Death isn't the end. It's merely the beginning of an entirely new and mysterious adventure. For the cult hit The World Ends With You, fans were introduced to an intriguing journey centered around some young characters in Shibuya, Japan. The setting for the new sequel, NEO: The World Ends With You, is largely the same... which should raise a lot of questions for fans of the original game. For the most part, though, this is one world worth diving back into.
The game begins
NEO: The World Ends With You returns to Shibuya and throws players straight into the Reaper's Game. A pair of friends named Rindo and Fret take part in the game, at first unaware of the fact that they are deceased. Rindo and Fret have no time to piece together when or how they died, because as part of the Reaper's Game, they have one week to avoid coming in last place in a massive team competition that takes place across Shibuya. Much of the Reaper's Game involves taking on strange monsters called the Noise and defeating them for the point, while completing many of the Reaper's Game's objectives.
If this sounds familiar to fans of the original game, that's because it's almost the exact same premise with some new characters. As it turns out, the Reaper's Game and the mystery of its continuation is a major component of the story. Rindo and Fret will meet a variety of Reapers, as well as other young people from Shibuya caught in the Reaper's Game. The story unfolds through a mixture of voice acted cutscenes and comic book-style text panels, which makes for a different look than I'm used to from a standard JRPG.
The story is filled with a number of intriguing twists, many of which would venture into spoiler territory, so I won't go into detail on those. Just know that there's far more to almost every character's motivations than meets the eye, especially one of Rindo and Fret's teammates, who should look very familiar to fans of the original game. And, while the Reaper's Game is set to last a week, there's much more that goes down after the first seven days. In fact, it's after that first week where NEO's story starts to take off.
Much of NEO: The World Ends With You is driven on JRPG-style encounters with the Noise. They can only be encountered when Rindo scans the world around him, making it entirely possible to avoid combat in most scenarios. However, it's probably a good idea to gradually get the grind over with, because leveling up is the easiest way to make it through NEO's unorthodox combat.
Unlike its predecessor, NEO's combat takes place on a 3D plane, where each character utilizes battle pins. Pins have specific attacks that are tied to a single button and have a significant cooldown attached to them. The idea is to balance each character's attacks so that someone is always able to attack. Some attacks will even prompt for a "beat," at which point another character's attack will offer a bonus. There is a level of sophistication to this combat formula, so button mashers are going to be in for a world of hurt. In fact, even after getting the hang of how these battles work, it can be difficult to balance everyone's attacks, especially as enemies get more dangerous and more proficient at interrupting attacks. There are difficulty levels, but in an odd move, they're not all accessible out of the gate. I'll get to that in a moment.
The downside to NEO's combat is that these battles can get repetitive fast. On top of that, the battles don't get much easier, because finding more powerful pins to reflect your growing character level and the growing power level of the Noise can be tough. Many of the pins can only be maxed out at a certain level, so if you find an attack you like, you might not be able to use it for long, because it will quickly become underpowered.
Fighting is just one major element of NEO as a whole. Characters will build up an appetite as they do battle, so once they go hungry, players will need to set aside a certain amount of money to feed them with food from across a range of Shibuya restaurants. Feeding characters is one of the few ways to permanently buff stats, which is another way for them to grow stronger over time, so figuring out what to feed everyone becomes a puzzle in itself.
Characters can also dress up in various garments from across Shibuya shops for additional stat increases. This puzzle wasn't so easy to figure out, because many of the store's clothes will offer bonuses that can be unlocked with the Style stat. Unfortunately, the Style stat for me grew very slowly over the course of the game and trying to buff it became more of a chore than anything else. Worse, the characters don't even wear what they have equipped on screen, so I almost said, "Why even bother?"
Character abilities went a long way to help the game feel fresh, but also felt like a tool to stretch the story out. Fret's ability to "Remind" living Shibuya denizens of certain things to move the story along was a cool idea, as is Nagi's ability to "Dive" into their minds to flush out internal Noise. Unfortunately, I didn't care for Rindo's time traveling ability, because it felt like there was a lot of backtracking. If these sequences didn't feel like they stretched out for so long, I wouldn't have minded it so much, but it eventually felt like unnecessary padding.
Of course, time travel can also be used to go back to previous chapters, which becomes an essential element when it comes to missing side quests. Some side quests will involve higher level Noise encounters, so it becomes best to go back to those later. Players will mainly backtrack to these to pad out their Social Network, which is a feature that offers various rewards. That's great and all, but Easy and Hard difficulty are also gated away in the Social Network, which means those looking to get out of Normal won't be able to until at least a few hours into the game, which can be annoying.
The story begins with you
Overall, NEO: The World Ends With You is a game filled with rich and quirky characters. It's easy to feel an affinity for many of them, even the various Reapers who are the ones running this deadly game. The story is filled with enough mysteries, unknown motivations, and plot twists that it should engage both fans of the original game and newcomers alike.
Those looking for a very different kind of JRPG experience will like what they see with NEO: The World Ends With You. The modern setting, the interesting creatures, and the character abilities make it unlike almost anything out there and is worth rolling the dice on.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. NEO: The World Ends With You will be available on the PlayStation Store and Nintendo eShop on Tuesday, July 27 for $59.99 USD. The game is rated T.
NEO: The World Ends With You
- Fun and different setting than most RPGs
- Combat is unlike what I'm used to from the genre
- Rich and interesting story filled with intriguing characters
- Character abilities are cool ways to push the story forward
- Pins can lead to cool character builds
- Food for permanent stat buffs is a fun idea
- Parts of the story felt superfluous
- Equipping Threads shouldn't have felt this dull
- Combat can feel repetitive after a while