NEO: TWEWY producer Tetsuya Nomura reveals a surprising character face-swap

Someone got a grown-up glow-up.

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Tetsuya Nomura is no stranger to bold styles.

The acclaimed artist, designer, and director has created some of gaming’s most distinctive and stylish characters, including Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife and Sora from the Kingdom Hearts series.

His latest game, NEO: The World Ends With You, is the long-awaited sequel to the 2007 role-playing game that sees players compete in the deadly Reaper’s Game that spans seven days. Each morning brings new challenges and chances to rack up points against other teams — think Hunger Games meets Persona 5. The street style of Tokyo’s Shibuya and Harajuku districts is a key component of the character designs and storyline; your character’s fashion choices can even influence combat.

Nomura says he didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for one of the RPG sequel’s returning characters.

“In the Minamimoto design from the original TWEWY, everything — his hat, his boots, his pants, his outerwear —is based on something that I actually own,” he tells Inverse.

Inverse spoke with Nomura as well as NEO: The World Ends With You character designers Gen Kobayashi and Miki Yamashita about the challenges and opportunities of designing streetwear, the in-game pieces they want for their real-world wardrobes, and why two characters swapped faces mid-development.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Key art of the Wicked Twisters by Gen Kobayashi.

Square Enix

What are the advantages and challenges of designing contemporary streetwear as opposed to something for a high-fantasy setting?

Nomura: I’ve designed a lot for Final Fantasy as well, but I've never really separated between modern and fantasy. Technology has improved so much that even for those Final Fantasy designs, I would need to specify the material they would be wearing. Even for high fantasy designs, I've been the kind of designer to incorporate more modern-day elements.

That being said, for fantasy designs, we can differentiate the designs through the overall silhouette, so something like armor. So, I will incorporate that as part of something that we don't see in everyday life.

For the current age, it's a lot more difficult to differentiate designs. That is the main difference that I see between the two.

Kobayashi: So when we're looking at modern fashion, the reference material that I use is sold all around me. It’s the clothing that I wear on an everyday basis. But because it’s what everyone is wearing, people will scrutinize the details if something looks a little odd. So, we really need to be very particular and careful with the design, to be sure we’re creating a good balance with the fashion and the character themselves.

Yamashita: This is pretty much the first time I'm doing character design. So I've actually never had any experience with high fantasy characters, but it was challenging to pick and choose different fashion items and put them together while trying to make sure that each of the characters’ personalities shines through their clothing.

Shoka’s Mr. Mew hoodie has subtle floppy ears.

Square Enix

If you could add one item of clothing designed for NEO: The World Ends With You to your real-life closet, which would it be?

Nomura: It's actually the other way around! In the Minamimoto design from the original TWEWY, everything — his hat, his boots, his pants, his outerwear —is based on something that I actually own.

Kobayashi: So this isn’t something that I want to wear personally, but the hoodie that Shoka wears in this title is something that Nomura designed. I think it's a very cute design that would be very popular if it existed in real life.

Yamashita: I also really like the Mr. Mew hoodie that Shoka is wearing. Looking at this upcoming title, there is a lot of clothing that we feel can be replicated in real life. The Rindo hoodie has actually already been made into a real-life product.

Fret’s signature color is pink, not red. Don’t get it twisted!

Square Enix

Each of the Wicked Twisters has a standout color in their designs. What do these colors tell us about their personalities?

Kobayashi: In general, when we are designing characters, we don't design them all at the same time. So depending on the order that they are designed, we have to make sure that we're not overlapping with any existing characters.

When we're looking at Fret, just because of his kind of happy-go-lucky nature, I wanted to go with a very vibrant, bright color for him. His signature color is pink, but it didn't start out that way. We actually went through some trial and error with different colors.

Yamashita: Nagi is actually the polar opposite of Fret and Rindo. She's a little bit more of a subdued character, who can’t assimilate into a social environment as easily as those other two. Taking that into account, we decided to go with colder, cooler colors in her design.

Nomura: Minamimoto’s original, signature color was black, so there wasn't really any other option!

The reimagined Ayano from NEO: The World Ends With You.

Square Enix

Have any of the characters changed significantly from early concepts?

Nomura: I asked Kobayashi-san and Yamashita-san to send over the rough designs they created, so that I could review and give feedback as necessary. For some characters, we essentially had to swap their designs.

Kobayashi: So there are two characters in this title. Ayano and Kanon. They are a Reaper and a participant in the game, respectively. But at the very initial design portion, their appearances were backwards to what we have in the final version. So these were characters that I was designing first, but once we decided to swap their appearance, I handed it over to Yamashita-san to make further tweaks and adjustments.

Yamashita: Originally, Kanon was a character in her teens. But now she was going to be a character in her twenties, a bit more of a grown-up woman. So we needed to change her stature and also make her fashion a little bit more mature. Through trial and error and after a few iterations, I was finally able to get the greenlight and get the design finalized.

Shibuya 109, reimagined as “Shibuya 104” in NEO: The World Ends With You.

Square Enix

How would you describe the fashion scenes of Shibuya and Harajuku?

Nomura: Shibuya falls right in the middle of Shinjuku and Harajuku, both in terms of the overall design aesthetics, and the age range of the people here. In Shinjuku, you see people that are a little bit older, a bit more mature, and that is represented in their fashion. Harajuku has more younger people, and that’s represented in their fashion.

Shibuya kind of falls right in the middle of those two, and this is why I asked to have the designs for Ayano and Kanon swapped. The fashion we see in these cities really ties in with the age range of the people there.

NEO: The World Ends With You comes to PS4 and Nintendo Switch July 27.

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