• October 2, 2023

‘NEO: The World Ends With You’ : NPR

Pals Rindo and Fret fight for their lives on the streets of a strange alternative Tokyo in NEO: The World Ends With You Square Enix

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In NEO: The World Ends With You, buddies Rindo and Fret fight for their lives on the streets of a strange alternative Tokyo

Square Enix

A few seconds ago you were walking across the city street. You went to the ramen shop for a quick bite. In delirium you open and confuse your eyes and find yourself collapsed in the middle of the zebra crossing. People walk right by you while you reach for help. No one can see you In your pocket you will find a black pin with an ornate skull design.

In 2007, co-developers Square Enix and Jupiter released The World Ends with You for the Nintendo DS, an imaginative Japanese role-playing game that is second to none. The story takes place in a kind of limbo version of Shibuya, Japan, an alternate dimension between life and death, in which you compete with other players in the Reaper’s Game – a chance for redemption, a second chance for life.

What is the “Reaper’s Game”? Hide Square Enix caption

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What is the “Reaper’s Game”?

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A second chance in the game and in the real world

14 years later, Square Enix and the new development partner hand give gamers a second chance to enjoy the stylish, loud and ominous world of Shibuya in NEO: The World Ends with You. The sequel to the 2007 masterpiece follows a new cast of manga-esque characters struggling for their lives or facing permanent extinction.

NEO starts with our protagonists, best friends Rindo and Fret. The two find themselves in a Shibuya who … is upset. Their phones start sending them weird notifications about daily missions and they run into eccentric characters who reveal eerie details about this alternate dimension. And perhaps most bizarre are the monsters that roam this “other” Shibuya, animal-like creatures with limbs that resemble graffiti ripped from the city’s dark alleys.

Fight against the beasts known as Noise. Hide Square Enix caption

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Fight against the beasts known as Noise.

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These artistic beasts are called Noise, and it’s an ideal name considering the game has a huge emphasis on music. Takeharu Ishimoto, the composer for both games, expertly created a soundtrack unlike any I’ve heard in a video game. He mixes elements from rock, pop, hip-hop, electronica and even metal to evoke the vibrations of Shibuya. The world ends with you beating you while you play; the hip-hop beats provide a noticeable energy and the rock makes me tap my feet while I fight against noise. Ishimoto also includes lyrics in his in-game masterpieces, and it’s a great choice; it forces players to focus on its creation while playing. Instead of turning off the music like in a game with no lyrics, it encourages you to listen and soak up as you sneak through Shibuya’s corridors.

This time too, fashion plays a major role

Music aside, NEO has a lot in common with its predecessor, as one might expect from a sequel. Square Enix has kept the incredibly detailed anime art style that brings you directly into Japanese culture and fashion. The main and secondary characters all have their own looks, regardless of whether they have large belt buckles or brightly colored hair.

The game has a thriving economy of grocery and clothing stores where you can get items that will change your stats. Hide Square Enix caption

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The game has a thriving economy of grocery and clothing stores where you can get items that will change your stats.

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Fashion impacts other aspects of the game as well. Similar to other role-playing games, dressing your character often brings stat boosts. Wearing a particular pin or hat or shirt can give you different combat skills, additional health, or attack power. But unlike simpler role-playing games, the clothes in The World Ends with You are branded; You not only wear an “assassin’s coat”, but also in-game brands such as Joli Bécot or ConyxCony. It makes the items you buy more memorable while maintaining their normal video game function.

The World Ends with You got a major graphics upgrade in NEO that was to be expected on more powerful consoles (Switch and PS4) and 14 years of development. NEO’s Shibuya is significantly sharper than its predecessor, and the pixelated edges from earlier have been smoothed out. I’ve played NEO on the Switch and it looks great both with the Switch docked and in handheld mode. Sometimes NEO would lag a little when the Switch was docked, but that didn’t bother me too much during my hours of gaming.

But the improved graphics don’t necessarily mean a better game

The improved graphics really shine in the battle of NEO. It went from clunky and two-dimensional to 3D and dynamic. It is a joy to use your psychokinetic skills in a fight, especially when you find out how much synergy there are between your characters. When I started playing NEO I thought the battles were a bit repetitive, but when I learned to time my attacks and use the right skills it made fighting the same enemies fun.

Improved graphics make the fight scenes appear really trendy. Hide Square Enix caption

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Improved graphics make the fight scenes appear really trendy.

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Despite its graphic overhaul and combat improvements, NEO doesn’t quite captivate me like the original The World Ends with You. In the sequel, the main characters are clichés; Rindo is insecure and undecided, Fret may be a little too happy and Nagi (she joins the team later) adds the sometimes funny but mostly annoying joke. In the original, Neku, the brooding, headphone-wearing teenager, learns compassion when forced to develop relationships with other players or risk permanent death. It felt like the stakes were higher in the first installment, as if you actually had to complete your missions or face your downfall.

Sequels are better than remasters. I’m glad Square Enix and Hand gave us this revival after 14 years – but at the same time I wanted what the original game gave us: unforgettable characters and a gripping story with twists and turns. I’m grateful for NEO’s improved graphics, but if I had to go with inferior graphics with a better story, I would. I want to feel like I did 14 years ago, and while I liked NEO, I wasn’t as ruthlessly drawn into an ominous world of eccentric reaper and deadly noise as the original.

Keller Gordon is a columnist for Join The Game. Find him on Twitter: @ Sent_

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