Hyperdimension Neptunia Review
Developer: Idea Factory / Publisher: NIS America / ESRB: Teen (Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes) / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $59.99
Games like this are hard to evaluate. I’ll be straight up: Hyperdimension Neptunia is not a good game. It has a fairly clever conceit that is reasonably well executed, but PlayStation 2-era production values, depth, and quality of content make it impossible to recommend. That said, if you want a dated but quirky experience, this has all the quirk you could ask for.
Story comes first so I can lead with a compliment. Hyperdimension Neptunia is based on a genuinely clever premise; the whole game is an allegory for the console wars. Taking place in the magical land of “Gamesindustri,” you control Neptune, one of four warring goddesses. These deities each have a nation that worships and embodies their spirit: Leanbox, Lowii, Lastation, and Planeptune. Three of those nations should be obvious, and Planeptune is based off the Neptune–a planned but unreleased Sega console that would follow the Dreamcast.
This approach affords plenty tongue-in-cheek references, such as super fanatic worshipers of the goddesses to industry workers that efficiently stack odd-sized boxes in a truck before shouting “Detris!” The game is uniformly lighthearted, and achieves minor success in taking self-referential potshots at gaming tropes, provided you have the stomach for its anime trappings: squeaky voices and breasts that just barely outsize the eyes.
Unfortunately, time comes to play the game. Neptunia adheres tightly to JRPG standards. Your time playing is an even split between thumbing through text boxes and running mind-numbingly repetitive dungeons (replete with random encounters). As far as punching through text goes, menus list all available story sequences and skits, which will unlock further skits or dungeons after being viewed. This dialogue is slightly interesting thanks to the liberal application of game references, but my interest waned when it devolved into anime stereotypes. A man can only take so many contrived excuses for one anime girl to grab another’s chest.
Running dungeons is the “meat” of the game, though it’s more like a half-chewed dollar burger in a McDonald’s dumpster. Dungeons are pieced together with a limited tileset (in my play I only saw three visual variants) and are wide, flat, and visually uninteresting. Each dungeon has an exit condition, whether it’s simply running to the exit, finding a boss, or defeating a certain number of enemies. The optional dungeons let you upload your clear time and ranking to the Internet, but there’s no real reason to take part.
Despite the smoke and mirrors of setting dungeon objectives, they’re all the same: slogging through random battle after random battle. The battle system is vaguely reminiscent of Xenogears, though I worry the comparison is too complementary (to a game that is twelve years old, mind). You can construct combos by assigning moves to face buttons, and when it’s your turn in combat, you tap out that combo to string together attacks. Stronger attacks consume more action points (your stock of movement points that regenerate every round), and some attacks will allow you to link combos together or switch to other characters.
Constructing your combo chains to work together allows you to maximize damage output per turn, which has the major benefit of ending combat more quickly, but you’ll figure out how to do that within an hour. From then on the combat system is just repeating your highest-damaging combo over and over and waiting for fights to end. Other parts of the combat system are even less functional. You can’t heal explicitly — you must assign item points to healing skills, which determine their frequency of use. In theory this is a neat idea. Say you’re fighting guys that poison a lot; you might have to reduce a healing skill to boost an antidote skill. However, early-game healing skills trigger when taking damage. If a party member is already low on life, they’ll never heal back up, because they just die when they’re hit.
Graphics and Sound
It seems for any decent feature there’s another that obviously suffered in its service. The 2D art for the [missing word? which characters to differentiate from "every other one" you mention] main cast looks great, but every other character in the game is represented by a black silhouette. The game even achieves a visual first — you can pull up 2D artwork for the characters in the gallery, and panning around the picture causes their breasts to jiggle. They found a way to make 2D boobs jiggle. This, in exchange for my going to the same dungeon over and over for two hours. The game’s voice work is actually good, even though the content is questionable, and in trade for that the game’s music offers all of five tracks that loop ad infinitum.
Basically, Neptunia’s assets are focused in areas that don’t make the game fun to play, unless watching anime girls fuck around (not literally, that’d be something else entirely) is enough of a draw to excuse unarguably dated gameplay.
Neptunia has functional controls, with a few quirks here and there. Most of the game is simply navigating menus and mashing face buttons. Thanks to the binary nature of these controls, they work without qualm. Some annoyances include a sluggish camera that’s almost tolerable on maximum sensitivity and a lengthy delay between pushing an attack button and the attack coming out. Aside from that, I navigated menus like a pro. Some of the menus are a little visually cluttered at first view, but they’re organized well enough after you get thirty minutes of use with them.
Neptunia is an easy target but I’m trying to be gentle. The game strokes the nostalgic centers of my brain with simple RPG mechanics, and I respect the game’s moxy in mocking gaming tropes. There’s just no excusing the dearth of content variety and boring-as-hell gameplay. Anime fans will find what they want here, but those looking for a good game should keep looking.
5 / 10