Fourteen years ago, an oddball little Square Enix game called The World Ends With You was released on the Nintendo DS. It followed the adventures of Neku Sakuraba, an antisocial teen with an attitude problem and some missing memories.
Neku and his allies battled through the deadly Reaper’s Game, something like a cross between Purgatory and a game show, to prove that they deserved to survive.
The game was a cult hit, with its bizarre combat mechanics and earworm soundtrack meshing perfectly with its outlandish anime-style character designs. The game was unlike anything made before or since, and a pair of ports to mobile phone and then the Nintendo Switch proved that the cult classic could continue pulling new people into the ghostly reflection of Shibuya.
Now, a full fourteen years after the release of the original, the sequel is finally here. This time, a new cast of rebellious kids has gotten pulled into the Reaper’s Game, and a new generation of battles lies ahead for our heroes. Can NEO: The World Ends With You step out of the long shadow of its predecessor, or is it just an echo of its former self?
Back to Shibuya
Just like its predecessor, NEO is as stylish as its setting would imply. The decision to set the game in a warped version of real-world Shibuya, one of the most stylish towns in the world, influences everything about the game.
Superpowers are granted by “pins,” like the kind that a trendy teenager would wear on their hat or jacket. The kinds of clothes you choose to wear influence your stats based on what’s fashionable that day.
In-game, everything from the music to the presentation of the fights just screams “stylish,” as pumping electronic music makes every fight with the villainous “Noise” that much more exciting.
The aesthetically pleasing surroundings and appealing character designs make this game downright eye-candy for anime fans.
This time around, a new cast of characters has been thrown into the dire Reaper’s Game. Rindo Kanade and his friend Tosai “Fret” Furesawa find themselves trapped in a warped version of Shibuya, unable to contact anyone outside of the game.
They must compete with other teams for the right to keep living. At the end of seven days, the team with the highest points gets to walk free. The team in last place finds itself erased at the hands of the Reapers, supernatural entities responsible for dealing out death.
The protagonists, joined by nerdy college girl Nagi Usui, form the Wicked Twisters team to compete in the Reaper’s Game and earn their freedom.
The chaotic battle system is a slight remix compared to the first game: you assign different characters, with their powerful pins, to different button faces. Then, when you tap the button that corresponds to them, they use that pin’s power.
It sounds simple at first, but in practice, the gameplay is a complex ballet of balancing different cooldowns and abilities.
NEO: The World Ends With You is indeed a worthy successor to a cult classic game. While it might be a bit heavy if you’re a newcomer, there’s still enough style and pulse-pounding gameplay here to keep you engaged.
And, as you’d expect, the game delivers a gripping story of survival and friendship in true JRPG fashion.
NEO: The World Ends With You is out now on Switch and PlayStation 4.