For the past 13 years, fans of the Nintendo DS cult classic, The World Ends With You have been practically begging Square Enix to whip up a new entry in the world of the original. The vibes of that first venture are flavour-rich, boasting a bouncy and energetic soundtrack, a loveable cast of characters, and a combat system just as unique as the rest of the game. So we were thrilled to bits when the news of a sequel came across our desk last year, although at the same time cautious, as we hold the tale of the first game close to our hearts.
Would the story of the original have been better off left untouched by NEO: The World Ends With You? Do the creators really have the gusto to match or exceed the energy from that first waltz through Shibuya? Will the new protagonist Rindo and the rest of these runts ever be able to live up to the likes of Neku and company? We’ve been asking ourselves these same questions for weeks, months even, and thankfully it was all for naught. This new action-RPG romp through Shibuya’s streets is full of fresh beats and surprising treats to appease longtime fans and newcomers alike.
The story opens up in the heart of Shibuya, following two stylish youngsters named Rindo and Fret, who just happen to be out on the town grabbing some lunch. One thing leads to another and both of them end up finding themselves wrapped up in a competition known as the Reapers Game, a life-and-death battle hosted by an organization known as (you can probably guess) Reapers. In order to survive this week-long event, they’ll have to form a team and rack up enough points by completing missions that the Game Master, Shiba, dishes out each day. Whichever team comes out on top at the end of the week can have one single wish granted, whereas the team that holds up the rear faces severe consequences.
Over the course of the Reapers Game, Rindo and Fret make friends with plenty of new players and a few old faces familiar to fans of the series. Nagi Usui (a fresh face and one of our favorites at that!) is fairly reserved and straightforward (and quite an Otaku) and will jump at the chance to introduce someone to her favorite mobile game, Elegant Strategy. Then we have Sho Minamimoto, an edgy outcast ready to crunch any equation that gets in his way. Minami was one of the antagonists in the first game, so it’ll make you question why he’d shift positions and join your party early on. Then you’ve got Fret, who gives everyone he meets a punny nickname ('Rindude' & 'Nagirl' among them) whether they like it or not. Every character is brimming with life and has their own truth to discover, and you’d be hard-pressed to nail down a singular favorite by the end of the journey.
Speaking of the adventure, while there are a few fancy pre-rendered signature “Square-Enix” cutscenes sprinkled throughout that arrive at well deserved moments, 99% percent of the story is delivered through visual novel-esque segments. Characters are represented on-screen with satisfying hand-drawn art that’s reminiscent of the original game’s style, and while they aren’t animated, their portraits will change at the drop of a Pin, displaying their current emotions brightly.
A decent chunk of dialogue is voiced as well, usually at the beginning and or end of a day during important moments. While there is the option to use the original Japanese dub, the English voice cast has really gone above and beyond to give each character an extra dimension, and we stuck with that through our adventure.
While NEO: The World Ends With You takes place after the events of the first game, the original isn’t necessarily required reading. Some of the many conversations littered throughout the game will go down smoother if you have some prior understanding of the returning faces and their backstories, but the game does a great job of briefing the player naturally with any necessary intel. There are plenty of twists and turns that are sure to have you on the edge of your seat, although we’re not sure it really gripped us in the same way the original did. There are some pacing issues here and there during the 40+ hour adventure, but every time we started to get a little bored it felt like something new got thrown our way to snap back our interest. The aspect of competing against other players' teams offers a new dynamic not found in the first entry, as well. Suffice to say, the bar was set pretty high after all these years and for the sake of spoiling things, we’ll leave the surprises for you to discover.
The story is one of the most integral parts of the game, and the conversations between your party, rival teams, and reapers alike will consume about half of your overall playtime, so make sure you come equipped with your readers and be prepared to press 'A' a lot. There is an auto dialogue option for the voiced segments but we turned it off fairly quickly per our preference. One minor complaint we could make about the original TWEWY is that it doesn’t necessarily give you enough time with most of the characters to really get to appreciate them, but NEO offers you plenty of moments to learn more about your team, the Wicked Twisters. Watching Nagi swoon over Minamimoto but then quickly ignore any kindness from Fret never gets old, and this kind of banter helped keep us constantly invested. There are plenty of side quests that’ll deliver more of that back and forth chatter, too.
