trapped in revamp hell
- Nov 1, 2009
The official NEO: The World Ends With You guidebook includes an extensive interview with Tetsuya Nomura (Creative Producer & Character Designer), Tatsuya Kando (Series Director), and Hiroyuki Ito (Director). Read on to learn more about the development of this long awaited installment!
(This interview was conducted on June 23, 2021.)
WARNING: There are major story spoilers. Do not continue if you wish to not be spoiled about the characters and events that appear in the game.
-Production Process and Worldview-
-It's been 14 years since the previous title. What prompted your decision to create a new installment after all this time?
Nomura: The biggest reason was that we decided to produce an anime adaptation of the original game. With that in mind, I thought this would be our last chance to relaunch the TWEWY series. Personally, over the past 14 years, I've had several ideas for a sequel to The World Ends With you. I thought it would be nice to take a different approach to the previous game, such as a rhythm game with a story.
Kando: We wanted players to be able to play both the old and new games on one hardware. When we were working on The World Ends With You -Final Remix- for the Nintendo Switch, we'd just about decided that our new game, NEO: The World Ends With You, would be developed for the Switch as well. In preparation for this, we asked h.a.n.d. to move forward with development on Final Remix from Solo Remix, the smartphone version of the original game. After that, we made the decision to release the game on multiple platforms so that it could be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
Ito: Due to these circumstances, NEO's gameplay system was initially designed specifically for Joy-Con controls. Joy-Con are interesting devices; we'd thought of various ways to utilize them, so it was a shame to abandon it. However, some people who played Final Remix with Joy-Con controls have said that they were difficult, so I think it was a good thing that we ended up with the current button operations.
Nomura: To tell you the truth, in regards to TWEWY, there were always circumstances leading new projects to be started up and then disappear. I wrote a proposal every time but have never been able to bring it to fruition for one reason or another. But this time, thanks to the anime adaptation, we had the perfect opportunity to start the project, and in an environment conducive to developing for multiple platforms.
Kando: It's been 14 years since the last game, so we tried to create a new game experience that could be enjoyed even if you weren't familiar with the previous installment. Instead of a sequel, we thought about a new story with a shared worldview. The main character has shifted from Neku to Rindo, and the gameplay has also changed drastically from the original TWEWY. In that regard, we didn't want to use a title that emphasized the nature of a sequel like "The World Ends With You 2". That's why Nomura came up with the title, "NEO: The World Ends With You".
Ito: The previous game had a very strong personality, so we had to think hard about how to recreate that in 3D. The way the buildings on the field appear warped is one of the ideas we incorporated as a unique feature of this game. The distortion changes depending on Rindo's position on the field, so it was very difficult to make the right adjustments.
Kando: Initially, we thought about using a free camera for the field that allowed you to move the viewpoint with the right stick, but we decided to limit the camera to a certain extent and emphasize the worldview of TWEWY through the distortion of buildings and other visual effects.
Ito: The psych effects weren't created like in your typical 3D game; instead, we animated graffiti-like paint textures. The art director, Sayoko Hoshino, was also very particular about the way Noise and rival characters were textured themselves, so that they would look natural in 3D. Event scenes were based on the comic style from the previous game, so we actually thought they would be easy to work with, but when we included small events such as the conversations in front of a restaurant saying, "I'm hungry," we wound up with over 1,500 events. The event team, including the director, Mayumi Takita, must have had a tough time…
Kando: By the way, since the formation of this team, our planning meetings have basically been attended by every member. From the story scenario to various systems, we're always sharing information and working together.
Ito: For example, Kando wrote all of the food descriptions. I was mainly in charge of the dialogue for the townspeople, while Takita wrote the lines for the store clerks, and our project manager, Rie Kawai, took care of the text for the fashion items. TWEWY's development team has always been like this, with everyone working together as one and doing what they could.
