Image: Square Enix

While NEO: The World Ends With You seemingly didn't meet its publisher's sales expectations, there's clearly a sizeable fanbase surrounding the series – and we were lucky enough to sit down with the minds behind this captivating universe for an exclusive interview.

We spoke to Tomohiko Hirano (Producer), Tatsuya Kando (Series Director) and Hiroyuki Ito (Director) about the game, and the future of the franchise.

Nintendo Life: The original The World Ends With You released in 2007/2008 with quite a lot of praise from fans and critics alike. What were some of the reasons for the long hiatus between the original and the sequel, NEO?

Tomohiko Hirano: When we released the first title – The World Ends with You for Nintendo DS, we saw numerous requests for a sequel from our players, so a future instalment for the series was something we had always considered. The World Ends with You is somewhat edgy, as far as game series go, and for that reason, it was difficult for us to develop alongside other titles.

However, the anime adaptation served as a starting point to add additional layers to the IP, so we kept intact the The World Ends with You: Final Remix team (which as you know came out on the Nintendo Switch in 2018) and started developing this sequel, which we were able to release in July 2021.

The gameplay in NEO: TWEWY borrows some ideas from the original DS entry, but overall plays quite differently. Were there ever early plans to put NEO on DS or 3DS using the touch screen formula of the first game?

Tomohiko Hirano: It is actually as you mentioned – there was a time when we considered making a sequel to The World Ends with You for the Nintendo 3DS. However, since we weren’t able to secure a full development team back when it was being considered, and we ultimately had to wait until the time was right and for us to be able to create the sequel.

What was the biggest challenge when trying to reinvent the combat system for play with a standard controller, instead of a touch screen?

Hiroyuki Ito: Our challenge was to strike a balance between a fresh control scheme and creating addictive gameplay that gets players hooked, without leaving players longing for a touch screen. This bore the idea of controlling party members simultaneously, which could only be possible through a standard controller with multiple buttons. On the other hand, we found that this style of combat quickly created a very chaotic battle screen from a visual standpoint, so it was necessary to make steady adjustments up until the final stages of development – to portray Psychs with an adequate amount of information, and also to make the camera movement appear natural.

The soundtrack of the original game is still highly regarded amongst fans to this day and NEO features some unforgettable melodies too! Was there anything in particular that inspired Takeharu Ishimoto to take the soundtrack for NEO in a more rock and metal direction than its predecessor?

Tomohiko Hirano: We asked composer Takeharu Ishimoto to compose tracks that would equal, if not surpass, those of the previous title. When we brought this up with him, he proposed that he wanted to go even more extreme, which is how we ended up with many tracks featuring heavier rock/metal tones.

Ishimoto-san himself chose musical artists that would fit the nature of the title to participate in the tracks and reached out to them directly. I heard that thanks to his work with these musicians, they were able to further expand the overall concepts and ideas on a number of tracks.

In a perfect world, how would you like to see The World Ends with You series continue? Do you have hopes and dreams of returning to the Reaper’s Game again soon, or is this the last time we’ll see Shibuya for a while?

Tomohiko Hirano: Frankly speaking, nothing has been decided in terms of a next instalment. However, as a game based on an actual city, there are still many areas that we still haven’t been able to bring to life in the games, so a part of me wants to realize that in some way.

If players convey their passion for the game to us, our company may decide to let us make a sequel!

Tatsuya Kando: I feel like all of the emotion that I have held for The World Ends with You for the past fourteen years has been released through this latest game, so it’s difficult to even think of what might be next. I’ve given every ounce of my effort with this game, which is likely why I’m feeling this way.

Through hearing the voices of our fans, I hope to create even more thoughts and emotions for The World Ends with You once again.

Do you have plans for any DLC down the line? Maybe a spinoff featuring our favourite reaper, Shoka?

Tomohiko Hirano: Similar to the talk on the sequel, currently nothing is decided for this as well. However, there is still a lot of room to dig deeper into the characters, so we’ll keep what you have asked in mind and bring it back to the team.

We'd like to thank Tomohiko Hirano, Tatsuya Kando and Hiroyuki Ito for taking the time to speak with us.