Neo: The World Ends With You is a unique JRPG that you shouldn’t miss out on if you enjoy the genre. The game was released by Square Enix on July 27th for both the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. A PC release is scheduled for later this summer. It is at the same time a sequel to the original Nintendo DS game and a remake. Ready to explore Shibuya on an outstanding soundtrack, while looking fly as hell?
|Buy if||Not for you if|
|– You liked the original game|
– You like JRPGs
– Shibuya’s aesthetic appeals to you
– You appreciate a good sound track
and thought out design
|– You’re not into JRPGs|
– You don’t like it when story
interrupts the gameplay
– Manga-style cut-scenes
are not your thing
Neo: The World Ends With You – Origins
In 2007 Square came through and made The World Ends with You for the Nintendo DS. The title has received two enhanced ports – Solo Remix and Final Remix. The game is critically acclaimed for its graphics and soundtrack. It also receives praise for how it integrates the gameplay into the setting of Shibuya. The combat system fully uses the features of the Nintendo DS: both screens, touch controls and even the microphone. The game inspired a manga and even got an anime adaptation, which aired earlier this year.
Neo: Remake or Sequel?
The Neo in the title suggests that the game is a remake; it’s the “new” version of the original game. And in some respects it is. The action JRPG takes place in modern-day Shibuya in Tokyo, a well-known shopping district. Since 2007 Shibuya and its youth culture have obviously changed a lot, and these changes are reflected in the new game. The flip-phones for example have been replaced by smartphones. The map has even expanded into other areas, such as Harajuku. Gameplay-wise, there’s definitely been an upgrade into modern technology. The game is now rendered in 3D as opposed to 2D, and voice-acting is available in both Japanese and English – although not for every cut-scene.
Story-wise, however, Neo: The World Ends With You is definitely a sequel. There are both recurring and new characters, such as the protagonist. Any loose ends from the original get addressed and tied up over the course of the game. In both scenarios, we follow teenagers who are forced to participate in “the Reaper’s Game”. The original story follows Neku over the course of three weeks, where he teams up with different partners each week. They (Shiki, Joshua, and Beat) each have their own role to play in the sequel. As we learn more about these characters, we also unravel more about what happened in the first game. As someone who didn’t play that one, the story isn’t necessarily hard to follow. However, if you don’t plan on playing it, I still recommend you read a synopsis online.
Neo: The World Ends With You – Story
Let’s look into the story first, because Neo: The World Ends With You is very story-driven. You can go from a 3D cutscene into a voiced 2D cutscene into a non-voiced 2D cutscene without having even moved your character. Especially in the beginning of the game, you can sometimes feel like you’re just walking from cut-scene to cut-scene, but it quickly stopped annoying me because of how enticing the story is. As the story progresses, you’ll also have to do and walk around more to complete missions or grind to win certain battles. After the story I’m going to address the visuals and sound, because although the gameplay is good, these really make the game stand out in their own way.
The Reaper’s Game
Protagonist Rindo Kanade, a high school student, suddenly finds himself together with his best friend Fret in the Underground (UG) version of Shibuya. They’re greeted by a Reaper, someone who works for the game-master, who tells them they have died and now have to participate in the Reaper’s Game. Every week, they have to complete challenges to earn points. The team with the most points at the end of the week gets to make a wish, usually to go back to the living in the Realground (RG), and the team in the last place gets erased. They have gained special psych abilities, and by using “pins” are able to fight the Noise or other enemies. Noise are beings in between the UG and RG, having physical manifestations in the UG only. They can however influence the RG, like manifesting negative emotions in people.
Joined by Minamimoto, a player much stronger than them, they start a team called the Wicked Twisters. New player Nagi, a gaming otaku student, joins them as well. Rindo also has the support of his online friend Swallow, who is the only person he can still contact. The Wicked Twisters compete against the Ruinbringers, the Deep Rivers Society, the Variabeauties and the Purehearts. The Reapers on their end are split into two groups: the Shibuya Reapers and the Shinjuku Reapers, the latter having lost their own territory. Shinjuku no longer exists in both the UG and RG, and people have no memories of it either. Something seems shady about these new Reapers, especially when Beat joins the team. He used to be a reaper himself, then a player who returned to the RG. Now he’s back, and he knows that he isn’t dead. And neither are they.
Neo: The World Ends With You consists of several chapters, each representing one day in the game. Each game will present you with a main objective that gains you points in the Reaper’s Game. One recurring mission was the turf war against the other teams. Most days, the mission consists of “puzzles” that you have to solve to reach a certain part of Shibuya, where you have to take on a certain Noise. The first team to do so receives the most points. You don’t actually have an impact on who wins the main mission – that is part of the story.
The game also has some side missions. While walking around Shibuya, you will sometimes notice that people are “possessed” by a Noise or have a Friend mission for you. By engaging with them, you will start these side missions. It’s definitely worth completing them for the rewards, and there aren’t too many over all. On top of the side missions, you can scan any location for “Noise” and fight it if you want to. This can be especially useful if you’re having trouble beating a certain boss. Fighting Noise will grant you rewards and experience points.
