When the original The World Ends with You launched all the way back in 2007 on the Nintendo DS, it won attention and praise for its unorthodox storytelling and gameplay. It used many of the features of the Nintendo DS in experimental ways and delivering its story of a secret life-or-death game in modern day Tokyo’s Shibuya ward with a manga-flavored presentation. Despite being beloved by fans, TWEWY seemed stuck to be eternally revamped and re-released on new platforms, never to get a proper followup.
Well, it took fourteen years, but NEO: The World Ends with You is finally here, and it’s every bit as stylish, engrossing, and outright fun as its predecessor.
The premise of NEO TWEWY is similar to the original. Fret and Rindo are a pair of unassuming Japanese teens just hanging out in Shibuya, only to suddenly find themselves thrust into the game of their lives—literally, because it turns out that they somehow wound up dead and now exist only in the spiritual world of the Shibuya “Underground.” In order to get back to their old lives, they must win the privilege by playing the Reapers’ Game, a week-long event run by a group of powerful beings known as Reapers. If your team wins, you can get whatever you want—including returning to life. Come in last, and your posse gets wiped from existence.
Fret and Rindo soon find themselves assisted by Minamimoto, a math-obsessed weirdo with power and ulterior motives he doesn’t seem keen to let on, and Nagi, a mousy otaku girl who is singularly obsessed with her favorite mobile game and its hunky hottie Lord Tomonami. While the team normally can’t interact with humans existing in the “Realground” Shibuya, they soon discover they all have special powers that can touch those back in the other realm: Fret can reconstruct people’s lost or forgotten memories, while Nagi can physically dive into their minds to examine their innermost turmoil. Rindo’s really lucked out, though: he’s got the mysterious ability to twist back time, but only sometimes when the situation has become catastrophically bad. Can these youngsters band together to topple the reigning champions and return to reality, or is there something more sinister afoot in this Reapers’ Game?
From the outset, NEO TWEWY puts its characters and their interplay with each other front and center. Rindo is more interested in playing mobile games and messaging online games than speaking up or doing any decision-making. His best buddy, Fret, is the opposite: a goofy dude who loves to talk, brag, and goad Rindo into doing things. Their dynamic is strong from the outset, and further evolves as more characters step into the spotlight: opposing team leaders, antagonistic Reapers, and new team recruits. Nagi, who quickly joins their team’s ranks, is particularly fun: she’s sharp, analytical, and will do absolutely anything for the sake of her favorite game character. (Suffice to say, she’s going to be extremely relatable for quite a few readers of this site.)
The cast—along with Shibuya itself—are truly the heart and soul of this tale. Every interaction between these characters, large or small, weaves its way into NEO TWEWY’s larger narrative into various ways. The excellent writing and pacing bring you into the team’s struggle: You’ll relate to them as they face both victorious joy and utterly crushing heartbreak. You’ll feel their anguish as they are forced to confront their flaws and make difficult choices. You’ll want to do everything in your power to make sure they succeed, because you’ve come to truly care about them.
Much of the progression of NEO TWEWY is still the same as the original: you’ll be given quests and goals to accomplish throughout Shibuya each in-game day, usually involving puzzles and/or combat. Complete the quests, do some fighting, dining out, and shopping, fight the Noise enemies, and move on in the story. Some elements of gameplay have been streamlined over the original: for example, eating food for bonuses is a lot easier, and the effectiveness of branded combat pins and clothes no longer differs from region to region.
Most importantly, the battles are still as frenetic and chaotic as before. You’re no longer managing two displays at once, as in the original Nintendo DS release of TWEWY—but you are controlling an entire, multi-member RPG party in action-oriented combat all at the same time. It works like this: the pins that grant characters the attack powers they use during battle are all assigned a button on the controller. Push a button, and you attack with the pin’s power while assuming control of that character. Every pin works differently—some need rapid button-mashing, some require you to charge and release an attack, some inflict constant damage as long as a button’s held, and some are totally unique.
