PS4, Nintendo Switch
July 27, 2021
Often, games pack so many characters, storylines, and mechanics into the experience that the end result ends up being a bloated mess. Occasionally, there are games that strip everything back and stick to a strict minimalist style and set the world on fire. Rarer still is a game that has just enough bloat, just enough restraint, and just enough special something and delivers an experience that delights, entertains, and sticks in your mind. NEO: The World Ends with You is, in my opinion, a game that shouldn’t work: a console sequel to a 13-year-old Nintendo DS handheld title, made for modern consoles while adhering to its ageing roots, packed to the brim with Tetsuya Nomura’s (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy) wackiness, and caught between action RPG and visual novel. Somehow, Square Enix have pulled it off; I bloody love this game, and I am excited to share with you why.
NEO: The World Ends with You is a game about a group of teens competing in a contest called ‘The Reaper’s Game’: a literal life and death competition where players are aiming to be freed from the afterlife and released back into the living world. I’ll keep things spoiler free, as the game does a great job of dropping twists and turns throughout which greatly increase the mystique of the world of NEO: The World Ends with You. Indeed, throughout the 25+ hour experience, the story ducks and weaves around all expectations and is truly a rollercoaster, amplified considerably if you have played the original The World Ends with You or watched the anime adaptation.
At a glance, NEO: The World Ends with You looks much like the 2007 DS original of a similar name. Character designs are straight out of the Square Enix/Tesuya Nomura playbook, with the game’s heroes sporting over-the-top style outfits and accessories, and enemy monster designs falling into the Pixar-meets-Final Fantasy flavour.
“…made me feel like I was back in Tokyo, standing amongst the chaos that is the Scramble Crossing”
The game is set in the heart of Tokyo, Shibuya, and as someone who has visited multiple times in the real world, I can say the game does an outstanding job of recreating the district. Locations like the Tower Records store, 104 Tower, and Hachiko Station are featured heavily and made me feel like I was back in Tokyo, standing amongst the chaos that is the Scramble Crossing.
The game straddles the line between action RPG and visual novel, with the interactive aspects of the game playing out similar to something like Ni No Kuni 2, and the story elements play out in a graphic novel-esque panel style, with about 50% of the interactions voiced and 50% just text-based with the occasional grunt and groan.
During these story moments, NEO: The World Ends with You really flexes its anime stylings and manga roots. Hyper stylised expressions and over-the-top voice acting work together to nail this tone, and each character feels like a unique personality, all managing to find their place in the large ensemble cast. The heroes, reapers, and other contestants all have their own ambitions, attitudes, and quirks and the dynamic between all is mostly a delight to experience.
This brings me to one of my few critiques of the game: its overindulgence. These story and plot-pushing moments are often long-winded and overstay their welcome, to the point where after about 10 hours of gameplay I was mashing the X button to get through the more casual moments. Luckily, you can often tell which of the story sections are crucial and which are less crucial by the mere fact that only about half have voice acting. These voice-acted sections are the plot moments you need to pay attention to, as they often include clues or direct instructions required to move the game forward.
There really is a plethora of game mechanics and features present in NEO: The World Ends with You, that at times, and certainly to gamers not experienced with JRPGs, can be overwhelming. Throughout the game, you will experiment with time travel, thought control, diving into memories, peering through different layers of existence, and you’ll solve a wide range of puzzles and challenges. This doesn’t even cover the completionist aspect of the game – there are 4 different categories of collectibles to gather during the game, including pins, books, CDs, and clothing, as well as a checklist of foods to eat, monsters to fight, and NPCs to assist.
Pins are equippable and dictate your party’s loadout during battle. It is imperitive to experiment with mixing and matching combinations of pins in order to increase your effectiveness in battle. Clothing increases stats, and there are different brands of clothing that you can increase your reputation with to unlock new abilities and stat boosts. As you encouter various tooltips and tutorials through the game, there is a bookstore where you can purchase these to fill out your encyclopedia of hints.
Finally, you can purchase CDs in-game to change the game music playing at the time. And can I just say that the music in NEO: The World Ends with You is FIRE. Similar to Persona 5, which also boasts a pumping soundtrack oozing with style, NEO: The World Ends with You has a huge variety of styles and genres present in its OST, and pretty much all of it rocks. From thumping grunge to slick hip hop vibes, the soundtrack does a great job to complement the action and style of the gameplay.
“Learning what each character likes to eat is a strategy in itself, as optimising your stat boosts per meal is essential to maximise the cost-to-result ratio”
Eating at restaurants throughout Shibuya will increase your stats and style points, and the higher your style the more powerful clothing abilities you can unlock. Learning what each character likes to eat is a strategy in itself, as optimising your stat boosts per meal is essential to maximise the cost-to-result ratio. Thankfully, money (yen) is plentiful in NEO: The World Ends with You, thanks to the ability to adjust the game’s difficulty and party level, which in turn adjusts battle difficulty, rewards, and item drop rates. I messed around with various combinations of difficulty and level to find a sweet spot that made combat fun-yet-challenging, and the drops consistent enough to ensure I had a decent stockpile of yen at all times.
The trade-off to all these systems and gameplay options is that there are simply too many menus to navigate. Triangle will open your classic RPG menu where you can equip your character’s loadouts and clothing, and explore the various glossaries, maps, collectibles, and quests. The touchpad opens the difficulty and level options, where you can adjust the values and see how it will affect your drops and combat, and the Options button will open up the system menu to save, load, and adjust other game options. Too often I opened the wrong menu and got lost among all the options presented. A minor inconvenience, but one that occurred often enough to warrant a mention.
- Enough gameplay diversity to keep players engaged for the long term
- Fantastic visual style and attitude
- Rocking soundtrack
- Lovingly expands upon the original 2007 release
- Complicated menus and options
- Over-indulgent and lengthy cutscenes
Overall, NEO: The World Ends with You is a fantastic followup to 2007’s The World Ends with You, and both expands the universe and introduces different gameplay styles to keep even the most veteren of JRPG fans engaged. The exceptional visual style and musical flair work together to create a vibrant and stylish game that I just couldn’t get enough of. The narrative is satisfying and fits firmly in the hyper-stylised world of JRPGs, and will delight fans of Kingdom Hearts, Ni No Kuni, and Persona. Despite some minor critiques, NEO: The World Ends with You is a surprise hit, and has the potential to pave the way for another successful Square Enix franchise.