Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia

Aww, who could resist them (her)?

“Hyperdimension Neptunia”… the name just sounds weird off the bat. What kind of game these days actually has a “Hyperdimension” prefix to it anyway? That kind of naming should be done almost a decade back, not in this age!

Don’t let the silly name fool you though. Developed by Compile Heart and collaborated with many other Japanese companies, this game is actually pretty damn enjoyable, and I mean it in the every sense of the word. I will be frank with you; what spurred me to get the game wasn’t exactly the story, nor was it the battle system or whatsoever, it was something less complicated: the premise and characters of the game.

Setting — It’s a world of awesomeness

Set in a rather curious world called “Gameindustri”, Neptunia is choked full of hilarious jokes and references to the games and consoles of these days. “Gameindustri” is actually made up of 4 different lands, each with a beautiful goddess — responsible for the upkeep of peace and order — attached to their respective lands. Throughout the game, players will get to check out the lands of Gameindustri — which are actually named after consoles of this current generation: Lastation, Lowee and Leanbox — and meet each of the goddess of the lands who are known to people as the “CPU” of their respective lands. What is each land is named after… well, you can probably figure that out yourself!

Not only that, each of the companies that have participated in the development of the game has a personified moe appearance of their companies, such as Compile Heart’s personified character is called Compa and Idea Factory’s personified character is called IF, both of whom will be party members for the game. Other characters from companies such as Gust, Nippon Ichi and 5pb makes appearances too! The huge variety cast of extremely moe characters is the very life of the game and it’s exactly that factor that made the game extremely enjoyable.

Or you could say we all just love moe characters…

Yes, that’s how the story goes.

The game follows the story of Neptune, a cute chubby (not really, but as described by the other goddess) girl who somehow has the poor luck of receiving an amnesia after having an all-out fight with the other 3 goddess in Celestia and was recovered (as put in words by Compa) by Compa after seeing Neptune crashing head-first into the ground. From then on, the two girls eventually expanded their party into a 3-man (or 3-girl if you will) party with IF and they head out on a quest to save Gameindustri after being contacted by a mysterious voice called Historie.

Sounds cliche? Yes, I know.

The entire game is presented in a visual-novel style, which means that there’s only two characters on screen talking with a textbox displaying all the talks of the event. Although classified as an RPG, you shouldn’t really expect yourself to explore towns over towns as most of the exploration (quest picking, viewing of events) are done via a menu. If you’ve played Persona 3 Portable, you’ll probably get what I mean.

Despite being extremely enjoyable (for me, at least) and it’s colourful cast of characters, Neptunia is plagued with numerous problems that a RPG should never have.

Battle System — Innovative, but not good enough

You can link up to 4 attacks as a chain or more as a combo.

The battle system of Neptunia can be considered as one of the most inefficient one I’ve ever seen. Using a mixture of turn-based combat and AP (action points), a character has a limited amount of AP to work with during a turn. Different skills takes different amount of AP, and naturally, more powerful skills takes more AP to execute. The battle system uses a chain-system to allow characters to chain up their attacks and earn back some AP at the end of each combo to dish out even more damage. The idea isn’t bad at all, but it’s the execution of each skill that is extremely inefficient.

Each attack in a single attack’s animation can take from 2 seconds to 10 seconds to complete, making it extremely lengthy and unnecessary at times. Since most players would optimize their chain combos to use certain worthy skills repeatedly, each character’s turn can last till a minute or even more, depending on the length of the combo. Luckily for players, there’s a “skip function” that allows them to skip through the attack’s animation with a single button, making most encounters more bearable. If I’m not wrong, the Japanese version of the game did not have any “skip function” at all, I wonder how they actually bear through the game…

Poor guys…

Not only that, the game introduces a system called “Guard Break” which allows the characters to deal more damage after depleting an enemy’s guard meter. It’s a good way to stack up damage on a tough enemy, but the problem is once you’ve broken a guard meter on the enemy’s, it starts to regen slowly and doesn’t stop at all in between certain animations, making it a spamfest on the “skip function” just to maximize the damage you can dish out during a guard break.

