Interviews with the development team for Neo: The World Ends With You have started to come out across the world. Dengeki, 4Gamer, and Famitsu have all had a chance to speak with Tomohiro Hirano (Producer), Tatsuya Kando (Series Director), Hiroyuki Ito (Director), and Tetsuya Nomura (Creative Producer & Character Designer).
-- It's been 14 years since the original game released on the DS in 2007. Please tell us about the project and its production.
Hirano: The team had been enthusiastic about making a sequel since the release of the DS version, and we were aware of the fans' desire for a sequel. However, TWEWY is a rather sharp game, so it was difficult to work on it alongside other titles at the time... When the team reunited for Final Remix, we were able to move forward.
Nomura: The anime adaptation was what really convinced me. Even after development of the game started, I was pretty skeptical. There'd been a lot of talk about doing a proper sequel over the past 14 years but nothing really materialized. In that regard, I felt that the timing of the anime could not have been better.
-- What concepts or themes did you have when creating the sequel?
Kando: Since the original was created as a standalone title, we debated at length about what a potential sequel should cover. Ultimately we decided to make a completely new TWEWY instead of TWEWY2 focusing on Neku again.
With our new protagonist, Rindo, as well as characters like Fret and Nagi, I wanted to create a Reaper's Game that people could enjoy even if they started with this title. That's why we opted for "Neo" instead of "2". However, fans of the previous game can look forward to seeing some familiar faces.
Nomura: With the evolution of hardware, the evolution of the game itself was inevitable, so I thought that the concept and theme of TWEWY should just be carried over from the previous game.
I wanted to make this game bigger, with more characters, and I'd told the staff at the beginning that I wanted this to be a team game. I also thought it needed to have an innovative game system unique to TWEWY.
I had a lot of trouble deciding on the title... I actually made my decision just before the announcement. After much deliberation, we decided to go with a straightforward, nostalgic "new" title.
-- Did you consider changing the setting from Shibuya to another location for the sequel?
Kando: The idea certainly came up. However, Shibuya is one of the most iconic places in Tokyo, so we decided we couldn't do TWEWY without it.
We also thought about setting the game in Shinjuku, but as those who've played Final Remix are aware, the city of Shinjuku is kinda... well, you know (laughs).
Ito: Another big thing was, while Shibuya may be one city, each area has its own characteristics. The cityscape has a three-dimensional feel, and I think Shibuya is the one that leaves a lasting impression when you move around the area.
Nomura: When we finished the last game, I told myself that the next game would also be set in Shibuya. It's a very large city, so I knew I could draw more from it if I wanted to.
-- In the original game, Mr. Kando was the director, but in this game, Mr. Ito is the director and Kando is the series director.
Kando: Yes. Ito is a veteran with programming and planning background, so he's the perfect person to lead the development team. That's why I entrusted him with the role of director this time. We're working on NTWEWY in conjunction with h.a.n.d., a development studio in Hokkaido, and Ito is mainly in charge of production.
As the series director, I'm working with Ito on the world view and direction of the game.
-- The story takes place three years after the previous game, but to what extent are the stories connected? Would it be easier to understand the story if you played the original TWEWY, especially Final Remix?
Kando: In the previous game, the Reaper's Game in Shibuya had concluded, and the events of "A NEW DAY" brought the Reapers who were in Shinjuku to Shibuya. NTWEWY is set three years later, and depicts a Reaper's Game in which Shibuya and Shinjuku Reapers are mixed together.
The world is completely connected to the previous game as well as the content in "A NEW DAY", so it'd be best if you've played Final Remix. Of course, you can still enjoy the game even if you're going in fresh!
-- One of the main highlights of this game is that the streets of Shibuya are completely rendered in 3D.
Ito: The 2D representation of the previous game was quite special, and it was drawn artistically, with abstract distortions. We thought about how we could render that in 3D graphics, so instead of accurately reproducing the cityscape, we deliberately bent the polygons and devised the camera in such a way that the location becomes exaggerated.
For example, in front of 104, the composition appears as if you're looking up at a building, and on Spain Hill, the angle of view is adjusted to create an atmosphere of close proximity to various objects. In addition to recreating the art of the previous game in 3D, the latest technology has been used to emphasize the "uniqueness" of each location. Recreating the streets of Shibuya was a challenge, but the production process was a lot of fun.
-- In the latest trailer, the composition was also impressive, as if you were looking at it through a wide-angle lens.
Kando: It may look like a wide-angle lens, but it's actually a building that's been distorted by vertex animation. We've also included other ways to make each location memorable, so please look forward to it.
