Since I started reviewing a few years ago, I’ve periodically had the opportunity to play a game in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. As a gamer and a recovering otaku, you’d think a blend of Japanese-influenced comedy mixed with token characteristics of a role playing game like Hyperdimension Neptunia would be a good fit for me. However, the final product left me craving a deeper RPG experience that the game simply can’t deliver.
What I knew going into Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart were the basics about the series as a whole: it focuses on four different goddess/celebrity idols, each representing the four most-prominent console makers of the past 20 years (Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony… and somehow, SEGA). Each goddess gained their strength from their fans, and although each goddess had a rivalry with one another, they were all friends that wanted peace. Hyperdevotion Noire continues these themes with a story that focuses more on Noire and her own attempt to bring the world of Gamarket together, all while maintaining the familiar cast that fans of the series will recognize immediately. If you’re new to the series, Hyperdevotion Noire gently eases players into the universe where consoles are sentient beings with a boatload of emotional baggage.
Lost in a Fantasy
Bringing the focus around to Noire (the pseudo-PlayStation goddess) rather than Neptune (SEGA) is an interesting choice, given her reputation for being stubborn to a fault and likely to go it alone. The events in the story ultimately require Noire to unite her friends and allies together, all the while combating egos, splinter ideologies, and iconic video game characters that somehow don’t violate intellectual property laws. As her new secretary, your job is to help keep Noire’s life in order and to provide that twinge of romance. The role of the secretary is more of a side-story compared to the overall goal of returning order to the world, so don’t expect the next True Romance (or 50 Shades).
To restore the world of Gamarket to its former glory, Noire needs to gather the support of her friends, former generals, and of course, the adoring public. The most logical way to bring people onto your side is to help, love, and support them; but this is a video game, so logic is out the window. Instead, you’ll need to bash your former allies in the head until they realize their own ambitions aren’t going to pan out at all. Left with no other options, they will join Noire to help her with her lofty goal.
Paradigm Shifting Gears.
Unlike previous games in the series, Hyperdevotion Noire opts for slow paced, methodical strategy RPG gameplay. In addition to leveling up your characters and equipping better gear, unit placement on the battlefield is key to victory. Each map has a different set of game mechanics, like traps and moving platforms, that you’ll need to consider before rushing head-first into combat. Additionally, you’ll need to choose your team (including a leader that gives everyone a bonus modifier) that will be best suited for the battle to come.
During battle, you can place units near each other to reduce the cost of using skills or special attacks while simultaneously gaining Lily Points. Lily Points allow for the use of devastating special attacks, deploying new units, and transforming the CPUs into their super-powered forms. As you pair up the same characters to gain Lily Points throughout the game, their relationship will grow stronger, reducing requirements for specials even further.
If you’ve ever played a strategy RPG before (like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics), you’ll be familiar with most of these elements, as the basic combat doesn’t drum up anything new for the genre. The combat is fairly standard but there is an abrupt spike in difficulty that comes seemingly out of nowhere; but I guess that, too, is par for the course for strategy RPGs. What is bothersome about the combat in Hyperdevotion Noire is that you can’t do a whole lot of planning before combat unless you’re retrying the level. You can’t really scope out your opponents well, so adding an elemental affinity to boost damage or determining the right mix of offensive and support characters is hard to judge at times. There are also more than a few instances where something as trivial as jump height or weapon reach can utterly ruin an otherwise well-fought battle. At best the combat is repetitive, but at worst you’ll waste a whole lot of your time on run-of-the-mill encounters.
While combat may leave you wanting, the attention to detail in the character art will not. Outside of combat, the characters in Hyperdevotion Noire are drawn out in the traditional/modern style of Japanese anime (or manga, if you want to get technical about it) that anyone with a passing interest in otaku culture will appreciate. During combat, and any animated cut scene, the game switches styles, using 3D superdeformed characters (think big heads and eyes with a disproportionately smaller body). Whether it is an original character or a spoof of a classic game persona, the 2D and 3D character art breathes life into the world. Neptune is still the most expressive character in the cast, but even the more subtle personalities are able to shine (albeit briefly).
What’s a bit troubling is that the attention to detail in the character models, while appreciated, makes the bland, forgettable battle environments somewhat depressing. Underwhelming levels seem to be the bane of every small publisher out there (NIS and Koei, I’m lookin’ at you) but it detracts from the overall appeal of a game when the landscape is so unremarkable.