When not discussing your next course of action for the Reapers Game, you’ll be given the chance to roam the bustling streets of Shibuya and explore its many locales. The Hachiko Memorial Statue is still adjacent to the busy intersection Shibuya is known for, Tower Records is there, too, and offers you CDs that you can purchase and listen to in-game and the 104 shopping center (which may not share the same name as our real-world counterpart) looms overhead, full of clothing and Pins to purchase for your team.
The camera is always locked to an angle when in the overworld and will follow the player as you roam about, but it’s fixed perfectly to give you a wide and expansive view of the city. There are tiny details snuck into every facet of the world that makes us wish there was some sort of first-person photo mode to explore a bit more freely and bathe in the finer details even more. We would have preferred if at least one of your party members followed you around while you searched the streets, as well, as it can feel a little lonely running around as just Rindo, but there's enough banter between the team that those feelings never lasted long.
While you can’t directly chat with most of the passersby on the street, you can scan the area and read their thoughts. Why ask someone a question when you can rip the answer straight out of their brain, right? This is mostly a novelty and if you use it frequently you’ll start to recognize repeat thoughts, but NEO uses this feature in conjunction with some of your teammate's abilities. For example, Fret has the power to help people remember something they’ve forgotten, and this can lead to giving you a clue for a mission or can simply get someone to cheer up and move on with their day. Nagi on the other hand has the ability to tap into someone’s mind and rid them of negative Noise that’s afflicting them in combat, which sounds like a great opportunity to explain the battle system.
While scanning your environments on the overworld you’ll notice red tribal tattoos floating around all over the place, known as Noise. Interact with them and you can challenge them to a faceoff, which takes the form of a real-time battle. Back before we had our hands on the game, we were worried NEO was going to borrow combat elements too heavily from its cousin, Kingdom Hearts, and not enough from its DS sibling, but thankfully that's not the case.
Each of your teammates will go into battle equipped with a singular Pin that gives that user a unique psych ability. Some allow your characters to fire a stream of energy blasts, slice away with a kinetic beam sword that emanates from the user's hand, or even create a lava whirlpool below their enemy's feet. Controlling so many characters at once with different abilities sounds like it’s going to get pretty messy, but there are many elements at play that make this actually work. Pins are assigned to a specific button, and when pressed the assigned character will start attacking whatever Noise you’re currently locked onto. As you attack, Pins will drain energy but will recharge over time so you won’t have to wait too long to use that attack again.
When in battle you’re able to freely control the camera and move about as any of your teammates, but beyond attacking one of your only other skills is a dodge roll, which really does come in handy if you can keep your eyes focused on the enemy while you fight. There isn’t a jump button, but certain Pins still allow you to uppercut enemies to take to the skies every now and then to achieve those epic battle moments that just feel naturally cool.
Stringing your parties' attacks together is key to victory. After dealing enough damage with one of your characters a blue circle will appear over the enemy telling you to “Drop the Beat.” If you’re able to start attacking then with a different character quickly before the Beat timer goes away, you’ll raise your overall Groove meter. Once this hits 100% you’ll be able to pull off a special AOE attack depending on the style of Pins you have equipped. These attacks can really help out when you’re in a pinch and range from a massive fireball falling down from the sky to a cluster of tornadoes taking over the streets.
Battles will take place fairly frequently as the story goes, but you can battle Noise whenever you like on the overworld to gain some additional EXP or new Pins. You can even string multiple Noise battles together to raise your chances of pulling in more Pins. There’s a mission type called the Scramble Slam, a turf war for Shibuya, which pits rival teams against one another. This can make for some tedium as most of these battles against players lack variety since the opposing teams' combat patterns feel systematically similar. However, this was the only time where combat ever seemed to overstay its welcome.
For the most part, the backdrops of each battle will line up with the area you started the fight, offering up a wide-open space, free of civilians to help keep you focused on the Noise. At first, we got a little bored of the same old cement roads and concrete buildings, but then we realized they allow for the colors of your Pins abilities and the Noise you're fighting to pop like paint on a blank canvas. The action can get chaotic and messy, but it can also feel like you’re watching a well-orchestrated play when you pull together a string of attacks perfectly.
