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September 2021

NEO: The World Ends with You

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 27, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Neo: The World Ends with You'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 26, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

NEO: The World Ends with You is an action RPG that transports players to the streets of the Shibuya, where they will take part in the “Reapers’ Game,” a life-or-death battle for survival.

Buy Neo: The World Ends with You

In Neo: The World Ends with You, Rindo and his friend Fret are part of the Reaper's Game, an after-life battle royale where multiple groups compete. The winner gets their wishes granted, and the losers are forced to return to the game. The two are forced to start their own team and try to win the game, but not all is what it seems. When Rindo discovers that he can travel back in time once per day, he realizes that the game may be rigged and getting out won't be as easy as it seems.

The biggest problem is the incredibly messy plot. It's a sequel that assumes you played the original game, so it provides the barest of explanations for certain characters and their roles, despite this information being critical to the plot. The title also adds time travel to the convoluted world, and trying to think too hard about how time travel works makes your head hurt, despite the game's best attempts to adhere to certain rules. At least one endgame sequence is so similar to one in Kingdom Hearts III that I couldn't help but wonder if the reference was intentional.

It took me a while to warm up to some of the cast, especially the standoffish Nagi, but as the story progressed, they become far more likeable characters than I had anticipated. By the end, I really liked the cast and enjoyed their various interactions with one another. The plot might be predictable, but the characters make it shine.

Neo does away with the two-screen combat system from the original game in favor of something best described as Valkyrie Profile meets Namco's Tales. You have a party of up to six characters, and you control all of them at the same time. Each character is given a pin, which is an equippable combat ability, and the characters are bound to the square or triangle button, or one of the four shoulder buttons. Hitting that button instantly puts you in control of that character so they can perform their attack. You control that character until you press another button to swap characters. Each pin has a limited number of uses, and it takes time to cool down, so it's important to regularly swap characters.

Your team shares one health bar, so despite having multiple characters, it is more like you're playing as one versatile often-swapping character. Whoever you're not controlling runs around the battlefield trying to avoid attacks. That said, if you are attacking with one character and swap to another while still tapping their button, you can attack from multiple directions at once. Later in the game, you gain the ability to equip two characters to the same button, which allows for some truly powerful stuff — and spares your poor fingers from button-mashing.

The most important feature of the combat system is the Drop the Beat mechanic. Each pin has a special condition, and when that condition is met, a blue circle appears over the enemy you're attacking. If another character hits that enemy with their own attack in that time frame, you'll gain some points to your Groove gauge. Once it reaches 100%, you can unleash a powerful mash-up attack based on the element of the last attack that hit the Drop the Beat circle, and you can dish out more powerful attacks for a short time. As the game progresses, you'll gain the ability to hit 200% and even 300% Groove, with the latter turning the mash-up into a powerful button-mashing attack that does ridiculous damage and is the most reliable way to heal your party. You'll also unlock a "sweet spot" mechanic, where part of the circle turns orange, and timing your follow-up attack when the gauge reaches that sweet spot grants you way more Groove.

Choosing your pins is critical to combat, and the most powerful pin isn't always the best. For example, a pin that Drops the Beat when an enemy is knocked against the wall probably isn't great for a boss that's too heavy to knock around. One that relies on a status effect can be powerful — few enemies totally resist status effects — but unreliable. On the other hand, a simple sword swing that Drops the Beat on the end of the combo might not be powerful, but it's a reliable gauge gain. This also means that support skills like healing or shields don't hurt you, as they are usually among the easiest ways to trigger a Drop the Beat circle to appear, so you can start attacks with them and then have heavy-hitting follow-ups.

The primary issues with the combat system are that it takes a long time to get going and it's messy. For the first half of the game, you work with a significantly reduced toolkit. You don't have a full party, don't have the sweet spot mechanic, have a limited selection of pins, and it makes it difficult to get a feel for the combat system. The more tools you have, the more fun Neo is.

This is true even with the equipment. You can buy equipment from any store, and you're always able to equip it. (There are no gender locks, so Rindo can rock a corset and high heels as much as he likes.) However, each piece of equipment has a style rating, with style being something you increase by eating at certain food places. Once you pass that style rating, the equipment gains a special passive ability, with higher style meaning better abilities. It's a neat mechanic, but like the rest of the combat system, it means you're locked out of fun options until later in the game.

The combat system is also messy. The original The World Ends with You asked you to keep your eyes on two screens at once. Neo effectively has you keeping track of six characters, a ton of enemies, some difficult-to-see enemy attack markers, and so many screen effects that the game is occasionally a mishmash of explosions. There is a lot occurring on-screen at any given time, and it's easy to get accidentally damaged or lose track of an enemy in the mess, especially early on, when you're still learning the lay of the land. Once you spend enough time with the game, you get a feel for the rhythms of combat and the style of play, but it requires an up-front investment of time to learn the gameplay mechanics.

