It's time to step back onto the streets of Shibuya in a brand new Reaper's Game.
Way back in 2007 (it feels weird to say that) was a moment in time where the Nintendo DS was in full swing. Nintendo's double screen console was truly dominating the handheld market thanks to its impressive library of games featuring the likes of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and numerous Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes and spin-offs. However, its most impressive game at the time was not a title in a pre-existing series but a brand new IP from Square Enix; an obscure JRPG set in Tokyo that became an overnight cult classic, universally acclaimed by both critics and players alike. That game was called The World Ends With You.
Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the graphic director responsible for Final Fantasy VI and director of the dearly beloved Kingdom Hearts series, TWEWY (as it's often referred to), was a stylish DS game like none other. Taking place on the streets of Shibuya, a bustling shopping district in downtown Tokyo, players assumed the role of Neku Sakuraba, an edgy and moody teenager trapped in a game of death known as the Reaper's Game. By combining a heavy influence of street fashion, intuitive and creative combat, and one of the most impressive soundtracks of the era, TWEWY is still today regarded by many as one of the best JRPGs ever made.
Thousands of fans were left eagerly awaiting a sequel which was obviously hinted at the end of the game, but sadly over a decade passed and any hope for a true successor seemed as minuscule as a zeptogram. Remakes and ports of the original appeared on iOS and Nintendo Switch, and a TWEWY-themed level even appeared in Kingdom Hearts, but a true sequel seemed more and more like an urban myth...
...until now! The true sequel to this cult classic is finally available in NEO: The World Ends With You, a direct continuation of the Reaper's Game available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and planned for a PC release in the near future. After nearly 14 years, we're finally back on the streets of Shibuya. Does this sequel feel just as fresh and stylish as the original, or have the newest gaming trends left it feeling dated like last season's clothing? It's time to start the new Reaper's Game and find out.
Once again thrust into the streets of Shibuya without any recollection as to why, the Reaper's Game begins anew, set three years after the events of the original. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a game of death where teams of players are trapped in the Underground, an alternate reality corrupted by the thoughts and doubts of those on the other side. Each day in the game presents a new task and the opportunity to earn points against the other teams in order to ascend the ladder - those on the lowest rung at the end of the week will face erasure and be removed from existence. Only by defeating the other teams and overcoming the challenges set by the nefarious Reapers will players have the hope of returning to the Realground to regain their lives.
However, not all is as it seems in this new version of the Reaper's Game. Discerning allies from foes proves to be a difficult task for the newest players, Kanade Rindo and "Fret" Furesawa. The pair form a new team known as the Wicked Twisters with the help of a game veteran and ex-Reaper known as Sho Minamimoto, who has been tasked with finding an incredibly powerful player by the name of Neku. The rookie team must face off each day against Noise (evil spirits that create negative emotions), the Reapers, and even their fellow players if they have any hope of survival.
What might seem like a simple narrative becomes increasingly gripping and involved thanks to the intricacies of player relationships. Erasure is the ultimate punishment, and players must choose to co-operate, deceive, and even betray in order to survive. The same goes for the powerful Reapers who are pulling the strings, as the original Shibuya Reapers returning from the original game must learn to co-exist with the new Shinjuku Reapers who have invaded their territory. Plot twists are plenty and the story of NEO will keep players hooked from beginning to end.
Each day begins with a new task - fail and face erasure. Shibuya is split into 15 distinct locales, occupied by players, deadly Noise, and the living inhabitants who are completely unaware of their surroundings. The Reapers will determine your mission for the day and each team must rush to complete the assigned task before the others. This can be as simple as finding a certain location or item hidden within the bustling streets, or as difficult as facing off against every other team member in the city.
There are also numerous hinderances along the way that make progression difficult for the Wicked Twisters. Reapers will block off certain pathways, Noise will swarm and overwhelm the players, and other teams can backstab and double cross the protagonist at any moment. In these situations, Rindo must be aware of his surroundings, as all players have the abilities to read the minds of those living in the Realground. These can provide valuable hints, help the team achieve their task, and even be influenced to change their surroundings in the UG.