One of the major aspects that make us want to jump back into the battle system again and again, though, is the Pins. Experimenting with different types and formulating strategies is extremely rewarding on its own. Pins also gain experience as you use them, becoming stronger in turn and some can even evolve into a more superior version. You’re constantly gaining new ones along your journey and most won’t take too long to max out, so they never overstay their welcome if they’re not vibin'. Good thing, too, considering there are over 300 Pins to collect. By the end of the main campaign we had collected a little over half, so there’ll be plenty more to go back and dig up for anyone looking for more reason return. Plus, you can adjust the difficulty on the fly before any battle, with higher difficulties offering up the chance to earn rare and exclusive Pins.
Your party members will gain experience from battles, too, but only their HP will rise with each level up — you raise their other stats by eating out at restaurants in between battles. Every meal will deliver a permanent boost in HP, Defense, and or Style. However you can only stomach so much food at a time, so you’ll need to burn off some calories in battle before you can swallow more stats. There are over a dozen different restaurants, each with their own unique menus littered throughout Shibuya and your party will call out a restaurant whenever you pass one if they're feeling famished. Each character has their own distinct taste and preference as well, and you have the chance of earning more boosts if you feed them their preferred dish. It’s a nice little diversion that brings a smile to their faces and yours in turn, especially when you discover a food that Minamimoto actually enjoys (surprisingly, he loves avocado toast).
Clothing was a huge part of the original DS adventure, and it's back with a few changes in NEO. You're able to equip up to four different pieces to each of your party members. From what we experienced, all of the equipment is purely stat-driven and won’t change the cosmetic appearance of your characters. Those Style points we mentioned earlier go towards allowing your characters to take advantage of extra abilities dished out by your equipment. Some pieces of clothing may simply give a stat bonus if a certain character has it equipped while others could raise your chance of collecting more Pins after a battle if said character has a high enough Style point level. The clothing you wore in the original also had an overall effect on the city and the way the citizens viewed each of the different clothing brands, but with a larger party of characters who all have their own equipment this time around, we can see potentially why that feature was axed.
The soundtrack offers a wide mix of tracks covering everything from pop tunes with catchy choruses to heavy metal breakdowns. New songs are introduced at a healthy rate throughout the adventure, making it a nice surprise when you discover one. Shibuya Survivor and Your Ocean would definitely jump straight to the top of our weekly music playlist if we ran one. Fans of the first outing will be happy to hear plenty of cherished songs made the jump as either new remixes, completely new renditions, or unaltered originals. Give it some time and we’re sure some of these songs will start slipping into your day-to-day life.
Overall, NEO: The World Ends With You runs relatively smooth on Switch in docked mode. We experienced a few light frame dips when scanning the city for Noise and when fights got extremely hectic, and while this happens more frequently in handheld it doesn’t detract from the overall gameplay. Also in handheld mode, it can be a little tough to make out the characters in the heat of a battle with lights bouncing and colors splashing all over the place, but it won’t hinder your combat either.
We also experienced a few crashes where we were booted back to the Switch Home menu, twice while we were scanning different NPCs and once right before a cutscene kicked in. Thankfully, the game autosaves fairly often, so we only lost a few minutes of progress each time it occurred. Square-Enix has stated they're releasing a Day One patch to crush some bugs, so hopefully, this is one of the problems getting squashed.
NEO: The World Ends With You impresses in all the categories we were terrified it could fail in. The game boasts an energetic soundtrack that feeds off the energy of the original, a deep and rewarding combat system that makes a successful leap to 3D, an inspiring cast of characters that stand tall on their own, and importantly, a world that begs you to come back even after you’ve finished the 40+ hour campaign. After 13 long years, many fans lost hope we’d ever see a sequel to that first Reapers Game, but we’re so pleased to see these talented developers never lost their calling.
The first game is one of my all-time favourite DS games. Looking forward to starting this one when my copy arrives later today.
I can't wait to play it, I think that I am stuck on if I want to buy the game for playstation or switch tho. I think I'm just going to buy both due to my indecisiveness. Also I want this game to do well so a bit more love from me won't hurt nobody.
My goodness, what a month! Best month I remember: Ys IX, MH Stories 2, Zelda SS, Ace Attorney and this. And I want them all!
So glad this game went well! It will be mine for sure.
Man, maybe I really should play the first one some time
As someone who's obsessed with the original, the demo for this was surprisingly awesome. Combat is very different but still feels the same if that makes sense. Music is still the best there is. Running around 104 in 3d is trippy, esp with Minamimoto following you everywhere with no explination (yet)
I'm extremely happy this is a great game. I know it's SE and their stuff goes on sale quickly, but I may buy it tomorrow as I can get it cheaper than $60, anyway.
Still unsure about this just got the first game because of all the hype but just not seeing it, the main character is just annoying and combat seems.pretty poor, that seems too be down too the touch controls which are unresponsive
Seriously, all these amazing games coming this month, and we still have SMT V and Metroid Dread on the horizon in a few months. Hell, we still have Outer Wilds and Disco Elysium, which don't even have release dates yet!
Did they fix the issue with the text speed for the auto advancing text when exploring? It was so fast in the demo, that I just stopped playing it. It was impossible for me to read.
It's nice that they turned to you for the review code. I'm still waiting for someone to come back. If there was another game, they would have returned immediately. Other than amazing game i already played demo.
@suikoden Focus on the touch controls and memorise a couple of simple button combos for the top screen. That'll help your combat. Alternatively, focus on the top screen and choose some relatively easy to use pins for the bottom screen that involve slashing or dragging motions. That's helped me immensely in battle. LOVE that system still and felt that the Switch release lost that in translation.
Should of said it's switch version
The main character is Joshua, you just PLAY as Neku .. and while he's annoying in the first 2 reaper's games (that's kind of the point), but by the time you get into the meat of this game the character you spend most of your time with is both complex and relatable. Plus the rest of the cast more then make up for it.
As for the controls, just practice them individually. Trying to learn how to rub your head and pat your stomach at the same time is really, really hard if you don't know how to rub or pat in the first place. Play a few of the first fights 100% focused on the top until you get it, then the bottom, then try both at once. Getting in the rhythm is one of the more rewarding "ah ha" moments you are ever going to have in gaming.
@moodycat "but the DS version is outrageously expensive" What are you talking about? You can pick it up for less than $20 on Ebay.
@contractcooker Might be worth checking the user’s region and the corresponding version of eBay.
Most Buy It Now offers on ebay.co.uk are upwards of £60. That works out as over $80.
Having played the game myself, this is a pretty much perfect review. I loved everything I've played in this game, and found it well worth.
That said.. I'm pretty sure the clothing brands affecting the city feature wasn't nixed, just nerfed. Since coordinating everyone on 1-2 brands is a crazy task, I do agree it was probably for the best, but I do recall seeing the current trending brands in the menu I'm pretty sure.
@contractcooker Aye, the PAL version is considerably more expensive, for whatever reason.
I'm glad this game is good, I wasn't sure how well the gameplay would work in 3D instead. Will pick it up when I get paid, this month has bled me dry.
Push Square's review seems more balanced. This one glossed over a lot of the weak points of the game which to be honest were noticeable in the demo, like the repetitive combat and limited world.
@Pat_trick Reviews are opinions, and that fact that that one speaks more to what's important in gaming for YOU doesn't make the opinion that a focused space doesn't make a game worse "wrong"
Personally, I hate it when "only 6 hours" is a NEGATIVE. Are you kidding me? I'm busy, I have 100s of games to play. Being able to experience the whole thing in one night is a huge plus for me and games that want you to invest 60+ hours into multiple plays just to get the whole story should be locked at 5/6 TOPS unless the payoff is HUGE and worth it ... which is rare.
But in the words of Socrates "That's just like, my opinion, man". It doesn't make the reviewer "wrong" for liking longer games.
@moodycat yes the switch version plays badly with the controls but that's if you play it docked. play it undocked ie using the touch screen. plays nearly the same as the DS one
This and Great Ace Attorney in the same week... My wallet isn't doing too well. 😅
The first game was cool, but I found the story to be kind of dumb and poorly written. I may pick this up on sale.
@HeadPirate Well, let me change what I said to something more specific then. The focused space is an issue because of how frequent you traverse through it. That to me is repetitive and a negative. I completely agree with you that a game doesn't need to be longer to be better, and my problem with this game is not the scope, but exactly how long it takes to move forward in the story. I actually thinks this game is too long for what it wants to do.
On a sidenote, no need for the uppercase, chill out.
@Maxz As a typical American I assumed the world ended with our borders. That sucks for PAL people.
Still debating if I want this on PS or Switch, but super hyped for the game nonetheless.
Ace Attorney and World Ends With You entries both releasing tomorrow. No qualms on day one purchases on both.
Great review! I unfortunately had to choose between this and The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles; the latter won out. That said, I hope to get to the demo before too long and will likely pick this up not long afterward if it checks most of the right boxes.
I played the first game recently on the Switch and enjoyed it, though I wasn't overly fond of any of the control schemes.
"In the original TWEWY, you could purchase clothing from many of the different shops scattered about the city but the main character was the only person who could change their clothing. "
It's minor in the grand scheme of the review, but I'm certain that this is blatantly wrong about the original game.
Very glad this game delivered, absolutely loved the original and never thought there would ever be a sequel.
@suikoden ya you need a stylus. None of the re-releases were very good about the touch controls. But the original DS with the stylus control is incredible
@NEStalgia ps4 version runs at a stable framerate whereas switch version has drops. always go for the playstation version of games when they give you the choice of playstation and nintendo
played a rom of the original for a hot 5 mins and it was fun. May pick it up some day.
@Snaplocket @xshinox Yeah, generally for RPGs and VNs I prefer handheld play to be an option, and especially for TWEWY since it's kind of built around handhelds originally and is equal parts RPG and VN, fit's the format well. OTOH after all of Falcom's games being, honestly, mediocre ports on Switch with poor choice of font scaling when docked, it's made me consider the PS version more often.
I suppose Steam Deck solves that but then I'd have to consider yet another ecosystem. I'm legitimately streaming DQXI over Game Pass Cloud on my phone with a clamp controller now because I own it on PS and Switch and have still never played it because the Switch version graphics are annoying and the OG PS4 version is incomplete.
I can tell you loved this to bits Zion, and it's rubbing off! I'm going for this one once I get the chance! 😁
@Snaplocket The different scores are kind of amusing and probably a mix of fanboying "it's a Nintendo series!" and that as a sequel, it really kind of ties so heavily into the first that as many PS players didn't play the first, this game is going to start out really awkward and seem kind of unengaging at first. It doesn't depend on having played the first, but the experience is clearly designed with the expectation that players have played the first.
It's like of like Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch, missing the whole rest of the series. It's going to seem ungainly without the actual whole story leading up to it. Playable, but not as inviting.
I'm happy this exists 😁 I missed out on TWEWY the first time around. The Switch remake of the original sits unplayed on my shelf. Once I get back to work I'd like to scoop this one up. It's taking that classic early 2000s teen angst from the non-Disney parts of Kingdom Hearts and turning it up to eleven! Awesome!
@mariomaster96 Yes, you should. Try to get the DS version, if you have a DS. If not, the Switch version will suffice.
@garfreek Thanks for pointing that out! I replayed the Switch remake a few weeks ago and didn't realize you could equip clothing to your other party member! 😂 Appreciate the kind words about the review too! I really hope everyone loves this game!
@link3710 I seriously did! I haven't stopped thinking about it since I put it down, but I'll be going back to wrap up my leftover side quests soon! 😄
Looking forward to playing this tomorrow.
Should i go and play through the first before i get this one? Or can i skip it?
Great to see this turned out well! I think the art and atmosphere of the original perfectly captured the general vibe of 00's tween culture in a way that few other works of the time managed. I always thought it'd be a one-off; here's to hoping Square sees a good return on this entry.
If the demo was representative of the full game, I'm glad i passed on the original, if this version is comparable. The dialogue & characters were corny & hard to stomach. The battles were ok, but i guess u need to be an anime fan, or younger gamer to be interested in this story. I was so hyped to play the demo after the decade of hearing people build this game up, so i guess that's why it fell flat for me. Maybe if i experienced it without the epic disappointment from hearing all this glowing build up for so long, but o guess I'll never know. Glad those who liked the original get what they want, i just know not to trust the younger gamers in the future. Pokemon isn't for me either, after the same build up for a decade, then i played pokemon Y & was let down. Oh well, back to 1st party games.
The first ds game is a classic so I'll defo give this a spin. Sounds aces.
Thanks for the review.
@suikoden THANK YOU! I knew i couldn't be alone. I planned on getting the original for many years but always have a backlog already, so put it off. After playing the demo for this version, i thought it was insufferable. Annoying & insanely boring story. Now that i know this one gets praise from the same group, I'm so glad i didn't waste my money, but more importantly my time.
@twztid13 IDK, as an older gamer than most here, I'm quite enamored by the world and story. It captures a very 90's ideal in a very unique way. It's kind of a retro-futures-retro-past of a world that never existed but you somehow kind of remember it. The characters can be annoying but become more interesting (in the first game) as you go. Their shallowness gains depth. But it's still a kind of 90's skateboarder view of the world at its heart, and that either appeals or doesn't.
@NEStalgia i grew up in the 90s & that game doesn't represent anything that i knew of in the 90s. I think it may be what some think or want the 90s to be like, idk.
And i was an actual skater, lol.
Phew. That’s my main reaction. This is the sequel I didn’t really want, as TWEWY is one of my all-time favourite games. Top 3, probably. Struggled to see how Squenix could make a sequel that didn’t drop the ball in some way. Maybe this won’t be as fresh and spectacular as the original, and maybe it is, but I’m glad it doesn’t appear to have tainted it.
I don’t need this at launch. But I will definitely get it.
@twztid13 Lol, idk, it's what media representation of the era was and made it seem like that was the world. That's the media created 90s I remember kinda.
Great job on the review. It was very thorough and informative.
Guess I should probably finish the first now....
I can't believe it is finally here. Can't wait to pick it up.
Eh, I absolutely love the DS game, but this is one of those games that I felt didn't need a sequel. Sometimes, it's best to just leave it alone and let it be an awesome stand-alone game. I do want to try this out, but I'm skeptical. Once I get through my backlog of games and I have some extra money, I might pick it up.
@NEStalgia To your point I don’t understand the logic of not releasing Cold Steel 1 and 2, unless it has to do with the whole XSeed Or NIS publication of the games.
@Themagusx1 I think the XSeed thing is it. Falcom doesn't care, they're PS-only. NIS is the one bringing it to Switch. And they obviously have no rights for 1 and 2. Even Falcom couldn't get the rights, I'm sure, as they had whatever falling out they had with XSeed.
Loved World Ends with You on the DS, though I skipped on the Switch version because apparently their controls weren't all that great. I still listen to the soundtrack to this day though.
From the looks of it, I might pick this one up. Just that wandering about Shibuya looks aweome (been to Japan already 3 times so yeah...). Then again, NintendoLife also praised Xenoblade Chronicles likes crazy and I personally ended up hating that game and recently traded that game in for Hyrule Warriors. But this game doesn't seem to have annoying little round furrballs that yells like crazy so...
@moodycat I find that the best experience for the first is the Android version ($18). It has constant autosave, so you just whip it out of your pocket whenever you feel like it.
Many people & critics praised Xenoblade and rightfully so, may not be for you (which is a shame) but it is an incredible JRPG.
I don't remember exactly why I never played the original, even though I'm pretty sure I was very interested in trying it, but I'd love to try this one out. Also, I liked this part: "At first, we got a little bored of the same old cement roads and concrete buildings"
This is a good description of Japan in general. Don't let the stereotypes fool you, Japan is like 94% concrete and ugly buildings that aren't meant to last more than 10 years (yes, there are some nice parts, too). Still, this review made me super nostalgic for my annual visits to Shibuya from 10+ years ago (before I married my Japanese wife who absolutely hates Tokyo), roaming the streets searching for shops selling super rare CDs and fighting Noise monsters. That last part might not have actually happened, but it was a long time ago so my memory is a bit fuzzy.
You call "evolution" a "smash a single button" combat system"?
Looking good, will have to add it to my watch list.
whew I was worried this one wouldn't good. So happy its better than I thought
@Ziondood The occasional frame dips and battles cons are cheap as *****! Stop being greedy, Nintendo Life!
This game is a great sequel to the first one. New psyches and finishers blew me away.
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