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Offbeat JRPG 'Neo: The World Ends with You' an odd, intriguing blast from the past

neo the world ends with you.JPG
Posted at 2:55 PM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 16:55:33-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Phil Villarreal: Fourteen years after the watershed "The World Ends with You" became a cult hit on the DS, its sequel, "Neo: The World Ends with You" is out on Switch, PS4 and PC. Once again the setting is the Shibuya ward of Tokyo.

You and your squad of spiky-haired high schoolers take on demonic monstrosities that are invisible to most everyone. Using a cache of interchangeable, pin-based power-ups, you explore, socialize and battle.

The original game broke ground with its combat system, stylish visuals and peppy soundtrack. I found the new game to be a throwback that paid maybe too much loving tribute to the old tropes. At least it looks great on the Switch as opposed to the pixelated DS. How did it look on the PS4, Sean?

Sean Newgent: In all honesty Phil, it looked very dated to me though anyone who has traipsed through the sea of B-tier JRPG's on PSN is probably used to these games looking a few generations older than the contemporary big budget stuff like "Final Fantasy VII Remake" or "Persona 5".

The style certainly emulates that of the older game with the character designs and monsters feeling straight out of Square Enix's 00's playbook. The world itself is presented interestingly, with all the Shibuya landmarks you'd expect (including of course the Hachiko statue outside the station and the scramble) shown in very jarring camera angles that I thought gave it that slick, off-beat look the game strives for. From the fashion, to the camera work, to the graffiti motifs, I think it nails that street style.

Did the story or combat draw you in at all Phil?

PV: It takes some patience, but the story pulls you in the longer you stick with it. Even characters that seem shallow on the outside tend to have interesting things going on beneath the surface.

I liked the way the combat isn't quite as complex as it was in the DS original. Memories of coordinating simultaneous battles on two different screens still gives me night sweats. As with many JRPGs, a fair amount of button mashing will power you through most of the time, but if you're willing to sink your teeth into the depth that's offered you can win with style and flair.

Despite the near-future-ish setting, though, certain aspects of the game seem stuck in the past. Like... that soundtrack."

SN: The soundtrack teleports me to a time when a young mid-2000's Sean, decked out in all black, would stand around Hot Topic deciding which Disturbed shirt I wanted to buy with my allowance.

Or a more universal comparison is: It sounds like it could be from the "Tony Hawk Pro Skater" soundtrack.

It's not bad, it's just dated in a way that works for the game's style but isn't cool or slick. Were this released in 2008 or 2009 I would likely have been fine with the music and the style but in 2021 — "Persona 5" may have soured any other attempts by studios wanting to make a street-style JRPG because that's a soundtrack that, in modern vernacular, slaps. "Neo"'s soundtrack unlocks suppressed memories I didn't need dragged from the dark recesses of my mind.

The question is Phil, do you think 14 years later, this is the game the fans of the original deserve? As a newcomer, I'm not sure this game was made for me so much as that cult following. But you seem to have some experience with the original.

PV: I think you nailed it, Sean. This game is aimed directly at fans of the original who want to recapture that essence of whatever was going on in their lives back in 2007. Its appeal is that of a one-hit wonder band that's touring casinos to make ends meet. It may be missing one or two of the original members, but it's got the same sound, for better or for worse.

I think this is exactly the game the fans of the original have been clamoring for, and in some manner exemplifies the "be careful what you wish for" ethos. The devs took the safe route, content to rekindle the feel of the first game without pushing any of its themes forward in meaningful ways.

That said, this is a Square Enix JRPG, with all the polish and cachet that comes from the storied publisher. This is a game made with clear passion and devotion to its zany world, and something you can sink yourself into for dozens of hours in exploration and side quests. Do I have the patience and willpower to see the story through to the end? Absolutely not. But I like stopping by for an hour or two every now and again for a smirk and a chuckle, and it's comforting knowing it's there waiting for me as I play other, less obnoxious games. Final thoughts, Sean?

SN: I don't see myself playing "Neo: The World Ends with You" to the end. The only characters I found appealing were from the previous game and the new characters all feel toothless and more archetypes than fully-fleshed heroes. The script occasionally drifts into pure cringe, likely due to a localization that tries to translate the hip style into an English vernacular... and doesn't succeed.

The gameplay is interesting and I like the strategy of choosing your pins for each battle but said battles, to me, felt too button-mashy. I also wasn't engaged by the story.

That's not to say the game is bad, it's definitely playable and fans of the original will probably enjoy all the references and return of favorite characters. But for me, and I'm sure anyone unfamiliar with the franchise as a whole, it feels dated, a little cheap, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Publisher provided review code.

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