Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Review of ‘Neo: The World Ends With You’

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Playing “Neo: The World Ends With You” invites quite a few questions. Some pop up mid-game, like, “What ludicrously over-the-top thing is Nagi, a self-described edgelord and one of the game’s funniest characters, going to say next?” Others are tied to characters: “Just what is Sho Minamimoto, video gaming’s coolest mathematician, scheming and why is he working with the inexperienced protagonists?” Perhaps most importantly: “Why does this game have frequent frame rate drops despite looking worse than the 14-year-old title it follows?”

“Neo” actively rewards experimentation and players will constantly unlock powerful new talents to use throughout the game. Like its predecessor, “Neo” also boasts a stellar difficulty system that players can tweak to their liking. Raise the difficulty and intentionally lower your party’s HP, and you’ll get significantly more loot and XP upon defeating enemies. It’s an intuitive way to allow players of all skill levels to tackle the game at their own pace. That said, most players will definitely want to bump the challenge up, because doing so will cut down on the necessary grinding and “Neo” can quickly devolve into mindless button mashing if players don’t handicap their characters a bit.

There’s a lot to like in “Neo: The World Ends With You,” from its wacky urban fantasy story that aptly infuses outlandish plot devices into contemporary Shibuya, Japan, to its intricate combat system that allows players to mix and match an impressive variety of abilities. For fans of Square Enix’s 2007 Nintendo DS hit “The World Ends With You,” the sequel is laser-focused on titillating the senses and, for the most part, accomplishes that mission with aplomb. But man, Shibuya is in rough shape, and not just because the city is swarming with fantasy monsters.

Everything about “Neo” is made better by its contemporary setting: In other RPGs, gearing yourself in chain mail or wearing an enchanted necklace might increase your strength. Boring. Wouldn’t you rather bulk up your characters by buying distressed jeans at a department store that is based on the real-world Shibuya’s iconic 109 building and chowing down on ramen with your party members? You can even become a brand ambassador in “Neo” — deck your characters in clothing owned by a specific company and you’ll get an additional stat boost; help out other characters in side missions and they’ll become part of your social network, which allows you to unlock all sorts of useful abilities.

A bit of style over substance is an apt summation of “Neo: The World Ends With You.” Dedicated fans of the original game will doubtlessly be able to overlook the aforementioned issues, and it’s a credit to the game’s strengths that its downsides don’t completely derail the overall experience. It’s… a mixed bag. If you’re looking for a new anime action game, “Neo” is an absolutely fine way to get your fix. It’s just hard to imagine that people will remember this game with anything close to the adoration that so many players had for the original.

Topical pop culture elements are woven throughout the game’s dialogue and mechanics and rarely come off as pandering or overly annoying. (An ally who frequently shouts about activating his galaxy brain is a notably aggravating exception.) It’s all definitely a bit of style over substance, but style can go a long way: As with 2007’s “The World Ends With You” and games like “Earthbound,” the fairly routine video game tasks here often seem fresh and exciting because of the unique setting.

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