So I have been trying my hand at the NEO TWEWY demo after all which covers about the first hour and a half-ish of the game it feels. It's a little hard to believe that it's really been fourteen years because almost everything feels very familiar. Wandering around a (presumably) faithful recreation of Shibuya, mind reading passersby to see what silly things they're thinking, gaudy and cartoony designs that manage to stay on this side of tacky (that said it is pretty easy to spot which characters were 100% designed by Nomura himself and which ones weren't), finding a Pig Noise squirreled away in a back alley, Minamimoto's math word salad (it is strange at first to hear him talk at length in a "oh so that's what they actually sound like" way), and a soundtrack that's an eclectic mix of hip hop, rock, pop, and funk: it's all there as if it never left.
As a protagonist Rindo's not the same as Neku; he's very much treated as the party's straight man and he comes off as being more introverted and prefering to keep people at arm's length compared to how anti-social Neku was at the start of his game. He and Fret bounce off of each other fairly well so far and while their dialogue is peppered with the occasional modern slang (this is the first time I've seen "galaxy brain" used outside of the Internet, let alone spoken aloud) including some that I've never heard of it hasn't been used heavily or unnaturally enough to fall into "how do you do, fellow kids?" territory. Yet. I can totally buy them as zoomers born with smartphone in hand.
The battle system is obviously the biggest change from the original. Now you have all party members on the screen at once and everyone can only equip a single pin. Each type of pin has a different button input (Slasher and Force Rounds require hitting X and Y respectively, Pyrokinesis needs to you hold down ZL, and Minamimoto comes with a new pin that lets him unleash a flying kick after charging with R, etc.) and the name of the game is to switch to a different partner when a wheel meter pops up in order to build a synch gauge and unleash fusion attacks. It's fairly simple and button-mashy this early in but I can see the battle system really opening up deeper in the actual game once more party members join and you collect and evolve more and more pins (there are over 300 according to the menu) and have access to many more types of attacks. Like the first game proper multi-tasking and timing is going to be key and I ran into some situations where I'd "used up" all of my pins and was a sitting duck while waiting for them to recharge. NEO's battle system is probably more approachable than the first game's dual-screen setup but I need to practice with it more and I definitely see it being something that either clicks or doesn't. Even if it doesn't the level scaler and difficulty mode selector and drop manipulation mechanics still work.
Some minor introductory story-related commentary:
! The circumstances of Rindo and Fret being involved in the Reaper's Game are extremely suspect. Unlike with Neku you actually spend a little time with them in the real world before the Game begins and there's never a moment that you can point to and say, "Okay, that's when they probably died. They just arrive at the Scramble Crossing as part of their daily plans, see Players fighting Noise, and think the whole thing is some kind of movie or AR competition at first and don't believe the Reapers when they're told that all the Players are dead. Also if you pay attention it's implied that Joshua had a hand in their entering the Shibuya UG. Minamimoto has a cryptic line that implies there's been some sort of repetition or Groundhog Day stuff going on too.
NEO's art direction leans even more heavily on the first game's comic book styling to the point where dialogue scenes are laid out like manga panels and all the characters have many, many expressive hand-drawn character portraits and poses - the massive amount of 2D assets this game seems to have are great to see in a Square-Enix RPG. From this little slice of the game it feels very confident and is certainly trying to put its best foot forward. So the question of whether Square-Enix can capture lightning in a bottle a second time almost fifteen years later still remains and the story can always spiral off into complete nonsense territory my takeaway from the demo is: I am playing a sequel to The World Ends with You in the year 2021 and it is (so far) good.
–- Update From New Post Merge ---
Oh yes, and here's a link to a playlist of all the music tracks that played during the demo for those curious: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLbZ6KU8F7JTxpW-HKSZD01pPYYI4RSAZ
There's a good mix of new and old songs in there.