Tetsuya Nomura and others discuss how the upcoming RPG maintains the original vibe while using a new combat system and new character designs.
The World Ends With You (TWEWY) was a lot of things--an innovative RPG that put the Nintendo DS's touch screen to good use, a stylish experience that demonstrated youthful expression through fashion and music, and one of the most experimental games in Square Enix's history. But despite the game's cult status, TWEWY has not had an official follow up in the 14 years since its release. Until now, that is, with the upcoming NEO: The World Ends With You.
The original TWEWY came back around with the Switch remaster in 2018, dubbed Final Remix, albeit with mixed results from the retooled controls to accommodate the platform change. However, this upcoming sequel, NEO: The World Ends With You, is a sort of rebuild of what made the original special. I recently had a brief interview with its key developers, which included Tetsuya Nomura (creative producer and character art designer), Tatsuya Kondo (series director), Hiroyuki Ito (director), and Tomohiko Hirano (producer). And from talking with them, I have a clearer picture of how TWEWY is being modernized not just in a gameplay sense but also in its attitude.
We covered NEO TWEWY's character designs and their conception, storytelling and ties to the original game, and how the combat has shifted from touch controls to a fast-paced action-RPG with a dynamic party system. We have a better understanding of what we can expect from this anticipated follow-up, and it seems that bringing the series into a modern era isn't going to take away from what made TWEWY unique, either. My only regret is not leaving enough time to talk about the soundtrack and eccentric jams that have made the series resonate with so many of us.
NEO: The World Ends With You is slated to launch on July 27, 2021 for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, and to PC via Epic Games Store shortly after. The following interview was done through a Square Enix translator and edited for clarity and readability.
To start things off, the original TWEWY had a very distinct attitude and style, and maybe a bit dark in some places. What kinds of narrative themes and motifs are you going for in NEO TWEWY?
Kando: This is something that you'll probably notice when you play the game, but for the elements that we felt represent TWEWY, those are elements we decided to preserve this time around as well.
One thing that I think is quite different is the personality of the protagonist compared to the original game. Neku was a little bit more reserved, he was a little bit more reclusive, whereas this time around it's more of a team--the protagonist being Rendo with his sidekick Fret and also Nagi. They'll be moving around as a team, and then we've tried to incorporate fun and interesting dialogue between the team members. So, I think you'll get quite a different impression compared to the first game. That being said, as mentioned earlier, we did try to preserve the essence that makes this a TWEWY game.
The group dynamic certainly changes things, and it's a big thing that stands out in RPGs is how characters grow alongside each other. How does NEO TWEWY dig into that? What kind of dynamic is there between Nagi, Rindo, and Fret, and others?
Kando: First of all, Rendo and Fret were originally friends, so they already have that kind of bond with each other. Then at the start of the game, Nagi and Minamimoto come into the scene and join the team to form what's called [Wicked] Twisters. There will be different teams within the game itself with interactions between them all as well. Of course, there will be the Reapers that come into the mix, and there'll be different kinds of interactions among various teams that you'll see. That's kind of how the story and the narrative unfolds and expands.
One thing that stands out a lot in games Nomura-san works on is the character design, which is often very expressive. It was a big part of the previous game and part of the reason why we love those characters. What kind of inspirations did you and the team have when designing these new characters?
Nomura: So for the three main protagonists in NEO TWEWY, we actually have different designers for each of them, with Rendo, Fret, and Nagi. I designed Rendo, but for Fret, the designer was Gan Kobayashi. And then for Nagi, a new female designer that joined the team this time around, Miki Yamashita. So, three main protagonists were designed by three different people, and this might be something that could become the norm for upcoming games, where we're having different designers for these main characters. It's great because they all have their own different aesthetic and their characteristics that stand out. And when I look at Fret or Nagi, there are ideas that I know Mira probably would not have thought of. It's great to have different designers on board so that we can have a little bit more realism and variety.
