While many might cringe at the mention of console wars and fanboys, developer Gust and publisher NIS America have embraced it all in Hyperdimension Neptunia. Tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of game industry references litter this RPG that tries to bring a fresh idea to the genre. With a cast of colorful characters and a very interesting combat system, does this flame war break new grounds or is this console doomed to fail?
The idea behind Hyperdimension Neptunia is very interesting and unique, players find themselves in the world of Gameindustri and in control of Neptune, a console goddess who has fallen to the human world and lost her memory. When she awakes, she is told by a voice that she must save the world by travelling to the four worlds; Planeptune, Leanbox, Lastation, and Lowee looking for Key Fragments. Each of these worlds do a great job of portraying the console they are based after, with Lowee (Wii) being a fun world full of fantasy and Lastation (PS3) being a series steam punk world. The developers use the game industry as a unique setting for its RPG and while it makes for some humorous scenes, most of the jokes feel forced and miss the mark by a fair distance. The idea of the story is a good one but falls flat with very little depth behind it and not much to really care about. In fact the story is much like a good punchline; funny at first but grows old with repetition.
The characters in Hyperdimension Neptunia are also a take on the gaming industry with companies like Gust, Nippon Ichi, Compile Hearts, and Idea Factory all receiving a character of their likeness. For the most part these characters fit their company though sadly the best of the group, NISA, is not playable. Gamers will control three characters during their quest. The quirky Neptune, the annoying Compa (in both English and Japanese), and the cool If. Neptune is by far the most interesting of the group with her off the wall ideas and conversations but most of her scenes are ruined by Compa whose voice can really get on your nerves.
Combat and Exploration is where you will spend a majority of your time in Gameindustri. Unfortunately, neither of these systems see much change from the last Idea Factory game, Trinity Universe. Exploration is relegated to a couple of menu clicks and a run through dungeon after dungeon, with all of these looking very bland and eerily similar to past games. In each dungeon you will find a specific task such as defeating a boss in the quickest time possible or obtaining a certain amount of items. During the exploration you will be able to freely switch between the 3 characters of your party and must do so as each has their own special ability. You must use these abilities to find treasures or destroy obstacles and, while this adds depth to the missions, it is not without its flaws. For instance, each ability has about a 20 second cooldown so on missions where you are trying to finish quickly, 2 sets of boxes back to back leaves players waiting for far too long.
If you have played Trinity Universe then the combat should be familiar to you. Each character is given a turn to go and in that turn they may do as many attacks as possible until their AP drops to zero. Gamers can assign attacks to three of the face buttons, gaining new attacks as the characters level up. There is also an option to go into the menu and customize combos, creating your own set of attacks. This gives a fair bit of strategy as you must level up to unlock higher attacks and then place them correctly. There are also chances to add a switch or combo at the end of your attacks, giving you a chance to string together long combos. Neptune also has an option to transform into her goddess form which increases your damage but also does more to confuse gamers. You can customize your goddess with new pieces of hardware you find along your quest but many of the stats associated with the hardware are not explained at all.
Along with putting together your own combos, the game also provides you with very unique and sometimes frustrating item skills. If you are looking for a standard way of healing your party then Hyperdimension Neptunia will throw you for a loop. Instead of finding and using healing potions, gamers will instead be tasked with finding ingredients which are used to do your item skills. These skills follow a who, when, why, effect pattern that takes a lot of getting used to. For instance if a character takes damage and is under 50% percent health, then the item skill will activate and heal the character of 30% of their health. With each level up you gain points which you can then distribute to all the item skills that you have. This is where a lot of strategy comes into place as you must decide if you should place 100 points to a healing skill, granting you a 100% chance to heal when all the conditions are met. It is surely an interesting system to get used to and while it sounds hard, it is made easier with the ability to pause mid combat and change you item points around.
With a lot of depth to the combos and item skills, you would hope to find a very rewarding combat system but, more often than not, that is not the case. None of the battles do much to challenge you outside of a boss battle here or there. In fact most of our time in the game was spent fast forwarding through combat to hurry through the dungeon and onto the next. It is very disappointing to see such a unique twist on healing ruined by easy and at times dull combat.
Presentation in the game is a slight improvement from Trinity Universe but still has plenty a lot of room for improvement. Dialogue in the game is again done with character portraits that pop up on-screen and somewhat float in place. The portraits and backgrounds look good and the characters reactions do a solid enough job of selling their emotions. Voice acting is good overall with the English vocal talents not that far behind the Japanese. Thankfully, not too many of the characters left you wanting to bleed out of your ears.Equally, the music in the game does a competent job of not ruining the experience but becomes far too repetitive.
Dungeon detail is a big let down in the game with the boring corridors and lackluster dungeons that gamers found in Trinity Universe. While there is a bit more variety in the locale of the dungeon, they all are fairly straightforward and are effectively the same dungeon as the last, just with a new coat of paint. This is a major disappointment considering how wonderful many of the locations in the game are.
With the main quests taking around 25-30 hours to complete and a good wealth of side quests at your disposal there is plenty of keep you busy, even if the side quests are not very interesting. A leaderboard also makes an appearance in the game, allowing you to judge your dungeon crawling against your peers.
In Hyperdimension Neptunia we find yet another JRPG full of potential but held back by a slew of missed opportunities. A funny twist to the console war, diverse characters, and an interesting take on healing are the positives. However these are far outweighed by bland dungeons, overly easy combat, and a rather boring story. For those looking for a quick hitting JRPG with a couple of laughs, you might give this a look. Just don’t be surprised when this console war turns ugly and burns you.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+Funny take on the console war
-Boring and overly easy dungeons
-Story lacks any kind of depth