Kando: The story, like the previous game, takes place over the course of 3 weeks, with Week 1 being "a battle between Players", Week 2 being "Players vs Reapers", and then Week 3 being "Shibuya vs Shinjuku". We came up with this format while consulting with everyone, and the scenario writer, Akiko Ishibashi, did a great job of putting it all together. In the original TWEWY, the storyline was rather serious right from the beginning, but this time it was much more light-hearted. I thought it might be better to have a little more tension, but Ishibashi said, "It's fine like this." As a result, it really emphasized the serious drama that occurred in the endgame.
I attended the voiceover recordings. During those sessions, Ishibashi would instruct the actors to talk to each other in a fast-paced, light-hearted manner, and I became convinced that this direction would suit the story and era. The number of words in the dialogue was limited by the size of the speech bubbles in the comic events, so conversations had to proceed quickly with short words, which I think contributed to the light tempo of the scenes. Since Ishibashi has a child, she may have been able to observe today's youth from a close perspective.
—Is there anything you were conscious of while creating the new Shibuya in 3D?
Kando: NEO takes place only 3 years after the events of the previous game, but in reality, 14 years have passed. Not only that, but Shibuya is still undergoing redevelopment, so it's changing a lot and at a very fast pace. We tried our best to keep up with things in order to depict the latest version of Shibuya, doing a lot of location scouting in the process.
Incidentally, at the time development on this game began, the real Miyashita Park hadn't even been built yet, so we were making maps based solely on the finalized plans. Once it was completed, art director Hoshino went to visit the site and reported back saying that it was completely different to what we had created. We had to hurry to make adjustments (laughs). There's also the West Exit Bus Terminal. A large bridge has been built over it, but regrettably, we weren't unable to recreate it in time. On the other hand, the rooftop of the Tokyu building where you fight Tsugumi is completely original to the game.
Ito: Tsugumi's Noise design is based on a crane, so we included a [construction] crane in the area.
Kando: Even though some of the buildings and stores in the game appear just as they do in real life, we actually weren't too proactive about recreating them in the beginning. However, the anime staff wanted to not only portray them as realistically as possible, but also use the actual names of the stores, so they worked very hard to get permission. As a result, we opted to change course in order to maintain consistency, and were then able to depict a more realistic Shibuya. We also received permission from the real 109 to use their name in place of 104, but "Ten-Four" had left a very strong impression in the previous game, so we decided to keep it as is.
After the release of the original TWEWY, many people went on pilgrimages to Shibuya with Nintendo DS in hand. I even heard of visitor from overseas who learned of Shibuya through TWEWY and used the game as a travel guide to explore the city when they came to Japan. It's really interesting how basing the game in a real city allows people to enjoy it like this.
—The wall in the Udagawa Back Streets reflects the graffiti you've obtained.
Ito: I thought it'd be neat if you could edit the graffiti on the wall in the field, so I forced h.a.n.d. to implement it. I thought if we were going to do something like that in this game, then it'd have to be in Udagawa.
Kando: In the last episode of the anime, there's a scene where CAT adds new graffiti to that wall. That graffiti is also reflected in the game, so I hope you like it.
—The fashion brands are based on the Chinese zodiac, just like in the previous game.
Kando: Yes, brands from both games draw inspiration from the Chinese zodiac. We wanted to redesign all the pins this time around, so we decided to change up the brands to some extent.
Ito: Fashion trends change with the times. It's been 14 years, so we thought about revamping the lot of them, but with only 3 years passing in-game, it'd be unnatural for everything to be replaced. We ended up deciding to keep some of the more memorable brands.
In terms of zodiac signs, only three have returned from the previous game: the tiger (Tigre Punks), the monkey (Jupiter of the Monkey), and the dog (Natural Puppy). The newly added frog (Croaky Panic) has nothing to do with the zodiac, but was born from me wanting at least one joke brand. Different designers are in charge of designing the pins for each brand, and the one who was responsible for Croaky Panic has done some very interesting stuff. I was so enamored with their sense of style that I created a new brand just so I could ask them to design for me.
