When The World Ends with You launched for Nintendo DS in 2007, it was hailed as one of the most unique games on the system. While there are many other JRPG titles that use real-world Japan as their setting, none were quite like The World Ends with You.
With its interesting battle system, lore, and cast, it stood head and shoulders above its contemporaries.
Now its sequel, called NEO: The World Ends with You, is here. It’s a challenge for any sequel to live up to the legacy of its predecessor, let alone surpass it. This is especially true for such a lauded game as The World Ends with You. Fourteen years after the release of the original, I can confidently say that NEO is the real deal.
Taking place three years after the events of the first game, NEO follows a new protagonist, Rindo Kanade, who is unexpectedly thrust into a new Reapers’ Game, where he must fight his way through a seven-day long competition in order to win the shot at having one wish granted.
Throughout the game, he, his best friend, Fret Furosawa, and a "new girl" named Nagi Usui band together to create a group called the Wicked Twisters. On top of that, Sho Minamimoto returns from the first game, joining the team.
Staying away from too many spoilers, those who have played the first game will be overjoyed at how the new cast is handled and how returning characters are integrated. The Wicked Twisters, new enemies, and old allies are all given ample time in the spotlight, giving fans plenty of time to learn more about them and their motivations.
Once it gets going, the story doesn’t ease up on the gas— not for even a little bit. There’s always some sort of surprise during the last few days of a Reapers' Game, and that's the dangling carrot that keeps you wanting to play more and go further.
With an incredible amount of emotional payoff, those familiar with the first game especially will find much to love with the story.It’s honestly impressive how much care the writers took with each of the characters, both old and new.
The World Ends with Youtook advantage of the DS’s unique dual screens. Along with the transition to 3D and only one screen available, NEO makes changes to its combat mechanics. TWEWY has a tag-team system with one character on the top screen and another on the bottom fighting enemies simultaneously. However, this has been replaced in favor of a more streamlined approach with up to 6 characters in battle at once.
While battles can be hectic at times, with so many different attacks and effects flying across the screen, it’s undeniably fun mixing so many different Pins to see what attack combinations work best.
Each character can equip one Pin, which allows you to activate special powers called Psychs.These Psychs serve a variety of different functions, such as letting you perform energy sword attacks, fire homing rockets, or set off a giant bomb.
Each Pin has a designated button prompt, and you can press the button during battle to unleash the Pin’s Psyche. Each Pin has a cool-down period after use, and managing which Pins to use in the game's real-time combat encounters is crucial.
As you fight more battles against common enemies called Noise, Pins receive EXP points, growing stronger and sometimes even evolving into more powerful ones when certain conditions are met. You can buy Pins at the many different shops around Shibuya, too, expanding the assortment at your fingertips.
Aside from Pins, you can also purchase clothes from retailers party members can wear for additional stat boosts and abilities, such as increasing the amount of HP restored when using a healing Pin. Finally, you can also dine at different restaurants to gain permanent stat increases.
The first game utilizes sprites for its characters and buildings, but with the transition to full 3D inNEO, Shibuya in the game’s art style looks incredible. There’s a sort of fish-eye-lens effect applied to the game’s overworld; as you travel further from buildings, they contort and disappear behind the horizon.
It’s a really interesting design decision to have the buildings in the city presented like this and give Shibuya a sort of artsy feel.
A majority of the game’s cutscenes are presented in a comic book style, with character portraits dynamically popping in and out. It’s similar to how this year’s Scarlet Nexushandles cutscenes, but those in NEO are much more colorful, and the character portraits have many more poses. Only the most intense and heavy story moments in the game get the full 3D animation treatment.
The art for all the character portraits and menu items is also incredibly sharp, and it’s hard not to compare NEO to a game like Persona 5. The many in-game menu screens invoke elements of youth culture with paint splatters and fictional brand logos. Everything is so aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching.
I also can’t say enough great things about the game’s music. It’s absolutely phenomenal, with the soundtrack incorporating many different genres, such as rock, hip hop, soul, R&B, and metal. There are so many tracks on rotation that you never get tired of hearing any of them as you run around Shibuya.
Another aspect I really appreciate is how the game handles side quests. Many of these consist of eradicating Noise or finding a certain item, but they'regenerally unobtrusive to your main objective of the day. You don’t have to go out of your way (too much) to complete them, making them generally more manageable.
Completing side quests can offer tangible benefits in battle, too. As you complete side quests, you learn the backstory of the minor characters involved in a particular mission. After completing it, you unlock their entry in the Social Network, the game’s version of a skill tree.
By completing quests, you earn Friendship Points that are used to unlock new abilities, such as earning more money when selling extra Pins or being able to recover in mid-air after being hit by an attack.
NEO: The World Ends with You — The Bottom Line
- Incredible story beats that handle both the new and returning cast very well
- Style, presentation, and music are impeccable
- Gameplay is fun with a large variety of different Pins to equip
- Combat never feels stale
- No fast travel mechanic is an annoying oversight
- Loading times on Nintendo Switch aren't the best
- Some framerate and slowdown issues occur if too many Psychs are going off at once during a battle
I don’t have very many complaints about this game at all, but I would say the lack of fast travel is a puzzling omission.
I understand that sometimes the game’s plot doesn’t permit it— like when you travel to a certain section in the city that features a cutscene — but leaving it out feels like an oversight considering the breadth of the locations and the fact that you have to sit through multiple loading screens transitioning from one city section to the next.
Despite that, I can’t sing the praises ofNEO: The World Ends with Youenough. It has both style and substance, with fun characters, energetic gameplay, and gorgeous visuals. There was never a dull moment throughout my time writing this review; it had virtually no lows — only high highs.
NEO: The World Ends with You is everything a fan of the series could ever ask for in a sequel. This isn’t just only the best JRPG released in 2021 so far, but perhaps one of the best games this year, period. It’s simply incredible.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of NEO: The World Ends with You used for this review.]