Why Neo: The World Ends With You has deeper RPG mechanics than the original - interview
After a fourteen-year wait, fans are finally about to experience a sequel to one of the most beloved Nintendo DS games. Neo: The World Ends With You is set to arrive for Switch, PS4, and PC in just a couple of months - and we had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the team behind it.
In our chat, we talked about the process of creating a sequel so many years after the original, and the team touched on how and why this new TWEWY is going deeper into the proper RPG mechanics. But the biggest elephant in the room remains time itself. After 14 years, the team had a mission to ensure that the game stood up to its beloved predecessor, but was also completely accessible to newcomers. Luckily, it had a secret weapon: fans on staff.
“Lots of time has passed, and there are lots of fans of the previous game who have now come onto the development team,” says Neo: TWEWY producer Tomohiko Hirano when asked about how development has gone on the sequel.
“In fact, I think that's helped to make Neo an even better game.”
It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing, of course. The development has taken place amidst the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic (charitably described by Hirano as an “influence” on development), but ultimately, “everything is going ahead quite smoothly.” With the release in sight, it seems like the development team are finally beginning to relax a little.
A big part of developing this highly anticipated sequel has been reconsidering the game, of course. The original The World Ends With You was designed with the DS hardware in mind, which meant a control setup geared towards two screens, one of which is touch compatible. Part of the development of Neo was heavily informed by the mobile and Switch ports of TWEWY, which offered alternative control options. Beyond that, however, it was also about generally expanding the game without losing the flavor of the original.Being set in a version of the real world, some of the changes this time around are simply driven by reality. Areas around Shibuya that have changed in the last decade have had those developments reflected in the game world. Of course, this time around, the world is 3D - and extra effort has been put in to ensure that any individual snapshot of its 3D world is as striking as the hand-drawn 2D presentation of the original.
Perhaps most interesting, however - especially on this website - is the evolution of more traditional role-playing game mechanics in this sequel, as Neo Director Hiroyuki Ito explained.
"From the game systems side of things, something which wasn't very much in the original that we thought about was leveling systems from games like Final Fantasy and the like; the skill improvement that comes with that," Ito reveals. Ito, like many of the game’s staff, was working on Kingdom Hearts prior to Neo.
"You kind of have your start point, and as you go on, you improve your skills and everything. We wanted to be able to try to put that sort of system in The World Ends With You this time around as well. Obviously, the story is very based around personal relationships with other people, and so we kind of wanted to put in a thing where... for example, the main character Rindo, as he gets closer with the people around him, his skills improve. We wanted to put that sort of element in there."
We did cover the original The World Ends With You on RPG Site as it included what I’d define as pretty light-touch RPG mechanics. You could eat food to raise stats that would then in turn allow you to equip different gear that’d in turn influence combat, for instance. But Neo: TWEWY goes a little deeper than that, with systems of progression based around things like the interpersonal relationships between its eclectic cast of characters.
The goal, Ito says, is to simply provide more reasons for players to keep coming back - but without using that sort of content as padding, or filler.
"It wasn't that we wanted to pad out the game or anything like that - we really wanted to put something in that'd keep people coming back to the game and keep enjoying it," Ito says.
"It also kind of continues off from some aspects that we had in the previous game like buying brands from shops and those improving reputation in different areas... all these kinds of things we've improved and added another level to in order to give the whole game a new way to enjoy it.”
While the developers are keen to make clear that the RPG mechanics aren’t meant to elongate the game, make no mistake: this game is larger. Ito estimates that there’s around “two times the amount” of content as the original game. “It’s big,” he chuckles.
Of course, The World Ends With You’s unique identity is also defined by the musical score, which came from beloved composer Takeharu Ishimoto. Ishimoto’s resume includes classics like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, and various works across the Kingdom Hearts series - but he’s still best known for his seminal work on The World Ends With You.
There’s a snag, however - in the interim between the original and Neo, Ishimoto departed Square Enix. He became a freelance composer - and the development team behind Neo knew it was key to secure his services for the sequel.
“Like with the first game, Ishimoto-san is helping us out with the soundtrack for this game,” Hirano reassures as soon as the topic of TWEWY’s music comes up.
“There are about 50 songs in total, and about 30 of them have all been composed by Ishimoto-san as original tracks - the rest are arrangements of songs from the previous game.”
Ishimoto has been asked to compose in a variety of different musical genres, Hirano says, and he’s also been asked to consider how the definition of and culture around popular music has changed in the last 14 years. After all, TWEWY is a series about high schoolers in Shibuya - and so the series is striving to remain contemporary with those same people in the real world.
However much Neo looks to the here and now, one thing from the past hasn’t been forgotten by the developers: this sequel is being undertaken because industrious fans of the original have kept the flame alive for all these years.
“I want to say thank you so much for waiting for so long over these 14 years,” says TWEWY series director Tatsuya Kando.
“The fact that we can still sit here today and talk about The World Ends With You is, to me, quite fantastic - and it's all thanks to the fans, really. They've really been the ones who've been pushing everything forward.”
With a new anime adaptation of the first game, re-releases on modern platforms, and this all-new sequel, it’s clear that all that pushing from the fans has been successful; The World Ends With You seems poised to continue, and strongly.
Neo: The World Ends With You is set to release for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 on July 27. A PC version will arrive on Epic Games Store at some point later in 2021.