Within its first few minutes, NEO: The World Ends With You bombards you with flashy cartoon-like graphics and montages of faces and dialogue juxtaposed against busy Japanese streets.
It’s a lot to take in and, as you sit back and watch the opening scenes play out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But that feeling doesn’t last long; when you’re given control of protagonist Rindo and start to make sense of what’s going on, NEO: The World Ends With You grabs you and transports you deep into its weird and wonderful narrative. I didn’t want to let go, but unfortunately my preview only covered the first 80 minutes or so of the game. Needless to say, I can’t wait to play the rest.
In NEO: The World Ends With You, Rindo and his friend are having a casual afternoon in Shibuya, where their biggest problem is trying to decide what to have for lunch. Their world is soon turned upside down, however, when a strange face appears on one of the city’s large video screens, and seems to be addressing them directly. Before Rindo knows its, he’s playing something called ‘Reapers’ Game’. It looks like it’s nothing more than a mobile game that uses AR technology to interact with the world around him… but the reality might be something much more sinister.
And so through Reapers’ Game, Rindo must complete a series of tasks around Shibuya, hunting down clues in order to move on to the next challenge. That’s a simple case of moving from one location to another, looking for something that bears the game’s ‘skull’ symbol. But it’s not until Rindo activates the app’s ‘scan’ function that things get really weird. With that, he can tune into the thoughts of the people around him and see a whole bunch of enemies waiting to engage in combat.
Combat plays a big part of NEO: The World Ends With You. Like everything else in the game, it’s fast-paced and high-energy. It at first seems simple to a fault, but it takes a little to get used to – and to truly kick ass requires some skill. Each character in Rindo’s party – which quickly grows to three when he meets another mysterious Reapers’ Game player – has one attack, bound to one button. For some attacks, you need to repeatedly tap the button; others require you to hold it down. Truly excelling at combat means chaining characters’ attacks, switching them at just the right moment, all the while dodging incoming attacks from your foes. It’s a little messy, but good fun.
Your character’s attacks are determined by which pin badge they’re wearing. It’s a system you might be familiar with if you played 2018’s The World Ends With You: Final Remix on Switch. You’ll collect pins as you fight more foes, and sometimes by exploring or completing tasks. Different pins have different attacks, all with different power levels and button press requirements. To find the pins that work best for you, you’ll have to try them out. Some allow your characters to deal powerful melee attacks; others will have them setting enemies on fire. They’re fun to experiment with.
What really stands out about NEO: The World Ends With You, though, is just how wonderfully stylish it is. Like an interactive comic book, cutscenes are delivered via animated cells, with dialogue appearing in speech bubbles. Characters are beautifully drawn with a bold style that favours dark outlines; it’s hard not to be impressed with how it looks. When it comes to gameplay, the 3D world of Shibuya wouldn’t look out of place in an anime. Different camera angles have been used to great effect, giving the game a unique and almost cinematic feel. Sometimes you’ll be tracking your character from behind; sometimes from the side. Add to that a rocking soundtrack that will have you tapping your foot and bopping your head as you play, and you’ve got quite the combination.
Even though I’ve only spent a little over an hour with NEO: The World Ends With You so far, one thing is very clear: this is a game made with pure entertainment in mind. Exploring Shibuya is great, and getting caught up in a battle is exhilarating, especially against larger foes. But it’s likely to be the gripping narrative and its delivery that will keep you playing. I’ve just got to know how the Reapers’ Game ends.
NEO: The World Ends With You is coming to Switch and PS4 on 27th July. A PC release via Epic Games Store will follow later this summer.