Welcome to Sequel Wars, where we compare and contrast video game sequels and their predecessors. We analyze each game’s story, characters, gameplay, and music before selecting a winner.
We’re pitting cult classic The World Ends With You against its sequel, NEO: The World Ends With You, for this installment of Sequel Wars.
The Story of The World Ends With You
The story of The World Ends With You follows apathetic teen Neku Sakuraba waking up in the streets of Shibuya. It doesn’t take him long to realize that something is amiss, though, and he learns that he’s died and trapped in a limbo version of Shibuya. Along with other players, he discovers he has a chance to get his life back by playing the Reaper’s Game.
From there, the story spans three weeks, where Neku teams up with a new partner. As they fight to regain their lives, he discovers what it means to be open and vulnerable with others. While the game’s narrative does escalate to the classic “we have to save the world” trope, it doesn’t forget its roots as the vehicle for Neku’s character development, first and foremost.
The game explores what it means for people to grow and change and whether or not you can truly understand someone else through Neku’s evolution. The ending also serves to push Neku’s growth to his limits as he’s faced with an impossible choice. As a result, The World Ends With You’s story is deeply personal and directly ties into Neku’s character arc and ultimate redemption.
The Story of NEO: The World Ends With You
NEO: The World Ends With You follows a similar narrative structure to its predecessor. The story still takes place in Shibuya and spans three weeks. Much like the first game, Rindo and his friend Fret are forced to play the Reaper’s Game. While it is similar to the first game, the story isn’t a rehash. NEO: The World Ends With You shines through its thoughtful additions to how the Reaper’s Game works, the identity of the “Legendary Player,” his importance to the Reapers, and the mystery around Shinjuku.
Where the story flounders, though, is near the end. As expected, the game borrows the same saving-the-world trope, but the pacing is messy, strangely rushed, and suffers from a lot of backloading. For example, the last few days are jam-packed with story revelations and fake-out endings that make the ending feel brisk and rushed, while the middle feels more uneven and padded to compensate.
While both games explore compelling ideas about life and death through each week of the Reaper’s Game, the story in The World Ends With You is personal and relatable for players. Its pacing and quality of writing are consistent from start to finish.
Winner: The World Ends With You
The Characters in The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You is a personal and profoundly character-driven story. Neku’s arc revolves around opening himself and trusting others. His transformation from an apathetic loner to a caring and vulnerable individual is written with meticulous care and portrayed beautifully throughout the game.
But it doesn’t stop with Neku; each character arc is given the time it needs to breathe, and it’s never rushed or shoved in for the sake of it. Shiki’s admiration and jealousy of her best friend, Beat’s devotion to protecting his younger sister Rhyme no matter what, Rhyme’s goals and dreams and the sacrifices she made for Beat, and Joshua’s cunning nature belied a deep knowledge of the Reaper’s Game results in an excellent and equally nuanced core ensemble cast.
Most important, though, is the benefit of getting to know these characters alongside Neku. Because you spend a week with each of them, you get to spend a lot of time learning about them and seeing how Neku reacts and changes. It’s for these reasons that the characters, for me, are the strongest part of The World Ends With You.
The Characters in NEO: The World Ends With You
In comparison, NEO: The World Ends With You’s characters could be more compelling and interesting. Rindo’s arc involves him taking more action and making decisions for himself, but the arc largely falls flat because of his unique time travel abilities.
At various points throughout the game, Rindo regularly activates his powers to change the past, but this contradicts his arc of being indecisive because these powers inherently require an “action” of some kind. It doesn’t feel earned when Fret calls him out on his uncertainty and inability to take action because the pieces don’t quite fit together. As a result, Rindo’s character arc could have been highly compelling, but the execution could have been better.
As an ensemble cast, the supporting characters are less substantial than their The World Ends With You counterparts. Fret’s crush on Kanon is mainly one-sided and played for laughs until it isn’t, and her impact on his character feels forced. Nagi’s obsession with Minamimoto is one-note and uninteresting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the returning characters from the first game have better writing and more exciting roles in the story. Without getting into spoilers, the returning character’s stories honor their growth from the first game while continuing their stories in compelling ways.
The challenge I have with the characters in NEO: The World Ends With You is that the seeds for their arcs aren’t planted early on in a way that players can see and latch onto. Their flaws are largely spelled out for the player, which doesn’t make excellent writing. Because of its more consistent writing, The World Ends With You has more compelling characters.
