REVIEW – Remember, in 2007, Square Enix published The World Ends With You, an Action-RPG exclusive to the DS developed by the Kingdom Hearts teams. If the licence has been discreet since then, it has nevertheless been revived last year thanks to an anime adaptation and the announcement of a new game. Eight months later, this sequel finally arrives and places its action in Shibuya, the trendy district of Tokyo, like its predecessor. But thirteen years later, is the ride still as pleasant?
Before getting to the heart of the matter, a little contextualisation, in the middle of the 2000s, when Square Enix was struggling with the structure of the PS3, the Japanese publisher decided to focus on titles for handheld consoles. While its significant licences such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest were entitled to their version on these media, it was also the occasion for new titles to be created, such as The World Ends With You. Released in 2007 for the DS and developed by the Kingdom Hearts teams in the graphic style of Tetsuya Nomura, the company’s star character designer, the game had the particularity of setting its action in the heart of Shibuya.
An actual city within a city in terms of its size and importance, it is the fashion and youth district par excellence of Tokyo that some of the Western public discovered thanks to this title. Since then, while TWEWY has been dormant for over a decade, Shibuya has become iconic in many Japanese tags set in a contemporary urban environment. Persona 5 comes to mind, of course, which makes this neighbourhood a central element of its aesthetic. Faced with this recent craze around Shibuya, Square Enix then decided to offer a sequel to TWEWY, thirteen years after releasing the original title.
Let’s play a game… The Reaper’s game!
After Neku’s adventures in the original game, this new episode follows Rindo, an average teenager who hangs out in the streets of Shibuya with his friend Fret. But while collecting some strange badges in the road, our two friends witness a confrontation between humans and strange creatures called Echoes. Although they are still in Shibuya, Rindo and Fret realise that they are no longer in their original dimension and that the people of Shibuya can no longer see them. They are told that they are now participating in the Reaper Game, a kind of survival competition over a week. They will have to complete missions against other teams during this time to earn points, win the game, and return home.
From this rather classic survival game premise, NEO TWEWY manages to offer a scenario rich in twists and turns while remaining more accessible than a Kingdom Hearts scenario. We follow this plot with more interest as the cast of characters is very sympathetic, particularly the team of heroes who benefit for the most part from exciting developments that make them endearing. Unfortunately, it is more in the direction that the script suffers. All the dialogues in the game take portraits that answer each other in a comic book aesthetic, and the real-time cinematics are rare. While this allows you to enjoy the art team’s illustrations, which reproduce Tetsuya Nomura’s style, after a while, you can feel overwhelmed by tunnels of dialogue that are not always dubbed.
Stroll in Shibuya
But beyond its story, the great strength of NEO lies in its universe. Since all the action of the title takes place in Shibuya, the city is explored from top to bottom so that it and its inhabitants sometimes become critical characters in the plot. Despite the urgency of the situation, we still enjoy the pleasures of the neighbourhood as the developers have combined elements of everyday life with RPG mechanics. Fashionable clothes replace equipment, and restaurants are used to increase your team’s stats.
To make Shibuya feel like a fashionable and youthful district, the characters have been given special care in their outfits, which reflect their personality. It all depends on your affinity for Nomura’s style. Still, all this provides the title with an aesthetic that smells of the 2000s, halfway between Jet Set Radio and Kingdom Hearts, despite modern elements such as smartphones. Moreover, to make the cast’s youthfulness felt, we can underline the care of the French translation, which manages to accurately transcribe the current language of young people by using the colloquial register intelligently and sparingly. Thus, all these elements and the careful art direction allow us to feel that Shibuya is the trendy district of Tokyo.
The music also plays a central role in the urban and youthful atmosphere of the title. Takeharu Ishimoto, who already composed the music for the first game, offers both new tracks and remixes of old ones. The soundtrack provides a great variety of genres with as much energy as ever, at the crossroads between rock, electro, hip-hop, and pop. With this variety, the soundtrack is once again reminiscent of Jet Set Radio, given the many impressive tracks it contains. Even more, than in the atmosphere, the music plays another central role in the title as it occupies an essential part of the lexical field of the combat system.
Keeping the beat
It’s all very well to have a neat story and universe, but what do you do in NEO? It’s simple: our heroes have to complete a mission every day before the rival teams win points. Most of the time, the objectives are vague and require you to solve relatively simple riddles. To convince the most recalcitrant NPCs and progress, you can rely on the extrasensory abilities of your team members: recall memory to someone, engrave an idea in their head, face their inner demons or go back in time… All means are suitable to get out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, as the adventure progresses, you quickly realise that you often do the same thing and that the daily missions are not that inspiring. Sometimes some of them are just tunnels of combat without much thought.
Because yes, Action-RPG obliges, the fights are the heart of the game. During these battles, we fight Echoes with the help of badges that give our characters’ powers. Moreover, the game offers a wide variety of abilities: hand-to-hand attacks, ranged attacks, bombs, healing, rays, black holes, charged shots… In concrete terms, with the controller in hand, each button corresponds to a character and, therefore, to a discharged badge each time used. The whole point of combat is to vary the assaults between the different team members and to hit the enemies in rhythm to raise the Groove gauge to 100% and trigger powerful attacks.
As you can see, the combat gameplay is relatively simple. At first glance, the confrontations are exhilarating thanks to the deluge of effects on the screen and the feeling of power you get from quickly eliminating the enemies at full speed. Unfortunately, if the latter becomes a little more complex over time, thanks to a few subtleties, it’s clear that you’re still content to hammer the buttons on the controller after a while. Because of this simplicity, the boss battles are not very interesting and do not rely on the Groove mentioned above mechanic. The problem is also the readability of the action. It is regularly difficult to understand what is happening on screen because of the numerous effects and the camera that has trouble following. Yet on the PS4 version we played on PS5, the title manages to deliver a 60fps frame rate consistently.
+ Stylish and spectacular visual world
+ Simple and dynamic combat system
+ A scenario rich in twists and turns, with engaging characters
– The conversations fall flat in the long run
– Repetitive and chaotic combat
– Some stages of the game are too similar
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: 27 July 2021.