Developers: Artisan Studios, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $49.99 USD – Available Here $89.95 AUD – Available Here
When it comes to the Neptunia series fans generally have no clue as to what the next game announced could be. Over the years the core games have been 3D RPGs that tend to help advance the series but the numerous spin-offs have seen everything from strategy RPGs, to idol raising sims, to even a 8-bit shmup being released. As such when Super Neptunia RPG it didn’t come as too much of a surprise that it would be taking the genre in a different direction once again as it happens to be a 2D sidescrolling RPG, but what was surprising was the fact that it was developed by Canada based Artisan Studios. Being developed at its core by a Western team and offering something different once again, is Super Neptunia RPG worth it for fans?
In usual fashion, the main heroine Neptune awakens from a strange dream only to find herself suffering from near complete amnesia. With only the knowledge of her own name she is quickly roped into being a member of Bombyx Mori in the hope that they will give her snacks to eat. This organization may have been rather quick to recruit Neptune but there is a good reason for this, as the group rules over Gamindustri and taxes its residents by forcing them to create 2D games on cartridges in order to appease their leader.
After quickly learning that Bombyx Mori are in fact the bad guys, Neptune with the help of a new character named Chrome, finds herself encountering the familiar faces of Noire, Blanc, and eventually Vert. Like Neptune, all three of them suffer from amnesia but with the help of a magical book with a familiar name and the residents of the resistance, the CPUs must travel not only to restore their memories but also do battle against the empire and perhaps restore the world to its original form.
For the most part Super Neptunia RPG manages to tell a fairly solid, albeit a bit simple at times, storyline with some little twists and turns that may surprise some though they are a bit telegraphed. Thankfully the writers knew that one of the biggest charms in the Neptunia franchise happens to be its sense of humor and cast of characters. While not nearly as wordy as many of the other games in the series there are still countless interactions between the characters that fans have come to know and love as well as a few new characters that fit into the mold well enough.
It is worth noting that a lot of the humor comes from having knowledge of past games and the characters’ personalities so newcomers probably shouldn’t try this before diving into the main franchise first and learning about everyone’s little quirks. Between smashing down the fourth wall, making tongue-in-cheek references to other games, or simply lambasting one another in conversations, the game’s humor remains in true form throughout Super Neptunia RPG and helps keep the standard feeling story afloat.
One of the first things that players will notice is different about Super Neptunia RPG is that it plays entirely on a 2D plane. This means that players will be exploring both towns and dungeons while only traversing a straight line and performing various bits of platforming to reach certain locations. Unfortunately Neptune can feel a bit floaty when it comes to control and is occasionally unresponsive to various inputs, causing a few too many failed jumps to be seen as negligible. It is also worth noting that while the heavily detailed backgrounds can be gorgeous to see, actually navigating them is often a hassle as players will initially struggle to find what paths are traversable and what is simply window dressing. Even then when Neptune comes across a split path, actually aiming towards one of these two paths is occasionally a struggle as well, making simple exploration a bit more annoying than it should be.
When encountering an enemy in a dungeon players can either simply run into them to trigger combat or strike them with a “symbol attack” to gain advantage in combat. Similar to its exploration style the combat has also been changed up into a real time format that uses face button presses to trigger attacks with each attack requiring a certain number of “AP” to use. Generally a simple strike can cost two points while spells can take three though the cost can vary depending on the skill. AP fills up over the course of the battle with both the players team and the enemies needing it to make an action, though if you happen to target an enemy’s weakness the player will gain some bonus AP.
In lieu of having players worry about a menu system the game instead allows for “formation” changes that simply rotates the four character party into a different lead character. A character’s skills (that will be used when their face button is pressed) will vary depending on what formation is currently in use so there is a decent amount of variety available here as there can be up to sixteen different skills equipped to the party at a time. These skills can be obtained from various pieces of equipment that, when worn long enough, allow that character to learn its skill permanently meaning there is room for plenty of unique customization here.
Items can then be used through the pause menu and if combat really isn’t feeling challenging or is taking too long it is possible to speed up time and increase AP regeneration but it is worth noting that both of these systems require the player to find them on their own, which is rather unfortunate. Over the course of battle a “break gauge” fills up and when filled players can perform a powerful “break attack” with a character of their choice and of course the CPUs can transform into their Goddess forms to perform other more powerful attacks.
Unfortunately while players will desperately want to make liberal use of the speed-up function in combat Super Neptunia RPG rarely feels like it can actually handle a fast pace. Numerous times while simply exploring an area the game will suffer from noticeable slowdown and this only gets worse when actually fighting an enemy. More often than not the game will begin to lag in combat and there have been quite a few cases where both the player’s party of characters and the enemies will end up staring at one another with moves queued up and available AP but the game simply refuses to make them move without either needing to wait it out or simply run from the battle. Also outside of a few fights scattered throughout the game, players really won’t need to worry too much about the game’s difficulty level as, thanks to the aforementioned skill customization, it is very easy to find the party overpowering even stronger foes by simply attacking at will with no need for strategy.
Visuals & Audio
The biggest saving grace to Super Neptunia RPG happens to be the fact that it is an incredibly gorgeous looking game. The transition to 2D hasn’t harmed this game’s graphics in the slightest as the character art both in and out of combat is vividly detailed with plenty of color. Combat animations are varied enough with some great looking skills, especially the Break Attacks, while the enemy models are also varied enough to properly fit their environments. As mentioned before, the environments themselves are also heavily detailed, sometimes to the player’s detriment, but this level of intricacy to the backdrops in the world are greatly appreciated here.
Players will have the option of choosing between the original Japanese voice work or the new English voice track should they choose with all of the series’ staple voice actresses returning to reprise their roles here. The voice work is handled solidly with the character’s coming off as fans of the series should expect though there is one annoyingly noticeable feature that probably should have been removed and that is Neptune’s jumping dialogue. While always a feature of the series, having to perform platforming sections while Neptune talks about being a kangaroo or yelling boing multiple times grows tiresome incredibly quickly.
Super Neptunia RPG is a bit of an odd game as it feels like an earnest attempt to try something different and ends up being something mediocre as a result. The story may not be anything special on its own but the lovable cast of Neptunia hold it together well enough with plenty of humor that will keep fans moving along and even though the combat may be a drag players can find themselves easily overpowering foes without going to in-depth though this will be a bad thing for those who want to challenge themselves. Couple that with performances issues and other nagging problems and Super Neptunia RPG ends up being a fun but flawed RPG that tries something new but doesn’t stick the landing.