Thankfully, every player in the Wicked Twisters has a unique ability known as their Psyche. As the team expands, these psyches come in handy to perceive and influence the surrounding environments, unlocking additional ways to solve puzzles and climb the ladder in the Reaper's Game. The most powerful psyche belongs to Rindo, who possesses the unique ability to travel back in time. This becomes an important gameplay mechanic, as players will frequently travel back to earlier points in the day to change the future and avoid erasure.
NEO: TWEWY offers an unusual way of upgrading characters' stats, and is far from conventional methods found in other JRPGs. Players still level up based on experience as per usual and wear outfits that provide added bonuses, however eating regularly is the only way to gain permanent stat boosts. Each area of Shibuya features a different restaurant, and by dining-in and trying out new delicacies, players will be given a permanent stat boost. But just like real life, you can only fit so much in your stomach (unless it's dessert). The player's Fullness Meter must be emptied by working up a hunger - and how do you do that? By fighting, of course!
Controlling six individual characters at once seems like a pretty difficult task, right? It was hard enough during the original game trying to control two during fast-paced combat let alone an entire team. Through its simple mechanics and pin-based action, the battles of NEO: TWEWY will have you doing just that. It's a combat system with a slow burn, starting off repetitive and simple, and eventually reaching an epic climax when the team is at its full potential. So let me explain.
Each character can equip a pin assigned to a single button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) - these act as weapons, requiring the button to be tapped or held in order to unleash an attack. Chaining together "Beatdrop combos" of different pins will increase your Groove, which can be used to unleash powerful attacks. The key to success during combat comes down to equipping a combination of pins that complement each other, as some will unleash a barrage of swift attacks, damage all enemies in a certain area, or let loose a heavy hit but take time to recharge. Having a balance of pins as well as covering different elements to exploit enemy weakness makes combat enjoyable and engaging.
Becoming more proficient in combat all comes down to the pins, of which there are 333 to unlock, each giving a completely unique attack. These pins can be levelled up to increase their damage, evolved into more advanced versions, or even "mutated" to unlock secret attacks that are particularly powerful. Obtaining them can be done through simple story progression, purchasing them from shops, or mostly from defeating enemies who have a percentage chance to drop a certain pin. Increasing the difficulty or lowering your level (which can be done on the fly) increases the chance for rare pins to drop, but makes combat far more punishing. It's a trade-off that can be fine-tuned based on your skill
Overall, the combat is simple and engaging, feeling like a slightly more advanced beat 'em up. Once the entire team is assembled with literally hundreds of pins to choose, the possibilities are actually endless. It's a thrilling experience that feels fluid and intuitive despite initial repetition. Playing on hard difficulty for the most part was a breeze, but certain foes and bosses become insane difficulty spikes that will force the player to turn down the challenge in order to progress.
Transitioning the aesthetic of a 2D handheld game with detailed pixel sprites and thick line art to a home console with a modern audience isn't easy. Thankfully, NEO manages to retain all the style of the original while giving the game a much-needed graphical revamp and a fully 3D world. With its use of thick lines, low-poly buildings, vibrant colours, and detailed player models, NEO: TWEWY's visual style looks excellent both on the big screen and when in handheld mode. Exploring the suburb of Shibuya is visually pleasing and accurately replicates real-life areas of this stylish, bustling hub of Tokyo.
Combat too looks just as stylish, with colourful enemy designs, numerous animations for the player's attacks, and a dynamic camera that tracks enemy movements. When the entire team are launching attacks all at once, the screen tends to get incredibly busy and the Switch occasionally struggles to keep up with all the action. There are some framerate drops when this happens, which are obvious, but do not compromise the flow of the combat. Boss fights in particular are when the visuals really come alive, with detailed enemies that can take up the entire screen.
