The Game Designers Behind NEO: The World Ends With You

by Heidi Kemps,

It's been a long time coming, but the follow-up to Square Enix's The World Ends with You is almost upon us. To celebrate the release of this hotly-anticipated sequel, we were given an opportunity to chat directly with several of the game's key staff members about the world and character designs. Joining us for our chat was producer Tomohiko Hirano, creative producer and Square Enix character design legend Tetsuya Nomura, and key character designers Gen Kobayashi and Miki Yamashita. Read on for a glimpse behind NEO: The World Ends with You's development curtain!

When did planning on NEO TWEWY begin? How has COVID affected the game's development?

Tomohiko Hirano: The planning for the project began around 2018, after the Switch release of The World Ends with You: Final Mix. We had the development team for that title move over to the new game, which is when things really began to ramp up. Regarding COVID, before the pandemic we were all working together in the office, but once the pandemic hit everybody was working from home. It did take a little bit of time to get re-organized, but once the ball got rolling on WFH [work from home] it was pretty smooth sailing. We're close to the finish line!

NEO TWEWY, like the first game, takes place in the Shibuya region of Tokyo. Shibuya is a popular setting for Japanese media, especially games. What is it about Shibuya that makes it such a popular choice of setting for media in general, and TWEWY in particular?

Tetsuya Nomura: It really comes down to Shibuya being a place where a lot of people gather. The train station in particular—a lot of Tokyo's train lines come together at Shibuya. If you look at an image of Tokyo's train system, you'll definitely notice it. There's something symbolic about that: with a lot of train lines coming together, a lot of people come together as well. With that comes a lot of symbolic landscapes and buildings. It might be difficult for those overseas to understand, but ultimately, Shibuya is a place where people gather, and that's why it's a popular place to set a story.

Fashion was a big part of the original TWEWY's art and character design. How has Japanese fashion changed since the original game's release, and how did you work these new trends into the character designs?

Nomura: For the first TWEWY, I wasn't really trying to incorporate current fashion trends into the game as a real-life element. With NEO TWEWY, however, there's more to consider—the graphics are 3D models, the depiction of the setting is more accurate to life—so I wanted to make sure our presentation evolved over the original. We were more conscious of trying to incorporate more real-life trends into the game. That is something I was conscious about. As for how fashion has evolved… it's difficult for me to answer, since I'm not really following trends, myself. I'm not really cognizant of what trends are on a daily basis. For me, it just felt like a natural transition into what we're seeing today.

The main character, Rindo, is always seen wearing a mask. With COVID, masks have taken on a lot more meaning, but obviously his design was made long before the pandemic was a thing. Can you tell us a bit about his design?

Nomura: So even before COVID began spreading, I noticed a lot of young folks in Japan wearing masks daily. I wasn't sure why. “What's the reason behind this?” I thought—I figured it was some sort of fashion item, or they were hiding their face. But I can't really walk up to someone and be like, “Hey, what's that mask about?” *laughs* Especially for Shibuya, when one person starts doing something, trends start to spread really quickly. That's what I felt was likely with the mask trend. As for what it symbolizes, with Neku, he had his headphones that represented him shutting out those around him. I wanted something similar for Rindo—his mask covers his mouth, indicating that he doesn't want to talk.

Unlike TWEWY's Neku, who was a loner who learned to find friendship with others, Rindo already has a close friend in Fret. Their personalities seem very opposed, however. How on earth did those two become so close?

Gen Kobayashi: We actually started designing Fret first due to our production schedule. We already had the idea that he would be Rindo's best friend early on. We figured that since they'd be side-by-side most of the time, we wanted to make sure they contrasted with each other—polar opposites, essentially. We wanted to portray that in appearances, as well: Fret has wavy hair, Rindo doesn't, for example. With Fret being such a happy-go-lucky character, we wanted to depict that in his fashion as well. You'll notice more pop-y fashions and colors within his clothing. The final design for Fret wasn't what we had planned initially, but through a lot of trial and error and feedback from Nomura-san, we were able to get to the final design.

I've been playing the game for a while, and I must say, Nagi has some *amazing* facial expressions during dialogue scenes, particularly her “sparkly girly-eyes” look. What inspired you to bring a character like her into the main cast?

Miki Yamashita: When I was originally briefed on Nagi's character, the explanation was that “she's a girl with intense love for her character obsession.” So I tried to incorporate that into her design. I wanted to make her very expressive—like me, I'm an otaku as well. When she's thinking about her favorite character, she's incredibly passionate, but when she's around people that she doesn't know she's quite shy. Incorporating those aspects into her design was something I was very conscious about. As for the object of her obsession, his name is Tomonami-sama. He's a general who wields a Japanese sword in an (in-world) otome game called Elegant Strategy.

I've been playing the game for a bit and I find it interesting that many of the team leaders are actually rather plain-looking, in contrast to the stylish clothes of much of the other cast members—like the Deep Rivers Society, who are a bunch of gigantic nerds.

Kobayashi: For the team leaders, Yamashita-san and I worked on the designs. When we started designing them, we were briefed on the characteristics of each of the teams. We worked to express those particulars through their clothing design. The team that you mention—the Deep Rivers Society—they are a group of nerds, like you said. They're wearing primarily checkered-pattern clothing, which taken by itself isn't really noteworthy. But the fact that it isn't very fashionable is their characteristic—especially when compared to some of the other characters, who are very stylish. The fact that they don't have many characteristics is their characteristic, essentially.

The returning Reapers from the original TWEWY are sporting new looks. What are the inspirations for their redesigns? Does it indicate any changes in their personalities?

Yamashita: Kariya didn't get changed up too much, but Yashiro looks quite different. We were told that she should look more mature now, so we put her in a suit. We also wanted to carry over what was iconic about their original designs, however, so Kariya has the bone mark on his undershirt while Yashiro has her corset. With Yashiro becoming a bit more mature, we wanted her to be wearing her clothes and hair in a more “adult” fashion, as well.

Thanks to the TWEWY team at Square Enix for taking the time to talk with us. NEO: The World Ends with You launches a week from today on July 27th for Switch and PlayStation 4, so look forward to a full review here on ANN when the game launches!


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