-- Are there any locations we can visit that weren't in the previous game?
Kando: In TWEWY, the area east of Shibuya Station wasn't depicted very well, but as time went by, landmarks were built in the real Shibuya, so we've included that area this time. We’ve also recreated the Harajuku area, such as Takeshita Street...
Of course, locations from the previous game will also appear, but to some extent we've been selective in how these locations have been combined into the map.
-- Shibuya has changed a lot since the original game was released, so it will be fun to compare the changes.
Ito: Shibuya is a city that changes in real time, and it was being developed rapidly while we were working on the game. As for the buildings that are still under construction, we had to look up the completed drawings and render them based on our predictions, which took a lot of work (laughs).
Kando: The game will be released in 2021, but please think of it as a realistic reproduction of Shibuya in 2020. The terminal area at the west exit of Shibuya Station has changed a lot recently, so we didn't have time to properly reflect it in the game...
-- In addition to Mr. Nomura, Gen Kobayashi and Miki Yamashita are also involved in character designs for this title. Who was responsible for which characters?
Kando: For the main party members, the main character Rindo was designed by Nomura, Fret by Kobayashi, and Nagi by Yamashita. With all three working on the Wicked Twisters, I think you can get a real sense of diversity of their designs.
Nomura: Recently, there've been more and more titles with a large cast of characters, so this kind of division of labor has also been increasing. In order to maintain consistency, I supervise the designs of the other two characters at the conceptual stage, and Kobayashi draws all the characters as they're depicted in the game.
I feel that it's good to have several people collaborating on character designs, which is more often than not tasked to one individual, because they can have a positive influence on each other. I think it's interesting to see ideas and personalities that come from other creators.
-- The new Shinjuku Reapers are pretty unique, aren't they?
Nomura: The three of us shared the work, and I drew two of them myself. It's a pretty strong group.
-- Neku, the protagonist of the previous game, was the type of character who refused to get involved with the people around him, but it seems that the protagonist of this game, Rindo, is not like that.
Kando: He's not as introverted as Neku, but Rindo is a person who doesn't express himself too much. He doesn't reject the people around him but he also doesn't take initiative, and is often dragged along by the cheerful and sociable Fret.
Rindo is a character who doesn't express his own intentions, but there are times in the game when he has to make decisions. The highlight of the game is what kind of choices he makes in such situations, and how his abilities with psychs are involved...
-- Neku's trademark was headphones, but Rindo's is a mask.
Nomura: Neku's headphones were to symbolize his distance from others. I wanted to provide such an icon for Rindo as well.
I saw a lot of young people wearing masks and playing with their phones in Shibuya at the time, so I decided to go with this for Rindo. I thought that masks could also be used to create a sense of distance from others. I never thought this era would come.
Kamito: Nomura designed Rindo many years ago, so it has nothing to do with the mask usage caused by the new coronavirus. He mentioned it on the official TWEWY Twitter account, but it's completely coincidental.
Nomura: Some people overseas were upset when they saw Rindo and said, "Don't wear the mask on your chin," but I think this would have been the case even if I had designed him after this situation arose.
-- Nagi is the hothead in the party, but I have the impression that she is quite a "dense" character... (laughs)
Ito: I wanted to create lively conversations within the Wicked Twisters. When I was thinking about the type of character that would be able to initiate that, I arrived at Nagi.
-- The original TWEWY featured a system that made full use of the DS's functions. When making the sequel, did you have any system guidelines in mind?
Nomura: The DS is a unique device so we added a lot of features exclusive to it, but this time, the game is on different hardware. It was difficult to take advantage of the features of each one because the game was designed for multiple consoles from the start, so I asked the staff what we could do. I asked if they could create a system that would have the same impact as the controls in the previous game.
In terms of characters, I made a lot of suggestions. If I were to make a sequel, I had the idea that this character should be like this and that character should be like that, and Minamimoto joining the party was part of that.
-- Judging from the trailer, it looks like the battles will be pretty action-packed.
Nomura: Ito told me that the battles this time will involve controlling all party members at the same time. He said that you don't fight by switching between party members, but by controlling them simultaneously. It didn't make sense to me at first, but when I heard the details, I understood what he meant. I was worried about whether the unique control feel of TWEWY could be accomplished on the latest hardware, but I decided that it wouldn’t be a problem.
It's hard to get a sense of the battle system just from the trailer, but that video isn't the whole story. It will be a rare action game where you control multiple characters at the same time, so please wait for more information.
