PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Rindo and his buddy Fret are hanging out in Shibuya when Rin (as he quickly becomes known) suddenly has a vision of the city being destroyed. Monsters pour out of smoky explosions, except for some strange reason, Rin and Fret seem to be the only people who are paying attention. An advertising screen flickers to life and announces that a new game has begun. The boys have been enrolled, but they have no idea why, what the game is or how they're supposed to win. That's until an app appears on their phones, which leads to the discovery of the Noise – enemies that are invisible to humans but not to Rin and Fret – and the revelation that the boys are now Players in the Reapers' game. Now, by fighting their way through the Noise that is taking over Shibuya, they'll have to either beat the game or face erasure...
Playing out almost like a visual novel, with static (or sparsely-animated) images with tons (and tons) of text boxes, Neo doesn't give players a whole lot to do in terms of pushing the narrative forward. After taking in the story, Rin and his crew are given several small areas of Shibuya to run around in, solve a few puzzles, interact with other Players, expand their social network (which cleverly doubles as your means of upgrading your abilities) and eat food and buy clothes to boost their stats. It's a very compact world, but everything you do in it makes a huge difference to your overall chances of success.
Just as it was in the first game, combat is based around pins (or badges, for the non-US folk), more than 300 of which can be found throughout the game by either buying from shops, defeating enemies or evolving your existing pins. Each pin is basically a special power or form of attack, and each character can equip one pin at a time. By using the right pins against the right enemies at the right time, your party can pull off some truly devastating moves, but there are a few restrictions on the amount and types of pins that can be equipped at any one time so plenty of experimentation is needed to discover the best combinations.
The game's first few days (ie. chapters), which translate to around 4 or 5 hours of real-world time, introduce the abilities and mechanics that you'll be using throughout the rest of the game. Diving into people's minds to help them make decisions, implanting thoughts into their brains and zipping backwards and forwards through time to change the course of various events all come into play, and by the time you reach day four or five everything comes together and Neo really hits its stride. Lasting longer than the Reapers' seven day-long game, you could quite easily be looking at 40+ hours to see things through to the end.
The original World Ends With You's soundtrack was widely praised, and many of the songs on Neo are of much the same quality (just ignore the dodgy rap/rock numbers during the early game). The art style, too, is magnificent – characters have a bit more of an urban / graffiti / goth / punk edge to them that makes them stand out over the usual anime teenagers. It makes Neo feel a bit more mature and grown up, although the tone of the dialogue is very “kids' TV show” with its liberal use of text speak, modern-day buzzwords and meme-like soundbites that you're likely to either really like or... well, not. It's easy enough to switch over to the Japanese voiceover if things get too grating, though.
Neo's text-heavy narrative and small environments might be something to be aware of, especially if you're more used to open world games with extensive lore and sprawling maps full of things to do, but if you're after an inventive and neatly-directed story with a big helping of addictive combat, Neo: The World Ends With You may well offer exactly what you're looking for!