The original World Ends With You came out when I was 13 years old. I am now 27 and have back-pain. But where I've aged like garbage, TWEWY has aged like fine wine. So when a sequel was finally announced 13 years later, my biggest question was: would this game reach the same heights as its predecessor? I'm happy to report that the answer is yes.
First off, if anyone says that you don't need to play the original game and the Final Remix add-on, ignore them. They are wrong. While N:TWEWY starts off as its own thing, with some slight references to the game that came before it, by the end of it it's pulling directly from the past, and you will not have any idea what's going on without context. The game tries to fill in the gaps for you, but even I was having trouble remembering events that were being called back to - and I played the games! Luckily TWEWY is a banger and you should play it anyways, but these call-backs do create some issues later on, which I'll get into.
That aside, Neo: The World Ends With You is almost everything I could have asked for as a sequel to one of my favorite games ever made. It's a miracle that not only does it exist, it's as good as I was hoping.
The game takes a different tact from its predecessor in many ways, while retaining that signature style that makes TWEWY so unique. This reveals itself in the game's plot. Where TWEWY focuses all of its storytelling on Neku and his growth as a person, Neo spreads its time on a cast of characters. Rindo, Fret and Nagi are a delightful trio that contrast against the original cast in a lot of ways, and I quickly found myself attached to all of them. Rindo isn't nearly as much of an asshole as Neku was when the game starts, and his character arc is significantly different as a result.
A common critique I've seen for the game is that the writing isn't as strong as the original, and I can't agree with that. What it is is more subtle. Rindo and the crew's growth is predicated on a less transparent motif than the original - which was, you know, don't be a dick - but that doesn't make their arcs any less engaging. You just have to read between the lines a little more to understand how they're changing.
That said, the cast has expanded about 3-fold from the original, and not everyone gets the best treatment in the writing department. Some of the competing players effectively exist as fodder and don't get much character development, and the same can be said for some of the Reapers as well. It's especially an issue for two characters in particular that I really wanted to learn more about, whom I can't get into because of spoilers, and it's pretty disappointing that they don't get more screen time.
One character that this isn't an issue for is Shoka, one of the best characters in the game and probably one of the best written female characters in any Square Enix property, period. She's absolutely fantastic, and I would literally die for her. Part of me wishes she was the protagonist as opposed to Rindo, but even then she feels like she's in lock-stop with Rindo as a deuteragonist, so I'm mostly satisfied.
I was curious to see how the game would attempt to maintain the synchronized nature of combat from its older duel-screened brother, and I'm pleased with the results. N:TWEWY involves team battles, with each character using a Pin which is assigned to a particular face-button. The synchronization comes into play with the Beat Drop system. Each Pin has specific criteria to create a Beat, and when it appears, using a different Pin to attack will create a Beat Drop which increases your Groove gauge and allows you to pull off powerful attacks. Pins have different inputs, from rapid presses to holding a button to charging and releasing a button, so it becomes a matter of mixing and matching inputs to keep the Beat Drops going as much as possible. Then you've got Pin evolutions, the ability to chain battles to increase item drop rates and EXP gain, a food system to build stats for your team, Perfect Beats which provide extra Groove for specific attack timings, and more. It's Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain at its finest, and it never stopped being a blast to get into fights.
Another wrinkle that got added into the game are character's specific powers. They range from the ability to get people to remember important things to diving into people's minds to extract enemies that are affecting their emotions. The most frequently used is time-travel. This is mostly pretty fun, but without getting into spoilers, it gets extremely frustrating. You can't skip previously read dialogue when you jump through time, so it can get repetitive, and by the final two days of the game you jump, like, 6 or 7 times and experience the same stuff over and over and over and...it starts to feel like an excuse to pad the game's time out.
Speaking of, I guess it's time to talk about the stuff I dislike most about this game: the pacing.
I hate to say this. I really do: but N:TWEWY has Kingdom Hearts-ass pacing. The first week is a blast, and stuff's happening. Week 2 then grounds things to a halt. You do these stupid Turf Wars for like 3 days, where you basically just grind out fight after fight, and nothing's happening in the plot. Then Week 3 things finally pick up again. It's not the end of the world and it's worth it because the end-game is so good, but boy did it taper my enjoyment for a while. There's also a terrible penultimate boss - like, Doc Ock Spider-Man 2 levels of frustrating.
I have one other issue, but it's big spoilers territory, so skip the jump if you don't wanna take a look.
At times, N:TWEWY feels like a sequel to a game we never actually got. I would have loved to play through the events that occur in Shinjuku. We could have spent more time with the cast, which was sorely needed, and gotten answers on what the hell was going on.
Subsequently, the stuff with Sho an Coco feels like a complete afterthought. We thought they were a teaser for N:TWEWY but it turns out they're basically a teaser for TWEWY 3? Why are we making all these cliffhangers for a series that might never get finished? And don't get me started on Tsugumi! She's hyped up as this important character, but she has no agency and barely any screen time, and basically exists as a plot-point. Basically, she gets Namined...even has the same hair-color.
So yes, I had a few issues with Neo: The World Ends With You, but it's only because my standards were so high after playing the original. I'm being a little nitpicky, but don't get it Twisted (heh) - I absolutely loved this game, and it's one of the best I've experienced this year. It's a visual and auditory masterpiece, which some of the best music I've heard in a game in ages, and a welcome return to one of my favorite games ever. I'm so happy this game exists, and I hope you give it a shot.