With NEO: The World Ends with You having been released this month, I thought about the original game and how its current legacy has become heavily warped. The World Ends with You is beloved for many reasons, from its standout art style to its endearing characters. However, its gameplay is arguably where its legacy shone the brightest for many fans.
The original release on DS cleverly utilized both screens for combat, with Neku playable on one screen and his contextual party member on the other. Without diving into the intricacies, it’s clear that this control scheme is a rare case of a game specifically envisioned for a select platform. While several contemporary games use specific aspects of a console or controller, like the adaptive triggers on the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, it’s rare for the crux of the gameplay experience to be entirely reliant on the platform it finds itself on.
The DS family of systems were truly innovative sights to behold. Still, very few games actively went out of their way to make the portable system’s dual screens or other facets a necessity for gameplay.
An example that comes to mind is Super Mario 3D Land, which smartly utilized the 3D functionality on the 3DS to let players better perceive depth in certain platforming sections. However, even when Nintendo developed this game to sell the 3DS in its early years, this 3D gimmick was never necessary for gameplay progression.
This example shows that the gimmicks designed within consoles rarely ever truly come to the forefront and realize their potential. The Wii is arguably where the gimmick, in this case, motion controls, managed to retain relevance. It wasn’t just another console; it was the console with motion controls that several games intentionally utilized to their fullest. The DS quite honestly felt like just another portable console most of the time, with its dual-screen functionality seldom ever defining the games it found itself with.
The World Ends with You is a rare case of truly feeling like it was built, from the ground-up, specifically for the DS in mind, and that in itself is a simultaneous blessing and curse, a double-edged sword as it were. The ports of this game on mobile and Switch feel like altogether different experiences because they lacked a second screen, which heavily alters how one perceives combat. This formerly required ‘dual’ attention was no longer a factor to consider with these new releases.
This alteration in identity is odd, as players of the mobile and Switch versions can not relate to the original DS experience, despite being the same game. Of course, players of ports not being able to relate to players of the original game is not anything new, but this lack of relation only tends to arise from very minute, specific ways.
For instance, the updated releases of Kingdom Hearts after its original PlayStation 2 outing allowed skipping of voiced cutscenes. Several veteran players tend to remark how they had to suffer through rewatching certain cutscenes time and again when they were younger. However, scenarios like this are contained and not defining of the product at large.
In The World Ends with You, though, the very plane of combat was heavily affected from its releases post-DS, which creates an even larger rift between new players and old ones aside from minuscule changes and nostalgic memories. Moreover, these re-releases, specifically the Switch version, are infamously known for not controlling well and generally being a chore to progress in.
I honestly find this subject matter somber since as time passes on, and the DS, as well as original copies of The World Ends with You, become practically impossible to obtain, the unique gameplay identity specifically tied to the DS release of the game will gradually wither away and become more dream than reality.
This is the result of games’ presentations and methodologies of gameplay being tied to very particular gimmicks of their initial release. Thus, while they become memorable with their dedicated fanbases that love a product that is truly standout from the rest, the uniqueness of their identity shackles them to their times, preventing them from cleanly moving on without compromises.
The gameplay in NEO: The World Ends with You is its own beast and is spread out amongst various platforms for many to play it on. While I doubt the gameplay in this sequel will receive the same degree of hardcore love its predecessor did, it will assuredly stand the sands of time in a far more intact manner.
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