Tuesday 24 August 2021

Neo TWEWY review (1): gameplay

Ah...yes the obligatory ending.

*To make it clear, player refers to the player who plays the game, and characters refer to the in-game characters. OG refers to the original TWEWY and also the final remix if necessary, and NEO refers to NEO:TWEWY.

*Spoilers alert! This part of the review contain some spoilers but the later parts are full of spoilers.

Greetings sheeples of Shibuya!

I played the original TWEWY in 2008 and I had so many good memories with the game that I do not have to repeat. And finally I had my hands on NEO and I just finished everything in one go. 

Main story done in 50 hours, and 145 hours postgame content included. It's a bit slow due to the fact that I can't skip the dialogues as I was streaming, and some of them are not properly optimized.

There are too many things that I want to say when I play, but it's just too impossible to do something else when I streamed the game. Streaming is fun but probably does not suit me.

I will probably split my thoughts into four parts: gameplay, system, artwork and story but things may change. Let's start with gameplay mechanics here. 

The focus is to talk about the game from the perspective of an OG TWEWY player. Just as players being unhappy playing the trash game TLOU2 after the success of TLOU1, we the old players have high expectation on NEO to inherit the high quality game made 13 years ago recognized the best DS RPG game.

You can find my streams on my Youtube channel, although there were echo problems for all the earlier streams...

The F-prince returned...how did he change that much in 3 years?

Control & Pins

This is something that lots of TWEWY fans worried about: it was such a success because it made the best use out of the DS dual screen. Dual screen for two characters in separate screen that are controlled separately, and the bottom screen can be controlled by ever-varying stylus motions.

TWEWY was ported into iOS and Android a few years after, by then the two characters were squeezed into the same screen. How do you maintain the battling system without changing the game much? The answer given was to hide Neku's partner who will only be around upon specific motions and the partner is not going to take damage. This is an acceptable answer, because at the end of the day you can't force-split the screen anyhow. It's just that half of the charisma of TWEWY's battling system that was gone.

iPad and good enough Android devices are very good touching device for all kinds of touch based games including TWEWY. Players have no problem playing on those. Back in the days I played the Android version on a very cheap pad (~100usd, but it runs very smoothly and is still my favourite by far) and I could play the game just fine. 

Switch isn't good for intensive stylus control.

That's the biggest problem of playing TWEWY on Switch: it's hard to do all the slashes. At the end of the day I resided to a bunch of patrol rounds and tapped my progress all the way through. That is just not fun.

As for Neo, we know that the game would be on all platforms (Switch + PS4 + Epic=PC) at the same time, meaning that the control is stylus free. The expectation is high: can Square Enix make something that is stylus free, but preserves the essence of multi-tasking fights just as in the original game?

They sure did. I still prefer the original one, but they literally utilized all regular buttons on the Switch controller (except for D pad which is understandable because you don't wield two arrow pads on keyboard)! How much more can you ask for?

In Neo you can equip up to 6 pins (in late game) team corresponding to 6 players in the team. Each character is going to wield one pin only in the battle and you can only control the movement of one character at a time. Each pins is assigned a button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) and the psych is activated only by pressing that button. Even though all players are on the same field, those inactive ones know to evade and are taking minimal damages, i.e. attacks are only made towards the active character. There is a niche though: if you switch between psychs frequently the active character will switch accordingly, and it is not easy to distinguish the active character. (Another problem is that frequent shifting of active pins and hence characters would cause the camera to shift back and forth and you basically see nothing useful).

Without stylus control the possibility is greatly limited, but all the psychs in OG basically appeared in NEO, just in a slightly altered form.

X: Rapid tap; close range combat (slash/slugger/lunge)
Y: Rapid tap; non-contact psychs (darts/time bomb/mid range combats like storm, circuit break and bullets)
R: Charge; charged attacks (throwing bombs/missiles/tackles...) and some automated X psychs
L: Charge; assist and obstructive attacks (projection/trip wire) and some R-similar psychs
ZR: Hold; continuous attacks (laser/psychokinesis/automated X/long tackles/...)
ZL: Hold; assist and obstructive attacks (healing/storm/whirlwind)

With the type restriction players are directed to use a wide varieties of psyches which makes the battles more interesting. My only complain is that players are not allowed to use a 2211 combination (e.g. 2 X pins and 2 Y pins) instead of 3111. 

It is a natural choice for all four L/R buttons are controlled by holds because it would then be unhuman to tap them quickly. But still controlling R and ZR accurately and simultaneously is very hard on joycon or even pro controllers. 

In OG the attacks are basically either positive (close combat) or negative (distant combat) psychs. In NEO such classification is abandoned. Instead they used an affinity system and introduced weaknesses for the noises. Among psychs of similar nature they are usually differed by their affinity. This is a nice design as players may want to use more different pins rather than a single reliable set.

A side problem without stylus control is that you have to scroll through pins and threads in a painfully slow way.  With up to a thousand of pins and threads in the list, it is unmotivating to browse and pick the one you want.

The hype-chan that we have long waited for.


Another worry without stylus control is to aim the right opponent in the battlefield. It would be insanely absurd if psychs are activated in the directions where character are facing, because there are multiple characters around and you can only control one of them. It would be impossible for the game to determine the "proper" direction for the inactive characters.

The solution in NEO is to introduce an auto-lock system. Instead of aiming by yourself, you select a particular opponent and the characters will know to aim for that opponent (except for a few R pins where you can still control the characters by stick, but I found them impractical). This is quite handy and even allowed some no-brainer/no-watch fights. I can simply smash the buttons blindly while doing other things to get through!

