More than a decade after the Nintendo DS game The World Ends With You launched on store shelves, we find ourselves now less than a month away from its long-awaited sequel – NEO: The World Ends With You. Rather than maintain the gameplay mechanics, which Square Enix clearly struggled to adapt for the Nintendo Switch port of the game, the world of Shibuya has been adapted into 3D, incorporating a new pin-based battle system into the environment yet still retaining the game’s anime-esque charm. Not sure whether this sequel is worth picking up? A demo late last week went live on both the PlayStation Store (PlayStation 4) and Nintendo eShop (Nintendo Switch), giving players access to the first two days of gameplay.
NEO: The World Ends with You is a chronological sequel to the first game, taking place after the events of the Switch-exclusive ‘A New Day’ arc. While characters from the first game return (both in this demo and evidently much later on in the game), the game follows the new protagonist Rindo and his friend Fret, who find themselves in a very different Reapers Game. No longer is the game broken up into teams of just two, with groups of participants duking it out to obtain points. The winning group will get their wish granted… while the lowest-ranked group suffers the consequences. Forming The Wicked Twisters and Sho Minamoto, who serves as a disinterested mentor for the pair with his own unspecified objectives, they begin solving the puzzles, defeating noise, and aiming to survive the week.
It is hard to gauge an opinion on the storyline. Perhaps because of the new setting and NEO: The World Ends with You being available on platforms that have never received a TWEWY game in the past, the first two days feel like an extended introduction. That said, it strikes that right balance between nostalgia which isn’t too overpowering, and introducing us to the new lead characters. Both Rindo and Fret don’t have a unique dynamic as the ones between Neku and all three of his partners, but it is fun watching two existing friends discover they are no longer alive – but being naïve enough not to have it hit them like a tonne of bricks at this stage. There is evidently a much more ambitious narrative in the works, so this was a good taste of what is to come, and I am hyped for it!
Visually, the game has transitioned across well from a 2.5D environment to a fully-3D environment, with the creative team capturing the same spirit charm of the demo’d sections of Shibuya well. However, it takes some time to get used to the various (and sometimes awkward) camera angles players are forced into, with no ability to control the camera. Although the 2.5D environment suited the anime theme well, what NEO provides is a more versatile, expansive environment to navigate through, which works better for many puzzles. For those who worry they will miss the anime-style visuals, the dialogue still makes use of character portraits and similar styled art assets, which are even better than they were before!
One of the defining elements of The World Ends With You was its soundtrack, composed by Takeharu Ishimoto. Fortunately, the development team brought back Ishimoto-san as lead composer for NEO, which to be quite frank, is the only logical option to take I believe, given how defining the music was to the original. The soundtrack in the demo consists of a few remixes of iconic tracks from the original game and many new tracks encompassing a broader range of “trendy” genres. The music is satisfying, and I look forward to seeing the extended soundtrack available in the full game. If you do want a sneak peek at the game’s soundtrack, check out the game’s newest trailer below:
NEO: The World Ends With You’s Battle System had the most question marks around it. The original battle system was designed exclusively to take advantage of the Nintendo DS’s unique features. The iOS, Android and Switch ports of the RPG all felt like the development team had to make compromises and have players jump through hoops to get anything close to the original experience. The battle system has been completely overhauled, taking advantage of the 3D world of Shibuya, the presence of more characters on the battlefield and more universal controller mappings. This time around, every member of your party can be assigned a single pin (with each having an aptitude for a specific type of pin), and you combat the Noise threats by switching characters with a single button press to use each pin. Adding to the complexity are elements such as the different pin types (eg. Rapid-fire, charge), the ability to charge up more powerful attacks, pin evolution and optimal switching patterns. What was shown off, while not necessarily challenging, was fast-paced and enjoyable.
The puzzles previewed in the demo were also simple, early-game concepts which encourage players to learn some of the game’s returning and new systems. From finding vague landmarks in Scramble Crossing to defeating a chain of enemies to tackling each day’s central boss – there was nothing that would pose a challenge for even a newcomer to JRPGs, but it was nevertheless a good sampler of what is to come.
NEO: The World Ends With You still has many question marks around it, and the demo served as a good way of teasing out what’s to come from 25 July 2021. It is a quick download, so if you are even remotely curious, do give check it out on either the Nintendo eShop or PlayStation Store. From my initial perspective, this will be another solid instalment in a franchise Square Enix have been dangling in front of our faces for more than a decade and has just been adapted to suit the consoles on the market and technological advances since the (now) underpowered Nintendo DS.
Expect a review of NEO: The World Ends With You on The Otaku’s Study upon the game’s worldwide release.
This review was conducted on the free, PlayStation 4 demo of NEO: The World Ends With You. The game was played on a launch day PlayStation 5 unit.