This week Square Enix releases Neo: The World Ends With You, a follow-up to the 2007 Nintendo DS action role-playing classic, about a group for outcast teens trapped in an otherworldly version of Japan’s Shibuya shopping district. They’re forced to buy trendy clothes, eat delicious food, and compete for the fate of their eternal souls. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.
You don’t need to play the original The World Ends With You to appreciate Neo: The World Ends With You. The original introduces players to the Reaper’s Game, an otherworldly team-based competition where the chosen dead battle to either be brought back to life or ascend to a higher plane of existence. So does Neo. The original has the main character juggling powered pins and collecting various fashion brands to increase their power. So does Neo. Neo is almost a retelling of the original with brand-new characters, music, fashion, and a great new 3D combat system that makes the original’s touchscreen-based Stride Cross Battle System feel as awkward as it looks.
References and characters from the original game in Neo will be lost to players who didn’t play the first rounds of the Reaper’s Game, but the new games explains what happened in The World Ends With You well enough that new players should be able to follow along. Or spend a week playing the first game and come back to us. Your choice.
One of the primary mechanics of Neo: The World Ends With You is collecting pins. These colorful circular decorations are everything in the world of the Underground. They are your characters’ powers, some of which level up and evolve into new pins as you do battle. Combat pins also carry different elemental affinities, which can determine how effective they are against certain enemies. They are also currency, sold to earn credits to buy food and clothes, as well as barter items, exchanged in select shops for more powerful or rare pins.
Including special barter pins and those meant to be exchanged for cash, there are 333 pins in Neo: The World Ends With You. That’s a lot of pins.
Unlike the original TWEWY, in which battles alternated between the main character and a partner, Neo: TWEWY sees up to four characters fighting at once in real-time 3D battles. Each character has their own assigned pin, each granting them a unique power. Each of these powers is assigned a button on your controller. As I type this, my current party is made up of three characters. One character’s pin has them use the Y button on my Switch controller to lay mines. Another uses the R shoulder button to aim and fire up to five homing rockets. The third uses the X button to unleash a rapid series of close-range water attacks. Given several different characters with different inputs battling large numbers of creatures, the urge to button mash, activating all of their skills at once willy-nilly, is very strong. Don’t do that. I mean, you can, but don’t.
On the bottom of the combat screen are meters showing how much power each characters’ pin has before needing to recharge. Button mashing is a sure means to rapidly deplete those meters, which leaves your characters unable to attack, which kills combo chains that help unleash powerful team attacks. Knowing what attacks to use when, and managing pin meters efficiently, are the keys to battling effectively.
If a battle proves too tough, think about your enemies’ weaknesses and re-equip pins as needed. Sometimes battles go by so fast that a healing pin feels worthless, especially when team health recharges after every battle. Other times I’ve found a small burst of healing makes all the difference in the world. Experimenting is key.
In the hours I’ve been playing Neo: The World Ends With You I’ve forgotten many amazing pin combinations. Perfect sets that compliment each other nicely. I had this one grouping that had one character snaring enemies and another using the snare time to charge powerful wave attacks. Following that up with the right combination of rapid ranged attacks and close combat punches, it was just perfect. I’ve been trying to recreate it for days.
Eventually, you’ll unlock the ability to save more than one pin deck, swapping between them on-the-fly. Until then, write that shit down. You’ll be glad you did.
Most battles in Neo: The World End With You come in the form of wandering Noise. These hovering, bestial icons only appear when your team is using a special power to scan their surroundings. Turn off that power, and the Noise disappears, and your team can wander the streets of Shibuya unhindered.
Thing is, you want to fight the noise. As powerful as the urge to skip random battles and get through the game’s strange supernatural story is, fighting battles is everything. It’s how you collect pins, both those housing skills and those traded for currency. Doing battle while your characters are wearing fashions from specific stores is how you gain VIP status with those stores, which unlocks more powerful stat-enhancing clothing to buy. Fighting also reduces the party’s hunger gauge, which gives you more room to buy food from Shibuya restaurants (see below), which adds permanent gains to each character’s stats. The more you fight, the more you eat. The more you eat, the easier fighting gets.
