An abysmal JRPG whose mere existence is a punch-line.
When it comes down to JRPGs, you usually expect to see plenty of story, plenty of combat, and most of all, gameplay that does not repel the player. Sadly, in the case of Hypderdimension Neptunia, you only get one out of these three options. Care to guess what it is? Read on to find out.
Hyperdimension Neptunia takes place in the world of "Gamindustri" (Game Industry), the world is divided into four lands, each an allegory of this gen's Console War. There is Leanbox, a medieval world of green pastures, Lastation, a steam-punk inspired world, Lowee, a fantasy land covered in snow, and Planeptune, which is the most advanced civilization and also the representation of the canceled SEGA system from the 90s, the SEGA Neptune that, for those who don't know, was meant to be a hybrid of the SEGA CD and 32X. Since the 32X, which was an add-on for the SEGA Genesis, flopped big time, it was never put in production.
Each landmass is controlled by the four goddesses. Vert(Green Heart) in Leanbox, Noire(Black Heart) in Lastation, Blanc(White Heart) in Lowee, and Neptune(Purple Heart) in Planeptune.
The story begins with the four goddesses fighting in their world of Celestia, and Green Heart instigates a sudden team up with Black and White Heart, and they all cast Neptune out of Celestia. She is found sticking out of the ground in Planeptune by Compa, nursed, and diagnosed with complete amnesia. A voice in her head, identifying itself as Histoire, tells Neptune the world is in danger and that she needs Neptune's help to find key fragments to save her. Thus, Neptune sets out across the world in total ignorance of her own powers and personality with Compa(Who is the personification of company "Compile Heart") and a Guild member known as IF(Idea Factory).
But on the bad side, the characters aside from the goddesses are painfully annoying.
The story is localized very well, to say the least. It's original...in the way that nobody else has done something like it before. It's a go-nowhere story supported by cute little Japanime girls, really. It's a plot that makes only the barest of sense. The vocal work is pretty fantastic, featuring people who have voiced other localized games and products. People like Wendee Lee who voiced White Heart (She voiced BlackRose from Dot Hack series) and Erin Fitzgerald who voiced Black Heart (She voiced Alkaid from .hack//G.U.). It was pleasant to see some good actresses in.
Others like Yuri Lowenthal also lend their talent, which was good. They helped keep the story moving with ease, I thought.
However, the only one ever really providing the backbone of this game's entertainment value is Neptune, and that's about it. The 4th wall breaking may be enough to cause a riot among the teenage and casual fans, older fans may be less impressed by the cop-out.
The other goddesses in the other lands each have blogs where they post public relations and advertise their land, while also writing nonsensical things that you see on websites like Twitter.
Unfortunately, not even NISA's great localization could save this game from the horrors that lay within this disc. From incredibly boring dungeon design to a downright horrible item system, to the most lazy excuse for combat ever seen in a JRPG, there is not a single bit of quality game design here.
The ordeal begins with the combat system. You are able to perform a broad amount of skills by mapping them in the combo skill menu. The menu itself, however, looks very daunting but is not really that complex. It's poorly managed and is nothing but a facade to the fact you will never use more than three at least. It is only there to hide the extremely dull combat system.
Although there is the possibility that you can string together plenty of impressive combos when you have grinded to higher levels, the hard reality is that there will always be one best combo, and you will only ever use two sets of combos. One that transforms the goddesses, and the one that does the most damage, which are their special skills. It does not get more simple than that.
To top it all off, the combat is extremely slow. If it wasn't for the skip button that lets you skip every animation entirely, I would have quit a long time ago, because the attacks lack flair, take too long to execute, and there would be no desire in your crushed soul to witness it more than a few times at best.
Adding insult to this injury is a pathetic inventory system, as well as lack of real equipment, loot, and character customization. But what really adds the salt to the already massive wound in your heart is the fact you only ever get three party members all the way to the end of the game. Oh, sure, you can get two more characters from doing some events on the islands, but they are locked and require DLC you must pay for to open them. Have fun with that. Recruiting the other goddesses can only be done when you are able to travel to the final dungeon, and even then, you probably won't be powerful enough to beat them without resorting to a little cheating.
It's kind of amusing the kind of exploitation one can pull off with this game's difficulty system. Any time out of combat, you can change it to Easy, Normal, and Hard. On Easy, all battles take longer because enemies do much less damage, as do you. But they do such minute bits of damage you can't die no matter what. On hard mode, all damage is doubled, which is why it goes so faster. It's absolutely pathetic, because not only does it make all fights winnable, you do not get penalized at all. You will always receive full rewards at victory.
What makes the combat even worse is the fact that the healing system is all automatic, and that skills often cancel each other out. If you try to use a healing skill that activates at 50%, and have another one that does the same, the weaker of the two is always used no matter how far down the health goes. Also, you cannot heal outside of combat. Making this even more head-ache inducing is that until about late game, you are always going to be strapped for cash, and just getting the items to even use the skills you want is extremely difficult, so you must rely on always winning before the enemy gets a turn in. Apparently Gamindustri is having it's own Great Depression.
