After repeatedly confronting nefarious empires with a band of plucky rebels, vanquishing a countless world-threatening demons, and glimpsing into the tortured past of scores of amnesiacs, role-playing enthusiasts deserve a reprieve. With a plotline centered around the absorbing allegory of the seventh-generation console war, upcoming NIS title Hyperdimension Neptunia‘s backdrop initially seems far removed from the archetypical Tolkien-inspired fantasy expedition. Yet, as soon as players are ambushed by a group of randomized, dungeon-dwelling foes, prompting a protracted battle, players will realize that a flurry of game-industry references aren’t quite to save Neptunia from the toils of tedium.
Although a knowledge of the last twenty years of gaming lore isn’t listed as one of the requirement on the box, it probably should have been. Savvy players will be rewarded with a steady stream of coyly placed game, character, and marketing allusions- the type of smile-inducing inference only hinted at by Game Dev Story. Neptunia‘s opening sequence reveals the story of a quartet of bickering goddesses- each representing an industry heavyweight. There’s Black Heart/Noire, who’s hardworking demeanor and competitive streak undeniably evoke Sony’s mindset, while Green Heart/Vert’s quiet disposition and ample cleavage clearly signify Microsoft’s otaku-oriented approach overseas. The depiction of White Heart/Blanc, who recalls Nintendo’s often enigmatic and creative attitude, is particularly amusing. Unlike the other voluptuous deities, her boyish figure evokes the minimalism of her console inspiration. Cast out of the team is Purple Heart/Neptune, a obvious nod to Sega’s departure from the hardware market, who serves as the game’s protagonist. Assisting her in an endeavor to defeat the personification of an R4 card is an assembly of personalities who represent companies such as Compile Heart, Idea Factory, Nippon Ichi, and Gust. While the later two characters offer passive support for the gamer- regretfully, direct control over them will require a DLC purchase.
Once in the depths of the game’s dungeons, both Neptune and her companions each have their own unique ability, from clearing obstructions, summoning monsters, beckoning bosses, to indicating the location of treasure. Trinity Universe veterans will likely recall the last ability, which depicted a shining beam directing players to the location of concealed loot. Regretfully, Neptunia‘s dungeon crawls feel woefully similar to the Demon Dog King’s lackluster (and strangely town-less) treks, as the game uses the same engine with a handful of mechanical changes.
During battle, gamers are presented with a graph indicating the respective turn order for both enemy and friendly units. When it’s time to assault, characters have a trio of strikes (weapon, melee, and magical/ranged), mapped to the triangle, circle and “x” buttons. The potency of each attack is reflected by the corresponding depletion of Action Points- yet, there’s always an opportunity to initiate powerful strings of attacks. Beyond the title’s robust collection of pre-set combos, there’s also the ability to place Neptune into goddess or CPU mode, to increase the amount of damage she inflicts. The game’s most interesting element allow players to supplement the power of their RW spells by linking the attack to a picture on their PS3 hard drive. Despite a few eccentric inclusions, skirmishes feel needlessly slow. Even with the ability to skip enemy attack animations (a post-release patch in the Japanese release), Hyperdimension Neptunia‘s conflicts tend to drag on. While the title offers leaderboard support for both its ranked and optional dungeons, the time trials are tarnished by the game’s random item drop and monster encounters. As such, a spot in the upper echelons is based just as much on luck as strategic savvy.
Unlike most role-playing titles , which require the vigilant quaffing of health replenishing potions, Neptunia takes a wildly dissimilar approach. A player’s defense capabilities are influenced by an adjustable slider; allowing players to set the likelihood of a restoration or revival. Although eliciting a heal by using a defensive approach against formidable foes is intuitive, seeing one of your characters forgo a near-death HP boost can be frustrating. On the upside, you can reconfigure the likeliness to use recovery items outside of every skirmish, once you progress far enough into the game.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a visually solid game which succumbs to the occasional blemish. Although the game’s dungeons offer an unmistakable depth-of-field effect, occasionally blurring can obscure the distant foreground. Beyond the occasional low-resolution ground textures, the title’s foes are either well-rendered or are charmingly retro-influenced. Between the addition of a several Sega luminaries and Vert’s ample bosom which expands as she breathes, the title is certain to garner a faithful following among collectors. The titles voice-over work was consistently pleasing, whether players listen to dialog in English or Japanese.
The concept of viewing the hardware wars through the personification of Sega’s lost console is undeniably intriguing; it’s an idea that’s unadulterated fanboy fantasy. Unfortunately, Hyperdimension Neptunia doesn’t quite live up to this remarkable premise with an uninspired combat engine and a handful of enigmatic design decisions. Still, for fans who appreciated Idea Factory’s previous works, the title ranks among the studio’s better efforts; just don’t expect the polish which emanates from N1’s internally developed works.