For the Pursuit of Peace. Plus, Snacks! Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory Review
An unknown enemy casts the CPU Neptune into an alternate 1980s reality of her world of Gamindustri. But in this world, nobody knows who she is, and even worse, she’s not even a CPU anymore! Now, Neptune must rally the CPUs of this world, defeat the culprit behind her banishment, and make her way home.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a Japanese role-playing game that features some elements of the Action-RPG-style dungeon-crawlers, as well as some tactical aspects. It’s the third release in the Hyperdimension series and, like its predecessors, the game’s story satirizes events, genres, and companies in the video game industry as part of the writing. It is, for the most part, an exceptionally charming game with some great feature, but how well does it stand up to other franchises under the NIS flag?
For those of you who are not familiar with the Hyperdimension saga, the game takes place in the land of Gamindustri where four regions exist: Lastation, Leanbox, Lowee, and Planeptune. Each region (presumably named after the three consoles of this generation, as well as the doomed SEGA Neptune console) is taken care of by a CPU, or goddess. Noire oversees the land of Lastation, while Vert cares for the territory of Leanbox. Blanc is the goddess of Lowee, and Planeptune is ruled by the game’s lead protagonist, Neptune. Together they protect the land of Gamindustri, which has long been at peace since the last console war.
Much of Hyper-V‘s charm comes from the writing, which very often pokes fun at the video game industry, but also remains generally light-hearted in nature, which makes for a less dramatic story than most RPGs. Nothing is sacred in the writing, from a character called Maryo coming to grips with the fact that the “game is rigged” and his princess is always in another castle, to a strike breaking out in the region of Leanbox over wages that resulted in the employees standing on the roof and threatening to jump (parodying a similar situation at a Foxconn factory in China where Xbox 360s and iPads are made). While at times morbid, if you’re in the know of the goings-on in the gaming world, the presentation is often amusing and will elicit a chortle from just about anyone. The writing is quite enjoyable overall, coupled with a stellar voice-acting cast that includes Wendee Lee and Melissa Fahn (Cowboy Bebop), as well as Erin Fitgerald and Tara Platt (Bleach, Naruto). Despite this, there are some annoyances. Catch phrases in battle are extremely repetitive to the point where you’ll want to throw your console out of the window. “It should always be my turn!” exclaimed little Miss Neptune – every bloody time she went up to bat.
However, the humour and dialogue isn’t necessarily for everyone. Much like any modern Japanese anime, the game’s narrative at times takes a turn towards the more juvenile jokes in a sexual nature. For example, one of the main character’s HDD forms (a more powerful persona of the character whose physical appearance and personality traits are often different) acts like a dominatrix, often making the other two female HDDs the butt of her jokes regarding punishment and submission. Of course, those jokes didn’t hold a candle to the “bubble bath” scene that tripped my dirty-old-man breaker. Fortunately for those moments, there is a skip function that fast-forwards through the repartee to promptly return to the action.
Beyond the dialogue, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory‘s gameplay returns to the basic tenets of the Japanese RPG: explore, quest, battle, grind, and progress. Hyper-V, much like other NIS series such as the Atelier franchise, moves you from location to location on a fixed map to different zones (or dungeons, if you will) as they become unlocked by progressing further in the game. Each dungeon has a look and feel to fit the general theme of the region in which it resides. For example, Planeptune’s dungeons have a lot of greenery and a forested feel, while Lastation’s areas will have a lot of black and metallic structures associated with them.
You can explore these locations to find treasure cubes and harvest points and also fight monsters to level up your characters. Treasure cubes and harvest points are encountered regularly throughout the dungeons and give you consumables to heal or buff your characters, or materials to be used in the creation of items such as weapons, armor, and more advanced tonics for healing and buffing. There are also rare items hidden randomly in each zone that can be uncovered by pinging with the Treasure Search button (Square). While it is kind of monotonous to wander around while tapping the Square button throughout a dungeon, the rewards are well worth the effort. Not only that, but you have the monsters wandering around the rooms to keep you entertained in between pings; these foes respawn shortly after being defeated, which allows for plenty of grinding while looking for the hidden goodies – something that’s essential to making it through the game easily. Save points are also sprinkled around the larger dungeons, but smaller ones might require you to make a hasty retreat back into the outside world to make a save.
Battle is initiated in the dungeon by engaging the enemy with attacks, which results in a pre-emptive or Symbol attack. Alternatively, running into it or raising its awareness and having it attack you often results in a Surprise attack. If you successfully initiate a Symbol attack, your characters will get the initiative on the first turn; likewise, a Surprise attack will result in the enemies getting the initiative in the first round. From here, things are fairly straightforward.
Combat is turn-based, with all of the turns being displayed in the upper-right corner to allow you to strategize – not that you really need to. When it’s your characters’ turns, they have a set range that they can move in to either run right up to the enemy and meet them head on, or stand back and buff the rest of your team. You can also work your way around the enemy to attack from all sides; however, this doesn’t offer much of a tactical advantage from an offensive standpoint, as it doesn’t seem that you do more damage hitting them from behind. From a defensive perspective, though, this spread-out tactic is exceptionally useful to keep your entire team from becoming the victim of an AoE attack, limiting the enemy’s attacks to a single member of your party. You can also initiate an escape by running to a certain part of the border after the first turn, but don’t be surprised if your first attempt to run away (or the second, or the third) fails. More often than not, you’ll know fairly early in the zone if you’re in over your head and need to go to a lower level area for some good old-fashioned grinding.