Winner: The World Ends With You
Gameplay in The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You was originally released on the Nintendo DS, with players using the touch screen to navigate the bustling streets of Shibuya. In combat, players would control Neku with the touch screen while his party members would be controlled using the D-pad on the top screen. Players can equip numerous pins for Neku to use, and they require different inputs. For example, some pins need you to tap the enemy, draw a circle, or swipe across the screen to attack.
While that sounds gimmicky, this split-screen combat system is still highly praised because it also ingeniously reinforces the story and character arcs. Neku and his partner fight separately (represented by the split screen), but if they’re in sync, they gain boosts to their attack power. Meaning the more Neku learns to work together and trust in his partner, the better their teamwork and the better you do in combat.
The gameplay in The World Ends With You is incredibly inventive and unique, taking full advantage of the DS’ two screens and maximizing their usage and impact on the story and gameplay. While it’s very positive, it’s also not perfect. For example, if the touch screen on your DS was badly scratched, it would only sometimes respond to your inputs correctly, and it would get increasingly chaotic to keep track of both the top and bottom screens during combat.
Gameplay in NEO: The World Ends With You
In NEO: The World Ends With You, the gameplay is more accessible and streamlined for modern consoles. You control Rindo using the controller’s joystick; all party members can equip pins in combat. Each pin corresponds to a specific button with cooldowns, turning the combat into a more action-packed style. The gameplay is simplified, but it doesn’t have an active role in the story or characters.
The most significant change, of course, is the jump from 2D to 3D. Whereas you control Neku and his partner on a 2D plane, you control Rindo and the party in an open 3D space, and the change is notable. The arena is much larger, and sometimes you can get hung up by the camera or trying to target another enemy. Where I thought the first game was more forgiving with its difficulty spikes, NEO: The World Ends With You is not. The game has numerous difficulty spikes that come out of nowhere and are frustrating to deal with, resulting in much more grinding than was required in the original game.
While NEO: The World Ends With You is more accessible overall, it loses the novelty of the original game’s distinct approach to combat. On the flip side, The World Ends With You is tailor-made for the Nintendo DS to the point that the mechanics on subsequent ports like the iPhone and Nintendo Switch don’t translate over smoothly. Nowadays, the only way to truly experience the original game is to play it on the Nintendo DS. Between the rare DS cartridges and Nintendo phasing out the DS many years ago, it’s not very accessible for newcomers.
Despite that, The World Ends With You took a lot of risks and chances that make players look back on it fondly to this day. It will be remembered for its ingenuity and arguably the best utilization of the Nintendo DS’ two screens. NEO: The World Ends With You, by being more streamlined and simplified, ironically lost what made its predecessor so memorable.
Winner: The World Ends With You
Soundtrack of The World Ends With You
Both The World Ends With You and NEO: The World Ends With You feature eclectic soundtracks representing their respective periods. Taking place in modern-day Japan, the music reflects that through its genre-bending inclusion of hip-hop, rap, electro, and rock.
When I first played the game as a teen, the music caught me off guard, and it took me a while to find tracks I liked. Nowadays, I love the soundtrack as a whole immensely. Some of my favorites include “Calling,” “It’s So Wonderful,” “Emptiness and,” “Underground,” “Imprinting,” and “Transformation.”
Soundtrack of NEO: The World Ends With You
Both of these soundtracks are excellent and absolutely incredible, but overall, I enjoyed a wider selection of the songs from NEO: The World Ends With You a bit more.
Maybe it’s because the soundtrack leans toward rock more than pop, but songs like “Breaking Free,” “Shibuya Survivor,” “bird in the hand,” “LAST CALL,” “Unpainted,” and “Transformation -NEO Mix-” captured my attention immediately. I went out of my way to listen to them outside of the game online, too.
When it comes to music, this ranking gets a lot more subjective, and a lot of it does come down to music preference. Overall, NEO: The World Ends With You’s soundtrack is an improvement. From top to bottom, the music is top-notch and excellent.
Winner: NEO: The World Ends With You
Sequel Wars Winner
With a unique premise, gripping gameplay, and excellent characters, ultimately, The World Ends With You wins this match. But that’s not to say the sequel isn’t worth experiencing. If you’re a fan of The World Ends With You, you will appreciate the callbacks in NEO: The World Ends With You. You may get more out of the original game’s writing and character journeys.
Winner: The World Ends With You
What do you think about this installment of Sequel Wars? Which games do you want to see compared and contrasted next? Let us know in the comments, or join us on Boss Rush Discord!
Featured Image: Square Enix
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