Neptune and the rest of the CPUs are back for another adventure in the world of Gamindustri. Who would have guessed that Compile Heart‘s Hyperdimension series would have gotten so popular? Back in 2010 when the first game launched in the states it got less than stellar reviews, but good thing Compile Heart didn’t take the negative feedback to heart. Instead, they took that feedback and made a sequel that was a vast improvement over its predecessor. Now here we are, with the third title into the surprisingly popular franchise. Does Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory continue the upward trend, or does it disappoint?
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory takes place immediately after the second game. Neptune and crew are taking a little deserved break, you know after saving Gameindustri. While doing some odd jobs here and there, and running into an incompetent organization leader that wants to rid the world of CPUs, Neptune is shocking to find out that her little sister is the stronger of the two. Perhaps being a little too enthusiastic, and being scolded by Nepgear (the little sister), Neptune gets transported back in time to a 1980’s Gamindustri. While being transported to the past, Neptune is disappointed that she lost her ability to activate her HDD (more on that later), and is confused to find out that she is not the CPU of Planeptune. In short, Neptune must make the best of the situation she finds herself in…oh and also save this alternate version of Gamindustry.
Newcomers to the series should know that the game does not take itself seriously, which is a bit refreshing. You see, the Hyperdimension series is a parody of the industry that we know and love. Each of the nations is a tongue-in-cheek representation of a console; Planeptune = Sega, Lastation = PlayStation, Leanbox = Xbox, and Lowee = Nintendo. Besides being an often funny representation of the console wars that we are so familiar with, there are multiple gags and references to famous series, gaming/anime culture, and the gaming industry in general.
While the self-referential humor is often times funny, the actual style of story telling is not for everyone. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is told in a visual novel style; two character portraits (lightly-animated) will face the screen while giving some pretty long expositions. Quite a bit of these sections will be fully voiced, and the voice actresses do a great job, but there will be long periods of time when you will be reading to yourself. As a person that enjoys visual novels this was not an issue for me, but I can see a good percentage of people not willing to go along for this slow ride.
NIS America did a really great job localizing the text, keeping the humor in tact. However, great localization cannot fix unbalanced storytelling. While there is quote a bit of humor to be had, a lot of the actual plot is very slow and not terribly entertaining. Often times a section would be retold to the viewer, with even more exposition, minutes after a character got done explaining something. This artificial padding can get a bit tiresome at times, but it never fully reached the level of extreme annoyance. If you do find yourself nodding off, there is a skip function, which was comically revealed by one of the characters.
Being the third entry into the series, do not expect much in terms of character development. The universe and character personalities have been well established by now, so if Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is your entry into the series you might find yourself scratching your head at times. Do not fret though, because honestly, the actual story takes a back seat for the humor. Just don’t go into the game thinking it is a satirical look at gaming. In fact, one can look at it as a Slice of Life comedy (Nichijou or K-On) in terms of writing style.
If the pacing of the story will not throw you off, perhaps some of the humor might. While there is a lot of jokes about gaming, anime, and references to internet memes, there is quite a bit of sexual innuendo and double entendre. Most of the jokes are juvenile, and may get a chuckle or two. Due to the moe art style though, some people may feel a bit uncomfortable at times. Outside of two bath scenes though, I didn’t find myself being embarrassed whenever the innuendos were being thrown around.
Underneath the visual novel segments, which can last anywhere between 5-45 minutes at a time, is a pretty typical RPG. You accept story missions and side quests at a guild, and then you go to a dungeon to complete the quest. Quests typical fall into exterminating a certain number of a specific enemy or picking up a certain number of an object. There is the occasional boss battle, or a quest to take down a mini-boss, but most of the quests are repetitive.
The dungeons are the only places were you can explore, everything else is a menu. From the guild to your nation’s headquarters, you will be going through menus to make your choices before gearing up to clear a dungeon. Unfortunately, the locations are not terribly varied. This revelation didn’t hit me until part-way through the game, but map layouts will only feature a few changes and a new cosmetic look. Even with the new minions, which can find little hidden areas in the dungeons, there is not much to explore in the world of Gamindustry.
Besides the guild, you will spend some time in the Basilicom (a nation’s headquarters). Here you can see some side events, watch some videos and Nepstation (only the best fake news show in all of Gameindustry), and looking at art stills that you have unlocked.
One thing that will irritate the modern gamer is the lack of a checkpoint or an auto-save system. The dungeons are not terribly huge, and the save points are spaced apart at just the right distance. However, if you are not well prepared for the dungeon you are exploring you can find yourself losing some serious game time. While most battles are fairly easy, there are some sporadic difficulty spikes, and if you are low on healing items, the damage while take a toll on you in the long run. All it takes is one false move to lose a few hours of grinding, and trust me it happens to the best of us. However, if you have the proper amount of healing items on hand, this issue will not happen.
