As stated above, I finally finished Neo The World Ends With You.
『オーパーツ』 -NEO MIX-
I started in October of 2021, and estimate I spent about 55 hours on it, which made for an interesting experience: playing it over a long period of real world time made it feel really grand in scope, even though the whole game takes place in Shibuya, and you will have gone over most of the map in the first quarter or so of the game.
Is it a worthy sequel to the original? Idk what that means, it has its issues, but it certainly is a sequel, sometimes in surprising ways. Sounds weird to say but what I mean is, for all the fourteen years since the DS original—covering two generations of new hardware and the attendant wave of game design trends, within RPGs, within Japanese games, within video games generally—the PS4/Switch/PCquel feels so mechanically, aesthetically, and narratively consistent with the first one that you almost believe it when the characters tell you the last Game took place 3 years ago (despite there now being smartphones and late 2010s fashions everywhere).
What does this mean? Why does it matter that a sequel should be texturally similar to its predecessor? Who cares?
It indicates to me that they made the game they wanted to make, with confidence and precision.
I love that nearly every story scene in this game features static character art and giant text bubbles. Voice acting isn’t plastered all over the whole game, which I point out as an indication of the team’s confidence rather than a dig against its performances. Silly as it may be to go out of my way to praise the acting in an anime soap opera game in 2022, I really like these performances. The Nagi actor deserves some kind of award, she read all those goofy lines with the utmost sincerity and clear understanding of the character. She has only two other credits to her name! (on IMDb) Rindo’s too gives a surprisingly nuanced performance. More deserving of praise is the script, which among other accomplishments captures teenager talk in a closely observed way. It is still generally an acquired taste—characters with vocabulary gimmicks like the first game’s math-obsessed Minamimoto do show up here and there (and Minamimoto is one of them), and can be loud and obnoxious. Beat's dialect could be worth talking about.
The flavor text describing music, clothes, and food are written in the same tone of voice as the DS game. This information speaks for itself.
Despite being built around the now-standard game controller rather than the DS’s touch controls and dual screens, combat still gets at some of those multitasking brain muscles that the original was able to stimulate. My early impressions of this system were strong, but that didn’t last forever: the first 40% or so of the game has you playing with 3-4 party members. When playing with 4 it’s OK, though still feels like an underrealized concept. At the end of the first week, Minamimoto leaves your party, and you are left with 3 members for what may in fact be only a few chapters, but they feel long and arduous. When you only have 3 party members combat is either boring (waiting for pins to recharge) or else patience-testing. A digression:
—Hard mode makes many side quests hair-tearingly difficult, not in an interesting way. Which, first of all, I don’t know why I forced myself through every side quest I ran into—the rewards were decent but generally just nice bonuses and in no way required, and narratively completely expendable. Maybe I convinced myself that by avoiding them or turning down the difficulty I would miss out on a cool pin. Unlikely! Why I didn’t just switch to Normal is beyond me. The thing is Hard is more suited to this series’ version of New Game +, where you have a full party to replay the whole story with, but I stubbornly persisted (for no good reason) and had myself a frustrating time. The battle music is incredibly repetitive during this portion of the game. In retrospect I may have been my own worst enemy, but my personal failure to play the game correctly has little bearing on the following point:
——Especially compared to its predecessor, much of Neo is poorly paced. That the narrative is entirely linear, and that it requires little more than walking from one zone to another and initiating dialogue with an NPC is fine, but there are several (possibly many) stretches of this game where you need to walk from one end of town to the other, and at every stop in between (say, 5 or 6 zones) you participate in battle. In other RPGs you’ll fight a billion random battles on your way from one place to the next, but in those cases the battles start pretty quickly, often without preamble besides a field-battle transition or loading screen. In Neo, you need to stop to talk to guards, which conversations are always total fluff but which I compulsively read every word of; then you (usually) need to manually start a battle, or a chain of battles, yourself; then run back to the guard, talk to them again, and they let you through. This isn’t so bad in itself, but it happens many, many times during play. Other times, in the absence of a guard, on the way to another zone the characters will simply stop in place, exchange several lines of dialogue about “something feeling off…………..” and then scream at the somehow surprising enemy ambush coming at them. More fluff dialogue, etc etc. Characters using a million words to express very simple things. For much of the game there aren’t many interesting decisions to make in terms of which pins you use—you pretty much have these ones here which are clearly the most advantageous to use, with few incentives to change playstyles (unless you’re doing a side quest which is impossible without the correct pin affinity/psych type). It would have been nice if pin decks were available earlier.
Halfway through the second week, you meet Beat, which is cool for two reasons: your party almost never has fewer than 4 characters past this point, AND it’s Beat! Your buddy! His triumphant return is very cool. At the beginning of the third week another new character, Shoka, joins your party. Sure enough, halfway through the third week Neku (whom you are given no teasing indication or reason to believe is in the game) shows up and fills out your party. Controlling six characters at the same time feels great. It’s the full realization of this game’s combat mechanics. I wish it had been available slightly earlier, but it’s a good thing you’re able to go back and play the whole game again with six party members at your disposal.
The final five hours of the story are exactly what I wanted.
The music is good often, great occasionally, irritating other times (repetitive bad battle tracks)… and on the whole not as strong an offering as the original. Espeically evident when the last four days pull out all the stops on the original BGM callbacks. Hearing “Underground” again in the middle of yesterday’s session made me feel something. Wish “Déjà vu” had gotten the remix treatment but being exclusive to the NTSC version of TWEWY must have made that less than likely. The title screen theme! Many times booting up the game I’d sit at that menu for a while.
Stray complaint: I do not know how, in the year of our calendar 2021, you can make a multi-phase boss fight with unskippable cutscenes and gimmick/event sections between phases, which sends you back to the beginning if you lose in the final phase (I suffered this penalty three times).
As with the first game, there is a whole post-game series of missions and unlockable lore that I haven’t even done yet!
Somehow there may yet be more to say, but I’m finished.