Developer: Compile Heart / Idea Factory
Publisher: Compile Heart / NISA
Yes, for a while, unfairly bashing the genre was a popular pastime for gamers and the media alike. Even I will admit to have somewhat followed the bandwagon with this, and when looking back, I really don't understand what my frustration was. Perhaps I was merely disappointed with Final Fantasy 13 and chose to lash out, but then again, I had played Lost Odyssey well before that and thoroughly loved the experience.
Regardless, despite the tide being turned against this struggling genre, Hyperdimension Neptunia not only persisted, it actually grew and flourished. As of this writing, the franchise is merely six years old and yet it spawned twice as many entries as well as an anime series. This is the sort of success you just don't expect a new JRPG franchise to accomplish. So my soft spot for it lies with the fact that this is a modern underdog story. Though I will admit,the set-up of it taking place in a world called Gamindustry with every major region and character representing either console or a studio tickles my funny bone,
So, it was with eager anticipation I finally experienced this series, beginning with the very first entry on the PS3, and sadly, I didn't like it.
It's true that an amnesiac protagonist is perhaps the most overused trope in an RPG, Japanese or otherwise. However, the set-up of all characters symbolizing consoles is just so delicious I'm more than willing to overlook it. In fact, the story itself isn't anything particularly noteworthy, rather, Hypedimension Neptunia's strenght lies with its characters and their interactions. Even the english dialog is surprisingly well delivered. It's obvious a lot of care went into voice direction and it feels as though all actresses had a lot of fun while playing their roles.
Now granted, almost every plot element in the game is derivative, but it's done so in a tongue in cheek manner. Often characters will point said clichés ahead of time, mock them, and then act according to said tropes for comedic purposes. In most cases, it simply works, the fourth wall breaking and the fun dialog between all characters is just so delightful that it makes me wish I had enjoyed the game more.
And yet, the main issue begins right here; "facsimiles". You don't meet Princess Peach, you meet Princess Pear. Other times characters just get a description which anyone with a cursory knowledge in gaming could easily attribute them to Street Fighter, or Sonic the Hedgehog, but you never actually meet Sonic, just a parody character.
The odd thing is, some of Neptune's attacks are actually named after Sega's classic franchises and even feature sprites or logos taken directly from them. If you can use an attack called Altered Beast or Alex Kidd and it prominently shows the titular 8-bit platforming prince of Radaxian, why can't you speak to Sega's official characters?
Regardless, this is a minor gripe and can be easily ignored. Sadly, Hyperdimension Neptunia's issues lie almost exclusively with the gameplay. Simply put, this is one of the most poorly designed and unoptimized JRPGs I have ever played.
Battle encounters are a random affair as one would expect with classic Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or Phantasy Star titles, but the encounter rate seems unusually high for a modern title. Perhaps the issue isn't their frequency so much as the fact that they tend to drag far past their welcome. Several minor enemies seem to feature unbalanced amounts of health, taking far too many hits to bring down. Though this is nothing compared to bosses, many of which you won't even see their lifebar move after attacking them, these encounters simply drag for too long. It's not that they're difficult, just that even when your level far surpasses theirs and they barely hurt you, combat still feels like a drag to how to the time investment required to beat it.
But Hyperdimension Neptunia's odd design choices don't end there. If battles were strategic perhaps I could have forgiven their length, but this isn't the case. Most times you either press the attack combinations that drain the most health or ones that lower your foe's defenses making them easier targets. Combat is motivated by combos, in which you chain several sequences together from one or multiple characters, but there was little need in mastering these, simply put, Hyperdimension Neptunia's strategic elements are lacking. There's even the option of assigning an element to your ranged weapons, though I never bothered with this feature because it rarely came into play.
Sadly, it's not like the developers didn't try to add their own specific elements to Hyperdimension Neptunia, it's just almost every design choice seems either questionable or poorly thought out. For example, all repeatable dungeons have a timer which ranks players, faster times bring in better rewards. However, combat animations are so long and drawn out that I soon found myself constantly skipping attack animations.
Of course, one might find it entertaining to build a party with all four goddesses, especially when considering these characters can transform into an HDD form, which is essentially the embodiment of their console form. The issue here is that even though most of the experience is played with Neptune and two human characters symbolizing Idea Factory and Compile Hearts. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo won't join you until near the end-game.
I know this review is focusing too much on on the fighting aspect, but I simply cannot overstate how boring and badly designed it was. To me, this was the greatest deal-breaker, though it's not Hyperdimension Neptunia's only woe.
Sadly the dungeons themselves are of poor quality as well, often re-using the same songs and graphical assets over and over again, while others even recycle layouts. Quest levels also seem to have been randomly thrown in. For example, sometimes when completing high level quests, you're rewarded with a new, low-level mission.
Though I previously praised Hyperdimension Neptunia's videogame references, I have to admit that too often, these are also thrown around with little rhyme or reason. For example, there's a series of dungeons called "Neo-Geo", but they are completely generic, possessing no features that can be in any way, shape or form associated to SNK's arcade machine. Then we also have a "Hyrool" Castle which is set in Xbox land for some reason and bares no resemblance to the Legend of Zelda.
I can't help but feel a tinge of sadness at how little I enjoyed my playthough. Hyperdimension Neptunia's concept is just so out there and it's hard to not grow an immediate fondness for it. Yet, all noteworthy elements in this title are likely best enjoyed through YouTube rather than playing it. It's surprising to see how much this franchise grew in such a short time when we consider how weak the first entry was. I can only hope future releases improved on the formula, because this is a game I can't recommend to anyone.
- Offbeat story concept will likely appeal to anyone who was once a console fanboy
- Characters are fun, likable and a joy to watch them interact with each other
- English voice acting is surprisingly good with solid deliveries all around
- Constant frame rate issues
- The combat is one of the worst I've seen in any JRPG
- Graphical assets and dungeon layouts are constantly recycled
- Videogame references are occasionally added just for the sake of it
Final Grade: D
I really like this cover, it manages to strike a nice balance between the interesting character designs and an appealing color mix.
The artwork lends itself well to a bonus reversible cover, though sadly, none was added.
Its manual includes short character profiles for its main cast followed by basic instructions on how to play the game.
It's written well-enough and the profiles include an artwork piece for each character, but alas, this booklet is in black and white, greatly diminishing its visual appeal.
Packaging Grade: B-
Posted by That Random Game Blogger