Developer: Compile Heart
Localizer: NIS America
Year: 2011 (NA), 2010 (JP)
Being someone who frequents internet forums and such, I knew of the problems surrounding this game from all the bashing and passed on HDN when I saw it in stores. My friend got me this game for Christmas, and I decided to try it out, seeing that I had free time and the girls were hot.
I don’t regret spending time with Neptunia at all. It’s not a great game or anything, the gameplay is pretty mediocre and flawed to be honest, but Neptunia turned out very enjoyable in comparison to what gaming forums wanted me to believe. Maybe it’s because I’ve actually played a shitty RPG called Lunar Dragon Song and Neptunia is heaps better than that thing.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a parody of the current-gen console wars, where each gaming system is represented by an attractive female personification in a mecha-girl type of design. The world of Gameindustri was once a peaceful land ruled by a single Goddess, called a CPU, from Celestia and all was well until somebody had the wonderful idea of splitting the godly powers into four and made four Goddesses for the next generation. Gameindustri divided into four lands, each governed by a different goddess. These four CPUs wanted more power, and fought against each other, beginning the Console War that will last for thousands of years.
The game begins at the beginning of the end of the Console War. Since the CPUs have pretty much reached a stalemate in the war, they decided to gang up on one of them and banish them from Celestia to the world below. The one to get gang-beaten was none other than our heroine Neptune, the personification of the Sega Neptune that never came to be, who crash-landed to the human world and wakes up with amnesia. She begins to hear a mysterious loli voice telling her to collect the Key Fragments, and she sets off on her journey with two human companions, Compa and IF.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I enjoyed Neptunia, but I can’t classify it as a good game because I actually agree with the complaints about its gameplay. It’s a dungeon crawler where all the dungeons are as dull as first-grade math homework and they are abundant with copy-pasted environments and several dungeons even have the exact same layout. The environments are really boring to look at, and each dungeon is one floor long with very simple layout. It takes 10 minutes or less to go through most dungeons, and you’re given the complete dungeon map once you enter. There’s not much exploration in dungeons (only a few branches at most, and you can probably guess where the boss fight/objective is just by looking at the map), and everything is menu-based outside of dungeons.
In terms of land, you can freely travel between the four landmasses in Gameindustri (Planeptune, Lastation, Leanbox, Lowee), but you have to go through the dungeon linking to the landmass EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You can’t even turn off encounters, so even when you’re level 70, you’ll be forced to go through a low-level dungeon and fight weak monsters if you want to go to another land. There is no way to turn this off, which adds a level of annoyance in addition to the very dull dungeons.
Compile Heart tried to go for an interesting combo system for battle, but it was badly executed and thus turned out to be a snoozefest. You get to map moves to your circle, X, and triangle buttons, and under normal circumstances, you can chain 4 moves. These 4 moves make a combo, and depending on your 4th move, there may be a ending bonus such as chaining (adding the next 4 moves to current chain), switching with back row party member, or transforming to HDD mode for goddesses. HDD mode is basically a Goddess’ true mecha-girl form where all their stats are boosted from their human form that they’re usually in. Combos are set up outside of battle, and you can keep using moves until you run out of AP. AP completely refills each turn, and there is no MP or anything like that. ALL moves use up AP, even your super powerful limit-break-like move. In other words, you can pretty much just spam your most powerful attacks without worrying about managing MP. This pretty much brings every battle to play out exactly the same: make a strong combo, press the same buttons every battle. You get to customize your combos, but most of your options are completely useless anyway.
As if there is too much to do in battle, CH had the ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL idea of making all healing automatic so you don’t even have to lift a finger to heal! Want to manually use a healing item? Or even more outrageously, a HEALING SPELL? Impossible. What you get are item skills, which are basically automatic skills with a certain condition that consume items in the inventory upon activation. Each item skill will have two conditions: one concerning how much HP your have right now, and another that determines when exactly the skill activates. For example, the most basic item skill will only activate when your HP is at 50% or below, and it will activate when you take damage from the enemy. Not all your item skills will activate, as you have something called skill points that you have to put into each skill. Each skill starts off with a 0% chance of activation, and each skill point will increase activation chance by 1%. The max is 100%, and you can add and remove skill points from skills as you see fit.
