Delivering a sequel to a beloved game is hard enough. Thinking about creating a sequel almost fifteen years late, however? It is an even greater challenge.
One could argue that the developers behind NEO: The world ends with you have an even bigger challenge than that. The original TWEWY was a cult hit on the Nintendo DS, but part of what made it special was how steeped in the culture of its day. Set in a twisted take on real Tokyo life, it draws heavily on mid-2000s fashion, music and trends. It was cool and refreshingly contemporary.
That puts a sequel in an interesting predicament, however. The music, fashion, and even the towering buildings of Shibuya have changed over the next 14 years, but the developers must bridge the gap, retaining elements and stylistic choices that fans now consider series staples. while remaining contemporary.
“In the last 14, 15 years, a lot has changed in terms of culture,” admits The World Ends With You series director Tatsuya Kando through an interpreter. We’re talking as part of the game’s promotional cycle, a time when its key development staff would normally travel around the world speaking to media around the world. It’s 2021, so we’re on Zoom with teary eyes across multiple time zones.
“Everything is really based on the previous game – his ideas are still very central in this game as well,” reassures Kando. But he also claims that arguing for the passage of time itself was more exciting than scary, opening up new opportunities for TWEWY’s unique storytelling.
“I mean, for example, look at cell phones,” he enthuses. “Nowadays, their appearance and function has changed completely. We now also have a very sophisticated Internet and so on. In this sense, the way people interact with each other, interpersonal communications, has also changed a lot. “
If you’ve never played the original, those people-to-people relationships are a key part of what made people love it. It’s different from many Japanese RPGs, placing relatively grounded “slice of life” characters in extreme situations, but also keeping a real, grounded setting. In many ways, it sounds like the Persona series, which really took off in the West with the release of Persona 4 around the same time the original TWEWY became a cult smash.
The only way forward, Kando says, was to embrace the new culture of the 2020s and update the series.
“We really wanted to try and recreate what’s going on now – kind of like a snapshot, if you will. Our new protagonist is a high school student, so we worked really hard and thought about how he would see the world through his eyes and how he would interact with the world in that sense.
With so much time gone, NEO introduces a new core of characters and a sleek new protagonist. The primary narrative engine of the Reapers Game returns from the previous game, although this group is participating in an entirely different iteration of the game than the previous cast. This way, like in many others, the game fully embraces the time that has passed. That said, there will still be plenty of little nudges and nods that will delight fans of the original.
“With these different protagonists and a new story, I think the people who play the game just from that, you know, the people who haven’t played the previous game and have just started with that, they’ll be able to get into it. very easily, ”says Kando.
“And then of course there are the people who played the previous game – but I think they’ll definitely be happy because there are returning characters who support and sometimes get into the fray a bit. people who come back to the show will be very happy with it all.
One thing that won’t come back in the series, however, is one of its most iconic elements – the touch controls. The original game was steeped in the design quirks of the DS – although a compromise has to be made for much bigger news for this game, its arrival on PlayStation and PC as well as Nintendo Switch. This meant that the touchscreen had to disappear.
As with dealing with changing real-life trends in Shibuya, the team’s response has simply been to focus more on the feel of the original game rather than trying to replicate it exactly under different circumstances. as producer Tomohiko Hirano explained.
“There is a unique way to [the original game] felt, and the feeling that you have in controlling it. By moving this to modern platforms, it’s impossible to recreate it in the same way, ”says Hirano.
“So we really thought very seriously about what kind of playing feel we wanted – how we can recreate that World Ends With You feel, that essence, from a control pad. We really put a lot of effort into making sure it looks like the original game, although we couldn’t completely recreate everything.
The result is something that looks quite different but certainly evokes a lot of the same feeling. For starters, this is a fully 3D title, which certainly gives just about every element of the game’s presentation a major overhaul.
“The image of the original, the style of the original – it was very appreciated and everyone was very nice and really appreciated it. So in that sense, we wanted to make sure that this game had the same feeling as well as the same kind of overall picture, ”Kando said of the shift in perspective.
“So in that sense, we’ve tried to make sure that even with a quick glance at it, the backgrounds, cutscenes, characters, etc. resonate with the original title with the same kind of feeling. “
“The backgrounds used to be very stylistic in the way they were drawn, so we tried to make sure that it translates well in 3D and that the camera work etc is really nice and fun. “
But on top of that, NEO also focuses on more role-playing elements, expanding the original’s focus on interpersonal relationships and the concept of trendy clothes and pins your character wears making an impact. about combat in full-fledged RPG gear and upgrade systems. In our chat, the developers verify the name of Final Fantasy and explain that the inclusion of systems like this has allowed them to make a game that is much bigger – a game they claim to be up to twice the size of the original.
The battles, which are now team-oriented to a degree that perhaps better matches the game’s themes, seem to be as exciting and dynamic as the original – just different. This, in fact, seems to be a general theme. All of the time spent working on Kingdom Hearts has allowed TWEWY’s core development team to reconsider what makes this franchise work – and now it feels like a very thoughtful reimagining and continuation of one of the best games in the world. 2007 which few people played.
At the very least, this new 3D recreation of Shibuya could allow fans to embark on a bit of digital tourism, admiring the city in a year when travel seems impossible. The devs laugh when I say this is what I expect most from the game, but they also nod enthusiastically.
“You can definitely do it, you can definitely use it to visit Japan!”