However, in order to do well in combat, you can’t just be hitting one button until your pin’s energy needs to recharge, then moving on to the next. No, you need to be using all of your attacks in tandem, charging while mashing and holding down, so your entire party is working together to crush foes. This is because when one character’s attack does something big, like knocking an enemy down or stunning them, you can perform a “beatdrop” by following it up with strikes from a different character. This raises the team’s Groove meter, and once that meter hits a certain point, you can unleash your most powerful psionics onto the battlefield, which can then be chained into even more attack combos.
That all might sound like a mess, and it kind of is! But when you get the hang of it, it becomes surprisingly deep, especially with all of the various pin types and combinations available for you to use. One you really master the controls, combat turns into something sublime, a wondrous controlled chaos that gives you a soaring rush of adrenaline every time you chain one attack into another and watch that Groove meter skyrocket.
Visually, NEO TWEWY is pleasant. Character models look fantastic, as do the enemies, but the backdrops are surprisingly plain-looking in comparison. You’ll definitely notice some lower-res textures popping up as you’re combing the streets, as well. But what NEO TWEWY lacks in raw graphic power it makes up for in sheer style. The manga-panel dialogue cutscenes are beautifully illustrated and presented, and all of the characters are distinct and memorable in their designs. The user interface both in and out of combat is excellent—perhaps not quite as striking as, say, a Persona game, but still unique and fitting to the game’s tone.
And then there’s the soundtrack, which is full of absolute bangers from start to finish. Several old favorites from the original game return alongside a wealth of new music encompassing a wealth of genres and sounds: hip-hop, poppy acoustics, thrash metal, and dissonant synth, among many others, with new jams being introduced and re-introduced throughout the course of the game’s runtime. There are but a scant few weak offerings among the tracks, and they’re easily outnumbered by the really amazing stuff. You’ll definitely be listening to this soundtrack outside of the game after hearing it.
For all the love that I’ve showered NEO TWEWY with so far, however, I still have some complaints. (Disclaimer: I played the Switch version for review, and there will be a day-one patch on release that may remedy some of these issues.) For starters, I can’t believe a game released in 2021 doesn’t have a proper cutscene/dialogue scene skip functionality, especially a game where you can go back to previous chapters to try and do sub-quests you missed. You can hold down a shoulder button to fast-forward dialogue you’ve already seen, but you can only outright skip a very limited number of events. This makes revisiting some of the most dialogue-heavy chapters a real pain.
The Switch version of NEO TWEWY also has some performance and stability issues. Framerate is inconsistent, and can become particularly choppy when a lot of things are happening onscreen during battle or exploration. I also encountered a few points where the game crashed or soft-locked in-between cutscenes. Thankfully, autosave in this game is very reliable, but once again: why no cutscene skip option to move past those parts I already saw?
My biggest complaint, however, lies with a part of the story. A major event took place immediately after the events of the original game that is a core component of NEO TWEWY’s narrative. However, if you’d only played the DS TWEWY or watched the anime adaptation, you would know nothing about it until it’s first mentioned. You see, this crucial story point is only seen in The World Ends with You: Final Remix on Switch, and only after you’ve unlocked it by beating the game and doing special challenges. Characters will casually and frequently talk about what went down, only for folks like me who’ve only played the DS version to completion to go “Wait, WHAT happened?” You don’t even get a nice little “here’s everything you missed” flashback or summary, either. So much of NEO TWEWY’s character writing and storytelling is excellent, so to have this particular plot point be so badly handled feels extremely disappointing.
Those issues, however, did not hamper my enjoyment of the game significantly. NEO TWEWY might not be quite as ambitious as the original game was. There are no dual-screens to introduce challenging gameplay mechanics with, and the setting of Shibuya no longer seems quite as novel as it once did. But in terms of recapturing the spirit of what made TWEWY so great—great character development, engaging storytelling, frenetic combat, memorable visuals and music—it absolutely nails it and then some. I absolutely loved my time playing this game, from the opening chapters to the incredible, gut-wrenching climax.
It was absolutely worth the wait.