When Noire isn’t in the heat of battle and slapping the slime out of cutesy monsters, you’ll have time explore the hub city of Laststation. Here, you’ll have access to everything from item shops to gear development, even to spending a lot of money on Noire’s bedroom set. In Item Development, parts recovered from battle can be turned into unique items that can’t otherwise be found in the shop. Once made, you can repurchase them at the store (which is especially helpful for some of the cross-character defensive items). Similar to Item Development, Disc Development lets you make modifiers for your characters, allowing you to deal extra damage to certain enemy types, gain skill points back every time you take a hit, or boost resistance to certain attacks. Disc Development allows for much more freedom in forging new gear, making it even easier to plow through the story to get that Platinum trophy (which we all know is your real motivation).
If you feel like spending some quality time with your boss, Noire’s room is always available for you to furnish. As you throw away your hard-earned cash on supplies in the Item Shop, you’ll gain Sim Points to spend on new decor for Noire’s bachelorette pad. While it initially appears to be nothing more than a drug den at first, with time it will become the envy of anyone obsessed with gold. It may seem like a meaningless task at first, but upgrading Noire’s room will net you some nice bonus items for your troubles. Whether or not said items were all that important is still undecided, but I guess it is the thought that counts. After fawning over your digital beau, you’ll also have the opportunity to help Noire answer fan letters. If you handle the letter correctly, your relationship will grow stronger, netting you a few more cut scenes and perhaps a surprise or two. Beyond these interactions, though, there isn’t much else to do with her or her other idol pals.
The Moé the Merrier.
I didn’t have to think long and hard to figure out the draw of this game. With standard strategy RPG and unfulfilling dialogue, there really only leaves one thing: fan service. From a female version of Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series to a brief moment with the Super Mario Bros., Hyperdevotion Noire spends a lot of time examining and otherwise parodying the game industry at large. Of course, with parody comes a heap of fan service (by which I mean scantily-clad women of questionable age).
Let me get this off my chest: I really don’t care about revealing clothing or sexuality in gaming. Nudity, revealing clothing, and the like, are topics that are ripe for comedy or simply something pleasant to look at. Where I take umbrage with it is if a game substitutes sex for substance. It straddles the line between gameplay and titillating slideshow gallery, both of which didn’t hold my interest. Much like the other games in the series, Hyperdevotion Noire plays off of the chemistry of each character to stir up conflict and comedy along the way. Exactly how the game executes this is through budding sexual tension between nearly every person you come across. It ranges from the “classic” spying on a girl bathing to demands from jailbait to demonstrate how a man and a woman make a baby. If these sound like some of the many anime tropes you’re familiar with, then you might not be shocked at all, but perhaps disappointed that this is the extent of the writing for the rest of the game.
Beyond the the interplay between different personalities, I liken Hyperdevotion Noire to being force fed shaving cream; it lacks any substance, it tastes foul, and you don’t have any control over the dire situation. I spent my entire playthrough resisting the urge to skip through each of the unending cut-scenes. What stopped me from skipping the dialogue (aside from my duty as a reviewer to not do that) was my hope that the story would be redeeming. Despite the rare good line (which almost always came from Neptune), the story never panned out. It wasn’t a story that showed Noire becoming a better friend but rather a platform to keep ramming the same, generic anime conflict down your throat. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything funny in the game. On the contrary, Neptune is a great ditzy personality that can make light of any melodrama the writers can throw at you. But herein lies the problem: the game is suppose to be about Noire, yet she doesn’t come off nearly as memorable despite her leading role.
The greater problem may be due to the cast itself being too full. You end up recruiting a lot of people along the course of the game who overshadow or drown out her voice. These allies aren’t particularly deep (with most of them being one-note parodies of popular video game characters) but the story doesn’t have to advance all that far before you forget what is going on. Between the forgettable music, repetitive dialog, and stilted delivery from some of the voice actors, every passing hour with Hyperdevotion Noire became an increasingly trying experience. It was more of a chore to get through than a lighthearted anime tale of girls pulling off each others’ tops.
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart disappoints on nearly all accounts. As a fan of anime and obscure game experiences, Noire doesn’t strike me as a consistent effort to provide gamers with something memorable or even novel. Fans may appreciate the return of their beloved CPUs and a change to the battle system, but newcomers might ponder why they aren’t playing a better game altogether. The game’s pace is slow throughout; from combat that you trudge through to dialogue and character development that seems to do nothing but spin its wheels in the mud endlessly. Hyperdevotion Noire is at its best, forgettable, and at its worst, un-engaging.
Review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.