The drawing style and overall design of Neo: The World Ends With You really catches the eye. The attention to detail in the design of the environment and the characters is remarkable. You’re not able to control the camera movement, but it follows you in fish-eye style through Shibuya, making the buildings and graffiti look like a piece of modern art. Although it’s annoying not having control of the camera, the cool artsy vibe is worth it. The character design is really well-thought-out, providing all the main characters with their own unique style. Their fashion statements match the character of the Shibuya district well. Nomura, the character designer for both games, actually decided to give Rindo a face mask because they had become a popular fashion item for the youths and accentuated his isolated personality. Who would have thought face masks would become the most natural thing?
The soundtrack is again brought to us by the composer Takeharu Ishimoto. He composed some brand-new songs, as well as fresh arrangements of old favourites. The music in Neo: The World Ends With You is very prominent and immersive. It can best be described as a mix between grungy punk, hip hop, J-Pop, J-Rock and even screamo. Sometimes blending several genres or elements in one song. The soundtrack complements every other element of this game, and the more poppy songs are definitely catchy. Although nothing can beat this amazing soundtrack, it’s worth mentioning the voice-acting is really on point too. At least in Japanese. I found the English voices less convincing, and they don’t match the style of the characters and environment, in my opinion.
Neo: The World Ends With You – Gameplay
A great story, amazing visuals and a soundtrack to play on repeat. The last element that makes this such a good game is of course the gameplay itself. From how you level up your characters to using their unique abilities and of course the combat. All gameplay elements fit perfectly in the Shibuya-style and add a pleasant pace to the story-heavy game.
In contrast to most JRPGs, the combat is not turn-based. You actually fight using the entire party at the same time. Most combat will be against the Noise, but you’ll have to battle other people at times as well. In both cases, you can walk around freely in a certain area, not having to worry about bumping into fences etc. The area will always resemble the part of town you are in, which is a nice touch. Along the way, you’ll run into different enemy types. Having to learn new attack patterns definitely keeps the combat interesting. Your party size will also change at times, meaning you’ll have to reinvent your combat strategy to accommodate this. There’s also a “Groove”-meter that you fill up by switching attacks at the right time (referred to as dropping the beat). If you hit 100%, you can land a special attack.
Your fighting abilities are determined by the pins your party members are wearing. Each pin is activated by a different button, making it easy to switch between characters. Pins can be leveled up and sometimes even upgraded. You’ll want to find a combination that works best for you, usually matching their cooldown times. It’s also smart to have different types of attacks in your arsenal, e.g. electric, water, fire… You’ll receive pins by completing missions or winning fights. To stay competitive, you’ll have to swap your pins for better ones regularly. You can also chain fights by engaging several groups of Noise before starting combat, which will heavily increase the amount of rewards you receive.
Something that makes the Wicked Twisters stand out are their psych abilities. Although they can’t interact with people from the RG, they can read their thoughts and “Imprint” a key phrase in their head. Fret also has the ability to “Replay” people of something by envisioning a clear image of what he wants them to remember. Nagi in turn can “Dive” into people’s minds, to combat the Noise, which is usually causing them emotional troubles. The most powerful ability belongs to our protagonist Rindo, who uses his “Rewind” ability to go back in time and change the outcome of certain events. Once Beat joins your party, “Beatsurf” allows you to move around faster if you want to, by pressing a button to the beat of the music. If you follow the rhythm nicely, you will start your next combat with a (partly) filled “Groove”-meter.
There are several ways your party members can become stronger, which will be necessary to progress. A straightforward one is by defeating Noise, which will grant you good old experience points. Since Neo: The World Ends With You is set in Shibuya, fashion plays a big role. The area is filled with different kinds of clothing shops, each representing a specific style. By buying these items and giving your characters some more drip, you can increase their base stats as well as unlock special abilities. Unfortunately, these clothing choices are not actually visible in the game. Shibuya also houses a lot of eating facilities, and your party members get hungry. Each food item has a different impact on their base stats as well. I recommend always feeding the party whenever you have the chance, since these are permanent increases to their stats.
Since the game is heavily influenced by youth culture, your smartphone has an important part to play. Each day you’ll receive your missions via text, together with updates on how the other teams are doing etc. There’s also a Social Network to keep track of all the people you meet, whether they are players or reapers. Solving (side) missions will grant you Friend Points, these can be used to unlock abilities or features via the social media network. Every person in your network grants a different skill. Examples are an increase of the Groove-meter to 200%, the ability to jump over certain fences and ledges, or unlocking special items in a shop.
Neo: The World Ends With You – Conclusion
It’s obvious I absolutely adore this game. From the soundtrack to the character design to the combat, and of course the story. I played this game on the Nintendo Switch, and I have to mention that it has the longest in-game loading times of any game I’ve ever played on the Switch so far. Not that they are long at all, especially compared to the loading times on e.g. my Xbox One X. But it did stand out to me. The game is also very story-heavy, which not everyone will like, for sure. While the camera angle in Shibuya can take some getting used to, and it would be nice to see your characters wear the clothes you pick out for them, I understand why things are the way they are. It all fits into the incredible aesthetic of the game.
Neo: The World Ends With You really delivers in every aspect, it offers about 40 hours of gameplay just to complete the main story. If you’re a completionist, you’ll easily get another 20 hours out of it. It’s worth every penny if you ask me.
Huge thanks to CDMedia for the review copy!