-- Please give a message to those who are waiting for the release.
Kando: The anime is currently being broadcast to great acclaim, and the sequel game will be released the month after the anime ends. It's the perfect time to be introduced to TWEWY, so please take this opportunity to check it out even if you've never heard of it before! Also, the digital version of TWEWY Final Remix for the Nintendo Switch is 50% off until May 5th (in Japan), so be sure to get it while you can!
Nomura: Ever since the original version of this game was released 14 years ago, many dedicated fans have been asking for a sequel, and now we can finally answer their requests. I myself still can't believe that a sequel exists, but the game is as innovative and fun as the first one, so please look forward to its release.
-- Please talk to us about the background of the project.
Hirano: Since the release of the original game in 2007, many fans, especially those overseas, have been eagerly awaiting a sequel. We'd considered proceeding with one several times, but it was difficult to work on it alongside other projects. It took time to create an environment where we could concentrate on development; now that we've finally been able to do so, we will be delivering a new game to everyone this July.
Kando: We've had plans for a potential sequel come and go many times over the years, but I'd say they really started to solidify when we released the smartphone port, where the ending featured a single picture of one of the characters appearing in this game.
Ito: Once we finally got the project underway, we rifled through old folders on our computers and found various versions of the proposal, but since we were planning for the latest platform at the time, the content was different for each one due to the differences in hardware specifications.
-- The last game had 2D graphics, and the touch screen controls were very impressive. However, this time, the game is in 3D. How does the system work?
Ito: The previous game made full use of the DS’s functions and was very well received, so we recognized that this uniquely TWEWY experience would absolutely be necessary for the sequel.
The action system is one such example. By controlling all the characters in your party in real time, it gives the player a sense of freedom and speed that has never been experienced before, and it's designed so that even people who aren't good at games can enjoy it.
Each button corresponds to one character's attack, and the character will perform various attacks by pressing buttons repeatedly, holding it down, or releasing it. If you press multiple buttons at the same time, multiple characters will attack simultaneously. It's a rather intuitive system but one we weren't initially expecting, and I think that leads to something very interesting.
Kando: The original TWEWY had a sharp system in which battles took place on two screens at the same time, but we felt that this was too much of a hurdle for casual players.
When we released the smartphone versions, we turned those two screens into one and created a new control system where two characters would be operated simultaneously. We thought that if we developed this further, we could bring this game to a wider audience, which is how we came up with the battle system for this game.
-- In other words, when you move multiple characters around, you can have them act in real time without having to select other characters or initiate other operations.
Ito: Yes, that's right. We've also implemented an interesting system where the pins are linked to buttons. For example, if you equip a pin that says "Hit the button repeatedly to slash with a sword," you can perform the corresponding attack with that button.
-- So, you can't equip multiple characters with the same button-operated pin at the same time?
Ito: No, you can equip them with the same pin at the same time, in which case you'd control both characters with one button. I think players will be able to enjoy these sharp controls typical to TWEWY as they make their way through the game.
Hirano: Players will be able to unlock more of these features as they progress further into the game. It's easy to get started, and the more you play, the deeper the game system will become.
-- Judging by the trailer, it seems the streets of Shibuya are based on its current geography, and the level of reproduction is quite high. How far did you go to accomplish this?
Ito: The game is set in a small section of Shibuya, so it's not designed like an open world, but you’ll be able to visit more areas than before.
Kando: In the previous game, you couldn't really go to the east side of Shibuya Station. This time we've expanded the map around that side. You can also go to the Harajuku area.
-- There was a scene where you traversed through Takeshita Street.
Kando: We also have an interesting system used as a means of expressing the city of Shibuya, sort of like a relationship chart between characters.
Ito: Even though they aren't involved in the main story, there are many people in Shibuya who can form relationships with the main character, Rindo. Doing so will create a relationship chart, which serves as a skill map and allows the player to get various rewards by deepening the relationship with that person.
For example, purchasing lots of wares from a specific shopkeeper will allow you to get to know them and expand their skill map. The player's capabilities are also connected to it.
-- So there are relationship levels for each person?
Ito: Yes, there's an internal parameter, but the conditions for increasing it varies from person to person.
Kando: When you first meet a character, you'll only see their face in the relationship chart. By taking actions relating to that person, the parameters will increase and allow you to claim rewards such as increasing the number of times you can chain battles. There are many useful functions that can be acquired through these skill boards, which will motivate players to explore the city.
-- What are some examples of other conditions?
