Remember, in 2007, Square Enix released The World Ends With You, a DS-exclusive Action-RPG developed by the Kingdom Hearts teams. If since the license has been discreet, it has all the same experienced a resurgence of interest 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 so pleasant?
Before getting to the heart of the matter, a bit of contextualization. In the mid-2000s, when Square Enix had trouble understanding the structure of the PS3, the Japanese publisher decided to focus on titles intended for portable consoles. If its major licenses such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest are entitled to their variation on these media, it is also an opportunity for new titles to emerge, like The World Ends With You. Released in 2007 on DS and developed by the Kingdom Hearts teams in the graphic style of Tetsuya Nomura, character designer star of the company, the game had the great particularity of locating its action in the heart of Shibuya.
True city within the city by its size and its importance, it is the district of fashion and youth par excellence of Tokyo that part of the Western public could discover in particular thanks to this title. Since then, while TWEWY has been put to sleep for over a decade, Shibuya has become an iconic venue in many Japanese titles that takes place in a contemporary urban setting. We obviously think of Person 5 which makes this district 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 the release of the original title.
Let’s play a game… a Reapers’ Game
After the adventures of Neku 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 as they collect strange badges in the street, our two friends witness a clash between humans and strange creatures called Echoes. Despite the fact that they are still in Shibuya, Rindo and Fret then realize that they are no longer in their original dimension and that the people of Shibuya can no longer see them. They are taught that they are now participating in the Reapers Game, a kind of survival competition that takes place over a week. During this period, they will have to complete missions against other teams to earn points, win the game and return home.
From this premise of a rather classic survival game, NEO TWEWY manages to offer a scenario rich in twists while remaining more accessible than a Kingdom Hearts scenario. We follow this plot with all the more interest as the cast of characters is very nice, in particular the team of heroes who benefit for the most part from interesting developments that make them endearing. Unfortunately, it is more at the level of the setting in scene that the scenario suffers. All the dialogues in the game take the form of portraits that respond to each other in a comic book aesthetic and real-time cutscenes are rare. If this allows you to enjoy the illustrations of the artistic team who reproduce the style of Tetsuya Nomura, after a while, you can feel overwhelmed by tunnels of dialogue that are not always doubled.
Stroll in Shibuya
But even beyond its history, the great strength of NEO lies above all in its universe. Since all the action of the title takes place in Shibuya, we explore the city from top to bottom to such an extent that it and its inhabitants sometimes even become key characters in the plot. Despite the urgency of the situation, we still enjoy the pleasures of the neighborhood since the developers have combined elements of everyday life and RPG mechanics. Equipment is replaced by fashionable clothing and restaurants serve to raise the characteristics of your team.
To make it feel that Shibuya is the district of fashion and youth, the characters have been the subject of special care in their outfit which reflects their character. It all depends on your affinity with Nomura’s style, but all this gives the title an aesthetic that smells of the 2000s, halfway between Jet Set Radio and Kingdom Hearts, despite the presence of modern elements like smartphones. Moreover, to make the youth of the casting feel well, we can underline the care of the French translation which manages to accurately transcribe the current language of young people by using intelligently and sparingly the familiar register. Thus, all these elements and the careful artistic direction make it possible to show how Shibuya is the trendy district of Tokyo.
Music also plays a central role in the urban and youthful atmosphere of the title. We find Takeharu Ishimoto, already a composer on the first game, which offers both new songs and remixes of old titles. With as much energy as ever, the soundtrack offers a wide variety of genres, at the crossroads between rock, electro, hip-hop and pop. By this variety, the soundtrack is once again reminiscent of that of Jet Set Radio given the many amazing tracks it contains. Even more than in the atmosphere, the music also plays another central role in the title because it occupies an important part of the lexical field of the combat system.
Always keep the rhythm
It’s all well and good to have a neat story and universe, but concretely, what do we do in NEO? It’s simple: every day, our heroes must complete a mission before rival teams to win points. Most of the time, the objectives are blurry and require you to solve rather simple puzzles. To succeed in convincing the most recalcitrant NPCs and to progress, you can count on the extrasensory capacities of the members of your team: to recall a memory to someone, to engrave an idea in their head, to face their inner demons or to go back in time. … All means are good to get out of a bad patch. Unfortunately, over the course of the adventure, we quickly realize that we often do the same thing and that the daily missions are not all inspired. Sometimes some of them are just battle tunnels without much thought.
Because yes, Action-RPG obliges, the fights constitute the heart of the game. During these last, one faces Echoes there using badges which give powers to our characters. Moreover, the game provides a wide variety of abilities: melee attack, ranged, bombs, heal, ray, black hole, charged shot … Concretely, controller in hand, each button corresponds to a character and therefore to a badge which is discharged with each use. The whole point of the fights is then to vary the assaults between the different members of your team and to strike the enemies in rhythm to increase the Groove gauge to 100% and unleash powerful attacks.
You will understand, the combat gameplay is therefore rather simple. At first glance, the clashes are exhilarating thanks to the deluge of effects on the screen and the feeling of power that one acquires in easily eliminating enemies at full speed. Unfortunately, if these become more complex over time thanks to a few subtleties, it is clear that we are still content to hammer the buttons of the controller after a certain time. Because of this too much simplicity, the boss fights do not represent a great interest and no longer rely on the however nice mechanics of Groove mentioned above. The shoe also hurts in terms of the readability of the action. Regularly, it is difficult to understand what is happening on the screen because of the many effects and the camera which has difficulty to follow. Yet on the PS4 version we played on PS5, the title manages to deliver a frequency of 60 frames per second consistently.
- A real trip in the heart of Shibuya
- Careful artistic direction
- A simple and dynamic combat system …
- A scenario rich in twists and turns
- Endearing characters
- An excellent OST
- Good 60 FPS on PS4
- Staging boring conversations in the long run
- Dialogue tunnel at times
- … but repetitive and messy
- Uninteresting boss
- Slightly weak technique
- Some phases of the game are too similar
Through its meticulous artistic direction and its urban universe full of charms, NEO The World Ends With You manages to offer a pleasant adventure that will delight lovers of Japanese culture. We enjoy discovering the Shibuya district in its every nook and cranny and enjoying the many shops it includes. The ride is all the more pleasant as it offers a story full of twists and turns and endearing characters. Finally, it is rather at the level of the combat system that the limits are felt. If the latter is rather pleasant and nervous at first, the lack of depth ends up making the clashes really repetitive in the long run. Nevertheless, nothing to spoil this visit of Shibuya of twenty hours in a straight line which will delight those who appreciate the style of Nomura and Action-RPGs.
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