Healing System — Will have you raging, or you could think of it as a challenge.

For a lack of a better screen, here’s one from Ton-kun’s Lil Universe.

Running low and health? The healing system in Neptunia will drive you to a wall and through it. No kidding, as there’s absolutely no form of manual healing at all and supportive skills have to be done in-battle. Think that’s all to it? Not really, as the healing skills are governed by a percentage of execution, based off a points system called “Item Points” where the players could assign the percentage of the skill happening accordingly to the amount of points they have. As if that’s not frustrating enough, there are certain (ridiculous) conditions that the character must meet before the skill executes. Something like this: having 15% health just to cast a healing skill to recover 75% health after you get damaged by an enemy.

You might even find yourself restarting a battle a couple of times due to the healing system not activating when you need it…

It may sound good on paper, but chances are that the character would probably die off by the time she has 15% health to even cast the skill! The only consolation is that you could change your item skills activation rate anytime, as long as you open up the menu. Yes, that means in battle too.

If you’re feeling desperate, you might just put skills you need at 100% and get done and over with it.

Encounter System — Throws the word “random” out of the window

Dungeon exploration is pretty much like that.

The encounter system for the game feels somewhat fixed. I’m pretty sure the encounters in the game aren’t exactly random per say, seeing how I always get into a battle with a certain amount of step taken in the game. This somewhat spoils the fun of the game, and I somehow find myself counting the steps needed before I actually go into an encounter with the enemy…

Did I mention that there’s only several variations of the dungeons too? Each dungeon has several levels to it, and there’s probably only about less than dozen different kinds of dungeons in the entire game. Many enemies has been recycled in the sense where they have stronger stats and different palettes and that’s about it. It’s kind of exhausting to see the same kind of enemies everywhere you go.

Soundtrack — Repetitive

Soundtrack of the game isn’t exactly stellar. I didn’t exactly count, but there’s about 10 to 12 tracks through this game and at least half of them are just remixes of the existing tracks. There isn’t much variety in the tracks at all, making it some places of the game extremely dull, considering small selection of music that the game has. You’ll probably end up listening to the same piece of music (albeit different tempo) at 2 or 3 different dungeons.

Even the battle music stays roughly the same throughout a single land!

There’s a couple of trivia matters here and there regarding the game itself, but you can probably see an outline of what’s the good and what’s the bad in this. Quite obviously, the amount of bads are pretty much overwhelming in comparison to the good, but despite that fact, the game is still extremely enjoyable.

However… despite all those negative impressions:

Like previously mentioned, the character and comedy of the game is the very life of the series and it most definitely makes up for the lackluster of the other parts of the game. For me, it’s not the dungeons that I always look forward to, but rather, the events that are unlocked after every dungeon. All the dialogue events are hilarious, with characters making all sorts of funny pokes at other characters and NPCs around them. Even the NPCs’ concept is funny: they are all illustrated as a silhouette and that’s that. And to top it off? There’s even a blog system for each of the goddess on each land, allowing you an insight on how each goddess are really like!

There’s a wide variety of parodies and references in the game itself, making it quite fun for me to figure out actually means what. Don’t worry if you’re afraid that you don’t get the references just because it’s a Japanese game, because there are western references too! Some of the references I remember includes Resident Evil (Biohazard), Super Mario, Gears of War, Halo and many more!

Conclusion — A game for you, if you aren’t too picky

Hyperdimension Neptunia, despite it’s apparent flaws is quite a great piece of work. Those who are looking for a light-hearted casual game where they can easily sink an hour or two for some laughter and gaming would find this extremely fun to play, and hardcore gamers who plays a wide variety of games and aren’t so strict on gameplay details would find this game to be one of the funniest . However, with a lengthy and inefficient battle system, coupled with frustrating healing and cliched story, those who are expecting a full-blown RPG would do well to steer clear from this game.

Just a head’s up; Neptune mk-II is around the corner (slated for an August release in Japan), so here’s hoping that the game mechanics would be a lot better in the next game!

About Netto

Aspiring artist! One of these days, he might just make it... somewhere!