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NEO: The World Ends With You Modernizes the Franchise Without Erasing its Identity (Hands-on Preview)

NEO: The World Ends With You Preview
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NEO: The World Ends With You Modernizes the Franchise Without Erasing its Identity (Hands-on Preview)

To say NEO: The World Ends With You has been hotly anticipated by TWEWY fans would be an understatement. The franchise has gone without a proper sequel for 14 years now, and while it may have seen re-releases and crossovers with other franchises, fans have been left wanting for a proper continuation of the one-of-a-kind property.

This has resulted in a lot of pressure resting on the sequel to perform well, and to carry the series forward into the current generation without abandoning what made it special in the first place. Based off of our time with the game, though, NEO: The World Ends With You looks to have risen to the occasion while still maintaining the uniqueness helped the original endure as a cult classic.

Like the first TWEWY, the game starts off calmly enough. Rindo, the game’s primary protagonist, is in Shibuya to meet up with his friend Fret. Upon meeting up, Fret gives Rindo a special pin which resembles those used by the Reapers from the first game. Neither character knows about its true worth or purpose though, and continues about their day without a care.

Before long, the game kicks things up a notch. The two witness a battle taking place on the streets of Shibuya, and soon realize they’re the only ones that can see it. They’re then dragged into the chaos, and Fret is killed by a truck tossed into the air by an explosion. Distraught by this, Rindo accidentally turns back time to a point before Fret’s death and manages to save him, escaping from the carnage in the process.

They’re then informed that they’ve been brought to the Underground alongside other players in the Reapers’ latest game. Alongside anyone else they can find to team up with, they must acquire as many points as possible by completing tasks and defeating specific enemies called Noise. Victory means surviving to advance further into the game and earning a wish of their choosing; defeat means permanent erasure from existence.

Neo: The World Ends With You

It’s a lot to take in after only a few minutes with the game, but it sets up the premise nicely. Rindo and Fret, as well as some other characters introduced in the first couple hours, are likable and quirky enough without being too obnoxious.

The voice acting for the characters goes a long way in this regard. Each actor lends some genuine personality and emotion to their respective character whenever there’s a voiced scene, and helps establish them as more than just trope-y caricatures.

The setting, meanwhile, is as vibrant as the Shibuya from the original game. The city feels alive with passersby walking and chatting in every direction. Buildings and shops tower above the populace, and everything is done in the series’ trademark sharp-edged anime aesthetic.

Unlike the original TWEWY, NEO: The World Ends With You is animated with a 3D version of the series’ art style. It definitely carries a different feel compared to the original, but it also comes off as a natural evolution for the aesthetic.

At the center of all this is the game’s soundtrack, and it doesn’t disappoint. Pop music ebbs and flows in accordance with whatever’s happening on screen. Calm journeys through the city’s streets are matched by lighter melodies and vocals, while heavier songs burst to life whenever enemies ambush the party.

Neo: The World Ends With You

This is all to say nothing of NEO: The World Ends With You’s gameplay. Like the first game, it offers two generally distinct gameplay types to dig into. On one side, there’s exploration and light puzzle solving. Sections focused on this will see you guide your party to different sections of Shibuya to decipher riddles, find specific landmarks, read the minds of specific NPCs, and otherwise complete tasks for the Reapers.

While these sections are fairly identical to those from the first game, there are new mechanics which help mix things up. Of particular note is the new Remind ability, which allows you to reconstruct the memories of certain NPCs. Through it, you can gain hints about where to go for the answers to specific puzzles and track down NPCs tied to the main plot.

This was a welcome change of pace amid the usual fetch quests and puzzle solving. It has some real potential to liven up the gameplay cycle, and could serve to be a great addition to the series if it’s used creatively throughout the rest of the game.

Neo: The World Ends With You

On the other side of things is combat. As fans of the series might expect, it requires some mental gymnastics to fully utilize all the mechanics available to you during fights. Each character in your party utilizes different attacks, and they’ll each have different inputs required to be used based on the pins you currently have equipped. You can use them in tandem with one another too, and pacing them out properly allows you to build up a Groove meter for a special limited-use attack.

Likewise, each party member will change their position or be locked in place according to the type of attack being used. For example: To use a melee-based Psych pin, Rindo will need to charge in close to an enemy. This can leave him vulnerable to attacks until his assault subsides, and could lead to your Groove being interrupted if you time your moves badly.

This adds a deceptive amount of depth to combat encounters. While we could certainly get through most fights by mashing buttons, learning the timing of each pin’s attacks allowed us to pull off stylish combos and make fights more visually entertaining. This in turn led to combat encounters feeling better overall, and netted us a better rank at the end of each battle.

We may have only caught a brief glance at everything NEO: The World Ends With You has to offer, but what we saw has us hopeful for the final product. Our fingers are crossed that the game will be everything fans have been waiting for when it releases July 27 on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

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