Neku as he is seen in The World Ends with You.
|First game||The World Ends with You (2008)|
|Created by||Tatsuya Kando|
|Designed by||Tetsuya Nomura|
|Voiced by (English)||Jesse David Corti|
|Voiced by (Japanese)||Koki Uchiyama|
Neku Sakuraba (桜庭 音操 Sakuraba Neku , ネク Neku) is a fictional character in the Nintendo DS video game The World Ends with You. He is an antisocial teenage boy who claims he does not "get" people, and rarely interacts with others. Under mysterious circumstances, he finds himself participating in the Reapers Game and is forced to fight for his life, teaming up with a girl named Shiki Misaki. He allies himself with several other characters, including: Yoshiya Kiryu, who goes by Joshua; Daisukenojo Bito, who goes by Beat; Raimu Bito, who goes by Rhyme and is Beat's sister; and Sanae Hanekoma, an artist acting as a coffee shop owner.
Since appearing in The World Ends with You, Neku has received mostly positive reception. While some have described him as being emo and "whiny", his growth as a character has received praise, with G4TV describing it as growing from a mute teenager to a civil human, a concept that people over the age of 20 could identify with. He has been compared to several other characters created by Square Enix, including Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII, Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy VIII, and Roxas of Kingdom Hearts, due to his "brooding" personality.
Concept and creation
Tatsuya Kando, director of The World Ends with You, described Neku as a character who prefers to be left alone, yet feeling lonely and wanting to interact with others. The story of The World Ends With You deals with Neku's growth as a character, so the developers had to focus on his development, such as how he would feel, what thoughts lie behind his actions, how he interacts with other characters, how he will be affected by them, and how do the people around him feel about him. These elements were focused on to make a more believable story. The developers included aspects and daily concerns, hoping that they could be things that players would have to deal with their personal lives, and may be able to relate with Neku and feel like they are a part of the game. They also hoped that this would help players develop an understanding and tolerance for Neku's actions, which could help players feel more comfortable with controlling someone who doesn't act how they'd like them to.
In The World Ends with You, Neku lives in Shibuya, and is transported to an alternate version of it after being killed. In it, he is forced to participate in the "Reaper's Game" or face erasure, having to solve missions day by day for one week to escape the Game. He has few memories, as they were taken as his entry fee, and awakens in the middle of Scramble Crossing. Initially, he is forced into a pact with a girl named Shiki Misaki after meeting her at the statue of Hachiko.
Neku eventually learns that Joshua, his partner and secretly the Composer of the Game, killed him while shooting at the Game Master Sho Minamimoto, thus placing him in the Game to fight for the right to be revived. He is forced to re-play the game another two times and ends up one of the last Players in the Game. He battles the Conductor, Megumi Kitaniji, who attempted to modify peoples' minds and create a perfect world. Afterwards, Joshua reveals that he chose Neku to be his proxy in his challenge with Kitanji over whether he would succeed. However, Neku is unable to attack Joshua, who remains the Composer, and returns his, as well as his friends' lives to normal.
Neku makes his debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, making him the first character to appear in the franchise who is from neither the Disney nor Final Fantasy franchise.
Since appearing in The World Ends with You, Neku has received mostly positive reception. G4TV editor Jonathan Hunt stated that he was created from the same "brooding mold" as Final Fantasy series characters Cloud Strife and Vaan, stating that it's easy to hate him at first, citing his "over-sized anime hairdos" and "outlandish cosplay street wear". However, he added that Neku's growth into from a "mute teenager" to a "civil human" is great for anyone over 20 who has had to deal with someone like this, and that underage people would probably take more from the story. Gameshark.com editor Brandon Cackowski-Schnell praised Neku and the other characters, describing them as interesting and with their own reasons behind them. Nintendojo editor Andy Hoover described him as an "adamant lone wolf", praising his interaction with other characters as "brilliantly written, with just the right amount of intrigue, humor, and drama." 1UP.com editor Jeremy Parish praised the story, stating that Neku's maturation had him hooked. IGN editor Patrick Kolan described him as a cowled, scowling teenager, stating that he had a "Squall-like chip on his shoulder". However, he added that the character development adds a lot to his personality. Game Zone editor Stephen Woodward described him as a "regular spunky, spikey haired protagonist", adding that he was one of the most emo protagonists ever created.
Crispy Gamer editor Steve Steinberg called him the "RPG-standard mopey and disaffected 15 year old". Gaming Target editor Kris Rosado called him a trademark anti-hero. The New York Times editor Charles Herald, however, stated that he was not just an angsty teenager, and that the title of the game refers to his need to expand his horizons through self-examination and working with and learning from others. FileFactory Games editor Eddie Bracco called him a spiky-haired teenage emo and the "culmination of the most annoyingly prevalent RPG-cliches rolled into a single character". IGN editor Dave McArthy called his personal journey as important as the new game mechanics, calling it a journey from being a sulky teenager to being a socially adjusted young adult. He added that companionship and "seizing at what life has to offer" were big themes with Neku. Gamer Vision editor Sarah LeBoeuf called Neku's amnesia a typical story in role-playing games, but added that he forms strong relationships with other characters and discovers what life is about. N-Europe editor Nicholas Hintze stated that while Neku initially comes off as a role-playing game cliche with his spiky-hair, anti-social tendencies, and amnesia, his maturation is fantastic to watch. Game Daily editor Grant Holzhauer described Neku as a reluctant hero and influenced by the emo scene. Game Style editor Adam Gulliver called Neku the "biggest emo to grace video games" due to his mopey and hateful attitude. He added that it made the game unsettling, since players had to be able to connect with him.
IGN editor Mark Bozon stated that Neku's story arc is strong throughout the game, and he eventually becomes the character players would like to play as from the beginning. GamesRadar editor Shane Patterson stated that while Neku seems like an ass, players begin to feel sorry for him. His appearance has been compared to Kingdom Hearts' protagonist Sora's; Atomic Gamer editor Matt Cabral cited his baggy pants, spiky-hair, and oversized shoes. RPGFan editor Neal Chandran described Neku as a "spiky-haired, angsty, misanthropic cold fish of a teenage loner", though adding that his various partners throughout the game help his character develop. However, he felt that Neku's development was sometimes too sudden. Nintendo World Report editor Mike Gamin stated that while he begins the game as self-serving and isolated, his partners help his attitude change, adding that the quality of his partners also helped make his development feel believable. GameSpy editor Eduardo Vasconcellos described the game's cast of characters as cliche, citing Neku and his whiny punk teen attitude which makes it hard for him to be identified with. However, as the game progressed, Vasconcellos found the characters to be more endearing. Eurogamer editor Dan Whitehead described Neku as a familiar touchstone of the role-playing game genre, stating that he is "fifteen, moody, and afflicted with convenient amnesia."
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