NEO: The World Ends with You channels the DS original for its creative combat system


NEO: The World Ends with You preview

The World Ends with You is considered an all-time classic for many reasons. The characters, the writing, the style, the art direction, the story…they’re all top-notch, standing out amongst the rest of the DS catalog and most other games of its era. For my money, however, it’s the combat that is both the greatest and most memorable aspect of the game. Fights against the Noise and Reapers were intricate—and a real test of your hand-eye coordination—as you controlled two different characters, on two different screens, with two different inputs. Clearly, it was a combat system designed around the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. To distance it from those unique capabilities would ultimately transform the experience. And not necessarily for the better, as we learned with the iOS and Switch ports of the title.

With NEO: The World Ends with You going multi-platform from the start, it doesn’t really make sense to craft a combat system that ties itself to the eccentricities of any one console. This has to work with a variety of controllers, and thankfully, just because the combat is more homogenized than it was before doesn’t mean it’s worse. In fact, based on a recent preview I had with the game, it’s a pretty damn clever system that makes the title more approachable than the original game but more engaging than its ports.

I was only able to experience the first chapter of NEO: TWEWY due to technical difficulties during my hands-on. An incredibly beautiful title, the game opens with new protagonist Rindo meeting up with his buddy Fret in Shibuya. Reaper pins are exchanged, and soon enough, the duo finds themselves as the newest participants in the Reaper’s Game. They’re quickly introduced to Shoka, one of the new Reapers in NEO, as we get a glimpse of Rindo’s premonition and rewind abilities.

Like with the first game, players will spend their days solving puzzles, scanning environments for Noise, eavesdropping on thoughts and conversations, reading through story segments, and fighting to survive. On day one of the Reaper’s Game, Rindo and Fret head to Scramble Crossing to locate some skulls for their first assignment. The duo is in competition with other teams, though not directly. Players need only worry about completing the challenge and defeating the boss. That would be difficult if it were just Rindo and Fret, but early into the first day, they’re joined by Minamimoto, a Reaper from the original game who returns here as a player. That’s when the game’s battle system really started to blossom.

Pins, which were the backbone of the first game’s combat, return in NEO, though they operate differently than you’ll remember. Each team member can have one pin assigned to them, and each pin has its own unique attack and button input. At the start of the game, Rindo and Fret are each equipped with pins that fire projectiles when you press their associated buttons. You can spam the attack, but pins also have an energy meter that replenishes over time. Minamimoto’s initial pin allows him to do flying jump kicks, which are ineffective if you don’t hold down the button to charge them up. It’s not as dynamic as the pin system of the original game, which tied attacks to different taps, swipes, and doodles on the DS touch screen, but I can certainly see its influence here.

It’s important to note that while your whole team is present during battles, you’re only controlling the character whose pin you’re utilizing at the moment. So I can start by controlling Rindo with his projectile attack, but as soon as I switch to Minamimoto’s kick, he becomes my primary character. To simplify the experience, your entire team shares a single health bar.

Having the best pins equipped is crucial to victory, but NEO also makes a big fuss out of finding the rhythm to fighting with a mechanic called “Drop the Beat.” Basically, as you attack an enemy with one character, a visual cue will pop up on the screen with a short timer attached to it. If you switch another character’s attack within that time limit, you’ll increase the amount of damage done. “Drop the Beat” may appear multiple times on stronger enemies, which is why it’s vital to keep an eye on your equipped pins’ energy meters. Just like with The World Ends with You, success will eventually come down to being able to mix and match the right pins to allow for constant attacking.

Outside of combat, I got a fantastic look at how Square Enix translated the lavish 2D art direction of the original into a 3D setting. While I admittedly saw very little of Shibuya, only being able to experience the first day of the Reaper’s Game, I will say NEO: The World Ends with You might be the most beautiful game I’ll play this year. The city is stunning, with intense colors and distinct, stylized architecture. Story sections are brilliant as well, utilizing multiple art styles for the character portraits that amplify the emotions of the script. I greatly enjoyed the writing in my preview, with the back and forth between Rindo and Fret being a particular highlight. 

It may have been a short preview, but my hands-on with NEO: The World Ends with You convinced me that Square Enix is on the right track with this long-awaited sequel. It plays great, it looks better, and the new elements of the Reaper’s Game, like the Scramble Slam, have me champing at the bit. Thankfully, the wait grows shorter every day. NEO: The World Ends with You launches July 27 for Switch and PlayStation 4. It’ll arrive on PC via the Epic Games Store later this summer.