Well I guess it’s that time of year again; another HyperDimension Neptunia game has come out, NIS has sent it to us, and now I’m going to sit down and review it; the circle remains unbroken. That said it might not be that way next year because god damn are there some problems with this game, far more so than in the past entries which were odd but serviceable. Ironically too this game actually fixes a lot of the thematic problems I’ve had with the series but the things they’ve added (or not added as the case may be) just end up creating an unpleasant experience.
So let’s talk about what this thing does right before I take out my anti-anime-ax and cut this game a new one. The thing it does properly is dialogue, both the premise of “yo, this be an anthropomorphized game industry” and the weird sexual stuff that has-in my opinion at least-plagued this series since the start are now justified and made better by the dialogue. The way they do this is through some pretty good jokes and references scattered throughout; having the character based after Nintendo remind everyone they should take a break and then having everyone else berate her casual nature is genuinely pretty funny. Also the creepy sexual stuff which was just pure creepy before has become somewhat funny thanks to the inclusion of an S&M alter-ego one of the character’s has which torments the other characters in the game and is weirdly enough is a driving story focus. Sure the situations that happen are still uncomfortable to watch but it was the edge of innocence in the prior game that made it feel truly wrong. By having this character who is all out and about with it and having all the other characters be afraid of her for it, lightens the mood and keeps the laughs coming for those of us who are completely creeped out by all the anime jailbait throwing innuendo at one another.
They even learned not to take the plot thing too seriously and the whole story (at least in the 12-15 hours I played of it) was pretty happy-go-lucky and carefree. In fact aside from the basic premise of “The main character is thrown back in time, we guess, whatever” there isn’t too much plot to worry about at all, basically you just watch as the world of the first couple games is set into motion and enjoy the various hi-jinx that follow. I will also say they’ve done a better job with the main character, Neptune, she has a bit more actual personality now and is essentially an anime version of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless; watching her piss off her friends and generally be kind of a knowing bitch about it was actually funny. They also do a lot of good fourth wall breaking by referencing reviewer’s thoughts on prior games and just generally having fun with the concept of talking to player every now and again. Unfortunately all these good parts of the game are just in the cut scenes and dialogue sequences and while there are certainly a lot of them (and honestly they do tend to run way past their welcome), there is also a completely god awful JRPG you have to play to get to them. This is the only time I will ever say this, but this game would have been better if they’d just made a visual novel out of the damn thing.
Oh, where to start with what makes this game bad? Shall I begin with the meaningless mashy combat, the somehow both completely necessary and yet completely unnecessary grinding, the offensively bad in-game voice acting and line repetition, or the assets that are so overused that you’d think their art designer quit half way through making this pitiful excuse for a JRPG. Guess we might as well start from the top…
So the combat works much like in the past two games, it’s that weird mix of turned-based and real-time where it all works on turns but on yours you can run around the battlefield to either aim your attacks or attempt to dodge enemies. In theory this works but in practice all it does is slow down combat to the point where just standard turn-based would have been way faster and far more entertaining; or at least that would be the case if your attacks were any fun to play with. Every time you attack you can build a three hit combo out of multi-hit, powerful, or guard breaking attacks, all of which you get to assign and come in various elements, again this is good in theory but completely fails in practice. You’ll quickly learn that those multi-hit attacks are useless as once you’ve broken down an enemy’s guard there is no reason to not just use the power attacks and destroy them. In fact I completely disabled the multi-hit attacks and just took the resource used to allocate them to make sure I always had the strongest guard break and power attacks assigned. Also you’ll never use elemental attacks because they aren’t strong enough to give you a reason to ever change them around for every different enemy you see. So basically combat boils to down mashing one button until one bar empties out and then mashing another button until a second bar empties out and then after battle updating your attacks to whatever the strongest ones are as soon as you earn them. Even the special abilities are boring as they all have the “bashing action figures against each other” feel that is endemic to these anime focused JRPGs, characters just fly past the enemy repeatedly and vaguely swing their weapon causing an explosion of speed lines, bright lights, and other anime bullshit. While some may find that fun to watch, I never have. All it does is obscure the action going on and look incredibly lazy, it’s like if John Woo had a stroke and completely forgot how to choreograph a fight scene.
