I have always said NIS has a knack for developing and publishing games that have unique settings and play styles. Hyperdimension Neptunia is no exception, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
You play as a goddess named Neptune. She represents a failed console that was to be released by Sega back in the day. She is one of 4 goddesses reining over certain landmasses in the Gamindustri and they are in conflit with each other in a battle called the Console Wars. The other goddesses represent the Xbox 360, the Wii, and the PlayStation 3 each with their respectable landmasses…I’m not kidding.
Neptune gains party members who represent game companies that helped out with the development of the game: Compa- Compile Heart, IF- Idea Factory, and so on and so forth. The main villain of the game is a character named Arfoire. Sounds a lot like the piracy instrument, the R4 cards, used to pirate DS games.
The game’s battles take place in a turn-based combo system where each character has Action Points (AP) to use moves. Your characters moves are represented in gun shots (X), Physical attacks like kicks and punches (circle), and weapon attacks (triangle). You can create your own combos and place a finishing move at the end. Some finisher special attacks allow you to chain together more attacks as well as switch out party members for an extra boost to attack power. Each character learns new combat abilities as they level up. So, there is a lot of emphasis on taking time to create combos that link into each other so that you can continuously attack for maximum damage. The combat system is actually rather complex and probably the best part about the game.
Your characters can be equipped with weapons, accessories, and other stat-increasing items. Each character also learns equippable item abilities, which function much like combat abilities. With item abilities, your characters can use items that heal HP, cure status effects, and add buffs. The way this is handled is by adding points to each character’s ability. If you want your character to heal every time their health goes lower than 50%, you need to add points to that healing ability. This is one of the biggest problems I have with this game. You can only heal in combat, and it’s not going to work 100% of the time. The player themselves cannot use a healing item manually. So, let’s say one of your characters is down to low HP. You end that battle and then move on to another battle. That character is still low on HP and they get hit by another enemy, killing them. There was nothing you could do to stop it because your characters heal themselves and only do it after receiving damage. It’s a horrible mechanic.
If your party is not walking around in a dungeon, you’re looking at a menu system representing all of your quests and story arcs. As you complete quests and meet certain objectives, you unlock the ability to travel to other landmasses and take on new adventures, all of which take place in the menus. There is no overworld to explore. On the quest menu, you can choose scenarios and missions that can further the main story, give you mission objectives, or trigger a cut scene. Most of the scenarios consist of the cut scenes. It wouldn’t be so bad if the cut scenes weren’t so boring and have nothing to do with the story, or game for that matter. That’s one of the biggest and most jarring problems with the game itself. You always feel separated from the story. It still tries to pull off that classic NIS feel with the characters knowing they are in a video game and constantly breaking the fourth wall, but for some reason, the player is left feeling like they missed their mark somewhere. Where the game feels like it should be funny, it turns out just to be lame. There were so many times I just wished that one of the scenarios was an actual mission. I just began skipping the cut scene scenarios, mainly due to the scenes making no sense or having no real point to what you are doing.
When you do take on a mission through the menu, and it is not a story mission, you are sent to explore a dungeon with a certain objective. Most revolve around defeating a boss, gathering a certain amount of items, or defeating a certain amount of enemies. These missions are timed and are scored at the end. They have no real bearing on the story, but do offer up a good chance for experience and money. Plus, you can do them as many times as you like.
While in dungeons, each party member has a unique ability that can range from luring monsters out to attack you to locating hidden treasure chests. Each ability can help out when trying to do the side quests for the best time and score.
If you ever find yourself defeated in battle, you can always try it over again right from the beginning. With the combo system in play, Neptune gains early on the ability to transform into her goddess form. This makes her attacks stronger and gives her a little more AP to play with. There is also a formation mechanic that can help you out in battle as well. You always have 3 characters in the battle area. Later on in the game, you will gain more party members that can serve as back ups. Instead of chaining combos you can create switch combos that will allow you to switch out a party member with one in your reserve and still allow the combo to be chained with stronger attacks. Creating combos in the menu can help out battles tremendously.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a decent concept that is poorly executed. The story is forgettable, especially after spending countless hours watching poorly acted cut scenes that have no bearing on the story whatsoever. Also, with a broken healing mechanic as this game has, you’ll find yourself being annoyed and frustrated more times than not. The combat and combo system is the only grace this game offers. I don’t say saving grace, because as well done and complex as the combat is, it doesn’t rescue it from being really boring and tedious.
Review copy provided by publisher.