A fight to the death, or rather to avoid it; Rindo Kanade and his jumbled team of edgy teenagers set out to prove victorious in the Reapers' Cup, the winning team being granted a return to the Overworld. Will the gang somehow find a way to reach the final?
It’s 2007 and it’s a hot weekend in August. Too hot, perhaps - so we go indoors, pick up our beloved Nintendo DS and boot up the game everyone seems to be talking about: The World Ends With You. 14 years later we find ourselves apparently juxtaposed into an identical future: it’s a hot weekend in August and we seek some shade, only now we can get stuck into the sequel of the game we have loved for all of these years: Neo: The World Ends With You, a publication arising from a co-op venture between Square Enix and h.a.n.d. Neo, like it’s 2007 forerunner, is an action role-play urban fantasy title, only it has now been designed to run in 3D on the Nintendo Switch and the PlayStation consoles rather than 2D on the DS.
The cult-followed gaming brand finds itself again planted in the Shibuya Shopping District of Tokyo, an ebullient collection of restless streets, condescending skyscrapers and cultured stores. Neo interactively documents the activities of the games protagonist, Rindo Kanade, and his eccentric gang comprised of Fret, Nagi and Sho, all with their respective cognitive abilities, as they are about to enter into the Reapers’ games as a team named the Wicked Twisters. Following an accident at the aptly named Scramble Crossing, the Twisters are fighting to become victorious at the games in a bid to secure a coveted return to life. Though I was new to the World Ends With You franchise, I was caught off-guard by how innovative a concept this was to underlie the games narrative – a Hunger Games like notion: fighting to survive. In between competitions, users are able to explore an expansive map covering areas even lying outside the Shibuya District, this time with greater detail and accuracy than the games predecessor, encompassing real buildings and institutions based in the vicinity.
'I was caught off-guard by how innovative a concept this was to underlie the games narrative – a Hunger Games like notion: fighting to survive.'
What do you think of the games' combat design?
As you would expect from the games' marketing, we mostly control the games’ protagonist, Kanade, whilst intermittently commanding the other dangerous high-school students whilst in battle. Gameplay revolves primarily around combat and fierce skirmishes, wherein an emphasis on the succession of attacks has been placed. Beyond combat, we are granted the ability to explore the map and the games’ finer details, such as the mind abilities of our characters. Guided by what come to be known as Beat Drop Combos, we can attain Groove Points capable of summiting a collective offensive peak: a devastating mash-up move where all members of the Team musically band together to inflict maximal damage. Square Enix have created a title that orbits the idea of friendship and teamwork, a merging of minds so as to achieve a shared goal. Friendship Points for example, another of the games reward systems, are earned by confluent efforts and deliver in return a greater communication within the alliance, leading to an enhanced damage output. Pins, all three hundred of them, are a seriously neat combat initiative, tying in the ability to use four (with four ABXY buttons – see?) characters and their chosen pin at any given time.
What does gameplay entail?
At first glance, Neo’s cover art looks like the Wicked Twisters are about to drop the hardest rap album of the century, and in a way that is exactly what happens; Kanade and his pals quite literally ‘drop the beat’ on some deserving bad guys, known as ‘the Noise.’ Our playable in-game characters, as aforementioned, all have distinctive abilities and the chance to acquire Pins which are used for Psych Attacks. I know I have mentioned it before, but the game has over 300 Pins to be dug out; we are never far from diversifying our attack methods, meaning that each and every player and their concomitant playing style has been included in the format of Neo’s combat mechanics. As you might expect from this style of game, the battles we get caught up in are totally hectic, we encounter the manifestation of the cities denizens’ thoughts through a weird and wonderful portfolio of adversaries: jellyfishes, elephants, frogs and sharks (in Tokyo, bear in mind), all of whom seem to arise out of nowhere unless we deliberately employ our scanning abilities to locate them. Pins, random animals, multiple combo meters and up to four characters at any given time to be monitored and utilised; it seems that only those with Chess Master attention spans can comprehend all that goes on in Neo’s fight scenes. Yet, this chaos is a good deal of what gives Neo its cult-revered charm: the fact that it does move at Mach 1, particularly so now that the game is furnished only in single-screen mode where its counterpart was formatted in dual. At first I felt slightly as though Neo was a game of a chance, a game of frenetic button mashing, yet once I was accustomed to the ways of Shibuya and the Wicked Twisters, combat became not a continuous haze of explosions and darting teenagers with cool hair but a cogent offensive with satisfying end-products.
'Our playable in-game characters, as aforementioned, all have distinctive abilities and the chance to acquire Pins which are used for Psych Attacks.'
How does the game look?
Sporting some Gorillaz-style visuals, Neo's character art is a seriously majestic piece of work. It would be challenging to envision a better representation of the characters on screen, an opinion you may share with me if you have watched The World Ends With You anime series. Kanade and his pals are not only expertly depicted, they are also customisable. In the stores and boutiques that populate the Shibuya streets we can find both clothing outfits that can upgrade character stats and hearty meals capable of enhancing, often permanently, our Player’s attributes. Our attention is effortlessly arrested when spending a few minutes (or hours) roaming the shopping district, Neo does an excellent job of transporting the air of Tokyo into the game itself, resulting in a transfixing culture-saturated environment. If you were to tread back twenty years or so to the turn of the new millennium, it would be difficult to even consider how you could take a playable mood-snapshot of one of the busiest cities on the planet and place it in a portable handheld console like the Nintendo Switch, yet that is exactly what Neo: The World Ends With You has managed to achieve in its own alternative way. I was mesmerised by the mild fish-eye perspective the game often adopts, coaxing distant buildings to bend and contort as though they were under the influence of a black hole, seemingly vacuumed into a singular circular oblivion – the world really does end with you in this way. Interestingly, Neo adopts a camera angle that follows closely in the eager footsteps of our characters, providing a cinematic touch to each and every minute spent inside the game. Angles are not the only theatrical feature the game possesses; the voice acting is also near-perfect for both the genre and the environment that Neo portrays - in fact, I would go far to say that Square Enix and h.a.n.d have totally hit the nail on the head here.
'Neo does an excellent job of transporting the air of Tokyo into the game itself, resulting in a transfixing culture-saturated environment.'
Should I play Neo on PlayStation or on the Nintendo Switch?
So, what console is best to play Neo: The World Ends With You on? The answer depends on what lies at the top of your priorities and preferences, if an adaptive 30fps at 720p on a portable device is suitable for you, you would need to look no further than the Nintendo Switch. That said, if the graphical capacity of the game is a make-or-break for you, the PlayStation consoles are the devices better able to deliver what you want, yet if portability and graphics are a must have, perhaps opt for the Nintendo Switch OLED Model. The greatest difference between the two console series seems to be the stability in performance, where the Switch seems to falter every now and then, the PlayStation consoles reliably chugs on. Regardless, the game runs remarkably well on the Switch consoles, and to the average eye the flawless anime-style graphics (particularly when on docked mode) are not so dissimilar to the PlayStation consoles.
Many thousands of fans, and I am not exaggerating, waited for years for even the prospect of this game, let alone its release. The same group of gamers will tell you, with little deviation to the rule, that Neo: The World Ends With You is a magnificent title that was worth the wait. I was beyond impressed with the sheer level of subtlety and detail this game possesses, the lore, the character development, the narrative concept itself and the graphical animations underpin said plot are first-class. It is telling that even those at Electric Games who are not and will never be anime fans still extolled the numerous facets that Neo: The World Ends With You has to offer.
Written by Joel Gunner
Images sourced from Square Enix.