Alright next gripe, grinding, a major focus of the game but also completely and utterly pointless. A large portion of the gameplay here is going out on repetitive MMO style quests, just like in the past couple games, and killing X number of enemies or gathering X number of items gained by killing enemy X a gazillion times because drop rates in this game suck the big one. All these quests give you is some extra cash and basic items, all of which the games throws up easy enough through basic combat, though the game does give you a rating now at the end of each chapter so if you don’t want to be berated by a video game I guess that’s reason enough to do them. They also provide a second reason to grind with the new challenges concept, basically each character will get small stat boosts for doing basic stuff like attacking X times, taking X damage, or innocuous crap like jumping X times. Here’s the kicker though, even with all that stuff to grind for and the game forcing the idea down my throat, I was able to breeze my way through most enemies without ever really grinding. Every enemy seemed to fall easily to my “mash one button and then the other” strategy with only bosses providing any sort of challenge. This makes the grinding even worse as not only is it dead boring but there’s no visible gain. As long as you kill every enemy once while going through an area you seem to be good to go, making a massive focus of the game utterly fucking pointless.
While you’re grinding yourself silly (or not, it doesn’t matter) I personally recommend having a laptop or tablet nearby, no not for Gamefaqs, but for Youtube or Netflix to provide some background noise because if you play this game on any volume setting other than mute you’ll quickly learn to hate everything. While the character’s lines in the dialogue sequences are fun to listen to, their lines in combat are horrendous though that’s mainly because each character has like maybe four lines a piece. You will hear shit like “It should always be my turn” or “Ouchies” constantly and all said in a high-pitched anime cadence that is literally painful to listen, seriously, I think I might have tinnitus now. One character in particular, Plutia, who is considered the ditz of the group, is just the absolute worst with the repeated lines as all of her combat dialog consists of baby-talk esque drivel all pitched up about two notches past comfortable. Oh and before you say “well why did you take the little girl character with you?” First of all they make you take her with you at pretty much all times and second of all she’s not a little girl character. She’s the same age as the other characters but uses a teddy bear as a weapon and speaks in baby talk, also for some reason she instigates the creepier sexual stuff in the game (like a full on group bath scene complete with not in any way subtle sexual overtones) and transforms into the S&M character I mentioned earlier. It seems like someone on the writing staff of this game needs a therapist really badly, or at the very least should be placed on no fewer than three separate government watch lists.
The worst part of this game by far though is the shameless and constant reuse of assets. Nothing in this game is shown only once and this goes beyond even just palette swapping which happens a lot as well and is egregious in its own right. Full environments are reused constantly, I saw the same crystal caves section just renamed at least six different times while playing the game and with the same layout each fucking time, it’s worse than Dragon Age 2 was because that game at least mixed up the layout. Of course it’s not like they’re filling these repeated environments with unique and interesting enemies either, enemy models are also constantly reused and sometimes not even palette swapped, they just change the name and the stats and call it a day. I can understand not creating a ton of brand new enemies, I can even see the logic behind not even altering character models and just changing some colours around, but just adjusting some variables and then getting up and going to lunch is nothing but fucking lazy. It’s not like they spent a ton of time generating even the sparse assets this game has though as a majority of it is ripped straight out of the last game with enemies in particular lifted whole cloth and just plopped into this new release. Let me remind you, this isn’t DLC for the last game, this isn’t a $15 downloadable game, this isn’t even a $30 budget game! This is a full on $50 dollar disc based game, there’s even a pant-shittingly expensive $120 Limited Edition version of the game. There is no damn excuse for this kind of laziness in the assets of a game of this grade. This wasn’t made by two dudes in a garage, this was made with the combined efforts of the decently sized and well-established JRPG factories that are Compile Heart and Idea Factory, between the two of them they’ve put out dozens of games over the last seven or so years, this is completely inexcusable and feels like nothing but an insult.
In the end the only truly good thing about this game is the dialogue (and big ups to NIS America on that front for doing what they could to polish this turd). The gameplay is boring, the audio design is repellent, and the presentation is so patched together and lazily done that I think I may start frothing at the mouth if I rage about it any longer. For anyone who may see this all as the complaints of someone who just doesn’t like or understand anime, you’re wrong. For as much as I may not generally like anime, I never thought that look or the attitudes inherent to it invalidate a game; this game is crap outside of the fact that it is focused entirely on underage anime ladies. This is the worst game yet in the HyperDimension Neptunia series and I can’t recommend it to anybody. As such I have to give HyperDimension Neptunia Victory a 1 out of 5 stars and pray they don’t make another.