Kando: Progressing the story and clearing subquests that occur during conversations.
-- Are there a lot of characters involved?
Ito: Yes. As you work your way through, you’ll find that it becomes quite complex. It sort of looks like synapses in the brain.
-- We saw some real stores like Tower Records and PARCO. Are there many collaborations with real companies?
Hirano: Yes. We've received permission from some of Shibuya's most notable companies to incorporate them into the game. In the previous game, we only used their names, but in NTWEWY, they are represented in actual locations, so you can enjoy the game in a more realistic Shibuya.
Kando: We also got permission from the Tokyu Group to use 109 as a landmark, but because 104 is so iconic to TWEWY, we left it as is.
-- What is the connection between the anime, the original TWEWY and this new game?
Kando: The anime is an adaptation of the original TWEWY, and this game is a sequel to it based on the contents of "A NEW DAY" which was added to TWEWY Final Remix on the Nintendo Switch.
Although the story is connected, you should have no problem jumping right into this game. That's the reason why the title is "NEO" instead of "2" or "Continued". It follows the new protagonist, Rindo, and the Wicked Twisters as they challenge the Reaper's Game. Of course, we've also included some fanservice for those who have played the original.
-- Please tell us about the character designs.
Hirano: We're pursuing a new TWEWY experience with the sequel, with innovative visuals and systems.
The main character, Rindo, wears a mask, and the mask represents how he doesn't express the words he keeps inside. It's similar to how Neku, then main character from the previous game, wore headphones to block out the outside world.
Wearing a mask has become the norm after the coronavirus outbreak, though.
-- In terms of design, there are different pins for each technique. Were these newly created?
Ito: Yes. The tutorials may only show the design from the previous game, but over 300 pins have been newly designed for NTWEWY. In fact, some of them were made by designers who are prominent in many fields.
-- What is the scope of this game?
Ito: It's a lot bigger than TWEWY. It should take about 50 hours just to reach the ending.
Kando: If you're willing to put in the effort, I'm sure your playtime can even reach triple digits. There are a lot of things to collect, such as character profiles and pins, and there are challenging battles. Not only that, but by fulfilling various conditions in the game, you can get graffiti-like stickers which you can place on the walls of the Udagawa Back Streets.
-- TWEWY is a title that has had many begging for a sequel, but it hasn't been realized until now. For what reasons did you decide to release a sequel for the first time in 14 years?
Hirano: Since the first game released on the Nintendo DS, we've received many requests for sequels. However, because TWEWY is a sharp game, it was difficult to work on it alongside other titles. The anime adaptation gave us the opportunity to expand the IP, so we brought back the team that developed TWEWY Final Remix to work on the sequel, which will be released in July 2021.
-- TWEWY has many overseas fans, but is there anything you're conscious about as a result of this game's worldwide development?
Kando: I don't tend to think about these things when I make games. Rather, I try to strongly emphasize the fact that the game takes place in Japan.
-- With TWEWY -The Animation- airing, it seems TWEWY is quickly gaining momentum.
Nomura: That's right. This makes it the perfect time to release a sequel.
-- Are there any differences between the game and the anime?
Kando: Due to the length of the anime adaptation, some of the structure and settings have been changed, but the basic storyline is the same.
Nomura: In our comments about the anime, we referred to NTWEWY as its sequel, which caused confusion for people who were under the impression that NTWEWY would be a sequel to the original game. Let me clarify: we simply view the anime as an adaptation of the original game, so we referred to it as such because we consider them to be the same. Rest assured, there are no other reasons.
There was some speculation that the game isn't called "TWEWY2" because it doesn't pick up after the original, but we just used the word "NEO" instead of "2" to emphasize that the story follows a team of new protagonists taking on the Reaper's Game, so you should have no problem playing it even if you're completely unfamiliar with TWEWY.
-- Tell us about the concepts behind the design of the new protagonist, Rindo.
Nomura: Neku's headphones were a big statement piece in the original game. As the character taking over from Neku, I thought he needed an icon that would be just as catchy.
-- Neku is the type of person who wants to avoid getting involved with others, and the headphones were symbolic of that, so that means the mask must represent the type of person Rindo is, right?
Nomura: In the beginning, Rindo was established as a character who doesn't express himself vocally but prefers to communicate through social media, so the mask is symbolic of that. However, thanks to Fret's influence, you'll find that Rindo isn't quite so quiet in the actual game. (laughs)
Kando: He doesn't speak his mind freely, and often leaves the decision-making to others.