To be fair though, the auto-lock system not only allowed such way of battling, but sometimes it forces you do it in that way. More precisely you are sometimes forced to do that because the battlefield is too chaotic in two ways: too many enemies and weird camera angles.

You can choose the enemies to lock on using the right joystick, but this is painful when there are many enemies. Comparing with OG, it's quite common to face 5-7 enemies in every fights. Choosing the right enemies means that you may need to input right once, check if you locked on the right opponent and repeat (up to 4+ times). This is quite annoying and time consuming when the enemies are trying to attack you! 

The camera angle depend on the enemy locked on and the position of the active character. Inactive characters tend to stay a fixed distance from the main group of enemies, so the camera won't change vastly when you switch characters. However if the characters are all moving in separate directions against the enemy (because they are using different psychs), changing the active characters will give a very chaotic view for sure. The rendering system does not help either: since nothing behind the camera is shown, sometimes the characters are simply stuck but you may not sense that except not being able to run around until you get tossed midair by those rhinos.

These are generally more of a problem for normal battles. It's much more comfortable to do those boss battles in contrasts because you don't have to worry about locking on the wrong opponent and the camera is steadily on the same guy.

Before we carry on to the next section let's not forget about the pin evolving system. The evolve chart in OG is just a complete mess and a pain to follow. In NEO everything is reduced to battle PP and you can select not to evolve which is much better. The only complain is that differentiating evolution and mutation seems to be pointless since they are mutually exclusive anyway and the formula for mutation doesn't seem very secrety after all (unlocked via FP easily).


Noise & difficulty

In OG you dodge by dragging the characters around. And in NEO, you dodge by pressing B. The difference is that by dragging you can go to the other side of the screen pretty fast and you can do it at anytime (when you drag Neku around your stylus is effectively not doing anything with the pins so he won't be attacking). On the other hand in NEO characters takes time to stop attack to dodge, and the invincible timeframe is pretty narrow. 

It is straightforward to feel that NEO is much harder even early in the game. In OG you fight against usually 2~3 noises in a single combat in early days week 1. In NEO you start with 3~5 noises as early as W1D2. It does not help that the weaker noises in the family are as aggressive as those stronger noises: both early ravens and wolves are capable of incapacitating characters in NEO. Players are required to learn to dodge these attacks (even in ordinary battles) consecutively that early in the game. Such difficulty curve is deemed inappropriate and a bit unfriendly I would say.

The difficulty curve plateaued in week 2 as players learned to deal with these noises (and equipped with better pins), but then the curve again rocketed in towards the end. You get bosses with various gimmicks (in particular the few bosses with DPS checks -- Motoi, Ayano and Shiba), then you found out that random noises are also capable of dealing significant damage to you under hard or ultimate. With more and more noises on the field it is very easy to get stuck, and when that happens you are vulnerable of taking enormous damage in a blink of eye. Jellyfish's' spin and puffers' spikes are just like...blender on the characters literally; Rhinos are so huge and most of the time not properly captured by the camera; Rexes can simply deal AOE blows...some may then think they can boost the stats indefinitely just like OG but no. NEO's stat cap is much lower and players must excel in dodging in order to stand a chance against the endgame contents.

Another big factor contributing to the difficulty curve is the use of fusion pin/killer remix. The big difference between OG and NEO is that in OG all 3 levels of fusion attacks would restore a big chunk of health while in NEO that only happens at 300%. While 300% killer remix is only made available in week 3 it poses a much greater challenge in durability. Once the 300% remix is unlocked it kinda forces you to do that every time because the lower level attacks looked like a joke comparing to the 300% one. The only upside of the lower level attacks is that you get to choose the affinity of the attacks according to the affinity of the pin that you triggered the last groove boost.

Taking W2D7 into account, you basically meet 2/3 of the bosses (say, excluding the "boss noise" that behaves just like normal noises like gorilla, emo puffer, plague giant jellyfish etc) in week 3 and they are all uniquely designed. At hard you really need to think about how to defeat these bosses after banging hard into the wall for a few times: a fixed set of pin may not be enough unless you are skillful enough to dodge all those attacks. Credits must to given to those who designed these as the boss fights are much more enjoyable than OG.

Susuki's noise form is actually the most interesting one in my eyes. It's actually similar to OG week 1 GM if not basically the same: static boss with slap, electric and dark hole attacks. His attack of a full field thunder attack is damn unique. Demanding players to hide behind the cars THEN to dodge the to-explode puffers afterwards is such genius design.

To conclude the section I want to mention those pig noises as well. In NEO most pigs can easily be slaught by usual means except for affinity-locked pigs and pig waltz -- pigs that can only be erased by matching all the colours of the pigs. Colours are only changed by dealing enough damage to the pigs, but any wide-ranged attacks could cause chaotic consequences. Even more troublesome there are bomb pigs that blows the pigs around changing colours in the undesirable way! I tried very hard with my X pins trying to lock onto the right pigs and deal damage as fast as possible, just to find out some pigs are bombed and changed colour faster than I can deal the necessary damage. After a while I finally realized that this is more like a puzzle: the pigs will diffuse in a pre-programmed way so that you can clear the stage much much easier if you wait for the bomb to trigger at least once.


So, what's with NEO's gameplay mechanics? 

In short, they tried very hard to bring the battle experience into switch under a 3D and stylus-free setup. It's fun and enjoyable, but at the same time it's also challenging and sometimes weird.

We will see a lot about "xxx becomes a problem because NEO is stylus free" many more times later in the review.

No comments:

Post a Comment