With the designs that Kobayashi and Yamashita made, once they designed it, I looked through them, reviewed them, and then gave them [feedback], and they proposed a few different designs. I gave certain directives such as, "let's use this part from this, and then let's use portion from this other design". That being said, I try to make sure that their perspectives and their personalities stood out through their design. And then in terms of inspiration with the original title being released quite a long time ago, we made sure that this time around, the designs fit into the real life Shibuya of today.
I'm also wondering about how NEO ties into the original. Are you able to speak to some of the connections? As I understand Minamimoto and Kariya are back in NEO, but what's the deal with the Reapers' Game this time?
Kando: In this game, the protagonist is Rindo, so it's different from the original title. And with that, we deliberately did not name the game "The World Ends with You 2." We made it new, "NEO: The World Ends with You". That was a deliberate choice on our end, because we want to make sure people that were jumping into the series would be able to do so from this upcoming title without feeling it being a little off. We wanted to make sure that it was a nice entry point for these new players. We do understand that there are a lot of players that have played the original game and are looking forward to this upcoming entry, so we wanted to make sure to meet their expectations.
As you mentioned, there are characters from the original game that are making their way into this game as well. It's been three years since the original game's story, so you'll see how they progressed through those three years and how they've changed. That is something [we want you] to be able to experience in the game itself. In terms of how those characters from the original actually play into this new game, how they spent those three years really kind of highlights how they've evolved. That is something that you can look forward to in this game.
Nomura: Speaking specifically of Minamimoto--I had decided even before the story was finalized that Minamimoto would be an ally this time around. I had decided that from the beginning. And then for the other character, Kariya, he is just like he was in the original game. He is part of the Reapers that look over the players in the Reapers Game. That being said, the situation has changed with the three years that have passed. His stance has changed a little bit and in terms of how they really play into the game, that is something that you'll need to look forward to and enjoy in the game itself.
The original was innovative with the gameplay highlight being how it used touch controls. It was a driving force behind that game's appeal. Moving to more traditional-style platforms, how have you rebuilt the combat system while still having that level of appeal?
Ito: With the touch screen hardware for the original game, it was with that foundation that we were for sure going to have a new experience for players. But now with [current] platforms, [we use] traditional controls--the controllers or the Joy-Con and the buttons. So, it was a high hurdle thinking of ideas for how to deliver a new experience like we were able to do for the first title. But through deliberation, our approach was with the fact that you're in a team this time around.
We wanted to create a system where the players are able to control the various members of the team simultaneously. For example, by using the different buttons, players are able to first control Nagi--she will have a pillar to push the enemy upwards into the sky. Then maybe next, Rindo would use an attack where rocks fall from the sky down onto enemies. And then as a decisive blow, Minamimoto can serve a kick to the enemies. So, there are these combinations that players will be able to experiment with, and the fact that players will be able to input these commands on the spot to create those different combos through this high speed action makes it interesting. We feel that we've been very successful in creating this sort of addictive battle gameplay that will serve this TWEWY title well.
Just to summarize it simply, you're controlling a whole party simultaneously in real time action, which we feel is not seen in other games, and I feel that this stands out.
So, you're not switching between them, instead they're at your command all at once?
Nomura: Yes, that is correct. I can't give you exact numbers, but you'll end up being able to control a good number of characters at the same time, just to give you a hint!
It's been 14 years since the original TWEWY's release. So much has changed in RPGs since then, particularly with franchises like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. What's the biggest thing that stood out creating a modern TWEWY game?
Kando: Of course, one big thing is the change from 2D to 3D that comes with the time. But when we're comparing with the other games around us, there have been elements that have made games user-friendly, so we've tried to incorporate those elements to make it a little bit more accessible. And of course, we made sure to create a game that people can engulf themselves into. In terms of elements from the original, such as things like fashion, food, and music, those we feel are the essence of TWEWY and kind of make it what it is. Those are things that we definitely wanted to preserve moving forward with this second entry.
There are other features that we still haven't been able to reveal, but we are planning to show later, so please look forward to those. We can't reveal them right now, but yeah, they're coming.