As with most RPGs today, there are no random encounters. Enemies will appear as red dots on your radar, and will walk around on the map. If you are spotted, then the enemy will chase you around for a bit. A useful tool while exploring is the symbol attack; just go up to an enemy, hit x to attack them, and you will receive a preemptive attack bonus. However, battles can be easily avoided, but this not recommended. Surprisingly the boss battles can get very challenging, and skipping out on some battles will seriously harm you in the long run.
Even if you do manage to battle every enemy leading up to the boss, you will find yourself under powered. Yes, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a grind, but thanks to a fun battle system, it is not an overwhelming one. Battles are a free-flowing, turned-based affairs. Each party member has a radius around them which restricts their movement, and there is a shaded area in front of them dictating where they can attack. Depending on what weapon is equipped the attack range can get longer and wider, allowing for multiple enemies to be attacked. However, character movement is not terribly smooth, so you might be wiggling the analogue stick until you get into the precise attack range.
Like most other Compile Heart RPGs, the actual battle system is fast and flowing. Each character has a strike, power, and multi-hit attack assigned to a different button. This gives the players a chance to create some combos on the fly, and later in the game you can actually create your own custom combo. Each attack has its own properties, like the strike dealing more damage to the guard meter instead of the health meter. Over the course of battle a meter will increase that will allow you to finish a combo with a devastating attack. Some attacks have a chance to add elemental damage or debuffs, while others serve to dish out more pain. While most battles can be won by mashing out the same combo, some strategy will be needed at times.
Besides fighting in their standard forms, each of the girls can activate their HDD (Hard Drive Divinity), to transform into older and stronger versions of themselves. Increased movement, strength, health, and some different specials are the most noticeable boosts in combat. In story though, the characters’ personalities change, and things can get a bit risque. In terms of gameplay though, activating the HDD is not free. You will have to use some SP (Special Points) in order to transform. SP is also used to execute specials, like devastating attacks, stat buffs, and healing party members. These skills help differentiate which “class” each member is. However, not much depth is really required to find the perfect party.
One thing that does add some depth to the combat is the affinity system. The more each member fights side by side, the more their affinity increases. Eventually they will be able to execute powerful team attacks and assists. Plus having the ability to have members fight behind each other adds even more depth to the seemingly simply battle system. Basically this means that two party units can work as one, with the member behind providing support. Rounding things out is the summon system. These bad boys have the ability to cause massive damage and to turn the tide of battle, or to just end one before it starts. Seriously, summoning Keiji Inafune to wipe out enemies with his mouth laser is always entertaining.
The biggest flaw in combat, besides the simple nature if it, has to be the long animations. There is no way to skip the animations for special attacks and summons, making the tenth time seem like a drag. As such, you might find yourself taking unnecessary damage just to avoid activating the lengthy specials.
Do not fear all of these options though, because they are slowly implemented into the game. This slow approach helps keep the learning curve down for new comers, but genre veterans may want to look else where for a truer challenge. That is not to say that the battle system is not entertaining though, because it certainly is. Fast pace, free-flowing, and just plain fun is how Compile Heart’s combat can be described.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory has a very basic synthesis system in place that you use to expand the store options of weapons, armor, and other items. There is quite a bit of weapons and armors to choose from, and they add to the customization options available. Besides changing the states of the characters, armor and accessories also changes their looks. Add in blank discs and you can spend some even more time grinding just to create the perfect character.
Graphically, this is the best looking game that Compile Heart has worked on. The cell-shading has improved with each series, and while there is a lack of variety, the environments pop with color. It is nice to see a developer use other colors besides the standard greys, browns, reds, and oranges. While the art directions is great, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is not the most taxing of PS3 games. Keeping this fact in mind, it is disappointing that there is some slow down that will be experienced while playing. Each time you enter a dungeon or defeat too many enemies at once, slow down will occur. Thankfully it is not a game breaker though, and more of a minor annoyance.
On topic of art direction, the character stills used during the visual novel segments look great. There is slight movement to them, which adds a dream-like affect during the conversations. Also, some of the highly detailed background stills look really nice. The characters are stylized in a way that you can practically know their personality just by looking at them. Whether this is good or bad depends on what you are looking for in terms of writing, but the designs are really well done. Plus, there is an insane amount of variety in terms of enemy designs. Seriously, what other game allows you to battle a space invader, a robotic ballet man, and a dragon?
Like every other NIS American release, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory includes dual-audio tracks. I found both dubs to be really well voiced, and I ended up sticking with the English voice overs for the majority of the game. No matter which one you choose though, each character is brought to life by their respected voice actor or actress. That being said, a lot of the combat banter and screams can be annoying and may want you muting the volume from time to time. The actual soundtrack is light, fluffy, catchy, and composed by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy). Battle effects have a nice pop to them, but are not the best the genre has to offer.
While not the massive jump in quality that was seen from the first game to the second game, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a very solid third entry. Compile Heart decided to refine what made the second game so much fun, while adding some minor additions. The writing, which was localized by NIS America, is the funniest in the whole series. Add in a deep, yet simple combat system, and overall you have a very solid RPG in your hands. Just know that the art style and some of the jokes are not for everyone. For the rest of us though, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory just might be the funniest game you play all year.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by NIS America