Publishers: NIS America, Compile Heart
Developer: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2011
Price: $59.99 – Buy Now!
When the word JRPG comes to mind, what do you think about? Turn-based battles, relatively generic storylines, amnesia based main character. Well you would be right on two accounts when you are thinking about Hyperdimension Neptunia. Hyperdimension Neptunia may take the standard formula and throw a few tweaks in, but there is much more than meets the eye as far as HN goes. From Idea Factory and NIS America we see perhaps one of the most unique JRPGs of recent memory, but does its uniqueness put it a step above the competition?
You may have noticed earlier that I mentioned a generic storyline and if you guessed that that was the incorrect guess among the three then kudos to you. Hyperdimension Neptunia takes place in a world called Gamindustri and in this world there are four different goddesses that have been battling for years. These goddesses have decided that the best way to put aside their differences was to take out the one that they thought would provide the most trouble, that one being the goddess Purple Heart.
Little did they know that with their bickering the evil villain Arfoire has been able to take hold in the world and has brought countless enemies and disaster to the worlds which each of them control. By defeating Purple Heart they have forced her down to the normal world and caused her to lose all memory of who she is and what she is capable of, only remembering her name of Neptune.
Now the part that is extremely unique about Hyperdimension Neptunia is the fact that there are so many different references to real world video games that it is hard to keep track of them. The most obvious of these is the fact that each of the goddesses is a personification of a real world gaming console. There is Green Heart, also known as Vert who controls the Leanbox area, Black Heart/Noire whom controls Lastation, White Heart/Blanc who controls the area of Ruwii, and Purple Heart/Neptune controls Planetptune. I may not have to say who is who, but after the first few minutes it is quite obvious that Vert is an Xbox 360, Noire is a PlayStation 3, Blanc is a Wii and most interesting is the fact that Neptune is the vision of what Sega could have created.
The entire storyline focuses heavily around the video game industry and the first few minutes will make it quite obvious. The three main goddesses have forced out Neptune which is direct symbolism to what happened to the current generation of systems as Sega never created another console after the Dreamcast, leaving only three main consoles. Also the enemy Arfoire is a direct reference to the R4 cartridges that made piracy on the Nintendo DS not only easy to do, but rampant. There are additional references to gaming companies in Japan which may go over most U.S. players’ heads such as Compa as Compile Heart, Gust, NISA and IF.
Beyond the real world references, the main story is told directly through visual novel style. This means that all of the dialogue and story development that occurs happens through the main characters’ mostly still images talking to one another with a text box at the bottom. Thankfully everything is fully voiced which is a must have for a game as text heavy as Hyperdimension is. The references to real world games are occasionally heavy handed and will leave players thinking that they are forced, especially considering some are mentioned but never actually shown. Despite this fact I found the story to be extremely unique and compelling to play through considering the amount of humdrum storylines which usually occupy the RPG gaming world.
The setting and the characters that it draws upon will make it a joy for anyone that likes a good story to go along with the game that they are playing and it is quite obvious that a lot of care was put into the game’s storyline. Despite the fact that a lot of the humor is drawn from jokes about the girls’ bodies, or lack thereof, the storyline is absolutely the highlight of what Hyperdimension Neptunia has to offer.
Before I mentioned the fact that HN is draws significantly from the visual novel style of games. This means that the majority of character interaction and design happens directly from mostly motionless character images during conversations. These character images do move slightly which is hard to notice at first but does provide a better impression of the characters themselves. The images of course change depending on what emotion the characters’ themselves are feeling but most likely find yourself watching the characters talk back and forth among each other for long periods of time.
The character designs themselves are a sight to behold, especially considering the fact that they draw upon real world companies and consoles as their source. Blanc as the Wii is drawn as a more minimalistic character with a smaller body while Vert and Noire as the Xbox 360 and PS3 are drawn larger and with more voluptuous figures which can be seen as a direct reference to the various consoles processing power. The company characters themselves also resemble some of their real world counterparts such as Nippon Ichi’s character wearing an outfit similar in appearance to what a Prinny would look like.
Outside of the visual-novel styled images the game is unfortunately not very impressive. The dungeon crawling aspects of the game look serviceable as best but their designs are unfortunately quite plain and you will usually find yourself forgetting the dungeon you were just in, or growing tired of seeing the same looking hallways over and over again. These dungeon crawling experiences are more or less satisfactory at providing the environment to fight in, but that is all.
The characters in the game are voiced extremely well and the localization can be marked as a step above your usual Japanese turned English video game. The English voice actors do a very good job expressing the characters’ feelings and emphasizing their personalities; including the meek Compa and ditzy Neptune. There is an option to turn on the Japanese voices instead if you so wish. The only change this really does is force you to read the text box to understand what they are saying if you do not understand Japanese. This is a very good option to include however considering some fans of JRPGs find the Japanese voice actors more to their liking.