Standard attacks are sorted into three categories of combo skills: Rush, Power, and Break. Rush attacks have a high hit count and low damage, but fill your EXE Drive Gauge faster, while Power attacks favor sheer strength to deal raw damage. Break attacks wear down the enemy’s guard (registered in GP, or Guard Points). The strategy behind fighting an enemy is to wear down their Guard Points in order to do more damage directly to them, but beware, as often the more powerful enemies will regenerate their GP very quickly. If you can’t manage to keep their GP low, then whittling down their HP will become an onerous task, easily leaving your party depleted of their own HP and SP (Skill Points). Experimentation is key when it comes to your combos, which can be changed in the Commands menu, under Combo Skills. When new skills become unlocked, you can head here to add them to your chain, provided you have enough points.
Each winning battle fills your EXE Drive Gauge. Once you’ve attained a certain level in the Drive Gauge, the EVE Finishers become available to you in battle. These are finishing moves that your characters can perform to get one last devastating blow in before relinquishing their turn. Furthermore, you can join characters together in the party setup to unlock additional abilities for the leading (or front) character. Provided their Lily Rank, which is essentially an emotional link between the joined characters (Love, Hate, etc.), is above a certain level, the joined (or rear) character can assist in a more powerful finishing attack. Later in the game, EXE Drive skills will become unlocked for you to use outside of the finishing moves and will be available in the attack menu.
SP Skills are attacks and/or buffs that can be used by expending a character’s Skill Points. SP Attacks are deadly combinations that will take the selected attacker’s entire turn, but deal a massive amount of damage. Each team member also has certain skills that can be used to buff other members’ attributes such as strength, intelligence, etc. While the buffs can be used pretty much at any time, the attacks are most effective when you’ve activated that person’s HDD Mode.
HDD (Hard Drive Divinity) burns 20% of the member’s SP, but activates their more powerful CPU forms. These forms are capable of soaking up far more damage than the regular form and also dole out heavier punishment. The attributes of each HDD can be modified by acquiring Processor Units for an even more powerful alter-ego. Along with changing stats, Processor Units can also modify the appearance of the CPU.
Ultimately, once you’ve gotten your combos and skill sets fleshed out, battles quickly become a button mashing spree, with some toggling of the analog sticks to select your enemies and place your attackers on the board. To many players, this is exactly what JRPGs are all about, but those grappling for a more complex fight system might find this to be a bit monotonous because the real challenge is getting your characters fine-tuned in their skill sets. The only real difference in battles happens when your CPUs are engaged in HDD mode, and even then the only thing that changes is the scenery. Even the boss battles that take place succumb to the repetition of wearing down the baddies’ GP gauges, and then relentlessly punishing them with SP Combos until they explode or submit to defeat.
At the end of each chapter, the player is graded on his/her performance with a 40-point scale via in-game news breaks referred to as NepStation. The player will be graded by four reviewers that will offer tips and pointers on improving your score, which usually entails utilizing all of the features to their fullest and grinding out all of the side quests. Additional news can be caught on NepStation by using the TV in the Basilicom; there you can also catch infomercials that will sell you items at discounted rates, take quizzes to win prizes, and more.
There are a massive number of tertiary features in the game to help you along in your adventuring. Most notably is the Scout system, which is essentially a mini-game where you send out scouts to the various dungeons to collect items to bring back to you and give you status reports. The status reports are an interesting bit where a scout will tell you if there is a certain condition in the dungeon (such as the dungeon now giving you 1.5x XP) and you’re left to deem the report trustworthy or untrustworthy. If you guess incorrectly, then the opposite can occur where you get 1.5x less XP instead for that dungeon or some other horrible thing happening. While it may initially not seem like something to bother with, the benefits can be great after playing for a while.
Item development is also a feature in the game that allows you to create items from materials collected on your adventures. These items can be created from plans that you can acquire as drops, and then by acquiring all of the necessary components, a new item can be developed for purchase from the item shop. This mechanic is somewhat similar to the synthesis mechanic in the Atelier games, only without the random explosions that take place.
Fortunately, while you’re spending hours upon hours grinding, completing quests, and searching for those super rare items, the game is quite gorgeous to look at. Characters are artfully drawn in traditional anime style with their rendered models toon-shaded to keep the cartoonish look about them. While in town, you’ll interact with the CPUs and the inhabitants of each region in chibi form as well! There are some occasional instances (that seemed to be limited to particular dungeons) where the frame rate appears to suffer (Otorii Great Forest seems to be a consistent offender), but more often than not, the game runs smooth as silk and looks simply superb.
Like the game’s predecessors, each zone is thematically different than the others, which provides a large variety of scenery and terrain to look at while adventuring. Enemies, too, are widely diverse and often are spoofs of some video game enemy or another – only revamped to be cute. Monsters that come in the form of ghosts like the ones from Pac-Man, or the pixilated aliens from Space Invaders are just a couple of examples of these. Overall, the entire game is simply overwhelming in the amount of cute thrown into it, so if you don’t have the stomach for adorable enemies, you may want to pass.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is laid out a lot like some of the more modern animes that I’ve seen in recent years where a story eventually develops, but you must first brave the fires of juvenile shock humor, often featuring women’s bosoms or a character’s flamboyant sexual attitude as the basis for getting people ‘hooked’ before being introduced to the serious side of things. Once you get to the second or third act, however, the pubescent pranks stop and you find yourself in the middle of a compelling story with some really likeable characters. Overall, Hyper-V is a like-it-or-hate-it game. If you love classic JRPG mechanics, a slow-to-start but fun story, and can stand the occasionally childish humor, then you might want to look at picking this one up, otherwise, you always have the Atelier series to fall back on.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory receives a 3.75/5.0.
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