When it comes to Croaky Panic, it was more about the designer than the brand itself. It may come off as a joke, but if you examine it carefully, you'll slowly fall in love with the designs. They're a lot of fun.
Kando: We're very particularly about the pin designs and have commissioned a variety of talented designers, including those who have achieved great success in advertising. We're proud of the fact that our pins are full of personality, ranging from cool to cute, in accordance with each brand's animal. Just looking at the pins can be a delightful time!
Ito: Another new brand is that of the cat (Gatto Nero). Gatto Nero was started by Shiki and Eri after the events of the previous game, and many of the pin names remind us of them. In NEO, Shoka professes to be a fan of Gatto Nero, and the clothes Neku is wearing are from that brand as well.
Kando: Shiki and Eri don't play a major role in the story, but we have included some information in this game that'll provide a glimpse of what's happened to them since. I hope fans of the original TWEWY will enjoy it.
—Please tell us about your collaboration with BLACK HONEY CHILI COOKIE.
Nomura: I've been friends with Kei Takahara of BLACK HONEY CHILI COOKIE for a while, having also collaborated together on Kingdom Hearts when he made original merchandise for us. After that, whenever we met up, we'd talk about how it'd be nice to do something together again. That's how he came to be involved in this project. I thought it would be a good fit for a game featuring many fashion brands, so I approached him, and he agreed. In fact, Hiromu Takahara, the store clerk of BLACK HONEY CHILI COOKIE in the game, was voiced by Takahara-san himself.
—About the Characters—
—Neku, Beat and Minamimoto become party members and play a major role in the story of this game.
Kando: As we were working on this game, the development team had a strong desire for characters from the original TWEWY to appear. When we made Final Remix for the Nintendo Switch, we added a new episode called "A NEW DAY", and that story leads to this game.
Nomura: On the other hand, we made the decision at the beginning to have a new main character and a completely new story. All of the staff had the same idea. However, I think it would have been better if characters from the previous game had more opportunities to appear. We even had plans for characters from TWEWY and characters from NEO to fight on different teams…
Kando: Neku and his friends were at the center of the story in the original game. Many fans have strong feelings for them, so we were afraid they'd overshadow the main character, Rindo. However, that doesn't mean we should ignore them, so we were very careful in how they were handled. In order to keep Neku and the others from becoming too central to the story, we decided to have Beat play the role of linking the story with the original game, and then have Neku appear near the end to lend a hand in a time of need.
Nomura: For the sake of this story, I couldn't reveal who the heroine was, nor could I say if Beat and Neku appear in the game at all, even though they have roles to play. It was the first time I couldn't introduce almost half of the main characters, so it was difficult to share information (laughs).
Kando: There are many secrets in this game, and the story takes many twists and turns, so there were a lot of things we couldn't reveal before people were able to play the game for themselves. This is especially true for the relationships between the characters. I was very worried about disclosing info prior to release.
Nomura: Regarding the heroine, I was originally going to use Tsugumi in that role. However, as plans for the story continued to take shape, I realized that things were going to be quite different to what I had imagined. As a result, Tsugumi was positioned as the heroine of the Shinjuku side of the story, which isn't depicted, and Shoka, the new heroine, was designed to contrast with her.
However, when I read the completed scenario, I was surprised to find that Shoka didn't come off as a heroine at all in the beginning of the game. I couldn't push her as the heroine in info releases because it'd be a spoiler, and she's also a Reaper, so the whole thing became very complicated. Not only that, but a lot of her early dialogue wasn't very endearing, which made me concerned about the voice recordings. The recording sessions were done in consultation with the sound director in great detail in order to make the voice acting appealing.
I've never had a heroine that was so difficult to handle in so many ways. We've done what we could, so I'll be happy if Shoka's charm is conveyed in the game.
Kando: It's true that Shoka is more "tsundere" than just "tsun", but in the story, she does fully become a heroine in Week 3.