Hyperdimension Neptune consists of only two real sections of gameplay considering there are no towns to explore. Rather than exploring towns players will be given menu options to buy different things, accept side jobs, or go exploring in a separate dungeon to continue on with the storyline. There are numerous side quests you can accept which unfortunately don’t get much explanation or structuring besides kill X amount of monsters, gather X amount of items, or reach X destination in a dungeon.
Dungeon exploration is the first section you will be spending most of your time playing the game as you will control the main characters of your party through each dungeon you explore. The fighters all have a specific skill to advance through the dungeon such as Neptune’s Hammer to destroy things in your path or Compa’s bell to call out enemies such as bosses or normal monsters if you wish. There are different treasures and mini-bosses also within these dungeons if you wish to explore them further of course. As you explore the different dungeons however you will find yourself entering random battles.
Yes there is a random battle generator in Hyperdimension Neptunia which means you will not simply be able to avoid battles by skillfully avoiding enemies in the dungeon. When you enter the battle screen for the first time you will be given a rundown of how to perform certain actions which is a very useful feature considering the way that things are done different from what you may expect in a turn based RPG.
Characters are given a certain amount of AP (action points) to use to chain together various attacks to put together a combo. Each attack whether using a △, x or o will put together a different combo attack depending on how you ordered your special moves to be, which you can set up in your menu system on the main screen. The △ attack uses the characters’ weapon; o uses a non-weapon attack, while x uses a long ranged attack which is dependent on your magic skill. These all do certain points of damage depending on how you put them together and can drain an enemy’s health and guard points.
Every enemy comes with a certain amount of guard points which regenerate slowly and fall depending on how rapidly you attack them. After dropping the guard bar down completely you will be able to do increased damage to the enemy for a short period of time which means that you are greatly rewarded for performing rapid attacks, especially considering some enemies cannot be defeated unless their guard is broken first.
Neptune and the other goddess characters have a unique ability that the rest of the playable characters in the game do not and that is transforming into Goddess mode which changes their outfits and equipment while drastically increasing their different stat points. Players can customize different pieces of equipment on the Goddess loadout which changes the overall appearance of the outfits and increases various statistics when the character transforms. This means that each characters’ equipment can make a distinct change to their abilities unlike your standard weapon and armor combination which creates plenty of different strategic factors, but also can be overly complicated at times and could scare away those daunted by lots of varying statistics.
Now battles wouldn’t be overly complicated from what I have explained so far, but the way that items are handled during battle is the strangest that I have ever seen. Rather than allowing players the choice to heal whenever they wish to, you will have to assign item skills to your fighters. These skills automatically use a healing skill whenever a certain condition is met in battle. For example your character will only use a specific healing item when they are below 50% of their overall health meter. These skills also use different materials that are acquired after battles and in the dungeon itself. The fact that you cannot use healing items at leisure is a strange and unwelcome feature that can be hard to get used to.
The reason for this is the fact that you only have a certain amount of item skill points to use. Item skill points determine what percentage of a chance your character will have of using a certain skill when that skill’s conditions are met. This means that you can have two different items at 50% change to use, and your character may use neither despite the fact that they are growing close to death. Or you could make it so one skill is never used and place 100% chance to one specific item. Players are given the chance to change the likeliness of skill use in the middle of battle but it is still a strange and complicated approach to what would usually be a simple healing process in battle. Because of this you may often find yourself in a difficult fight for no other reason than being unlucky. One thing that is useful however is the fact that these skills are used immediately when they are triggered and do not cause the loss of any AP to the character.
Now Hyperdimension Neptunia comes in a 7¾” by 9” collectors box no matter what edition you buy because there is only one edition of Hyperdimension Neptunia. This box is slightly flimsy but supported well enough that you will not find yourself easily breaking it, but it is easy to tear the front portion especially considering the proper way to open the box is with a small pull out tab on the right side of the box.
Inside the box itself is of course the game itself that features different boxart than the cover of the box which is interesting to note. But besides that there is also the hardcover art book which has the same measurements as the box itself and contains 36 pages of art from the game itself. Each main character gets a full page drawing with a small description of themselves as well as including concept art, images of each land controlled by the goddesses and even a few small comics at the very end.
Hyperdimension Neptunia may not appeal to everyone but those who do like the way it looks will find themselves in for a very enjoyable experience with an intriguing storyline and plenty of real world videogame references. The main storyline of the game clocks in at over 30 hours without venturing too far into various sidequests which means you can easily find yourself losing days at a time venturing through different dungeons. The battle system is unique and although it may appear daunting at first, it is not impossible to master. If only the healing skills were implemented better it would make battles much more enjoyable.
I give Hyperdimension Neptunia