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PlayStation 3 Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia

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Recently we’ve been seeing some collaborative efforts in role-playing games coming from Japan. Granted that’s not something that’s entirely new, but with releases such as Trinity Universe and Cross Edge there has definitely been a niche market for it. Developer Idea Factory has been involved in each of these and their latest effort, Hyperdimension Neptunia, has recently been released in the States.

Right off the bat there is a few things about Hyperdimension Neptunia that stand out. For starters, the game features an abundant amount of busty babes with anime-ecchi designs. It’s obviously designed for otaku in that respect, but the real focus here is on hardcore gamers in general. In the title, the videogame console war is taken to the extreme with Goddesses that represent each console battling in a world known as Gamindustri. Sounds a little out there doesn’t it?

Basically there’s an all-powerful book known as the Histoire, which just so happens to be a sentient force that created the four Goddesses. Each of the Goddesses is a colored heart, with Green, White, Black, and Purple being the colors of choice. While each Goddess has involvement in the story, players are put into the sexy boots of Neptune, the Purple Heart. Through events in the game, Neptune is cast down from the heavens where the Goddesses were locked in battle, and winds up on the ground beneath in a much younger, more innocent form. She’s charged with helping Histoire out in an effort to restore herself and bring order back to the world of the Goddesses.

While it sounds interesting enough on paper (or internet page, as it were) the plot here is truly a jumbled mess. It’s hardly cohesive and it’s often nonsensical. The only thing that saves the dialogue and cut scenes is a great localization thanks to the efforts of NIS America. A deluge of fourth-wall breaking humor is peppered throughout the game and the writing is full of sharp comedic wit. While it doesn’t work all the time or serve as enough backbone to carry players through the game, it does offer some rewarding chuckles in between the monotonous drivel.

As far as the gameplay goes, Hyperdimension Neptunia is fairly barebones in its approach. The game’s world is broken up until a series of menus with limited navigation and sparse information. Several of the world’s environments would have been awesome to explore, given their unique premises and whatnot, but alas that’s not entirely allowed. Exploring comes in the form of skulking about dungeons and areas where combat is available, a la Trinity Universe, and it’s underwhelming to say the least.

At first my impression of Hyperdimension Neptunia‘s battle system was leaning towards a comparison to Xenogears. Battles take place with action points and turn-based movements. Action points are spent launching various attacks by pressing buttons, and when the meter reaches zero a character stalls out. Some interesting combinations can be strewn together, and the system is more or less rewarding early on, but it’s not as deep as one might initially think.

Drawn out super moves and ultimately simplistic commands drag out the experience and make it mind-numbing once you establish what works. The battles are often too one-dimensional, characters are over-powered, and there’s very little need for strategy. This all leads to combat that grows stagnant after a couple hours and it makes dungeon crawling and random encounters a chore. Thankfully there’s not really a need to grind levels as the game is more or less designed so that as long as players progress with the story’s linear pace they’ll remain a click above opponents.

Some spice can be added to the combat by developing and nurturing moves to customize what certain characters can do. Add to this the fact that there are different styles of attacks and some characters have different forms and you have a rather complex system for an otherwise simple game. The balance between customized moves and ones that can be learned just doesn’t sit well with the overall structure of the game. It feels like two different combat systems were jammed together and this was the end result. It feels kind of messy in all honesty.

The progression of the story is rather linear, though there are some side missions to break up the pacing a little. These are entertaining little diversions, but again it’s mostly thanks to the localization of the game by NIS America, and not the gameplay itself. These side missions also have a way of bulking up your characters and making the main quest even easier. With that being taken into consideration it’s frustrating that the only real challenge comes into play when you consider the clunky healing system, which uses expendable resources found in battle. It’s a cheap way to add difficulty and it’s cumbersome in its very nature, but it’s basically the only amount of strategy players will have to worry about. Oh, and expect to keep the same party members for a very long time because you’ll be running the same group until close to the end of the game.

Hyperdimension Neptunia isn’t a complete and utter failure. There are some solid elements to it, but the navigation, exploration, and combat in the game all fall short of expectations. Adding to that disappointment is the visual nature of it all. Sure, the character designs are attractive enough, and the still images are high quality anime renditions, but the in-game graphics are severely dated. I’d equate the quality of the environments and character models to Dreamcast, or low PS2 era. This is by no means an attractive PlayStation 3 title, and that’s more than a little disappointing.

The audio package in the game is decent for what it is. The soundtrack has its quirks and the sound effects get a little old after a while, but the voice actors more or less elevate the material. Players do have the ability to choose between English and Japanese based on their preferences, and in both cases the quality of the audio is fine.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is a very hit or miss experience for an extraordinarily niche audience. With that in mind the game does offer a ton of fan-service from more female designs to a fantastic art-book packed in with the early release of the game and unlockable artwork galleries full of eye-candy. It’s just a shame that a game that’s built around the personality and charm doesn’t quite hold up when put to task. Ultimately I’d say this one is only worthwhile for the hardcore otaku gamer, and even then it’s still not a great game.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, and Sexual Themes.

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