Fourteen years after the release of Square Enix’s stunningly stylised and quirky cult classic, The World Ends With you, Square Enix are dropping us back into Shibuya for another round through the Reapers Game with the sequel, NEO: The World Ends With You. The question is, is it a new classic in the making or just a retread of what came before?
Set three years after the original game – well three years after the new content that was introduced in last year’s Switch remaster, The World Ends With You – Final Remix – NEO throws you into the shoes of a new group of protagonists who find themselves inexplicably playing a game they can’t escape from. The initial “Let’s just go with it” attitude soon changes as they realise their very existence is on the line and in this, The Reapers Game, monsters aren’t the only things to contend with. Other players are seeking to rise to the top and save themselves as well.
Functioning as both a new introduction to this world for new players who may not have checked out the first game, and a warm welcome to veterans who will now have a better understanding of what’s happening, NEO walks a fine line between doling out new information to the uninitiated while keeping said veterans engaged.
While the game doesn’t hold out on giving you the first of NEO’s plot twists – veterans will already know what that is while everyone else will be able to figure it out rather quickly – the game does take it’s time in moving through the story and introducing all the players in this new drama. In fact, it’s quite a few hours of playtime before you’re given access to all of the games content and player abilities. The story has plenty of its own twists and turns along the way while tying it directly into the first game and bringing some fan favourites back to help close up The World Ends With You overall story and themes.
There’s a lot of high quality, fully voiced dialogue – you can switch between English and Japanese tracks at the main menu – though most of the story is told through a visual novel style of talking heads and rotating artwork and character illustrations. As such there’s also a lot of reading to be done – if, like me, you prefer to read rather than listen to voice acting – most of which helps to display the characters personalities and functioning as info dumps when needed.
When you aren’t speaking to your crew and advancing the story, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the games recreation of Shibuya and in battles. Visually Shibuya is gorgeous. The stylised art style of the characters is also used for the environment design. The game employs fixed camera angles which allows for some gorgeous cinematic shots and object distortion, such as the way buildings bend towards focal points, adding an otherworldly feel to the normal, real world surroundings. Locations are also packed full of pedestrian traffic making the city feel bustling and “lived in”.
Combat is now fully action orientated and combo based, feeling a bit like a brawler. Pins are still the primary focus of how you attack, with each of the over 300 pins having their own attacks. You assign one pin, initially, to each of your party members, and control each character when you attack with their respective pin. You can dodge attacks and by chaining attacks together perform combos, which are important to winning battles. Each pin, however, can only be set to a specific button, so whichever attack you want to use determines whose been controlled at the time you attack,, meaning you can’t get used to using, for instance, just the Y,B and A buttons to attack. My initial setup, for instance, had a homing flying kick set to R, a flaming fire ring to ZL and a fire attack to Y.
Initially combat feels chaotic and button mashy, but once you get the hang of the system you’ll find there’s quite a bit of depth to play around with. Visually combat is a bright, colourful explosion of madness, with brightly coloured enemies and fiery attacks exploding around all the time. And even once you get used to it, it still remains a mad scramble of combo chains. Pins have a charge bar as well, meaning once you’ve used up the bar you have to wait for the pin to recharge before you can attack again. Cooldown varies between pins while some can only be used once or twice in a battle so pay attention to each pins details when choosing what to use.
New pins can be bought from shops and gathered from defeated enemies. Pins are specific to enemies as well. Experience earned during combat levels up your team – there’s a shared health bar pool – and the pins as well. Some pins can be enhanced as well after reaching a certain level. Pins drop in the attack variety while some are just for selling. You don’t earn money in combat but rather buy selling extra pins and those marked as for sale.
One of the games key mechanics is the ability to scan the environment and people in them, letting you read the thoughts of Shibuya’s inhabitants. Most of the time it just adds flavour to the world, but at times it will help you progress through the story. One of the other key aspects to scanning is that you can see enemy icons on the map. Running into one will give you some time before a fight begins or you can start it yourself. But you can also gather multiple icons to yourself leading to chain battles which increase your team experience and drop rates.
As the game progresses you’ll get more abilities, such as been able to manipulate small picture puzzles in someone’s mind to get them to remember key details or implanting thoughts into others. There’s also a time travel mechanic that lets you change how events play out. If that wasn’t enough, the game also has Social Network side quests which gives you Friend Points which be used to unlock more abilities and options.
Each characters specific stats can be permanently increased by chowing down on Shibuya’s culinary delights. There is a fullness meter though which prevents you from tanking up too early. Stats can also be further enhanced by buying clothes from the clothing shops.
Like the pins, the game has a lot of collectibles for you to find. There are over 200 clothing items, books for gameplay tips, food and music to collect, giving completionists heaps to do.
Visually NEO is a gorgeously stylised game. The anime style art and character designs are fantastic while the recreation of Shibuya looks fantastic. There were some moments of slowdown though, most notably when running around a particularly packed area while scanning.
Audio design is also similiarly top-notch. The voice acting is great and the music is upbeat and catchy, though the battle tune did start to grate after a while.
While NEO: The World Ends With You may retread some story beast from the first game, it’s still a fantastic sequel and gorgeous action JRPG that you should play. You don’t have to have played the first game to play this one, but with the remaster on Switch as well, you really should. Both games need to be a part of your collection.
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