When you're not immersed in the busy 'Buya streets or fending off nasty Noise, the rest of the game is presented as manga-style panels, with the occasional pre-rendered CGI cutscene thrown in. This style is a direct adaptation from the original and has a very similar feel, which is visually quite basic but works well during character interactions. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the game and you'll spend hours watching characters converse in this comic book format. It's just stylish enough to keep you engaged, but personally I would have hoped for more animated cutscenes, as these are far more visually-impressive than the rest of the game.
Talk to any fan of the original TWEWY and no doubt they will let you know that the music was one of its best aspects. An incredibly impressive soundtrack for a handheld that spanned genres from J-Pop and Hip-Hop all the way through to Funk and Heavy Metal. Well, my tiny mind was blown when I heard the music of NEO: TWEWY, which somehow improves upon a soundtrack that I already thought was completely perfect. Not only are there brand new tracks as catchy as any from the DS version, but there are an entire slew of remixes and re-recordings of classic songs from our first romp through the streets of Shibuya.
Here are a couple of my favourite original tracks from NEO:
"World is Yours", a fast-paced heavy metal boss track.
"Hustle and Bustle" is one of the best electronic songs in the game.
And here are two of the best remixes of original TWEWY tracks:
Somehow the NEO Mix makes "Three Minutes Clapping" even better.
The NEO Mix of one of my favourite original tracks, "Owari-Hajimari."
As a huge fan of videogame music and soundtracks in general, I would go so far as to say that the music from NEO: TWEWY is some of the best I've ever heard. The sheer variety, production value and quality make it feel as if you're listening not to a game soundtrack, but to an entire library of music produced specifically for the heart of Tokyo. It's the exact kind of music I can imagine listening to while exploring the stylish streets of Shibuya. And yes, the "Gimme, gimme chance!" song is still here.
Though in my obsession for the music I can't forget to mention the voice acting, which is a significant part of NEO's audio quality. Most lines between characters are now fully-voiced with the option to swap between English and Japanese voiceovers at any point. Having played entirely in Japanese (which seems fitting considering it's set entirely in Shibuya), each character feels distinct and recognisable, especially those who have quirky delivery, intentionally exaggerated accents, or incorporate heavy use of street slang.
Just in case a ~50 hour main campaign and a bonus chapter wasn't enough to keep you satisfied, there's a tonne of added content in NEO to keep players in the Reaper's Game for weeks. Completionists will be delighted to know that there are hundreds of unlockables to be found across Shibuya, with exclusive pins, new clothing, and even unique noise to encounter. Hidden "Pig Noise" can be found tucked away in obscure areas each day and once defeated drop special items that are otherwise impossible to obtain. Pins can then be levelled up, mastered and transformed to complete the pin library.
Players can also complete their Social Network by helping out the citizens of Shibuya with their requests, each of whom will provide unlockable abilities both during combat and exploration. And finally, as an added bonus to encourage you to keep playing, there are also achievements in the form of special graffiti that is unlocked once certain requirements are fulfilled.
With great satisfaction I can say that NEO is a worthy sequel that manages to retain the sense of style of the original while effectively modernising all other elements of the game. Throughout the journey it becomes increasingly obvious that this is a game catered almost entirely towards series fans, who will be truly overjoyed, particularly with its references to the original and familiar characters making appearances. Playing NEO before exploring the events of the original Reaper's Game would be doing oneself a disservice, though that's not to say players can't enjoy this sequel as a newcomer.
With a vibrant and delightful city to explore, intriguing story with a colossal cast of characters both new and old, heavily-stylised visual aesthetic, and a soundtrack like none other, NEO: TWEWY is an essential JRPG that has certainly been worth the wait.
So, why should you play it?
Fan of the original game? You'd be mad to pass this up.
Stylish JRPGs are your sort of game.
Real life Tokyo setting that's more convenient than visiting.
Massive amount of content for completionists.
Truly incredible soundtrack spanning numerous genres.
But why shouldn't you play it?
Not played the first game? This isn't the best place to start.
Combat can be repetitive in early stages.
Backtracking during time travel can be tedious.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com