Neo: The World Ends with You review: Fixing the problems of its predecessor

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Title: Neo: The World Ends with You
Developer: Square Enix, h.a.n.d. Inc.
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on), PS4, PC
Release date: July 27, 2021

Almost 15 years ago, Square Enix dropped a game on the DS called “The World Ends with You.” It had a very Persona 5-like aesthetic in which you played as a group of very fashionable kids that hung around the Shibuya area of Japan while dealing with monsters that regular people couldn’t see. Of course, their reason for this was that they were dead and forced to play “the Reaper’s Game” in which they had seven days to gather the most points by completing tasks (mostly fighting) in order to determine which direction their soul was going to be going in. I won’t spoil it but the story gets weirder.

Despite its graphics and brilliant art direction, a killer soundtrack, unique story, and even Square’s desperate attempts to shoehorn the game into the Kingdom Hearts universe, one thing prevented it from ever gaining more than a small cult following… the controls (brace yourself for a hot take) sucked.

I mean, the controls were precise but holy hell did they not play well with the way human hands were designed. The game was played on both DS screens at the same time.  When you fought, the top screen would be the main character versus the enemies. The bottom screen would be your chosen sidekick versus the same enemies. You’d control the main character with the buttons and, at the same time, attack the enemies on the bottom screen with the touchpad. Depending on which character you had that meant either tapping frantically, drawing lines, or doing some other touch screen sorcery. But it wanted you to utilize both screens at once and I absolutely could not.

Luckily, the recent follow-up, Neo: The World Ends with You (because why not make the title more confusing), simplifies the controls. It’s still apparently in the contract that the controls still be somewhat confusing but it’s nowhere near as difficult.

Neo: The World Ends with You still follows a group of ridiculously fashionable teenagers as they find themselves pulled into the Reaper’s Game and fighting to earn the most points to earn a vague prize involving their own souls. But the main difference is the side-scrolling half button, half touchscreen, all mess of the first game has been replaced with three-dimensional combat.

The combat looks and feels pretty awesome. My only complaint is that your four characters are each bound to a different button so when you’re doing combos, it’s by switching to different characters and whatever special move you have tied to them by way of magic pins. I wouldn’t mind this so much if it didn’t mean that two of your characters were tied to shoulder buttons which I absolutely hate using in a fight. Luckily, the moves tied to shoulder buttons tend to be more along the lines of “hold to charge” instead of “button mash” so that’s good. But when you get a good series of moves that you like in your party and you get a feel for it, oh my god does it look good.

The bits between the fights are pretty good too. The characters are all really great extreme archetypes of anime tropes so you have the goofy idiot who screams one-liners, the hardcore otaku, the confident guy with a weird quirk of describing everything via mathematical terms, and your protagonist who is just not there for this. It almost makes sense for these characters to not seem that phased that they’re dead because they’re all insane. Well, except for Nagi who is very much not happy with this fact.

Neo: The World Ends with You
Square Enix /

It was really hard to not fall in love with these characters given how all of them, no matter what, have ridiculously extreme personalities that are exemplified in their art style. Just be careful when trying to look up images to show people, there’s a character that…100% shares a name with a very hardcore Japanese porn star and I was not ready for that Google Image result. Note to self, “safe search always”.

As for the gameplay itself, outside having to use the shoulder buttons so much to fight, there are two other things I took issue with — but they’re not that major.

First, the game is so so heavily reliant on memes that sometimes they just seem to be used as if they have to hit a meme quota. For example, this exchange in which Nagi quotes absolutely nothing that exists and Fret drops the classic “And I oop” chestnut.

Neo: The World Ends with You
Square Enix /

And then there’s the camera angles when you’re running through the city. When you’re in a battle the camera is great, the streets are wide and visibility is pretty damn good. But when you’re just strolling around it’s like Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams decided to work together to do an art film about getting drunk in GTA and it can become really hard to navigate. Here’s me just strolling through a city street for example. Warning though, if I look at this screenshot for three seconds or more I feel like I just downed a bottle of NyQuil.

Neo: The World Ends with You
Square Enix /

Beyond those minor things though, the game is fantastic in almost every area. Even mundane things like inventory management and getting food for your characters is fun with the way everything is set up. And collecting pins (each which can grant the wearer a new power) is an absolute joy for completionists. It keeps the game fresh as the guy who previously attacked with flaming jump kicks is now using telekinesis to drop cars on enemies.

I would definitely recommend getting the demo first as it is a weird game and I can totally respect it’s not for everyone, but this game really drew me in enough to make me deal with my hatred for shoulder buttons in combat.

Square Enix, h.a.n.d. Inc.. . Neo: The World Ends with You. 8.5. Some minor flaws aside, Neo: The World Ends with You greatly fixes the hot mess of a control scheme from its predecessor and delivers a worthy sequel with excellent art and storytelling. Constant changes to gameplay and twists in the story will keep you engaged throughout.