26 Jul 2021 2:16 PM +00:00

NEO The World Ends With You Review: Smart, Stylish, and Spectacular

Over a decade after The World Ends With You was released on Nintendo DS, Square Enix finally launched a sequel, NEO The World Ends With You. The question is whether it was worth the wait, and the answer is, unequivocally, yes. NEO: The World Ends With You is one of the year’s best RPGs whether you’ve played the original or not.

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Detached From Reality

Screenshot from Neo: The World Ends With You showing a battle scene on a crosswalk.
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Much like the Reaper’s Game itself, NEO TWEWY is more than it appears on the surface. A group of people gets tossed into an alternate Tokyo and must play the Reaper’s Game or risk being wiped from existence.

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It’s simple on paper. Complete a set of mundane tasks and destroy entities called Noise to earn more points than the other teams in a week. In practice, the Reaper’s Game is much more sinister, and that first week is essentially a long tutorial for how the rest of the game works, both the one you’re playing and the one Rindo is trying to survive.

The original game tackles some heavy and heartfelt themes, and NEO TWEWY is no different Rindo is detached and goes out of his way to avoid accepting responsibility or showing emotion of any kind, but he’s not just Neku 2.0.

Rindo’s development owes much to NEO The World Ends With You’s absolutely top-notch, stellar writing and voice acting. There’s so much text — I’d call it almost 75% visual novel — yet no scene ever drops the beat or feels unnecessary. A focus on friendship is hardly a rare thing in JRPGs, but Square Enix created what’s probably the best bunch of dysfunctional heroes with NEO TWEWY. It’s almost impossible not to get invested in them after just a few in-game days.

That Shibuya Style

Screenshot from Neo: The World Ends With You showing the protagonist exploring Shibuya.
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The other thing Neo The World Ends With You nails is its presentation. In place of 3D models with limited changes, it gives you 2D portraits with a wide range of emotions and poses that speak in a series of comic panels and speech bubbles. The original game set a style standard others, including Persona 5, met and surpassed, but Neo The World Ends With You’s dialogue and cutscenes are unparalleled in style.

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Plus you have to wear cutting-edge clothes and eat good food to level up, which is, frankly, just cool.

That goes for the art style in general — mostly. Character models with their improbably flexible and angular hips, incredibly detailed (and hunger-inducing) food, and the off-the-wall clothing styles are bold in their style and presentation, so much so that it makes the rest of Shibuya a bit of a letdown, in fact.

NEO The World Ends With You opts for a mix of surrealism and fish-bowl perspective around the city. I get the symbolism behind the decision. Some areas are actually a bit disorienting, though, and the perspective turns Shibuya into one giant road more than anything else.

Pin 'Em Down

Screenshot from Neo: The World Ends With You showing the player party eating food for stat boosts.
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Battle starts slow but gradually adds more layers of complexity. The pin system returns in a different format suited to systems without two screens. Each pin is tied to a certain type of move and has a cooldown timer. Enemies will “drop the beat” at certain points, which is your cue to switch attacks and eventually pull off a spectacular special. It’s a hugely satisfying system.

All this isn’t even taking into consideration NEO The World Ends With You’s Psychs. These are powers each character has that let you manipulate the world in special ways, such as rewinding time to fix mistakes or inducing people to remember something you need to know for part of the Game. Then there’s the Social Network that grants bonuses based on your relationships with key people.

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Verdict

In short, NEO The World Ends With You is massive. It’s a grand, modern epic with impeccable writing and almost as impeccable style that’s got as much heart as it does twists and turns in the plot. This is easily one of the year’s finest RPGs.

5/5

Review copy provided by the publisher

Reviewed on PlayStation 4