Review – NEO: The World Ends with You
I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting for NEO: The World Ends with You to captivate me as much as it did. I knew nothing about it before playing it, but Square Enix can now consider me a brand new fan. This falls under the same category as Yakuza 0 did way back in 2017: the “where has this franchise been all my life?” category. I cannot even comprehend the anticipation among the people who have played the original The World Ends With You back in 2007, who had to wait fourteen freaking years for a sequel. Their patience has been rewarded.
The first question in your mind, even before asking whether or not NEO: The World Ends with You is a good game, is whether or not you need to have played the original beforehand? Luckily, if you’re inclined to go this route, it’s available on the Nintendo DS, Switch, and on mobile, which oddly enough is considered the best version of them all (it’s also where I’m currently playing it). Although the answer, shockingly enough, is no. This is the perfect kind of sequel to a long awaited cult hit. It rewards long-time fans with easter eggs and character comebacks only they will understand, but explains everything in a perfect manner for newcomers, with a brand new cast of characters to fall in love with.
Now that the most intimidating question is out of the way, time to talk about the game of the hour. NEO: The World Ends with You is a bizarre tale set in the Tokyo district of Shibuya, in yet another entry of what’s probably the most bloated genre in the Japanese gaming industry. I am speaking of course about the “JRPG featuring teenagers fighting monsters in Tokyo” genre, which features games like Akiba’s Trip, Shin Megami Tensei, Tokyo Xanadu, Digimon Story, and of course, Persona. Even if the genre is bloated with eerily similar titles, NEO: The World Ends with You stands out with its combat system, characters, and most importantly, its sense of style, which gives pretty much any other modern setting JRPG a run for their money.
Your protagonist is Rindo “Rindude” Kanade, your typical “too cool for school” teenage protagonist who cares way too much about clothing (he wears a facemask for STYLE for crying out loud) and social media. One day, he, alongside his best friend Fret and the adorkable otaku Nagi, finds himself stuck into a social and point-based game called the Reapers’ Game. Without wanting to spoil things, as the story is excellent and even better if you have no idea of what had happened in the previous The World Ends With You. Rindo quickly finds out that things are way more serious than they initially looked like, with monsters called “Noises” showing up all around Shibuya, and wicked humans and Grim Reapers wanting to interfere on your destiny-binding game.
Despite being a game developed by Tetsuya Nomura and the gang behind Kingdom Hearts, NEO: The World Ends with You doesn’t feature a confusing plot. In fact, it is pretty straightforward without ever sounding too simplistic. It knows exactly when to hit you with a plot twist, a serious moment, or some legitimately hilarious dialogue sections. It’s all thanks to the characters, as they’re all great.
Rindo might actually be the least interesting of them all, considering how Fret is a goofball who speaks in puns and Nagi is the one of the most adorable JRPG characters I’ve ever seen, being a complete nerd with poor social skills and a ton of sass. The supporting cast also does a great job. There were very few characters I ended up not liking, and all of them were back by superb voice acting. English voice acting options too, to make things even better.
The great story and characters aren’t even the best thing about this game. Nothing beats NEO: The World Ends with You‘s sense of style. Throughout my entire experience with it, I felt like I was playing a JRPG version of Jet Set Radio. Its art style is just that strong, featuring cel-shaded characters with highly saturated colors and a big emphasis on street culture, such as clothing, graffiti, and most importantly, music.
Oh boy, the music in NEO: The World Ends with You is just something else. It doesn’t matter which genre you like, NEO: The World Ends with You has got you covered. The main menu theme song is a banger that mixes the chord progression from the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” with some of the grooviest funk beats I’ve ever heard. Things only get better the more you play the game, as you’ll be greeted with some good hip hop, synthwave, an Alter Bridge-esque hard rock tune, and even a ton of really good nu-metal. The best thing about the soundtrack is that you can buy each track individually on the Tower Records store (which is an actual store in real life Shibuya) and listen to them on the pause menu, whenever you feel like it.
And I haven’t even started talking about the gameplay in NEO: The World Ends with You, but I can guarantee that it’s as strong as its sense of style. One thing I can surely say about it right from the get-go is that, despite reminding me of a lot of other Japanese games, I certainly haven’t played any other game whose sum of its parts resulted in something as unique as this.
The original The World Ends With You was known for being a game that was played in its entirety with touchscreen controls (hence why the mobile version is shockingly the best way to go), but this is the PlayStation 4 we’re talking about. The gameplay has been completely revamped to take advantage of a normal control scheme, but I actually think this decision wasn’t all that bad. The handful of mechanics included in here work pretty well altogether, thanks to the small (but packed) map and fast character movement.
There’s quite a lot of puzzle solving involved in here, which each of the three characters having a special ability that is used (sometimes altogether) in order to get past a specific situation. Nagi can invade the minds of people and literally fight their inner demons, while Fret can help people remember crucial plot elements. Meanwhile, Rindo can travel back in time, not only to solve specific sections which require manipulating past events, but also letting you replay past chapters and catch up on the collectibles and sidequests you may have missed, without the need of having to create multiple save files. Genius!
The game’s combat system is a tricky one. At first glance, it looks like the dumbest, simplest real-time combat system in any game ever. Each of your playable characters (you can control a fourth one in combat, by the way) can equip one pin at a time, and each pin corresponds to one move they can pull off in battle. They usually resort to an attack you can mash like crazy until your individual stamina bar runs out, in a crazier Yakuza kind of way. You may think this is simplistic and shallow, but it’s actually the complete opposite.
First of all, if you beat an enemy constantly with one character, a small timed meter will show up encouraging you to attack the enemy with any other team member. If you do so, you can fill up a special attack meter that can basically obliterate anything onscreen. Different pins can be used to yield different results, such as a hold-based fire attack being used as a constant damage output with the R2 trigger while you’re alternating multi-tap attacks with Square and Triangle, for instance.There’s a lot of room for experimentation, and you can create tons of different strategies with the more than two hundred pins available. You can even lower your own level in order to increase the amount of items received at the end of a battle, if you think the game is too easy for you.
NEO: The World Ends with You is the perfect combination of all style, all substance. It’s gorgeous to look, it’s one hell of a feast for your ears, but above all, it’s a fantastic JRPG-beat ’em up hybrid. It has a fantastic story, intriguing characters, and an excellent combat system that is easy to learn but very hard to master. You do not have to know anything about its 2007 predecessor before playing it, but I’m more than sure that if you decide to grab this game as your entry point, you’ll most certainly buy the original afterwards. It will captivate you like few games out there.
Even if some character models look way too simplistic, the game’s unbelievably awesome art style more than makes up for any setbacks. It also runs incredibly well on the PS4.
Its combat system might look simplistic and brain-dead, but there’s a lot of room for experimentation, and lots of different strategies and styles to master. There are also tons of collectibles and puzzles, as well as a neat way to travel back in time in order to redo previous missions.
NEO: The World Ends With You features one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long, long time. Its voice acting is also pretty good.
NEO: The World Ends With You is the full package. It features an amazing art style, an intriguing story, likeable characters, an addictive combat system and tons of collectibles. You also don’t need to have played the previous The World Ends With You in order to enjoy it.
Final Verdict: 9.0
NEO: The World Ends with You is available now on PS4, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of NEO: The World Ends with You was provided by the publisher.