I admire NEO: The World Ends With You for its youthful attitude and wild characterizations through eccentric personalities, extravagant character designs, and cheesy irreverence. To play through NEO TWEWY is to feel young again, inviting me to relive that too-cool-for-school vibe I had all those years ago with its predecessor. But that’s also because, while it’s a sequel that can be enjoyed on its own, its adherence to the original story of The World Ends With You brought me back to another time, and that might leave you lost if it passed you by.
Still, NEO TWEWY has its share of attractions, like a standout action-RPG combat system that evolves into an exciting rush of flashy spells filling up the screen. And while you might roll your eyes at the cast of characters’ quirks in the beginning, they’ll grow on you like good friends who were annoying at first. The same can be said about its soundtrack–songs that are odd upon first listen become bops that get stuck in your head. This is also a story-heavy RPG with intriguing twists and turns. However, in its exploration, riddle-laden objectives, and narrative wheel-spinning, NEO TWEWY drags its feet for a bit too long and too often before reaching its payoff.
NEO TWEWY revolves around the Reapers’ Game, the premise that drove the original game. In a parallel dimension of real-world Japan, called the Underground (or UG), characters trapped in the Reapers’ Game have been posthumously invited to play a game of ambiguous rules and objectives for another chance at life. But rules are meant to be broken and parameters are meant to be manipulated, so much so that you eventually disregard its logic and just embrace the cool nonsense used to bend the fate of the characters and the setting of Shibuya itself.
If you’ve ever worked a job where your bosses are the worst people imaginable, and they ask you to fix a problem using broken tools and then blame you for the results like it’s your fault, then you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to play The Ascent. That’s not just a metaphor, either. It’s literally the baked-in plot of the game. It’s the far-off future, and in order to escape to Veles (an intergalactic project block for all the galaxy’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free), you must sign away your freedom to become an indentured servant, or Indent, to one of the various corporate masters running the place. In the first area of gameplay, you’re literally forced to clean Veles’ toilets by fixing the sewage system. By the time the credits roll, even after hours of mowing down scumbags, watching your character become a metal monster, and running odd jobs for weirdos and strangers, it’s hard to feel like you’ve worked your way up from those starting sewers.
The small blessing is that the job involves fewer plungers, and more heavy sci-fi weaponry and cybernetic enhancements. The Ascent is a twin-stick shooter, with a slew of RPG elements thrown in for flavor. You’ll find an impressive and unique assortment of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers along the way, each of which can attack enemy weaknesses for extra damage, and they all have very different practical feels in-game. Armor has a similarly expansive variety, with the added benefit of changing your character’s look to an increasingly mechanical degree. It’s not great that most of those armor pieces obscure your custom-made character–what’s the point of creating a character whose face you immediately cover up?–but the designs are incredibly cool.
You’ll also gain special abilities along the way, ranging from a hydraulic-powered melee attack that can vaporize your enemies to deadly drone companions who can fight by your side. My personal favorite is an army of explosive spider bots who run out and autonomously seek enemies to blow up. For the most part, though, you’ll be spending most of your time running and gunning through what are essentially expansive, RPG-style, isometric dungeons, where both a well-thought out combination of armor and cyborg magic is just as important as having the right gun for the job. When your mission is done, you can head back to one of the game’s bustling shopping districts to spend skill points on various character stats, as well as buy upgrades, new items, and new cybernetic toys to splice into yourself.
For the Pokemon brand’s first foray into a new genre, Pokemon Unite gets a lot of things right. The game certainly feels like a MOBA a la League of Legends or Dota 2, just in a much easier to understand presentation for those who’ve never played one before. Matches are short, snappy affairs with plenty of action and strategy. Learning each of the five classes is fun and rewarding. Each skirmish within a match ups the ante, increasing tension and excitement until it boils over in the final stretch. It’s just a shame that the confusing in-game economy composed of multiple currencies and a loot box-style lottery system can sometimes get in the way of the game’s fun.
For those unaware, Pokemon Unite is a “multiplayer online battle arena game” or “MOBA.” Two teams of up to five players choose a Pokemon, then enter an arena where they defeat wild Pokemon in the environment to gather energy and experience. Experience levels up a Pokemon, increasing its stats and powering up its moves, while energy is used to score points and win the game. This is where Pokemon Unite separates itself from traditional MOBAs. Pokemon must take their stored energy to an opposing team’s goal and “dunk” it through the hoop to score points equal to how much energy the Pokemon held. The dunking sequence itself is wonderful, with the Pokemon slamming the energy down through the hoop with force and excitement that will put a smile on your face. Dunks aren’t the only scoring method though, as special wild Pokemon sometimes appear that give temporary buffs or extra points, but they are rare and sometimes one-time occurrences during a match. When time runs out–10 minutes in a standard match–whoever has the most points wins.
