NEO: The World Ends With You Review – The Game Begins Anew

    Title: NEO: The World Ends With You
    Developer: Square Enix
    Release Date: July 27, 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: JRPG

Neo: The World Ends With You is one of my most anticipated games of the year, and for good reason. It just so happens to be the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, The World Ends With You. The original title was a cult classic with low launch sales that eventually gathered a large enough fanbase to get re-released twice. The most recent re-releases contained some new content that teased a sequel, which is finally here and doesn’t disappoint for a second.

Neo: The World Ends With You stars Rindo Kanade, a young man from Shibuya who spends his time just hanging out with his buddy, Tosai Furesawa (but you can call him Fret), and playing FanGO, Pokemon GO but with Final Fantasy monsters, with another friend named Swallow online. However, their playtime was cut short after finding themselves in a supernatural life or death match called the Reaper’s Game.

In this Reaper’s Game, a collection of four teams take on seven days worth of missions, with the goal of coming in first place. Come in first, and you can make any wish you want, come in last, and your whole team is erased from existence. Teaming up with an otome gacha game player and a mysteriously aligned mathematician, Rindo’s team, “the Wicked Twisters,” aims for the top. This pacing of the story doesn’t slow down either as more elements and characters are introduced to put this team to the test.

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To escape, players must complete missions as fast and effectively as possible. These take the form of small in-universe puzzles where you’ll use psychic powers to read and manipulate the citizens’ thoughts around you and destroy noise, animalistic monsters made of white noise.

The puzzles are straightforward as it’s more of a dilemma for the cast, not necessarily you. Between the fun comic-esque adventure game sequences that use speech bubbles as text boxes and all sorts of fun and funky sprites, you’ll spend time wandering around a Shibuya that looks visually impeccable. The streets perfectly encapsulate the original game’s distinctive style, now brought to 3D. The buildings are tilted at angles that can really help them pop out and makes for an absolutely fantastic aesthetic that allows all the city streets to feel unique enough to lose yourself in.

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During battles, you take control of your entire team, each character with their own skill, a psych, that you’ve picked out for them via a special pin. While you initially have manual control of Rindo, that will switch between characters depending on which pins you use. You can dodge with your controlled character, and other party members will hang around the main character until you use them. They’ll also avoid a lot of their own volition, so you only really need to care about them when dealing with enemies’ large AoE attacks. Large AoE attacks will actually cause the performance to drop a little on the switch if you also combinations of large AoE psychs yourself like ‘time bomb,’ but I found this to be rare and a non-issue.

Each offensive psych can trigger a “Beatdrop Gauge,” which will appear on a struck foe, which is your prompt to smack them with another psych. Doing so will boost your “groove,” which, when at or above 100%, will allow you to pull off a fusion skill. Of course, the higher it goes, the more damage you’ll deal.

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It’s a fast and furious system that you’ll quickly find to be rather tricky to get the hang of. With six attack inputs that constantly change as you switch pins, you can quickly start to forget which skills you have equipped. However, as you gain more pins and learn their triggers, you’ll begin to get the hang of a very timing-heavy system. If you use all your pins at once, sure, you’ll do a lot of damage in an instant, but you won’t gain any groove and may not be able to attack for a bit.

The system encourages waiting for the right time to strike your foes and then chain your team’s attacks together. When you find yourself in a groove, it’s incredibly satisfying. However, if your pins aren’t powerful enough, there’s a couple of other ways for you to boost your stats using Clothes and Food. Clothes, or threads, are just your standard equipment; they increase your stats and have innate skills. Going for food will also permanently boost your stats, but you’ll need to work it off through battles. Levels only increase your maximum health, but you can drop your levels to raise your drop rate like the original game.

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NEO: The World Ends With You also introduces sidequests that you can clear that provide additional bonuses. On most days, by going out of your way, you can find people with problems you can solve that increase friendship points and add a new skill to the “social network” where you can spend points. It’s a fun little mechanic that gives you more reason to get into battles while also functioning as a character glossary. Excellent use of menu space in what is an immaculate series of menus.

The original The World Ends With You is known for its solid cast tied to a plot as confusing as it is cohesive. This is a good thing, as it made for an incredible narrative, but it feels like it would be tricky to replicate. As a result, I was concerned that this new adventure would fall substantially short of the original by the midway portion.

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An unfounded decision by the end, as NEO completely nails its narrative and character presentation. Despite releasing fourteen years later, NEO’s dialogue manages to capture that distinctive subculture feel and touches upon aspects of social interaction and the internet that are rarely touched upon in media, let alone titles that have you fighting death game monsters in downtown Shibuya.

It’s a captivating story, full of charm, and had me getting giddy with excitement even after replaying chapters. Much of the narrative takes on extra weight when you know what’s happening next. It’s all set to a fantastic soundtrack that remixes several of the songs you know and love from the original game and adds about 30 more songs to the overall OST for some beautiful sounds to amplify the good vibes.

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NEO: The World Ends With You was worth the wait. Its brilliant narrative matches its stylish design and fast-paced battle system making it difficult to put down. The game’s development is fueled by the love of the fans, and it shows during every moment of gameplay. While playing, the gap between entries disappeared, and I was transported back to this fantasy Shibuya, hanging out with friends and going on a truly memorable adventure.

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter