NEO: The World Ends With You Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s time to step back onto the streets of Shibuya in a brand new Reaper’s Game.

Way back in 2007 (it feels weird to say that) was a moment in time where the Nintendo DS was in full swing. Nintendo’s double screen console was truly dominating the handheld market thanks to its impressive library of games featuring the likes of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and numerous Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes and spin-offs. However, its most impressive game at the time was not a title in a pre-existing series but a brand new IP from Square Enix; an obscure JRPG set in Tokyo that became an overnight cult classic, universally acclaimed by both critics and players alike. That game was called The World Ends With You.

Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the graphic director responsible for Final Fantasy VI and director of the dearly beloved Kingdom Hearts series, TWEWY (as it’s often referred to), was a stylish DS game like none other. Taking place on the streets of Shibuya, a bustling shopping district in downtown Tokyo, players assumed the role of Neku Sakuraba, an edgy and moody teenager trapped in a game of death known as the Reaper’s Game. By combining a heavy influence of street fashion, intuitive and creative combat, and one of the most impressive soundtracks of the era, TWEWY is still today regarded by many as one of the best JRPGs ever made.

The World Ends With You DS Screenshots Title Screen Neku
The original TWEWY on Nintendo DS, with protagonist, Neku Sakuraba.

Thousands of fans were left eagerly awaiting a sequel which was obviously hinted at the end of the game, but sadly over a decade passed and any hope for a true successor seemed as miniscule as a zeptogram. Remakes and ports of the original appeared on iOS and Nintendo Switch, and a TWEWY-themed level even appeared in Kingdom Hearts, but a true sequel seemed more and more like an urban myth…

…until now! The true sequel to this cult classic is finally available in NEO: The World Ends With You, a direct continuation of the Reaper’s Game available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and planned for a PC release in the near future. After nearly 14 years, we’re finally back on the streets of Shibuya. Does this sequel feel just as fresh and stylish as the original, or have the newest gaming trends left it feeling dated like last season’s clothing? It’s time to start the new Reaper’s Game and find out.

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Story

Once again thrust into the streets of Shibuya without any recollection as to why, the Reaper’s Game begins anew, set three years after the events of the original. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a game of death where teams of players are trapped in the Underground, an alternate reality corrupted by the thoughts and doubts of those on the other side. Each day in the game presents a new task and the opportunity to earn points against the other teams in order to ascend the ladder – those on the lowest rung at the end of the week will face erasure and be removed from existence. Only by defeating the other teams and overcoming the challenges set by the nefarious Reapers will players have the hope of returning to the Realground to regain their lives.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shibuya 104 Building
The Shibuya Underground, complete with real life Tokyo locations.

However, not all is as it seems in this new version of the Reaper’s Game. Discerning allies from foes proves to be a difficult task for the newest players, Kanade Rindo and “Fret” Furesawa. The pair form a new team known as the Wicked Twisters with the help of a game veteran and ex-Reaper known as Sho Minamimoto, who has been tasked with finding an incredibly powerful player by the name of Neku. The rookie team must face off each day against Noise (evil spirits that create negative emotions), the Reapers, and even their fellow players if they have any hope of survival.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shiba Miyakaze Reaper villain

Shiba is the Game Master and leader of the Reapers, but still can’t afford to buy a shirt.

What might seem like a simple narrative becomes increasingly gripping and involved thanks to the intricacies of player relationships. Erasure is the ultimate punishment, and players must choose to co-operate, deceive, and even betray in order to survive. The same goes for the powerful Reapers who are pulling the strings, as the original Shibuya Reapers returning from the original game must learn to co-exist with the new Shinjuku Reapers who have invaded their territory. Plot twists are plenty and the story of NEO will keep players hooked from beginning to end.

Gameplay

Each day begins with a new task – fail and face erasure. Shibuya is split into 15 distinct locales, occupied by players, deadly Noise, and the living inhabitants who are completely unaware of their surroundings. The Reapers will determine your mission for the day and each team must rush to complete the assigned task before the others. This can be as simple as finding a certain location or item hidden within the bustling streets, or as difficult as facing off against every other team member in the city.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Visuals City The World Ends With You
You’ll get to know Shibuya like the back of your hand.

There are also numerous hinderances along the way that make progression difficult for the Wicked Twisters. Reapers will block off certain pathways, Noise will swarm and overwhelm the players, and other teams can backstab and double cross the protagonist at any moment. In these situations, Rindo must be aware of his surroundings, as all players have the abilities to read the minds of those living in the Realground. These can provide valuable hints, help the team achieve their task, and even be influenced to change their surroundings in the UG.

NEO TWEWY Mind Reading Hot Guys The World Ends With You
Sometimes reading minds reveals thoughts that are best kept private.

Thankfully, every player in the Wicked Twisters has a unique ability known as their Psyche. As the team expands, these psyches come in handy to perceive and influence the surrounding environments, unlocking additional ways to solve puzzles and climb the ladder in the Reaper’s Game. The most powerful psyche belongs to Rindo, who possesses the unique ability to travel back in time. This becomes an important gameplay mechanic, as players will frequently travel back to earlier points in the day to change the future and avoid erasure.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Nagi Dive Animation
Nagi has the power to dive into player’s minds to change their actions.

NEO: TWEWY offers an unusual way of upgrading characters’ stats, and is far from conventional methods found in other JRPGs. Players still level up based on experience as per usual and wear outfits that provide added bonuses, however eating regularly is the only way to gain permanent stat boosts. Each area of Shibuya features a different restaurant, and by dining-in and trying out new delicacies, players will be given a permanent stat boost. But just like real life, you can only fit so much in your stomach (unless it’s dessert). The player’s Fullness Meter must be emptied by working up a hunger – and how do you do that? By fighting, of course!

Combat

Controlling six individual characters at once seems like a pretty difficult task, right? It was hard enough during the original game trying to control two during fast-paced combat let alone an entire team. Through its simple mechanics and pin-based action, the battles of NEO: TWEWY will have you doing just that. It’s a combat system with a slow burn, starting off repetitive and simple, and eventually reaching an epic climax when the team is at its full potential. So let me explain.

NEO TWEWY Combat Review The World Ends With You
Combat starts off simple with only a few players on your team.

Each character can equip a pin assigned to a single button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) – these act as weapons, requiring the button to be tapped or held in order to unleash an attack. Chaining together “Beatdrop combos” of different pins will increase your Groove, which can be used to unleash powerful attacks. The key to success during combat comes down to equipping a combination of pins that complement each other, as some will unleash a barrage of swift attacks, damage all enemies in a certain area, or let loose a heavy hit but take time to recharge. Having a balance of pins as well as covering different elements to exploit enemy weakness makes combat enjoyable and engaging.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Combat GIF Dynamic

Becoming more proficient in combat all comes down to the pins, of which there are 333 to unlock, each giving a completely unique attack. These pins can be levelled up to increase their damage, evolved into more advanced versions, or even “mutated” to unlock secret attacks that are particularly powerful. Obtaining them can be done through simple story progression, purchasing them from shops, or mostly from defeating enemies who have a percentage chance to drop a certain pin. Increasing the difficulty or lowering your level (which can be done on the fly) increases the chance for rare pins to drop, but makes combat far more punishing. It’s a trade-off that can be fine-tuned based on your skill.

NEO TWEWY Pins Menu
You’ll spend lots of time trying out different pin combinations.

Overall, the combat is simple and engaging, feeling like a slightly more advanced beat ’em up. Once the entire team is assembled with literally hundreds of pins to choose, the possibilities are actually endless. It’s a thrilling experience that feels fluid and intuitive despite initial repetition. Playing on hard difficulty for the most part was a breeze, but certain foes and bosses become insane difficulty spikes that will force the player to turn down the challenge in order to progress.

Visuals

Transitioning the aesthetic of a 2D handheld game with detailed pixel sprites and thick line art to a home console with a modern audience isn’t easy. Thankfully, NEO manages to retain all the style of the original while giving the game a much-needed graphical revamp and a fully 3D world. With its use of thick lines, low-poly buildings, vibrant colours, and detailed player models, NEO: TWEWY’s visual style looks excellent both on the big screen and when in handheld mode. Exploring the suburb of Shibuya is visually pleasing and accurately replicates real-life areas of this stylish, bustling hub of Tokyo.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Animation GIF Streets Scramble Crossing The World Ends With You
Probably the closest you’re going to get to Shibuya for the next year or two.

Combat too looks just as stylish, with colourful enemy designs, numerous animations for the player’s attacks, and a dynamic camera that tracks enemy movements. When the entire team are launching attacks all at once, the screen tends to get incredibly busy and the Switch occasionally struggles to keep up with all the action. There are some framerate drops when this happens, which are obvious, but do not compromise the flow of the combat. Boss fights in particular are when the visuals really come alive, with detailed enemies that can take up the entire screen.

NEO TWEWY Beat VS Minamimoto Boss Fight The World Ends With You
This shady character is one of the game’s bosses. No, not the guy in the hoodie.

When you’re not immersed in the busy ‘Buya streets or fending off nasty Noise, the rest of the game is presented as manga-style panels, with the occasional pre-rendered CGI cutscene thrown in. This style is a direct adaptation from the original and has a very similar feel, which is visually quite basic but works well during character interactions. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the game and you’ll spend hours watching characters converse in this comic book format. It’s just stylish enough to keep you engaged, but personally I would have hoped for more animated cutscenes, as these are far more visually-impressive than the rest of the game.

Audio

Talk to any fan of the original TWEWY and no doubt they will let you know that the music was one of its best aspects. An incredibly impressive soundtrack for a handheld that spanned genres from J-Pop and Hip-Hop all the way through to Funk and Heavy Metal. Well, my tiny mind was blown when I heard the music of NEO: TWEWY, which somehow improves upon a soundtrack that I already thought was completely perfect. Not only are there brand new tracks as catchy as any from the DS version, but there are an entire slew of remixes and re-recordings of classic songs from our first romp through the streets of Shibuya.

Here are a couple of my favourite original tracks from NEO:

“World is Yours”, a fast-paced heavy metal boss track.
“Hustle and Bustle” is one of the best electronic songs in the game.

And here are two of the best remixes of original TWEWY tracks:

Somehow the NEO Mix makes “Three Minutes Clapping” even better.
The NEO Mix of one of my favourite original tracks, “Owari-Hajimari.”

As a huge fan of videogame music and soundtracks in general, I would go so far as to say that the music from NEO: TWEWY is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The sheer variety, production value and quality make it feel as if you’re listening not to a game soundtrack, but to an entire library of music produced specifically for the heart of Tokyo. It’s the exact kind of music I can imagine listening to while exploring the stylish streets of Shibuya. And yes, the “Gimme, gimme chance!” song is still here.

Though in my obsession for the music I can’t forget to mention the voice acting, which is a significant part of NEO’s audio quality. Most lines between characters are now fully-voiced with the option to swap between English and Japanese voiceovers at any point. Having played entirely in Japanese (which seems fitting considering it’s set entirely in Shibuya), each character feels distinct and recognisable, especially those who have quirky delivery, intentionally exaggerated accents, or incorporate heavy use of street slang.

Extras

Just in case a ~50 hour main campaign and a bonus chapter wasn’t enough to keep you satisfied, there’s a tonne of added content in NEO to keep players in the Reaper’s Game for weeks. Completionists will be delighted to know that there are hundreds of unlockables to be found across Shibuya, with exclusive pins, new clothing, and even unique noise to encounter. Hidden “Pig Noise” can be found tucked away in obscure areas each day and once defeated drop special items that are otherwise impossible to obtain. Pins can then be levelled up, mastered and transformed to complete the pin library.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Pin Collection Menu
More pins than a biscuit tin sewing kit!

Players can also complete their Social Network by helping out the citizens of Shibuya with their requests, each of whom will provide unlockable abilities both during combat and exploration. And finally, as an added bonus to encourage you to keep playing, there are also achievements in the form of special graffiti that is unlocked once certain requirements are fulfilled.

Conclusion

With great satisfaction I can say that NEO is a worthy sequel that manages to retain the sense of style of the original while effectively modernising all other elements of the game. Throughout the journey it becomes increasingly obvious that this is a game catered almost entirely towards series fans, who will be truly overjoyed, particularly with its references to the original and familiar characters making appearances. Playing NEO before exploring the events of the original Reaper’s Game would be doing oneself a disservice, though that’s not to say players can’t enjoy this sequel as a newcomer.

With a vibrant and delightful city to explore, intriguing story with a colossal cast of characters both new and old, heavily-stylised visual aesthetic, and a soundtrack like none other, NEO: TWEWY is an essential JRPG that has certainly been worth the wait.

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So, why should you play it?

  • Fan of the original game? You’d be mad to pass this up.
  • Stylish JRPGs are your sort of game.
  • Real life Tokyo setting that’s more convenient than visiting.
  • Massive amount of content for completionists.
  • Truly incredible soundtrack spanning numerous genres.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not played the first game? This isn’t the best place to start.
  • Combat can be repetitive in early stages.
  • Backtracking during time travel can be tedious.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

ENTER THE REAPERS’ GAME ON JULY 27 – NEO: THE WORLD ENDS WITH YOU LAUNCH DATE CONFIRMED

New Trailer Highlights Characters, Gameplay Alongside PC Version Announcement

SQUARE ENIX® has announced that the action role-playing game NEO: The World Ends with You will release on July 27, 2021 for the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and Nintendo Switch™ system and confirmed a PC version of the game will be available on the Epic Games Store this winter (ANZ).

Some familiar faces appear alongside the new cast of NEO: The World Ends With You.

The long-awaited follow-up to the RPG classic The World Ends with You follows protagonist, Rindo, as he explores the heart of Tokyo to uncover the mysteries behind the sinister “Reapers’ Game,” a life-or-death battle for survival in which he has been forced to take part. A new trailer, that debuted today, offers an introduction to a new cast of characters, a vibrant and fashionable equipment system, the game’s hyper-stylish action battle system, and much more. The trailer is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xSVYX1FLMGQ

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The pin-badge system is back again, and as stylish as ever.

NEO: The World Ends with You combines a striking, anime-style Shibuya with fast-paced gameplay, an amped-up soundtrack from composer Takeharu Ishimoto (THRILL Inc.), and an intriguing story to create an unforgettable experience. Players can explore and enjoy the sights, sounds, and culture of this bustling city, fight monsters alongside their allies in flashy battles, and complete missions as they learn more about the “Reapers’ Game” and fight to change the fate they’ve been handed.

The iconic Shibuya scramble crossing. Just with a lot less people.

You can find out more about Neo: The World Ends With You, which launches on July 27th 2021, via the official website:
https://square-enix-games.com/neotwewy/en-us/

Undertale and Octopath Traveler Coming to Xbox Gamepass

In an announcement overnight, Microsoft has revealed the next set of games arriving on Xbox Gamepass. The list includes popular titles like Nier: Automata, Star Wars: Squadrons, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, indie hit Undertale, and my personal favourite of the bunch, the first game in Square Enix HD-2D series: Octopath Traveler. A brilliant lineup of games with some excellent titles!

The full release schedule is as follows:

Week of March 15: 

·       UndertaleAVAILABLE NOW (Console and PC)
·       Empire of SinMarch 18 (Console and PC)
·       Nier: AutomataMarch 18 (PC)
·       Star Wars: SquadronsMarch 18 (Console)
·       Torchlight IIIMarch 18 (PC)

Week of March 22: 

·       Genesis NoirMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Octopath TravelerMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Ultimate EditionMarch 25 (PC)
·       SupralandMarch 25 (PC)
·       Yakuza 6: The Song of LifeMarch 25 (Console and PC)

Week of March 29: 

·       OutridersApril 1 (Console)
·       Narita BoyMarch 30 (Console and PC)

For more information, including news about the latest Xbox Game Pass Quests and DLC, head over to Xbox Wire. The official announcement can be found here: Coming Soon to Xbox Game Pass

Project Triangle Strategy Demo Impressions

It has been over thirteen years since the last Final Fantasy Tactics game, and 10 years since the highly-praised Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – two Square Enix games that together helped define the tactical role-playing game genre. For the last decade there has been a lull in the genre from the acclaimed developer. That was until last week’s Nintendo Direct, which included the surprise announcement of the next game in the HD-2D series: Project Triangle Strategy for Nintendo Switch. Though it may have a bland and boring name, the game is anything but.

As an avid fan of the tactical RPG genre and having previously played Octopath Traveller, this announcement piqued my interest, and to my delight an extensive demo was made available on the Switch eShop immediately after the Direct. In this article I’ll be discussing some of the most important features of Triangle Strategy, some interesting aspects of the demo, and what to expect from the full game when it releases in 2022.

First impression:
Immediately upon booting up the demo, you’re greeted with a sequence that shows off the game’s distinct HD-2D art-style: 2D character sprites combined with high-definition pixel art environments jam-packed with beautiful lighting and particle effects. If you’ve played Octopath Traveler, this game will certainly look familiar. Though don’t be mistaken, this is no follow-up to Octopath, as it is set in a brand new continent, Norzelia, with an entirely new cast of characters. There’s no messing around once you press New Game either, as you’re immediately thrown right into the middle of the story, starting at Chapter 6 of the game.

The main menu, showcasing the game’s distinct HD-2D art style.

Plot & Characters:
The player assumes the role of young protagonist Serenoa Wolffort, heir to House Wolffort, who is caught in the midst of a struggle between three warring nations: Glenbrook, Aesfroste, and Hyzante. Each nation has control over a specific resource, and as such they compete for each other’s materials, known as The Saltiron War. Alongside him fight a band of companions, childhood friends, warriors, and his betrothed who hails from the opposing nation of Aesfrost. The story which is spread across two chapters taken from the game, is highly political, and allows the player to view each nation’s perspective during event sequences scattered throughout the world map. The tone of the game feels very similar to that of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, as it feels quite real and gritty as opposed to a whimsical high fantasy setting.

Below are a few of the game’s main characters, represented in character cards that appear when you press X during any line of their dialogue. A nice touch that allows you to keep track of who’s who.

Gameplay:
At approximately 3 – 4 hours in length, the demo provides a surprising amount of content and allows an adequate amount of time to get a feel for the gameplay, which is divided into three separate areas: exploration, persuasion, and combat
Exploration: allows the player to walk around a particular area, interacting with NPCs, finding items, entering houses, and gaining more insight into the region. This is integral to the combat phase, as you may discover insightful snippets of knowledge or environmental aspects that aide you during battle.

Project Triangle Strategy Nintendo Switch Final Fantasy Tactics Exploration
The exploration phase, where you can move freely around towns.

Persuasion: during the course of the demo you will have to make quite an important decision that affects the gameplay. The characters vote on the “Scales of Conviction” – casting their vote for a particular plan, and your dialogue as the protagonist will influence which side of the scale is tipped. This sequence is highly important, and directly influences the story through the choices you make.

Project Triangle Strategy Nintendo Switch Final Fantasy Tactics Voting
The climax of the persuasion phase, which ends in a vote using the Scales of Conviction.

Combat: the most important, strategic aspect of the game. If you’ve played any previous tactical JRPG, you’ll feel right at home with Triangle Strategy’s combat. Characters are assigned a spot in a queue based on their speed, and move a number of tiles followed by an attack with a weapon, an ability, or use of an item. This simple combat becomes increasingly complex when aspects such as terrain, height, and environmental traps and weapons are added into the mix.

Project Triangle Strategy Nintendo Switch Final Fantasy Tactics Combat
The combat phase, laid out like a grid, will feel familiar to those who have played previous tactical RPGs.

Controlling an entire party against a formidable foe is incredibly satisfying, and easily the best aspect of the game. On multiple occasions I had to stop and plan my following moves, particularly during the last mission of the demo, which poses a challenge for new and veteran players alike. The visuals too are fitting to the style of gameplay, as during combat you can rotate the battlefield and observe it from any angle to plan your attack. I found the only drawback to this was some slight framerate drop when the screen was particularly busy. It’s a very attractive game in both handheld and docked mode, and the environments are particularly gorgeous in the HD-2D style.

One of the maps with detailed HD-2D visuals, which you can rotate 360 degrees.

Soundtrack:
And finally, what JRPG would be complete without a brilliant soundtrack?
As a follow-up to Octopath Traveler, I expected the return of its composer, Yasunori Nishiki, who created some of the most gorgeous music I’ve heard in a modern JRPG. Sadly this is not the case, but do not despair! Instead the composer this time is Akira Senju, best known for composing many anime soundtracks, notably the critically-acclaimed Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (a personal favourite of mine). There is a certain epic quality to his music, which utilises heavy orchestral pieces filled with blaring brass that feel as if even the music itself is taking you into battle. Impressively there is almost 3 hours of music in the demo alone!

So should you download it?
This is easily one of the best demos available, and an insightful experience into Square Enix’s next foray into the tactical RPG genre. Whether you’re a die-hard Final Fantasy Tactics fan like myself, or even just curious and want to dip into the genre, and would highly recommend downloading this free demo and trying it for yourself. Project Triangle Strategy currently has a release date of 2022, and this demo though only a few hours long, will leave you hungry for more.