This goal-scoring approach is different from established MOBA games–League of Legends, for example, requires that a team enter the enemy’s base and destroy the Nexus–but it’s a fantastic choice in action. Most of the wild Pokemon lining the arena aren’t difficult to defeat, so even novice players will be able to gather energy easily. Some goals can only have so many points scored on them before they break, meaning disabled goals force you to progress further into the opponent’s side of the arena to find a new one. It’s a fun spin on the core objective of a MOBA match, taking something like defeating towers in LoL in order to progress and making it unique. Also, since the goals don’t fight back like LoL towers do, new MOBA players won’t need to worry about extra threats when trying to score.
Like a great detective novel, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles gives us clues in its opening moments that won’t pay off until its final hours. That trick is even more impressive here as the adventure games collected, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, were originally published two years apart and together tell one continuous 80 hour story. Clues, character arcs, cases–all are revealed slowly over the course of the two visual novels, culminating in one satisfying conclusion that ties it all together.
Adventures, from 2015, and Resolve, from 2017, take players back roughly 100 years before Phoenix Wright ever entered the courtroom. Here, players take on the role of that famous ace attorney’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, at the dawn of the 20th century. The story begins in Meiji Period Japan before traveling to Victorian-era England, where the bulk of the action takes place. That action, as in Phoenix Wright, involves collecting evidence from crime scenes, waiting for the right moment to use it in court and then presenting it at the right time during a cross examination to make a witness’ testimony fall apart.
As The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures begins, Japan and Great Britain have just entered into a trade agreement. The ink on the agreement is barely dry–historically speaking, that is; a character later suggests that the agreement has been in place for a decade–so when Naruhodo is caught with a pistol in his hand at the scene of a visiting British professor’s murder, the resulting trial carries with it the weight of the fragile alliance between the two empires. With the case all but decided against him, Naruhodo must prove his innocence with the help of his best friend, Kazuma Asogi, a law student set to embark the next day for a study abroad program in England. The katana-wielding Kazuma is strong-willed, confident, and believes wholeheartedly that his friend is innocent, and that belief motivates Naruhodo’s own practice of law as the game progresses, with the young defense attorney understanding well the difference that his belief in his clients’ innocence can make.
Though I enjoyed most of Cris Tales, one moment in particular really sold the game for me. I was in the midst of a boss battle that had already gone on for 25 minutes against a big robot–every time I destroyed one of the mechanical giant’s arms, a drone would appear to fully repair it, so the only way to end the fight was to scrap the drone. But the drone would only appear when an arm was destroyed, dragging the fight out as I slowly chipped away at the arms’ huge health pools over and over. Then I had an idea: What if I could use protagonist Crisbell’s Regression spell on an enemy? I had only previously used it for its described purpose of regressing allies to a previous state in time, returning them to full health after taking damage or suffering a status effect. To my surprise, my idea worked. By using Regression on the robot’s arms after the drone repaired them, it returned them to their destroyed state, causing the drone to reappear and giving me the opportunity to continuously whale on it. A few minutes later, victory was mine.
This gameplay mechanic speaks to Cris Tales’ overall narrative, which is about the importance of examining the past, facing the challenges of the present, and changing the future for the better. It’s a message that goes beyond trying to hurl the right magic spell at a murderous mining robot too, as Cris Tales is largely a story about humanity’s impact on the world at large and how exploitation of the environment, racism, greed, and hoarding cures to deadly diseases are far more dangerous threats to humanity’s future than an evil witch. It’s a concept that doesn’t neatly wrap itself up as well as I would have liked, but the journey to that point is an incredible RPG experience, one satisfyingly supported by the cool idea of being able to see the past, present, and future all at once.
In Cris Tales, you play as Crisbell, a young girl with no knowledge of her past who unexpectedly becomes a Time Mage. She meets a talking, time-travelling frog named Matias who explains that Crisbell can now perceive the past, present, and future of the world simultaneously, giving her the unique ability to glean knowledge from people’s histories and alter their fates. Matias takes her to meet Willhelm, also a Time Mage, who tells Crisbell that she’s key to stopping the Time Empress, an immensely powerful Time Mage set on taking over the world. With the help of young knight and mage Cristopher, the trio repel an attack led by two of the Time Empress’ lackies, and the squad, now of four, set out to find a way to enhance Crisbell’s powers so that she’ll be strong enough to save the world, stopping to recruit additional allies and help the world’s diverse assortment of kingdoms along the way.