There is no action RPG like The World Ends with You, full stop. The gameplay, the premise, the visual style — it was an utterly unique combo on Nintendo DS back in the late 2000s, which is why fans have been clamoring for a sequel from Square Enix ever since. Now, NEO: The World Ends with You has finally arrived over a decade later on Nintendo Switch, and despite the time gap, it is almost everything a fan could possibly want in a sequel. In review, NEO: The World Ends with You takes everything about the original game and just elevates it to the next level.
The world starts with the DS game
The original TWEWY established the Reapers’ Game, where dead people are brought to a parallel universe Tokyo and they battle “Noise” (monsters) and other threats in order to have the chance to live again. Along the way, they are accosted by Reapers, powerful beings who control the rules of that world. NEO: The World Ends with You takes this concept and just expands it to enable new gameplay scenarios.
There are so many spoilers and exciting curve balls that it’s better not to discuss the story at all, but suffice to say, NEO introduces a large new cast of characters that are often likeable and deserving of empathy. The narrative isn’t as thought-provoking as in the original, which is a slight bummer, but it provides some satisfying character moments. It also provides myriad callbacks to the original game, and while it isn’t necessary to play the original first in order to enjoy this game, it will definitely enrich your enjoyment if you have.
The vast majority of the storytelling in NEO: The World Ends with You occurs through manga-style panels with speech bubbles and static character portraits, and the few CG-animated cinematics are mostly saved for the end of the game. However, it took me dozens of hours to actually realize any of that because the stylized static art is so good and expressive. The voice acting and localization are overall terrific too, aside from some accents and dialogue that were just too cartoony for my taste. So essentially, top to bottom, the narrative is engrossing across its 45-60-hour runtime.
However, the NEO soundtrack is another story. It is almost entirely songs with lyrics, often sung in English, and almost none of it feels attuned to the narrative. Music taste is subjective of course, but I didn’t find a lot of it particularly catchy either. You are often hearing the same couple dozen songs, and which one plays during a battle is totally random. So the soundtrack becomes a grating, repetitive presence that adds a layer of monotony to the world instead of helping the world further distinguish its identity.
NEO delivers big content in a small package
NEO: The World Ends with You divides its gameplay into “days,” and each day presents new plot-specific developments and challenges. The whole game takes place in Shibuya, which is divided into a series of really small connected segments, and each day you have access to different areas. The game world is, relatively speaking, tiny by action RPG standards. However, traversing it seldom gets repetitive because there are plenty of reasons to revisit areas.
For starters, each area has unique stores and restaurants. Stores sell clothes that enhance your stats and have assorted special effects, and they also sell pins, which provide all of your characters’ combat abilities. Frequently shopping at a store raises your “level” with that particular chain, which unlocks more things to buy. Meanwhile, eating restaurant foods permanently increases your character stats, and once you burn off the calories by fighting some battles, you can go back to eat some more.
Additionally, the game provides both a “Social Network” system and day-and-location-specific sidequests that grant you more points to spend in the Social Network. Basically, meeting and helping new people unlocks myriad new gameplay bonuses, and you can spend points in the Social Network to activate them. Bonuses range from unlocking new foods to expanding pin-equipping options for combat, and filling out the Social Network becomes addicting fast.
Lastly, almost every party member contributes a special ability to the exploration, like time travel or planting an image in the minds of everyone in an area in order to make them remember something. Even though these are mostly only activated during the main narrative or sidequests, they provide nice little wrinkles in gameplay.
The menus in NEO: The World Ends with You are complex and document the multiple hundreds of books, music, clothes, pins, and food you can collect. All that detail is great, but the menus themselves are slow and cumbersome to navigate. It can be particularly difficult to navigate pin options, and some additional sorting options would have been greatly appreciated.
There are more than 300 pins in the game, and each one provides its own ability in combat, ranging from fast melee attacks to area-of-effect black holes to charged-up rockets to protective barriers. Strikingly, each party member can only equip one pin at a time, and each pin is mapped to one specific controller button. Fast-tap abilities are always on X and Y, while charged or long-term abilities are reserved for shoulder buttons. So in effect, each party member is controlled by a single button, with the control stick physically moving around one or more of them at a time according to which pins are being used. It sounds crazy, but in practice, it’s surprisingly intuitive and a testament to Square Enix’s creativity.
Pins operate on a cooldown so they can’t be spammed indefinitely, and you can create combos to increase damage by timing your attacks to hit enemies at specific moments. However, the game only rarely does anything to encourage you to actually play that way. I mostly button-mashed my way through the entire game, regardless of difficulty settings. There is a finite number of enemy types (frogs, birds, bear-monsters, etc.) with set behaviors, and once you understand each enemy type, battles don’t evolve much for the rest of the game. Instead, it just dumps higher quantities of monsters on you.
NEO: The World Ends with You has four difficulty options, with the most difficult being saved for the postgame. “Normal” is actually pretty easy, and “Easy” is extremely easy. Only “Hard” provides any actual challenge out of the three. However, if you want to play the game properly, you will regularly switch between each difficulty option because all monsters drop different pins according to the difficulty selected. You will miss a lot of abilities if you only play on one difficulty.
Pin drops are not guaranteed at the end of a battle though. To enhance or guarantee your odds of getting pins, you can chain together back-to-back battles with no healing in-between, and/or you can manually decrease your party’s “level” in a menu. Your level only dictates your maximum HP in a battle, which isn’t actually a big deal in practice, so I kept my level really low for almost the entire game for fast drops.
Regular encounters can become a bit monotonous as the game goes on, but the combat itself is fun thanks to the terrific controls and just how hectic the battle screen becomes. Boss fights in particular offer fun, challenging (on Hard, anyway) highlights. However, all the combat effects on screen can sometimes make battles too hectic, making it difficult to see what is going on. It’s frustrating to get hit by something you never saw, especially in the prolonged, repetitive final battle.
NEO: The World Ends with You is a terrific sequel
The soundtrack is monotonous, the menus are a slog, and it often becomes too easy to button-mash to victory. But otherwise, NEO: The World Ends with You is a really cleverly designed game that packs a terrific amount of content into a small game world, and that even stays true continuing into the postgame. An engaging narrative that successfully expands upon the world of the original brings the entire experience together, and the final result is another inimitably unique action RPG from Square Enix.
A Nintendo Switch review code for NEO: The World Ends with You was provided by the publisher.