Hyperdimension Neptunia Review

This review refers to NIS America’s version of the game.

There are plenty of Japanese games that attempt to emulate titles from the West, but none of them have really been able to disguise their Japanese-ness. Hyperdimension Neptunia is unique, then, in that it doesn’t attempt to appear Western, and yet it manages to do so nonetheless.

I don’t know if I should credit the folks at Compile Heart — the game’s developer — or the localization team at NISA for how this turned out, but here are the facts. By all appearances, Hyperdimension Neptunia looks as Japanese as games come; it’s got turn-based battles, anime characters, talking character cutouts instead of actual cutscenes and a glut of menus.


Hyperdimension Neptunia (PS3 [Reviewed])
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: NIS
Release Date: February 15, 2011
MSRP: $49.99

But just below the surface is a Western temperament. The game is full of jokes, and the game itself is a joke, but these jokes are exactly the type of joke you would expect to find in a Double Fine game and exactly the type of joke you would not expect to find in a Japanese parody title. When I think of Japanese parodies, I think first of Half Minute Hero, a title that is very funny but not subversive; its jokes are the shrieking, hysterical jokes that you would expect a Japanese studio to write.

Neptunia is a comedy game, through and through, and so you’ll encounter jokes like that here and there (usually about the size of each character’s boobs), but most of the humor is admirably restrained, and it’s all the more effective for it. And I must give a shout out to a running gag in which many of the people our heroines meet think they’re helpless children.

Being a comedy game, Neptunia has a comedic plot. It’s about the console war, and the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 are represented by floating landmasses and the goddesses who rule them. The main character is Neptune, a fourth goddesses who falls from Heaven and forgets she’s a goddess. From there, she, and a couple friends named after Japanese game companies — IF (Idea Factory) and Compa (Compile Heart) — she makes very early on, go on a big fetch quest, which is followed by another, smaller fetch quest, which is followed by the final boss battle against the dastardly Arfoire, which only wants to destroy the world.

Most amusing about all this is that none of it really works as a metaphor, aside from, I guess, the whole piracy will destroy everything thing.┬áNeptunia is chock full of gaming references, both very obvious and obscure, and all of it is there just because it’s funny for them to be there rather than because they serve some artistic purpose. The Wii goddess, for example, likes to curse a lot, which is funny but most definitely not a metaphor. This is totally OK.

It’s all sold perfectly by the [English] voice actresses. (whose names I don’t know because nobody in the games industry seems to care about voice talent unless it’s somebody famous — anyway, the credits are not available online or in the game’s manual, and there’s no ‘view credits’ menu option in the game) Nobody gets shrill, and they tend to hit all the lines in a way that maximize the humor in the script. There, I just gave high praise to a dub.

OK, enough about what makes this game great; let’s talk about what’s not so great about it.

First, the menus suck. There are far too many of them, and it takes far too long to figure them out. The battle system this game employs isn’t difficult to grasp, but all the out-of-battle menus you’ll have to conquer to be effective in battle seem to exist to make things more difficult for the player. I’m not really sure if this is a joke on the part of the developers, but I would not be surprised if it were, because it’s pretty incredible (and in my experience unprecedented) how many different menus there are.

I’m inclined to thing the menus are a joke because the dungeons were apparently boringly designed, with only a small handful of variations, as a joke; why else would the characters regularly comment on their dullness?

If players can master the menus, they’ll find themselves blasting through foes quickly, at least most of the time. The battle system is the only part of the game that doesn’t have menus; each of the face buttons has a command mapped to it, and in the out-of-battle menus, you can program what your next three button presses after the first do. That sounds deep, but it isn’t. As you level up and gain new abilities, you’ll simply map out the abilities that deal the most damage and just use those every time.

What you can’t do, though, is choose to heal when you want to. Another thing you can do in the out-of-battle menus is allocate points to “item skills,” most of which involve healing — the number of points allocated to a specific skill (0-100) determines the percentage likelihood that the character is make use of the skill after the requisite event happens in battle.

For example: allocating 40 points to Nep Bull means that there is a 40% chance of Neptune regaining 30% of her HP if after taking damage she is under 50% HP. The only control you have over these skills is the number of points you allocate to them, which is fine because it means you won’t ever have to waste a turn healing but also annoying early in the game when you don’t have many item points.

But whatever. The battles aren’t great but not really annoying either. You can play the game on Hard and get through battles quickly, and if you fight somebody you can’t beat then you can just lower the difficulty and retry, so it’s never frustrating.

There’s something to be said for pleasant games. Look at Fable — you’d think Peter Molyneux’s broken promises would have driven that game’s audience away by now, but that series is just so damn pleasant that folks keep coming back for more. There’s so little substance in Neptunia that its appeal isn’t immediately obvious, but when I have a smile pasted on my face for most of my gaming time, I know I’m playing something I can’t help but love.

Pros:

  • Absolutely charming
  • Funny
  • Excellent voice performances

Cons:

  • Battles can be pretty meh

Final score: 80/100

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