Hyperdimension Neptunia

Developer: Compile Heart / Idea Factory
Publisher: Compile Heart / NISA

I have always held a soft spot for the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, not too long ago JRPGs were stuck in a downwards slump and were often a subject of mockery by western developers. In fact, during the successes of Mass Effect 2, 3 and Dragon Age, several Bioware members went on record to state JRPGs were stagnant, on a decline and that were not "true" RPGs.

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.

Rather than immediately rag on Hyperdimension Neptunia, I'd like to begin with the positives, both of which lie in its narrative. The game introduces us to a land controlled by four Goddesses, each representing Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and Sega. All goddesses participate in what is known as the console war, a state of constant strife between these four participants which is currently in a stalemate. In an attempt to tip the scales the three goddesses representing Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony momentarily ally themselves to dispatch their remaining foe. Rather than being killed however, Neptune, the goddess representing Sega, falls to the mortal realm where she is struck with amnesia.

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.

Characters will quote company slogans, characters catchphrases and even meet facsimiles of popular games that were altered just enough to avoid dozens of copyright lawsuits. From Sony's "it only does everything" campaign to "Genesis does", including "Jill Sandwhich" and Bowser running off with Princess Peach, it's all here. I was even surprised to see an event which clearly parodies the Gears of War franchise, not something I expected from Japanese developers.

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.

It all begins with a poor framerate. Hyperdimension Neptunia is not a smooth experience, flashy attacks and dungeon crawling can create an inconsistent experience. Sometimes, this even extends to menu browsing as navigating the equipment tab can be quite a chore as the game pauses to load a new weapon.

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.

One interesting gameplay feature I'll give the developers credit for is how items work. Rather than using a healing potion whenever you wish, character must instead learn skills that require their use and then assign points to each one, increasing the chance of them happening. So for example, there's a skill where you may use a potion that heals 30% health, but is only activated when your health drops below 50% and even then, there's only a chance it will actually be used depending on many points you allocate towards it. This adds a welcome element of randomization to an otherwise by-the-numbers battle design.

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.

The most egregious example of bad design comes in the form of the combo menus. Rather than letting you choose which attacks you want to use and when, players are forced to pre-design a path for possible combinations by pausing and accessing a specific menu. Having to plot out each attack-course is a lengthy, thankless and near-unnecessary task. I spent so much time plodding along menus and windows setting up each character's possible attack combinations, only to never using them or even needing to.

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.

Traversing through this world functions much like a visual novel. Rather than freely walking about, you are always navigating menus, searching for newly unlocked events to select, ranging from plot-development, optional conversation scenes and missions to undertake. When an assignment is selected you can then enter its specific dungeon.

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-


  1. Anonymous18.5.16

    Yeah, I the first Hyperdimension Neptunia didn't have the greatest design; however, you'd probably like Re;birth1. It's a remake of the original, and it fixes plenty of problems from the original (including completely redoing the combat, thank god!!). You can get it on the PSVITA or Steam. Also Megadimension Neptunia VII is pretty nice as well, with a combat system that's actually *gasp* well thought out and fun.

    1. Yep, I've heard the first game was the weakest entry in the series. Still, I like to try and play games in order of release to see how they grew. I'm still tempted to play the sequels.