures that you get better Pins after each battle, and that you'll have to manage your HP and special attacks more efficiently than usual. However, the "chain" mechanic itself is a real pain, since it requires you to run quickly — but not too quickly! — from Noise to Noise, hoping that you can attract them to you without a battle auto-starting in the meantime. You'll often find yourself stuck behind an obstacle and starting a useless one-off battle, wondering whether all this combat is even worthwhile.
Neo: The World Ends with You review: Story
Rindo and Fret are two Tokyo teenagers who enjoy hanging out in the trendy fashion district of Shibuya. They may be stuck there a lot longer than they intended, however, as they discover they've died under mysterious circumstances, and are now bound to the area. To reclaim their lives, they must participate in the otherworldly Reaper Games, competing against other unfortunate souls, supervised by a bunch of antisocial psychopaths.
If you've played the original The World Ends with You, you'll find that the setup is almost the same as before. Rindo is a friendlier and more outgoing protagonist than Neku Sakuraba, but the setup is the same, as is the process of gradually sussing out ally from enemy, and the dawning realization that there's more going on behind the scenes than a simple "earn the most points to come back to life" game.
Still, on its own merit, the story is enjoyable, particularly the unhinged characters and the sharp script. As Rindo's quest progresses, he encounters personalities like Nagi Usui, who's obsessed with a cheesy online game, as much in death as in life, and Shoka Sakurane, a low-level Reaper who can't resist playing cat-and-mouse with Rindo and Fret. You'll even meet a few recurring characters, like the Reaper-turned-player Sho Minamimoto, whose endless supply of math puns seems like it would get old, but never actually does.
Neo: The World Ends with You review: Visuals and sound
Neo: The World Ends with You positively shines in the way it looks and sounds. Shibuya feels alive, full of teeming crowds, bigger-than-life stores and real-world landmarks that give the neighborhood its distinctive flavor. The game's neon-and-pastel palette and anime art style make the game endlessly endearing to look at, even when you've seen the same areas and enemies dozens of times before.
The soundtrack, too, is simply on a different level than what most games offer. You'll hear a variety of upbeat hip-hop, J-pop and rock, and the tracks vary considerably depending on whether you're walking around the neighborhood, doing battle with the Noise or advancing the story through one of many, many cutscenes.
Taken together, the visuals and sound, along with the story and dialogue, give Neo: The World Ends with You a sense of thematic cohesion that most games simply don't achieve.
Neo: The World Ends with You review: Verdict
Neo: The World Ends with You has almost the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor — which is odd, considering that it probably didn't have to. It's no longer as innovative as it was the first time around, since you've now (probably) played something very similar before.
And yet, it's hard not to be charmed by Neo: TWEWY's characters, soundtrack and overall vibe. In a sea of games that pretend to be cool, Neo: TWEWY actually achieves it. Pick it up if you've dreamed about a sequel ever since finishing the first game — or hold off, if you need some time to play through the original first.