Both the battle system and the dungeon-crawling are pretty much bottom-tier in terms of complexity and difficulty. Thankfully Neptunia was still more fun than Rhapsody DS and Lunar Dragon Song, so I wouldn’t put it in the unplayable category.
Oh yeah, and those hot goddesses that are rampant in promotional art and the game cover? Aside from Neptune, you won’t get any of them until right before the final dungeon. For most of the game you won’t be able to use anyone other than Neptune, Compa, and IF, because Nisa and Gust are DLC characters. They join your party in the main game and you see all their events, but you CAN’T USE THEM IN BATTLE until you buy them. What the hell. 5pb and Red are acceptable because their events and joining have to be purchased as a whole, but having all the events available in-game for free and requiring you to buy DLC to use them is facepalm worthy.
The actual story is also bottom-tier as far as RPGs go, but Neptunia itself is supposed to be a parody of eastern RPGs so the very basic and predictable collect-your-plot-relevant-items-and-save-the-world plot is not supposed to be taken seriously at all. Things are great and funny when they’re parodying generic RPG tropes and breaking the fourth wall, but immediately bores you to tears when they start throwing in random politics in the middle of the game. Attempt at politics, please stay out of my parody RPG unless you’re supposed to be making fun of something very obvious too.
If you frequent internet forums, then you might have heard that this game is very perverted and full of naked chicks. That is not true, past the first CG in the game where Compa is wrapping Neptune with bandages. That CG is the most risque the game will ever get, and everything else is pretty tame. Instead, Neptunia offers a much better kind of fanservice: fourth wall-breaking and many, many references to other games. Yes, Neptunia is a fanservice game. Just don’t forget that the term fanservice does not only apply to tits and panties.
Neptunia, while weak in the gameplay and storytelling departments, has LOADS of interactions between their charming characters. In fact, Neptunia is kinda like a moe-ge in the eroge genres–you play solely for the characters, and not the plot or anything else. Ever wish your heroes in your RPGs had more comedic character interactions like a slice-of-life show? Want an RPG where the characters actually feel more like ordinary humans? This is where Neptunia excels in, as the character scenes outnumber the actual plot-advancing scenes, and the cast is all distinct and colorful with plenty of scenes that make fun of the tropes and stereotypes they embody. If you hate otaku culture, then there in nothing in Neptunia for you.
Neptunia also features an all-girl cast. Want some mans? Go elsewhere.
The best part of Neptunia is certainly the character designs and CGs. This game has some of the most delicious female designs offered by an RPG, with assets suitable for a variety of tastes. The character designs are wonderful, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The NPC portraits are just black silhouettes, which may feel cheap to some, but if you frequently play visual novels then you’ll be glad side-characters actually get portraits. Background illustrations are beautiful too. The 2D art is great in this game.
The 3D graphics themselves need some work. Environments are very dull and copy-pasted everywhere, and the 3D models of the characters lack detail and sharpness. Monster designs are unspectacular and be ready for shitloads of palette swaps. Sometimes they don’t even bother to change the color for a different enemy.
The soundtrack is bad. The tracks range from annoying to forgettable, and there isn’t even once piece that caught my attention. Neptunia might have the worst music out of all the RPGs I’ve played in recent memory.
Objectively, Hyperdimension Neptunia is not a good game. Boring gameplay, lack of good plot, and bad music pretty much means a bad RPG. However, I just can’t bring myself to hate this game because of the characters and art. Despite all the glaring flaws, I enjoyed Neptunia and it turned out much better than my expectations from reading posts and reviews. It’s probably because I fall right into the target audience, which likely overlaps with the target audience for most moe slice-of-life anime and moe-ge. I’d imagine Neptunia would fare better with moe anime fans than hardcore RPG fans, and all the bashing generally comes from the latter group, which would have just ignored this game if they weren’t starved for RPGs on consoles (and for some stupid reason refuse to accept our turn-based RPG gods, handhelds, as true consoles). Gameplay-wise, Neptunia is just a regular bad game, not the absolute kusoge that some people would like you to believe.
So yeah, I admit it’s a bad game but I still had fun with Neptunia. In fact, I like it enough to want to play the sequel, which apparently improves the gameplay by quite a bit.