The sequel to Square Enix’s acclaimed and inventive The World Ends With You drops tomorrow and it’s bringing plenty of infectious beats, stylish fashion, and over-the-top boss battles. I’ve been playing the game for review and have clocked in over 40 hours so far, but I have yet to reach the end credits. Until then, I’m not ready to deliver a final score but can share some impressions to give you an idea of where the game stands, especially in comparison to its predecessor. In many ways, Neo: The World Ends With You is just more of the DS original. It captures the magic of what made the first game so special, but it also retains some of its bigger issues and frustrations with difficulty balancing and the repetition of tedious tasks.
That being said, as a fan of the first game, it instantly sucked me back into the Reaper’s Game, with a fantastic soundtrack that I can’t get out of my head, entertaining combat that encourages experimentation, and keeping the fun hook of exploring Shibuya and finding new clothing and food options to improve your chances in battle. The new main character Rindo is as likable, if not more, than former hero Neku, as a cautious and compassionate leader. I really enjoyed the other unique faces he meets, like the awkward-yet-perceptive Nagi, who takes her video game fandom very seriously. The plot also finds unique ways to bring back beloved characters and reference the first game’s events, but also still tells its own compelling story about a Reaper’s Game that’s become horribly rigged and solving what’s at the root of this and why.
Similar to the first game, you can expect fast-paced combat that rewards you for chaining combos with team members to eventually “drop the beat” for devastating specials. The game still centers on pins to customize your abilities in battles. You can equip these on every character for their main battle ability, and every pin has a cooldown and gets assigned to a specific button input that you either have to tap or hold to execute. Not having a touchscreen like the first game, this actually works better than I expected, but I still found it difficult to keep track of all the chaos on screen at times. Trying to play characters’ abilities using multiple buttons at a time, the combat demands you multitask – for better or worse.
The action most shines in the boss battles, which are memorable and complex. Yes, you’ll fight everything from dinosaurs to gorillas and even the game’s famous giant cat mascot, Mr. Mew. Every character also has their own special ability to use within the world. For instance, Rindo has the ability to turn back time once a day, which functions as part of the overall story, whereas his buddy Fret can make people recall memories. You perform the latter by tilting the left and right sticks in the correct directions to complete a picture. Unfortunately, I liked Fret’s ability the least, as it requires more precision than I expected in getting the stick direction just right. I’m playing on Switch and using the Pro Controller fared better for me than the Joy-Cons. Speaking of the Switch version, the game has crashed several times on me, so I’m hoping the day-one patch Square Enix confirmed is coming helps alleviate this issue.
Neo: The World Ends With You feels very similar to the first game, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a reason so many fans have pined for a sequel. It quickly got its hooks in me and kept me engaged, but it has its flaws. A repetitive structure with tedious tasks doesn’t do it any favors, like making you kill a certain amount of enemies to go into a new area (the new turf wars called Scramble Slams are egregiously bad with this). The difficulty balancing is also off; the game would often be ridiculously easy, and then I’d hit a huge difficulty spike out of nowhere where I’d barely survive. And yet, despite those frustrating aspects, I can’t put Neo: The World Ends With You down. The world and its characters just drew me in, and when I’m firing on all cylinders with the combat and watching my groove meter rise, it’s a rush. If you liked the first game, chances are you’ll find a lot to love here. Just don’t go in expecting a huge evolution or departure from its predecessor.
I feel like the game’s end is just around the corner, so stay tuned for the final review!