Money is such a problem because weapons do not often drop in dungeons, and you almost never find them in chests. You are always forced to purchase increasingly overpriced weapons for the whole game. But guess what? The pain does not end there. What you get in the shop is directly tied to Neptune's level, so the higher she goes, the more that is made available in the store, which means you can very well get items you shouldn't even be seeing for a while, and when you need it, you'll find you just don't have the cash. Do I need to say at the end of this paragraph the pacing is just awful?
As if to placate to casual players, Neptune gains a skill around level 30 (Which is easy to get to with a bit of grinding at the free DLC dungeon), she obtains a skill called "Neptune Break" which is her goddess skill that does massive damage to all enemies and is essentially game breaking for the rest of the game. It can be used on all bosses for the same effect, as it is just an incredibly damaging skill.
It all boils down to just pressing the same four buttons every, single, time.
In combos, there are three ways they can end. Combo links, which keep the combo going as well as restoring a small amount of AP, which has diminishing returns the more you use it. There is transforming, for the goddesses like Neptune, which will increase their damage and add extra effects to the skills. Then there is the SWITCH, but it will never be used because you can only have three party members the whole game at the front of the party, at least before the NISA and Gust DLC were released. Still, when you do in fact get to use it, it allows you the use of another full AP bar in the same turn on the character who switched in, so you can hopefully beat that boss that will 1 hit kill your end-game party before he gets his turn in!
Yes, no matter what you do, and no matter how strong you make your characters out to be with processor units and bracelets, you can't really protect yourself, defense-stat wise.
On the graphical side of this game, it is sickening. For a PS3 exclusive, you would expect more out of it, but the only true art lies in the animated(think jiggling breasts) 2D drawings used for the visual novel story telling parts of the game. The frame rate constantly dips below 20 FPS, and people with astigmatism have reported having issues because of it. The dungeons are really all recycled, and the music accompanying most will just drive you insane. Gee, you would think that the separate floors of Hirool Castle would all be just a *little* different, right..?!
The model design in game, outside of the drawings, is pretty sub-par. Some characters, like IF, have flat faces, and it just looks ugly. Most of the monster designs are pretty weak, too. Some dungeons are just so incredibly huge you just want to quit and not do it, because you know that at this point, it's just boring and dull.
Each character comes equipped with a special ability. Neptune(and later White Heart) can use a hammer that breaks objects in the way. IF(And later Green Heart) can use a bandit bangle which will reveal the location of a blue chest(of which there is 1 per dungeon, at least in 99% of them), and Compa(later Black Heart) can use a bell that will summon monsters. Not only that, the bell can be used on runes in dungeon that summon only *one* type of monster, a Clione, that has a large amount of hit points and always gives off a huge reward in EXP when defeated. For some convoluted reason, each skill is on a timer when used, and there really is no point to it. No reason at all, and Neptune's hammer takes a longer time to recharge than the other two abilities. It's really demoralizing when you just sit there in a dungeon waiting for it because there is a lot of required demolition in your path.
The music is the definition of lazy. There are perhaps only ten tracks in the whole game, but regardless of the amount, it is easily forgettable and does not go harmoniously with the story.
There are plenty of minor gripes as well, but I want to explain two more extremely damaging system that completely ruins this game.
The quest system, and the "share" bars.
Firstly, the quest system is awful. There are only three quests: Kill X amount of monsters, obtain X amount of items from monsters, and get to the extraction zone. By the way, the fetch quest items can be so rare you won't complete the quest until over twenty minutes in the dungeon. True story told from experience.
The share bars coincide with these quests. In every land, some dungeons will raise and lower bars. Raising these bars is key to obtaining new events which progress the story, as well as unlocking more of the goddess blog entries and whatnot. You cannot complete one island and then move on during the Key Fragment phase, because you are required to jump around. Though an extremely minor thing, some frighteningly obsessive people I know get very pissed off at that. It's an awful system that is just filler for an already short and boring game.
For some reason, going to other lands is also an irritation, because you have to go through a small dungeon that always forces at least one fight during your small trek before you can reach the next land.
Another gripe is that the game is not very descriptive of it's own basic mechanics. You can gain elemental bullets for your ranged attacks, but you can never figure out what the elemental weaknesses of the enemies are.
Above all, it is a terrible title. Though original in concept and somewhat interesting, it's executed poorly. The combat, in simple words, is horrible. The dungeon design is plain and bland, and the combo system is much more shallow than it looks. The game can, and really will be eventually, played only by skipping every animation, so what exactly are you getting out of this if you aren't even seeing the characters do anything in game?
Hardcore JRPG fans need not apply, this game is not worth the $60. If you really want to brave the world of Gamindustri, do it when the price is cut in half....
Like this game already is.