Review | NEO: The World Ends With You
Back in 2007, Square Enix released an unusual RPG on the Nintendo DS that became a cult classic. The World Ends With You pulled players into a dark story with a visually striking style, while also utilizing fashion elements for combat. It wasn’t your typical RPG either, as it involved controlling two characters at once: one on the top screen and one on the bottom. While strange, it ended up winning over many players and introduced them to a fantastic story. Now, 14 years later, we have a sequel in NEO: The World Ends With You. Without a doubt… this is definitely the sequel to The World Ends With You.
The story of NEO takes place three years after the original, or more specifically, after The World Ends With You: Final Remix. Players take control of Rindo Kanade, a seemingly normal high school student from Shibuya hanging out with his friend Tosai, better known as Fret. After receiving a mysterious vision of their demises, the two friends suddenly end up in the Reaper’s Game. Forced to compete in the “Underground,” or the UG, against other teams, the friends must work together to build a strong team for a chance at returning to their normal lives, or face erasure.
There are some differences to the Reaper’s Game this time around, with new rules in place to spice things up. First of all, the game no longer restricts more than two players working together. The first game had players form a pact so they can battle enemies known as Noise in two separate planes. That situation is completely gone now, and now all team members fight in the same zone. Players will also be competing against each other more directly, meaning that the Noise aren’t the only enemies out there. There are a few other differences, but we won’t spoil them here.
Like the original game, the story combines darker themes while utilizing colorful and charming characters. Honestly, I would say NEO takes things a step further, as things get real Game of Thrones here. In a game where your existence is on the line, not everyone is going to make it. It’s not always easy to watch the events unfold, but this helps to show the stakes. It’s a pretty great story that fans of the original game will likely enjoy. Those that played Another Day in The World Ends With You: Final Remix will get even more out of the story. If you haven’t played the original game, then a lot of the past events will likely go over your head.
Getting to the gameplay, NEO: The World Ends With You lets players roam a stylized version of Shibuya. The graffiti and abstract style of the original game translates very well to the 3D environments, providing cool angles and perspectives. As you travel, you’ll be able to scan the thoughts of the regular people while also detecting Noise. Upon getting close to the Noise, you can lure them in for a battle. Lure in multiple Noise and you’ll be able to chain them for a higher rate of rewards, assuming you can survive the full extent of the battles. It’s a great way to incentivize players, and the game gives multiple methods for improving the rates.
When in a fight, you’ll utilize pins to take on the Noise with psychic powers. Like the first game, there’s a variety of pins with different abilities, each one with different control methods and buttons. In the first game, Neku could equip multiple pins, but for NEO, each character can hold one pin. Pins will be assigned to one of six buttons and can work by rapidly tapping or holding it down. This applies to the shoulder buttons, triggers, and two of the face buttons. It’s a little complex and can be easy to mismanage, making for one of the biggest issues in the game.
Honestly, this is a very fun RPG with one small caveat: it’s one of the worst control methods possible. You’ll have multiple characters on screen, controlling them all at once as you use their assigned pins. The game encourages you to constantly try out new pins, evolving and mastering them to reach their full potential. While you can stick with a set that works, you’ll miss out on a lot of what the game has to offer. Because of this control scheme though, you’ll often be mashing buttons constantly whenever you change up your pin set, taking a little practice to get used to the pins you have. By the time you get used to them, you’ll likely master the pin and change it to something different. It’s a risky move, and while it works, it does complicate the game.
On top of the pin control methods, there are some minor issues with some of them. For example, some pins allow you to lock-on to an enemy while charging up a missile attack. Releasing the button launches the missiles, but should you kill the enemy before releasing the missiles, the missiles no longer have a target. It would be nice if they automatically target a different enemy, or even offer the chance to cancel the attack. There’s also moments where pins get disabled, but it’s not very clear in the game. You’ll often push buttons, only for the character to not react simply because the enemy did something without a clear visual prompt. While it’s not the end of the world, it does show some flaws in the game design.
