NEO: The World Ends With You Looks to the Past to Change the Future

Female characters and port feedback center in our conversation with the director, producer, and series director.

It feels a little surreal that we’re getting a sequel to The World Ends With You 14 years later. Though it’s more accurate to say this is a sequel to the currently airing anime and a “follow-up” to the Square Enix title on the Nintendo DS. The series has generated a cult following, especially overseas, that never gave up hope for a subsequent installment.

However, the unorthodox series required its development team to first to secure an environment in which could focus on development without interruptions. So explained Producer Tomohiko Hirano to Fanbyte. “The World Ends With You is a little different and out there,” he said. “But now that we’ve been able to secure that kind of environment, we’ve been able to dedicate ourselves to the title and finally announce the game to the fans.”

That game is NEO: The World Ends With You. It’s set to launch later this year on July 27 on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. It will also release on PC via the Epic Games Store sometime in the summer. After so many years, fans can rest assured: Your return to the world of the Reapers Game will be a substantial one — about 50 hours long.

“In terms of the full game length, the first version was somewhat lengthy, as well. But it takes even longer this time around to complete the game,” Hirano added. “The World Ends With You was more about just following the main storyline. In NEO: The World Ends With You, there will be different subquests with different chapters and kinds of puzzles. So it does have quite a lot of volume. In terms of exploration, the field is bigger, there are different parts of the city that you will be able to explore that you weren’t able to in the first title.”

NEO: The World Ends With You takes place three years after The World Ends With You: The Animation. Protagonist Rindo becomes the leader of The Wicked Twisters as he’s caught up in competition to win the so-called Reapers’ Game. Like in the DS game, failing to survive its series of strange challenges means being erased from existence. Over the course of a week-long battle taking place in a stylized recreation of Shibuya, Rindo teams up with several characters to face rival teams all fighting for their lives.

While so much of the first game stays in the minds of fans after all this time (like that fantastic soundtrack created by returning composer Takeharu Ishimoto), I’m personally fond of its characters. The cast in NEO: The World Ends With You feels even more colorful and varied — an impressive feat considering how much larger and spread out it seems. I’m particularly thrilled about its female cast, which embodies so many different personalities and styles. It’s not the kind of variety we often see among women in games. I ask Hirano, series director Tatsuya Kando, and director Hiroyuki Itou which female character they’re most excited for fans to get to know.

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From left to right: Nagi, Rindo, and Fret from NEO: The World Ends With You.

“All characters in the game have their certain appeals and I certainly have an affinity towards all of them,” Kando said. In regards to specifically the game’s cast of women, he’s happy to push forward Shoka, one of the Shinjuku Reapers. “She is a Reaper that makes her appearance pretty early on in the game. Her words are quite harsh to the protagonists but there are parts of her that you just love to kind of hate. In a way, she does have a really cute aspect to her as well.”

Hirano’s vote is for Nagi, one of Rindo’s friends and a member of The Wicked Twisters. “She is a new sort of character compared to the ones that we’ve had in other Square Enix titles,” he stated. “She is essentially the epitome of a nerd, and those kinds of characters didn’t really exist in previous titles.”

“I was also going to say Nagi but Hirano-san took her,” Itou laughed. “Nagi has very interesting and funny things she’ll say within the game, so I was going to say her. But one other character I do like is Kanon. She’s a player of The Reapers’ Game on one of the opposing teams. Compared to the protagonists, who are in high school, she does have a very grown-up perspective, so she’ll interact with the protagonists in kind of a grown-up, sexy sort of way. Please keep an eye out for her as well.”

With a change in platforms and such a large gap between installments, the team had to figure out which elements of the series made up its core — and should be kept — versus what it wanted to evolve. The team wanted to make sure that, when fans ultimately play NEO: The World Ends With You, they’ll know it’s a true The World Ends With You game.

Keeping the essential aspects that define series — such as the iconic Shibuya setting and the story that surrounds the protagonists — was a focus. It’s something that will not only “hopefully resonate with the people that have played the original, but also something that new players can be able to enjoy, as well,” according to Kando.

Since it’ll be on new platforms, NEO: The World Ends With You was transformed into a 3D game to match those systems. In several ways, it’s a direct response to the criticisms of The World Ends With You: Final Remix and The World Ends With You: Solo Remix (the Nintendo Switch and mobile ports of the first game). Critical reception was mixed for both. Many found the original Nintendo DS game’s gameplay magic failed to translate through the different systems’ controls.

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“We are aware that we did have some feedback for The World Ends With You: Final Remix, where using the Joy-Con to control the battles was a little bit difficult,” says Itou. “This time around with NEO: The World Ends With You, we had been testing the battle play portion at the very beginning with Joy-Cons. And we were thinking, we probably could make something interesting and fun. The touch panel battle is so iconic that we were thinking we still had to go in that direction.”

However, the team decided to change gears, recognizing that, “along with the Final Remix version, it probably would end up being something quite difficult to play and not as accessible.” So they got rid of the foundation and went in a completely different route.

“Even if we did go in that direction, we’d just be delivering the same experience as we had done in the first title,” Itou continued. “We just said, ‘we’re going to provide a game or a battle system where people will be using multiple buttons all the time.'”

“For the original game on the Nintendo DS, we framed it as a game that fully uses all the Nintendo DS features,” Kando reflected. “It did accrue a lot of popularity with that kind of messaging. This time around, when we were creating the sequel, we had that kind of foundation of the original game being a niche game, but also a game that is supported by core fans. At the same time, there was feedback saying that the controls might be a little bit difficult and not as accessible. So our hurdle this time around was trying to kind of get rid of those difficulties within the battle system.”

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Team battles will be a brand new focus this time around.

One of the crucial takeaways from the mobile version of the original game was how to consolidate dual-screen features into just one screen. Through that experience and the resulting feedback, the team was able to learn how to better take those elements and put them together for NEO: The World Ends With You. Kando says the game is an evolution of those tactics — of addressing the issue while utilizing “what we have and allowing the players to control multiple characters at the same time.”

And this was ultimately the main goal when realizing NEO: The World Ends With You’s new battle system.

“For the first title’s battle system, using the touch panel was a new experience that we were able to deliver,” Itou stated. “But with this title, we won’t be using any touch panels this time around. So players will be using the regular controllers with the stick and buttons. But as mentioned earlier, we will be having certain team battles within the game; that’s part of the world lore this time around. Usually, when you have a team in other titles, you’ll be switching between certain players as you play. But, for this title, there are going to be certain controls that are allocated to each of the team members. Through the different controls and button plays, you’ll be controlling all of the members at the same time with their own information. So that is a certain new experience that we will be delivering this time.”

Itou ultimately settles on a simple summary of the new installment’s enticing gameplay: “It’s a little difficult to explain in words. You’ll probably have to play it and see for yourselves. But we’re sure that it’s going to be an addicting style of gameplay.” I can’t help but think it’s certainly a great way to encapsulate The World Ends With You as a series. With just one game, its world has left an impression so distinct and memorable that, after over a decade, it’s exciting to see it get the chance to expand.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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