Not only should you fight often, you should also fight big. Each floating Noise icon on your screen represents a single battle. By running around the screen you can gather more floating icons, creating chain battles of (initially) up to five. The more battles you chain together, the better your drop rate becomes, which means you’ll get more pins at the end of combat. The downside is the beasts get more powerful with each successive battle, but if you know your stuff (see Know Your Pins) they shouldn’t be a problem.
This isn’t so much a Neo: The World Ends With You tip as it is a general life lesson. Okay fine, it’s both. Food in this game is one of the primary ways of leveling your characters’ stats. Each of Shibuya’s restaurants offer a variety of tasty treats for your party to indulge in, with different food affecting different stats.
There is a fullness meter that determines how much your characters’ can eat. Once that meter is full, there’s no eating until it is empty again. Fortunately, fighting Noise makes the fullness meter go down, freeing your characters’ tummies for more nummies. As far as grinds go, it’s a pretty tasty one.
Another upgrade path that’s pretty unique to the World Ends With You universe is the Social Network. It’s a branching network of characters you meet in the game, each of whom holds the key to unlocking some cool new item or feature. Once a friend is unlocked in your Social Network you can spend special Friend Points earned through play to unlock their special upgrade. A clothing shop clerk might unlock a special fashion item when their Social Network icon is activated. A main character, like Sho Minamimoto, unlocks the ability to swap to a harder difficulty to earn more experience and pins.
Unlocking Social Network icons can become sort of a sidequest itself. Many times while playing through the main story I’ve found myself straying from the narrative’s goal in order to empty my stomach so I can order one more time from a local eatery, thus unlocking new menu items via the Social Network. It’s also the key to grabbing important quality of life upgrades, like automatically having pins with yen values deposited into your bank account instead of having to sell them manually. See? Friendship is magic.
The Noisepedia is a special section of the menu that keeps track of the enemies you encounter, providing important information such as which pins they drop while playing at different difficulty levels, their hit points, how much experience they provide, and THEIR WEAKNESSES.
I stress weaknesses because I fought the elephantine Pachy R&R creature and died many times before I looked up its weakness and went, “Oh, you idiot.” I’m still afraid of the cool graffiti elephants, but not nearly as much as I was before I researched them in the Noisepedia.
As someone who would be perfectly happy wearing the same exact outfit for the rest of his life, wrapping my head around how fashion works in Neo: The World Ends With You took a little doing. Each piece of clothing you purchase or earn in the game offers some sort of stat boost to the wearer. Each piece also has some sort of special ability that is activated as long as the wearer’s Style stat is high enough. In the picture below we see the character Fret. He’s wearing a sundress, sure, but he’s also holding a Golden Lighter that gives the entire team an experience boost.
There are tons of clothes in the game, all of which grant some sort of bonus stats or abilities to your team. Familiarize yourself with which clothes do what, and you can literally tailor your in-game battles to suit your skills.
My only regret is the clothes don’t show up on your in-game character model. I desperately need to see Fret in that sundress.
Located under the “Streets” section of your menu, the game’s map is an important resource, and not just to keep you from getting lost. It also displays important information, such as which stores are present in each area and the types of Noise you’re likely to encounter.
The map comes in incredibly handy when you’re given a quest to say, defeat five of the toad Noise types. It’s even more handy during the game’s quizzes. Occasionally, members of the Reaper gang that runs the game will block off streets. Sometimes the key to opening closed streets is fighting, which is fine. Other times there are quizzes involved, with questions like, “Which of these stores is NOT located in the 104 Building district?” Oh hey, that info is right there on the map, and you won’t have to run back to that zone and take notes like I initially did before realizing the map was there.
Aside from the whole fighting for your eternal souls thing, Neo: The World Ends With You is a game about hanging out with your friends and having fun. Sell some of your excess pins and go on a shopping spree. Discover your characters’ favorite type of ramen by watching their expressions as you buy them lunch. Launch into a battle just so you can hear the amazing poppy/punky battle music. Or just wander around scanning the thoughts of the still-living souls inhabiting realground Shibuya while you’re stuck in the underground version.
It’s a long game with plenty of stuff to do aside from relentlessly pursuing the end credits. I’m 15 hours in and, without spoiling anything, I know I have a long way to go. Take some time to stop and smell the style oozing from Neo: The World Ends With You’s every pore.