This sequel fixes some problems with the first game, but...
The first Hyperdimension Neptunia wasn’t welcomed with much praise when it arrived in English form. It built up a cult following from fans of Japanese games that liked its unique setting and story idea, but most people couldn’t get past the horrid frame rate issues, the slow combat and the overall poor execution that the Japanese RPG suffered from. This didn’t stop the developers going back to work; everyone deserves a second chance right? They took the fan feedback to heart and attempted to solve the problems in the original with this sequel, amusingly called MK (mark) 2. It’s certainly an improvement over the first game, but by how much?
MK2 sets the story three years after the first game and is still takes place in the world of Gamindusti. This time around, however, the story shifts to the younger sisters of the original game’s characters. Taking on the role of Nepgear, the game begins with the heroes from the first title captured by an organisation known as Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime (ASIC). Only Nepgear escapes from the depths of the Gamindusti graveyard after two friends release her with the power of the Sharicite, a crystal made from the hopes of the people. Needing help, they go off on an adventure to find all the other sisters so that they can assist in having enough power to save the captive CPUs.
Yes, I just indeed did say CPUs. It stands for Console Patron Units, strong and powerful characters that you play as during the game. You see, one of the selling points for theHyperdimension Neptunia series is that the cast and setting are based around Japanese video games and the console wars. Each one of the game’s characters that you can acquire as party members are based on Japanese developers, like Nippon Ichi, Idea Factory, Gust and Compile Heart. CPU characters are based on consoles, with the main character Nepgear acting as theSega Game Gear. Even towns have video game influences, such as Lastation, a town where the CPU dresses in black and can do everything. Yeah, I’m sure you don’t need to guess what that console is.
The theme behind the game is that of piracy with Arfoire (R4, like the R4 cards) taking over the world with the help of CFW (PSP custom firmware). It’s a silly, goofy take on the problem the industry faces, done in a tongue in cheek and charming way. It does have the tendency to drag on a bit, making sections of the story just generally boring. There seems to be less emphasis on the gaming related jokes than the first game too. The hidden message of the story in MK2 is that we must fight against piracy, a serious topic for any entertainment medium today.
One of the first improvements is to the battle system and how you get into fights. Gone is the stupidly high encounter rate; it’s now replaced with visible enemies that you can get preemptive attacks on if you get behind on them without a Metal Gear Solid style exclamation mark appearing above their head. Battles themselves have received quite an overhaul and are much faster and fluid in the sequel. The focus is still on turn-based battles, but now you can move your characters around. When it’s the character’s turn, a ring will appear below it on the ground showing how far they can move on that turn. This opens up a more strategic element over the first game as you have to be careful where you place your heroes. When you or the enemy attacks, a hitbox appears showing where the attack will hit. This means multiple enemies can be hit at once, but that’s also a strategy that can work against you, so you have to keep your team spaced out to make sure you don’t all get hit with the attack. At the same time, someone might be injured and need healing, which you have to be close by to do. Fights are much more engrossing than the first game and at the same time are simple so anyone can grasp it.
Attacks are still in the same format as the first Neptunia, with rapid, heavy and guard breaking attacks all making a return. Using any one of these moves will cost you AP (action points); you can keep on the heat by linking attacks until there is no more AP left to use. Rapid and heavy will work more effectively depending on the enemy, with rapid helping you increase hit counts for gaining SP (skill points), but the reason you need the guard attacks is to break the tougher enemies’ guard meter. Smashing it will lower their defence to allow you to deal much more damage than normal. As you progress through the game, more moves are unlocked, like combo finishers, that will do additional hits and damage when the right combo is performed.
There is an element of customization with moves as you can swap new ones with old ones or rearrange the order they are performed, essentially letting you fight with the effects and speed you want. SP is used by the CPU-based characters to transform into more powerful forms, although it’s advised to do this when you have a huge pool of SP as it costs 100 SP to transform and every turn it counts down. Hitting zero will make them revert back to normal. One slight problem I have with the battles – they are generally too easy, with only bosses or rare bigger monsters ever giving you a challenge, sometimes to the point you have to grind it out for a while to level up.
A support role is something newly added that allows the four party members to have a character supporting them. They never appear in battle; instead, the supporting character will buff the assaulting character with stat increases or bonus experience points. Every team member has a specific buff and with a total cast of 13 characters (two more if you want to buy the DLC), you’ve got plenty of options available.
Dungeons are small in size, creating quick plays through each location. Disappointingly, the same themes are used repeatedly for multiple locations, creating a sense of deja-vu. It seems lazy not to create more when they are as small as this. Enemies parody elements from other games. You’ll run into opponents such as Mario style warp pipes, slimes, Tetris blocks, piranha plants and a certain professor who had a big hit with brain training. Laughter ensues but will fade over time because just like the dungeons, it suffers from the repetition – same model, different colour.
Things have changed outside of battle. The only movement you ever do is in dungeons, and everything else is done through menus. The world map is now one big picture with dungeons and towns highlighted, which can be visited with a click of a button. None of the pointless location island swapping that plagued the first game is here. In towns, you can accept side quests from the guild, buy new items, create new items and weapons by crafting materials and speak to people who live there. Quests are limited to killing or collecting things, nothing spectacular or exciting. Later in the game, I ended up ignoring them to get more enjoyment out of the story. Talking to people in towns uses an interface called Chirper (Twitter anyone?) that serves as the main communication with people. Chirper can lead to additional cutscenes (feeling more like skits in the Tales RPG series), building up friendships and finding new gear. Once you get to a certain point in the game, you can put your battle skills to the test in the coliseum venue where winning will award you special items.
Neptunia MK2 won’t win any visual awards, but it’s good to know the graphics have stepped up over the previous game. 3D models replace the 2D artwork in cutscenes, giving the characters more personality and animations over the still images previously used, although the mouth doesn’t always match up with the voice acting. Generally, the game blooms with bright colours that ooze a world of happiness. The game is much cleaner and sharper too, with a more solid frame rate to boot. It still drops from time to time, but it never gets as bad as the sluggishness of the original game. Audio is neither awful or fantastic, as it does the job but nothing is memorable. Voice acting ranges from decent to OK. None are really bad per se; because the characters are young girls, they all come with high-pitched voices that won’t be to everyone’s taste. In battle, there is quite a lot of repeated dialogue that can start to become annoying over time. When it comes to the story, there is a ton of voice acting in the game for all the lengthy scenes (sometimes making the game feel like a Japanese visual novel game), all of which can be heard in either English or Japanese.
Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2 is easily a better game than its predecessor, though it’s still not going to be for everyone. The game is slotted into a very niche market, a market where people love anime and moe-infused girl characters. Don’t like this? Then you’ll hate this game, simple. If you don’t mind that or are a fan of the first game, all the improvements will put a smile on your face. With faster gameplay, more polish, a much better battle system and more features, MK2is an upgrade over the original and is more enjoyable. It’s still not quite a great game yet, but it’s heading in the right direction.
As the saying goes, third time’s a charm.