(TN: "Tsun" describes someone who is cold and blunt. "Tsundere" starts off "tsun" but gradually warms up, becoming "dere".)
Ito: I'm confident everyone will like Shoka by the end.
—Did you decide from the get-go that Beat would be mistaken for Neku?
Kando: Originally, I considered establishing that Beat had taken on Neku's name and was working behind the scenes to protect Shibuya so that Neku's disappearance wouldn't be brought to light. However, as the story continued to take shape, I opted to change course and decided that Beat himself would remain in the RG and that, for some reason, people around him are mistaking him for Neku, even though it wasn't his intention.
I really didn't plan for Beat to play such an important role in the story, but he did a much better job than I'd expected as both a mood-maker and the team's big brother, leading the inexperienced Rindo and his friends. His presence makes the whole place so much more cheerful and positive, doesn't it? In terms of the story, the Twisters become anxious when Minamimoto, who they relied on for his strength, leaves the team. The relationship between Rindo and Fret becomes strained, but everyone is brought back together once Beat is added to the group.
Ito: Beat's unique psych, "Sound Surf", allows him to move faster on the map, which coincides with the point at which he joins the team, when both story and gameplay really start to get exciting.
Even in other games, I like to get around quickly by performing dodge rolls and other evasive maneuvers, so I really wanted to implement a system like this. Not only does it allow you to move fast, but it also makes you feel like you're playing a rhythm game, pressing buttons in time with the music. Furthermore, it allows you to accumulate SYNC values, so I hope you'll take advantage of it. You can even use this effect during Phase 4 of the Phoenix Cantus battle.
Kando: As for Minamimoto, Nomura asked for this character to be a party member back when the project first started.
Nomura: Minamimoto has a very distinct personality, so it'd be a shame for him to disappear after just one game. That's why he was the only one among the Reaper officers in the first game who didn't have a clear erasure scene.
In the sequel concepts I mentioned at the beginning, Minamimoto was always present as an important ally.
—In the original TWEWY, Minamimoto had patterns on his arm. Why did they disappear this time around?
Kando: Minamimoto was once Taboo, but Coco revived him in "A NEW DAY", so something about that must have made him be reborn as a "beautiful Minamimoto". In fact, when it comes to this, it's clear that the Minamimoto we see here has become something different from the one we knew.
Ito: And as for other returning characters, please keep an eye out for sub-characters like Eiji Oji, who plays a role in linking the worldview of TWEWY with that of NEO. In this game's Character Board, you can find information about these sub-characters. There's a lot of detail about them, including their relationships, who's dating who, and other connections, so please check it out. The people of Shibuya are all connected somehow (laughs).
The Character Board was born from the idea that it'd be interesting to combine a relationship chart with a skill tree. It was difficult to manage since characters appear gradually and different branches would open up as the story progressed.
Kando: During production, there was a point when we almost had to drop the Character Board due to the sheer volume and complexity of the work. However, it was linked to important systems such as unlocking rewards and was also one of the elements that made this game unique, so I wanted to try and preserve it somehow. It's a part of the game that allows you to enjoy the world on a deeper level thanks to the supplementary materials it provides, and having this element where you "fill in a list" makes the side content more interesting, so I'm really glad we were able to incorporate it.
Speaking of side content, after you beat the game, you can revisit chapters to collect the Secret Reports written by Hanekoma, who appeared in the original TWEWY. So as you can see, there are some characters from the previous game who don't appear in the story directly, but continue to be given roles.
—About the Game Systems—
—Please tell us how the new battle system came to be.
Kando: For the original game, we were asked to implement controls that would be specific to the Nintendo DS hardware, so we created a gameplay system that made full use of the DS's functions, primarily utilizing the touch pen. This time, however, we wanted to support multiple platforms, so we made it so that the game could be played with a controller. In order to achieve this, we had to find a way to give NEO a "TWEWY" feel using said controller.
When we ported the DS version to the smartphone, we created a system where you could control two characters at the same time by using different inputs. This time we've expanded on that by controlling up to 6 characters at once.