These two facts mean that Neo has a rough start gameplay-wise, as much as it does with its story. It isn't that the early parts are bad, but the combat feels like button-mashing for a good chunk of time. I would say the point where you unlock the ability to target sweet spots on the Drop the Beat mechanic is when the combat picks up. It seems that this mechanic should've been in the combat from the start. It also takes you a while to gain a full cast (and thus six different pins you can use in a fight), which sucks because the more characters you have, the more varied and interesting the combat is.

The flip side is that by the end, I was really enjoying the combat. I am hard-pressed to think of another game that captures the anime-style feeling of "a group of characters fighting together" as well as this one. Figuring out powerful combo strings that allow you to chain together mash-ups so you can unleash torrents of rainbow-colored hell onto your enemies is really satisfying and looks cool. It's also fun to collect additional pins and try out different combos because you can figure out what goes well together, what doesn't, and which pin goes best with your current t-shirt.

A lot of the better mechanics come into play only when you play around with the difficulty mechanics. At any time, you can change the game to easy or hard difficulty. This not only changes the difficulty of the enemies but also the type of rare pins they drop, with more unique or interesting pins only coming on higher difficulties. There's even a Merciless difficulty that's available after you finish the main game, and it has its own set of loot. In addition, you can lower your character's levels, which reduces your total HP. The more you lower it, the more of a multiplier you get to your pin drop rate, so with enough effort, you can turn that 1% agonizing rare drop into 100%.

You can also engage in chain battles. When you go near a noise symbol on the overworld, it chases you. Once it touches you, you'll go into a battle by pressing the X button. However, you have a few moments after that happens to gather up other noise symbols to activate a chain. For each symbol you absorb, you'll fight another battle against progressively tougher enemies but you'll also gain a massive boost to your pin drop rate and a significant boost to the amount of PP and EXP you earn for finishing the fights. Chain fights are back-to-back and don't recover your HP, so you need to bring in healing pins or get good at doing 300% mash-ups to heal and create long chains.

As mentioned, you can adjust levels up or down, but they only matter for your HP. Your stats come from eating food at various places around the city. Each spot has a menu that grants different stat boosts, but you're required to buy food for all of your party members. These foods have calorie counts that fill up a hunger bar. If that bar goes over 100%, you can't buy more food until it reaches 0 again. You burn calories by fighting, and long chain battles are some of the best ways to burn calories.

In short, Neo can be as difficult or as easy as you want it to be. If you want to play for the story, you can switch it to easy mode and sleepwalk through the game. You can control how many stats you get, when you get them, how tough the fights are, and so on, with genuine encouragement in the mechanics to try to push yourself. It's an excellent way to handle difficulty. The original game had the same basic mechanics, and more games should adopt something like this.

Outside of the combat system, there isn't much to do in Neo. You effectively walk from cut scene to cut scene and take detours to solve side-quests, most of which can be solved in under three minutes. Each character has their own unique ability, but those abilities are only useful when the plot says to use them, instead of being naturally integrated into puzzles or exploration. This is probably the biggest sour point of Neo. It's not new for the franchise, but it feels like there was something more ambitious planned for exploration that didn't get a follow-through. You're playing the game for the combat and the story, and effectively nothing in between. Some of the worst moments in the game are when it expects you to pixel-hunt for the next plot trigger. Even Rindo's time travel mechanic is effectively locked to when and where the plot demands.

Don't mistake that for the game being short, though. Neo's runtime is probably a good 30-40 hours your first time through, and that's not counting the bonus post-game Another Day, the Merciless difficulty, and the massive number of secret reports you can unlock by completing side-quests to gain more context about the world and people within it. As long as you enjoy the combat system, you'll get your value out of the game, even if just on a single playthrough.

The World Ends with You wouldn't be the franchise it is without great music, and Neo absolutely excels in this area. It features both new mixes of classic songs and brand-new beats that are delightful. The only downside might be that the game is effectively always on, with pretty much every tune being a peppy, energetic song with vocal lyrics. It sets the tone well, but it can get a little exhausting when it's all you hear. Much of the music is great, and the voice acting is solid, with excellent performances in English and Japanese alike. The visuals are slightly less impressive. They do a reasonable job of translating the sprite art style into 3D, but the majority of cut scenes are static images, which hurts when the game is trying to convey that something happened.

Neo: The World Ends with You is the sequel that fans have been awaiting. Despite the move to 3D it feels, looks, and sounds just like the original game. If anything, its flaws are almost the same, with a messy (but fun) combat system and an even messier plot. Despite those flaws, I enjoyed the game almost from start to finish. Newcomers should play the original first, but for those who've been waiting to see where the universe of The World Ends with You goes after the first game, Neo finally provides what you've been waiting for.

Score: 8.0/10

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