Aside from pins, you’ll also power up your party members by equipping clothing with unique bonuses and eating food. All I can say is expect to spend a lot of money in the game. Eating food gives permanent stat increases, affecting HP, attack, defense, and style. The more style your characters have, the more bonuses they can claim from their clothing. It takes a while to build up style, especially since players will fill up with food before working it off in battles. Because of this, a lot of the benefits don’t show up until a bit later in the game. Honestly, a lot of benefits show up later, as the game continues to find ways to add new elements by surprise.
Among those new elements are the character specific psychic powers. Fret for example has the power to “Remind,” which has players use both analog sticks to form an image, allowing him to remind those around him of something so players can scan their full thoughts. Another character that joins your party is Nagi, who has the ability to dive into the minds of those troubled by Noise. This activates a sort of time trial situation, having players fight Noise with special properties to earn Friendship Points, a currency used to redeem for perks on a social network board. There are a couple other special psychic abilities, but we’ll let you discover those for yourself.
Of course, we can’t go without talking about Rindo’s ability: Replay. Early on, Rindo discovers the ability to turn back time. Not only does this allow players to replay old chapters with a bit of a plot explanation, but it also allows Rindo to prevent disastrous outcomes. While it does create some cool plot points and ideas, the time travel feature wears itself out pretty quickly. The biggest issue comes from repetition, as Rindo will have to go back in time and replay events with minor changes before he can “change his fate.” This means you’ll often run through very similar conversations (that you can’t skip), and you’ll have to do multiple steps to accomplish something that should be simple. It’s a cool idea, but it feels like it artificially extends the length of the game.
Despite the repetition, the idea of giving certain characters a unique ability helps to expand the lore. It makes things more interesting and gives each character something to contribute. Speaking of characters, while NEO offers a new cast, many favorites from the original return. While some characters are to be expected, some faces that appear really make for a nice surprise. Despite taking place three years after the original game, things really do come full circle here.
Of course, characters aren’t the only element to return to the sequel. Takeharu Ishimoto returns to create an all new soundtrack with new songs to enjoy, bringing in some old favorites as well. There’s plenty of screamo, electronica, rock, and hip hop tracks to listen to throughout this stylish adventure. While the music doesn’t always fit every situation, it does create a really unique experience. It helps to set this series apart to give it an identity all its own.
While the music is great, it’s also worth noting the many voices for the game. Paul Castro Jr. does a good job as Rindo, giving a performance that feels reminiscent of Jesse David Corti’s Neku from the first game. There’s plenty of other solid stand outs in the supporting cast, including Bailey Gambertoglio’s Shoka and Xanthe Huynh’s Kanon. Many of the villain performers do a great job too, providing obnoxious voices that make you want to punch their characters in the face. If they can manage to do that, that’s some impressive acting right there. Overall, the voices all fit in this world and the actors sound like they had fun with their performances.
Aside from the repetitive time travel sequences, the game can be a bit of a grind too. Powering up your pins, leveling up, eating food to boost your stats, you name it. There’s a lot to work on, and though the game took me about 40 hours to complete, it felt much longer. It’s honestly the main reason why this review took so long to come out. I’m up for long RPGs, but when they start to drag, it really sucks the energy out of you. Even the story starts to drag on towards the end, making your own exhaustion match that of the characters. In the end, I’m glad I finished it, as it was a beautiful ending. I just wish it came about sooner.
While it’s tough to find a way to make a sequel to such an unusual title, NEO: The World Ends With You manages to do exactly that. Despite the significant changes to the gameplay, the foundation is still there. The style, the music, and even the overall bizarre elements of the game just makes it work. If the game had a more accessible control scheme and was less tedious, it would be much easier to recommend. If you’re a fan of the original, it’s definitely worth playing. For newcomers, it’s an acquired taste that will be much easier to gauge if you play the demo.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10