Ito: At first, we thought about using the Switch's gyro controls to directly slash and hit the enemies onscreen. This method would have allowed for multiple characters to launch attacks at the same time. Even though we dropped the gyro idea, we still wanted to make full use of this feature, so after switching to button controls, we made it possible for players to switch between characters instantly by using different button inputs to initiate attacks. This allowed us to achieve the fast-paced and flashy battles that are typical of TWEWY.
Kando: We came up with many ideas for battle controls, such as a command-based input system like you'd find in fighting games.
Ito: This led to the creation of multiple controls that match the characteristics of each individual psych, such as those that can be activated by repeatedly tapping a button or by holding down a button and then releasing it. You'll need to combine all of these operations at once in order to attack, and I think this has made the game feel fast-paced, yet intuitive and satisfying.
Kando: Some people may find it difficult to keep up if the game controls are too hectic, so we've taken some measures to lend a hand, such as by including items that can automatically activate a psych with the push of a button. If you make good use of these items, I think it'll make battles much easier. Whether you enjoy hectic controls or prefer a calmer approach, I hope you'll find a play style that suits your tastes.
Ito: You can also equip multiple characters with psychs assigned to the same button, so that they can all attack at the same time with the same input. I'm actually the type of person who finds it difficult to use all six buttons, so I thought long and hard about how to make it easier to fight (laughs).
ーThere are a total of 34 type of psychs in the game, so I'm sure you had a lot of trouble balancing them.
Ito: During development, we were really conscious about avoiding the creation of so-called "dead psychs", so that players would be able to fight well no matter what pins they use. We wanted everyone to be able to use their favorite pins and psychs, rather than feel like they're forced to stick with a particular one.
At the suggestion of Battle Director Kyohei Suzuki, we developed a tool to log battle play data, which had a great impact on balance adjustments. With that tool, we were able to analyze the play tests of various individuals and create a system to closely check the frequency of use, such as which pins were used in which battles and how much. If there were any psychs that aren't being used as much as we liked, then we'd improve their performance and carefully rebalance them based on the data.
You can also have fun strategizing and trying out different psychs to find ones that in combination with another. For example, it's difficult to hit enemies with the tremendously powerful Mine Bomb, but if you stop their movements with Entanglement, you can easily finish the job. I also recommend sucking enemies into a Black Hole and and using Psychokinesis to hit them with a large object, which is very fulfilling when you manage to pull it off.
—The side content is also very fulfilling.
Ito: There were many people who had fun replaying chapters after beating TWEWY the first time around, so we focused on that aspect for NEO as well. However, the volume of this game is much larger than the original, so in the latter half of development, I started to worry that there might be too many bosses in the Final Time Attack (laughs). Fortunately, the analysis tool I mentioned earlier came in very handy here and we were able to save a lot of time in the balancing process, allowing us to implement it successfully.
Kando: The implementation of ANOTHER DAY was very difficult, partly because it was done during a really busy time at the end of development. However, we knew the fans would be looking forward to it, so we gave it our all to ensure that it wouldn't be omitted. I'm really glad that we were able to include the Final Time Attack, Secret Report collection, and all the other side content.
By the way, ANOTHER DAY takes place in a parallel world, but the key to its story is Minamimoto, and the underlying theme is to remove the Soul Pulvis he's captured. In fact, the Minamimoto who is first introduced by Hishima and joins the party is the same Minamimoto who appeared in the main story, who came to this parallel world due to the influence of the Soul Pulvis. It's also the reason why Minamimoto's event occurs at the end of ANOTHER DAY.
Ito: But in order to see the event, you need to defeat Felidae Cantus… Felidae Cantus has been designed to be just strong enough that you can defeat it based on the data gathered by the analysis tool I've been talking about, so it requires a lot of technique to defeat it. I think it'd a good idea to try it on Easy Mode first, but even then you should still have a tough time.