-- I thought it reflected current events, what with coronavirus and all.
Nomura: I designed Rindo before Corona took off, so his wearing a mask has nothing to do with that. The mask, just like Neku's headphones, were merely an expression of distance from others. I actually never thought I'd see a world where wearing a mask would become the norm.
-- The rules for the Reaper's Game seem to have changed since the previous game.
Kando: In the "A NEW DAY" bonus episode added to Final Remix, we learn that Shinjuku has been erased. The Reapers from that area make their way to Shibuya, where Reapers have become sparse as a result of the battle with Neku and his friends. After that, a new Reaper's Game begins, with Shiba, a Shinjuku Reaper, as the Game Master.
-- The rules are different, so the design of the Reaper's pin has changed as well.
Kando: That's right.
Nomura: It seems that some people have noticed something interesting about the Reaper's pin.
--Rindo has a unique psych called "Rewind", but the other team members have their own psychs as well, right?
Kando: Yes. In the Reaper's Game, we will be using these psychs to progress.
Nomura: Initially, we were thinking that every member of the team should have a unique psych, and their abilities would be named after streets.
-- It's also interesting to see the comic-style interactions between team members. Nagi is quite a colorful character (laughs)
Nomura: According to interviews with international media, Nagi seems to be very popular. She was designed by Miki Yamashit and voiced by Hajime Kobayashi, and I think the three of us working together created a design that stands out for its originality and individuality.
-- The boxart depicts Shoka from the Shinjuku Reapers, but who designed her?
Nomura: I did.
-- Does her presence on the package mean...?
Nomura (looking at Hirano): You see what I mean? (laughs)
Hirano: Let's not dig too deep into that. (laughs)
Nomura: I had a lot of trouble with the boxart this time. There are a lot of characters in the game, and the story has many secrets.
SE PR: Okay, that's enough of that. (laughs)
-- Now let's talk about the battles. From the trailer, it looks like there will be a maximum of four players. Is that so?
Nomura: I can't give you a concrete answer, but I can tell you that it's more than four.
-- Oh wow! Does each team have the same number of members, or is it that certain members just haven't been revealed?
Kando: The number of members is different for each team.
-- Are the battles held in 3v3, or 4v4?
Kando: It's not that simple.
-- I see. It seems there are still many things you can't reveal yet... In that case, how about these battles? It seems like you can set psychs for each member, but TWEWY featured intuitive controls on the touch screen. What the controls like in this title?
Ito: Each pin has its own psych, and how they are activated depends on how the associated button corresponds to them. For example, you can press one button repeatedly to initiate a continuous attack, or press and ahold another button to conjure flames. It's also possible to activate multiple psychs at once.
-- At the same time? That sounds exciting!
Ito: When you activate multiple psychs simultaneously, multiple characters will move at the same time, so I think it conveys the feeling of a real-time team battle well. You can also use combinations such as launching enemies into the air and then dropping rocks, which is qutie exhilarating.
Nomura: The controls in the original game were quite innovative, but what we wanted this time was to be able to control everyone at the same time.
-- The scene where you're fighting a huge Noise in the trailer was very impressive.
Ito: The camera moves to show the enemies needed so the player can concentrate on controlling the characters, and the battles are very flashy. I was very particular about this camera movement during battles. Thanks to this, I think these battles are even more addictive that in the original game.
Nomura: It may be a little difficult to understand just based on the trailers currently available, but we will be releasing more footage in the near future so you can get a proper grasp on these elements.
-- I'm looking forward to it. When it comes to TWEWY, it was important to have equipment that could be coordinated. Are those elements still present in this game?
Ito: Yes. Not only have we retained the brands from the previous game, but we've also revamped the equipment system. For example, when a character equips a fashion item, if the conditions are met, the outfit's ability will be activated. Another new element in the game is the Character Board, which offers a unique system akin to a human relationship chart.
-- A relationship chart?
Ito: It's kind of like a skill tree in that you can complete it as you progress through the story and clear sub-events, which leads to you being acquainted with more and more people. Each character on the chart is assigned a reward that can be unlocked or acquired.
-- That's a pretty unique system! Where did you come up with the idea?
Ito: I just wanted to create a skill board that was a little different (laughs)
Kando: Human relationships were something that we didn't really explore in the previous game. We were able to incorporate it into this game, while also providing benefits and understanding the relationships between the characters you meet, so it turned out to be quite interesting.
Nomura: Innovative systems like this is something that we have to ensure in TWEWY, so I think you'll enjoy it.