Monday, October 10, 2011

Hyperdiminsion Neptunia Impressions

First of all, sorry for the extreme lack of updates.  I have a baby on the way and just prepping for it has cut into most of my free time.  Imagine when he actually arrives.

Mostly, that little free time has been spent plowing through as many video games, manga and anime that I can before our little bundle of joy arrives.  The good news is that I now have a backlog of all things pop culture that I can give impressions on.

In the last couple of months I've played through such gaming gems as Dragon Quest V, Dragon Quest VIII, Disgaea 4, Shadows of the Damned, 3rd Birthday, Legend of Zelda OoT 3D, 9 Hours 9 Doors 9 Persons, Rayman 1 and 2, ICO, Onechanbara Wii, River City Ransom, and Half Minute Hero.  And played them all to completion.  So why out of all those great games am I choosing to discuss such a middle of the road game like Hyperdimension Neptunia?  While I intend to write about some of those games at a later time, I feel not a lot has been said, positive or negative, about Hyperdimension Neptunia and so I'm going to focus on that for a bit.
Green Heart (Xbox)... so sexy

Although I am an admitted fan of ecchi work, what actually drew me to Hyperdimension Neptunia (henceforth known as HN) was the set up.  The world of HN is based on a fantasy version of the current Game Industry and Console War.  The world is known as Gameindustri (not very subtle) and this world is ruled by three goddesses all based on the major console manufactures.  The Xbox 360 girl (Green Heart from Leanbox) has Big American Breasts, and has problems with overheating.  The Wii girl (Blue Heart from Lowee) doesn't seem much like Nintendo to me, but she is cute and perhaps a little childish.  The PS3 girl (Black Heart from Laystation) is cold and comes from a Steampunk land where corporations come before anything else.  All three of these goddesses from the different lands decide to get together and cast Neptune (the hypothetical Sega Next Gen console that never got made) into the land of commoners so she can no longer hang out with the cool kids.

The story is then about Neptune reclaiming her former glory and teaming up with other game companies and eventually as a supporting member that brings all three consoles together (isn't Sega great?)

As interesting as that plot sounds, it doesn't really play out like you might imagine it.  Everything is told Visual Novel style with very little CG or character interaction and description to really get a feel for the world.  The dialog is pretty hokey in the main story bits, and the fan service is nearly insulting to the audiences intelligence.

There are scenes where the girls are describing movers putting boxes in a truck like one might play Tetris or a random street fighter with big thighs destroying someones car.  We never actually see this.  What should be the gaming equivalent of Roger Rabbit is constrained into dialog boxes of cute girls talking about what we wish we could see.  That is where everything falls apart from a story standpoint.

That said, the jabs and critiques at the current console war can be pretty biting and clever, and its interesting to play a game on PS3 that so blatantly makes fun of Sony and their business practices (but no company is safe from ridicule in this game, even Sega).  So the story is worth plowing through for the commentary and snide remarks.

Neptune, our heroine
The other big problem with the game is that even though Neptune is the main character, the player never really feels a connection even though she is technically the player controlled character.  All interaction with the world is handled from menus.  No avatar running around an open world.  Within dungeons themselves each girl has a special ability that allows them to obtain special items or routes in the dungeons.  Neptune has a giant hammer that destroys some walls.  But that ability is rarely ever needed.  Another character called IF can find hidden treasure.  I can guarantee IF will be the main character you use in dungeons, if you want the rare items.  So from this standpoint, it makes IF seem like the lead character.

It's pretty bad when you choose not to play as a title character in a game.

Also, the game has some major pacing issues throughout.  Not just the story but the actually battles.  Battles are slow to start and slow to end.  Moves also can been slow at times.  This isn't a lag issue, but a design choice.  There is no need to have a spinning camera at the beginning of every fight.  It just slows down the action.

This might sound like the game is an outright disaster.  But I wanted to get the bad out of the way so I can focus on the good.

This game, despite all appearances has some of the most robust character building RPG mechanics I've ever seen in any RPG.   You are given a plethora of different moves that you can customize before, during and after battle that allows you to string together sets of moves into powerful combinations.  If you learn how to use your AP and move combos effectively, you can have two characters take out a boss, that is above your current level before the third character even gets to fight.  Or you can be completely murdered by the boss if you don't learn how to combo.  The fighting system is very similar to a turn based version of the Final Fantasy XIII fighting mechanic, except more streamlined, less confusing and more fun.  When I am fighting in HN, I'm having a blast.  I love pulling off moves, transforming and using customizable summons.

Something about the way Compa runs...
To compare it to a beloved franchise, the battle system is also very close to that of Xenogears.  With the chain moves, and the ability to summon a powerful robot to fight for you (in this case the Console Goddesses).

The customizable summons are the little icing on the cake for me.  Occasionally characters get "blank" summons.  You can then go into your hard drive and apply any picture and name to that summon.  What you are encouraged to do, and what I did, is use pictures that relate to the character.  So my Nippon Icchi girl can summon Plenair, Laharl and Etna.  Neptune (the Sega girl) can summon Sonic the Hedgehog, Kazuma from Yakuza and Ulala from Space Channel 5.  Nintendo girl summons sprites of Mario, Link, and Samus.  You get the idea.  Of course you can have the PS3 girl summon a giant penis if you want.  Any picture will work.  But I like to try and keep with the theme of the universe.

So who is this game for?

White Heart (Ps3 Girl)
If you like Visual Novels, hard core JRPGs, and generous amounts of fan service, then you will probably like this game quite a bit.  If your love for any of the above three categories falters in the least, then you will probably hate this game.  This game isn't for most people.

However, from what I've heard and read about the sequel (which is coming to the west), nearly every part of the first game that fails has been improved, including an on screen avatar to progress through the different worlds.

A lot has been made of the sexuality and loli characters, and a lot of reviews focus only on that instead of talking about the positive and negative the game actually offers.  I hope this review gives a more concise point by point of what makes this a good and a bad game.