Speaking of difficulty, there's also the matter of the Scramble Slam from the main story. The top prize is a powerful pin, so you'd probably be tempted to try and get it on your first go, but it'd be quite difficult to achieve the score needed to obtain it. I recommend clearing the main story first and then use Chapter Select to challenge it again post-game.
Here's a little trick: when you successfully complete a combo, a multiplier appears on the left side of the screen. It's important to build and maintain this multiplier if you want to get a high score, so you'll have to keep your attacks going consistently and really make them count. In order to do that, one half of the party should be equipped with weak pins to pull off combos and increase SYNC rates, while the other half should be equipped with strong pins to finish off enemies.
ーWhat will happen to Shinjuku once Shiba returns? I'm also curious about the story of Rindo and his friends who have become the new Shibuya legends. Do you have any plans for a sequel?
Nomura: As was the case with the previous game, for the TWEWY series, we don't think about sequels when we're working on the current project. Rather, we try to be conscious of making sure that this story is complete. Of course, we do have hooks and ideas to expand the story, so depending on the response from fans, there might be another installment. However, TWEWY games don't leave any foreshadowing for sequels, nor does it leave you feeling bewildered after beating the game, so I'd like you to play this as a standalone title without any worries…
The protagonist of the previous game had headphones, and this one has a mask, so perhaps the next game will have someone wearing something to cover their eyes.
Kando: Some fans on social media have already figured that out.
Nomura: Of course they have! Well then, maybe I won't do that (laughs).
ーThe Fans' Passionー
ーHow do you feel about the response to the TWEWY series, including that of Final Remix?
Kando: To be honest, the amount of enthusiasm from the fans is well beyond our imagination. When THE DEATH MARCH performed music from TWEWY live in Shibuya in 2012 and 2013, many people came to see the shows. In 2018, we held a collaboration cafe to commemorate the release of Final Remix, and I heard it was so popular it broke records.
At this point, it's been more than 10 years since the original release of TWEWY. I really feel like we've been supported all this time by the most passionate fans. We poured our hearts and souls into this game so as to not betray their expectations.
Ito: When NEO was first announced, it became the #1 trending topic on Twitter worldwide. It makes me grateful to know that there are so many passionate fans overseas as well. When I browse social media, I see that everyone has a lot of thoughts and predictions, and it's interesting just how sharp some of them are. Some of their ideas have managed to hit pretty close to the mark, so when I find them, I often feel conflicted and wonder if I should change the direction of the story (laughs).
Kando: I mentioned earlier that we couldn't disclose much information before release. In spite of this, some people were able to use the few clues we provided to put two and two together and make accurate predictions. The fans' enthusiasm and insight never cease to amaze me.
Nomura: Speaking of which, when we released screenshots of the characters' food reactions, it caused quite a big buzz amongst the fans. Seems everyone was amused to learn that Minamimoto likes melon soda. I'll admit, we had a similar reaction ourselves (laughs).
Ito: When it comes to food, besides their own likes and dislikes, each character also has their own preferences. Since Minamimoto is an intellectual with a penchant for science and mathematics, he likes sweet things to keep his brain active (laughs). Additionally, Nagi is a big eater, Shoka enjoys spicy food, Rindo prefers something that is lightly seasoned, and Fret likes things that are a little out of the ordinary.
ーFinally, please give a message to the fans.
Kando: The story is complete, including that of the characters from the original TWEWY. I want as many people as possible to play this game, so please recommend it to your friends and others around you, and expand the world.
Ito: The game has a lot of challenging elements, so I hope you'll play through to the very end! Take on the Final Time Attack on ANOTHER DAY, and share your clear times on social media to see who comes out on top!
Nomura: I'd like to express my sincere thanks to all the fans who have been waiting so long for a sequel. If everyone likes this game, there may be another one someday. Thank you so much for your support.
If there is a next time, it might be better to change the location so that people don't say "Shibuya again!?" Let's set it in Setagaya or something (laughs).