Friday, July 22, 2011

Hyperdimension Neptunia Review

The four goddesses of Hyperdimension Neptunia
Green Heart, White Heart, Black Heart, and Purple Heart (the female lead)
Every once in a while, a game concept comes out that is so different and unique that it creates a lot of buzz, Hyperdimension Neptunia is one of those games. It has the console war that we all know and love, but with the game consoles personified as goddesses. There was lots of buzz with the game because there is lots of potential for self-deprecation and the gaming industry has a massive variety of things to lampoon. Hyperdimension Neptunia is a flawed game, but once you get past its flaws, it is an enjoyable game with a great cast of characters, an entertaining script that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and endless references to popular anime and video games.

The story of Hyperdimension Neptunia starts off with the four goddesses of the world of Gameindustri battling for thousands of years gaining little or no ground. To break this endless stalemate, the goddess White Heart (Nintendo) suggests that the three of them team up together to take one of the goddesses out of Celestia. Black Heart (Sony) who is battling Purple Heart (Sega) gets irritated by Purple Heart’s egging on. With Green Heart’s (Microsoft) suggestion, the three goddesses decide to take out Purple Heart. Irritated that she had no say in this situation, Purple Heart brags that she could take out all three goddesses, and then proceeds to lose against the other three goddesses. Neptune wakes up on Planeptune with injuries all over her body. Having fallen from the sky, she doesn’t remember anything about herself and her past. Helped by the Compa (Compile Heart), she decides to go all over the world of Gameindustri since she believes she is the only one who can save it. Over the course of the game, she goes into the lands of Lastation (Black Heart’s domain), Lowee (White Heart’s domain), and Leanbox (Green Heart’s domain), trying to change the world around her.

(Purple Heart)
The main character is Neptune, also known as Purple Heart. In her normal form, Neptune is a cheerful girl with a white sweater and a short purple hair. Her personality can be described as cheerful, energetic, kind, forgetful and prone to speak her mind. When the transforms into her goddess form, she has very long purple hair, a much larger bust line, and very revealing clothes. Her personality also changes in her goddess form; she has a more sullen, serious personality. She speaks in a lower tone of voice and she doesn’t speak as fast as her normal form. Under her personality change, she is still the same ditzy Neptune in the inside. Neptune is a very interesting character, after battling one of the other goddesses she describes the woman she battled as “a girl wearing a skanky outfit,” kind of funny, because Neptune’s transformed outfit is just as revealing, if not more revealing. To be honest, Neptune is a great character and she really does carry the game, but I would have preferred if her goddess form had more exposure over the course of the game. The few times Neptune does appear in her Goddess form in the event sequences make the game very interesting to say the least.

Over the course of the game, Neptune has two sidekicks Compa (Compile Heart) and Iffy (Idea Factory). Compa is the personification of everything that is wrong with moe. To be honest, I had no idea that I could hate moe, until I met Compa in Hyperdimension Neptunia. She is a useless character whose voice is grating, she has no redeemable qualities whatsoever. The moment I had the option of removing her from my party, I removed her. Iffy is a much more interesting character, she is a rebel who was born in one land but is loyal to the Goddess Green Heart. She is the serious girl who always keeps Neptune and Compa in line. Iffy always talks down to the other two, but deep down inside she cares about the both of them. The levelheaded and logical person in the group, she always finds herself outnumbered by Neptune’s silly antics.

Puple Heart and Black Heart
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a heavily character-driven RPG, and it also has a great cast of antagonists to make the game interesting. The Goddess of Lastation is the CPU Black Heart, also known as Noire. Black Heart is the textbook definition of a tsundere character. She doesn’t speak her mind, Noire insistat she hates Neptune, but deep down she cares for her. Noire has twintails, a hairstyle strongly associated with the tsundere personality. She is an aspiring voice actress that loves cosplaying in anime conventions. You can tell from what I am writing that Noire is my second favorite character after Neptune, she is really awesome. The Goddess of Leanbox is the CPU Green Heart, known as Vert. She is a hardcore gamer who has every game console known to man. Vert is so hardcore that she sneaks off into Planeptune to play their arcade games. Green Heart in the well-endowed female character in the cast, and she references it to poke fun of Neptune and Blanc. The Goddess of Lowee is the CPU White Heart, known as Blanc. She has a child-like appearance and is a total misanthrope. Blanc uses very foul language and what she says is pretty much the complete opposite of how she feels. Like the other Goddesses, she claims that she hates Neptune, but she is quite envious of her and wishes that they were closer.

The flow of the game is simple, the gamer views an event that is akin to a visual novel. There are gorgeous polygonal models using cell-shading of the characters talking on a static background. After the event is seen, a dungeon or another event opens up. The dungeons are quick affairs with simple goals, like reach the destination, find x number of items, or defeat the boss. In each world there are around five or six template dungeons, but each dungeon map is different. After the dungeon you can see another event that moves the story forward. The town is not explorable, using only a menu to navigate between events, dungeons, and shops.

The graphics in Hyperdimension Neptunia are fairly low-end. It is definitely not a game that pushes the Playstation 3 to its limits. The dungeon polygonal models are nice and they are a great transition from the original art. Image quality is not as good as Ar Tonelico 3, with its heavy anti-aliasing and higher polygonal models. Compile Heart should have used some of that extra PS3 power and push for heavy anti-aliasing and higher polygonal models. The graphics are inconsistent; because they dungeons do look nice, but it is jarring to have entire sections of the dungeon pop up out of nowhere. There is one incredible aspect when it comes to graphics, and that is the character models used in the event sequences. The character models are cell-shaded graphics that are a perfect representation of the original character design. At first I thought that it was 2D art, but the breathing and the mouth movements show that the character models are cell-shaded 3D graphics. The character models don’t do much except breathe, but it looks great. I love the character designs, and I am happy to see that none of the awesome design was lost when transition from the character design to the event 3D models.

Music in any game highlights important sequences and it can bring the game to a higher level of immersion. There are some great pieces of music, like the battle theme in the world of Lowee. The overall soundtrack is weak and it would have been nice if they had used that Gust connection to create a better musical score. In the events, about 5 pieces of music is used for the entire game, and one track is used over and over. It would have been nice to see more variety when it came to event music.

(Black Heart)
The battle system is great; it is one of the better battle systems I have seen in an RPG. You can create combos based on AP usage, and there are so many different ways to link combos and to get the most out of your game experiences. The battle system is very customizable, giving the user the ability to change styles on the fly and come up with some incredible combos. When you do an attack that has heavy impact, it lowers the guard of the enemy. Lower it enough and you break the guard of the character and your attacks would do double or triple the damage. The game is heavily combo-focused, even taking away your ability to use items to heal. Instead, you can determine how often a character uses items to heal them using a mixture of certain bottles. At first it was quite a burden, but once you got enough to do the basic healing all the time the game got much easier. For a Goddess like Neptune, doing the right combination will also give her the ability to transform from a normal person to her Goddess form, which increases her attack and defense exponentially. The best part of the battle system is your ability to skip the attack animations, so instead of having the RPG battles measured in minutes, it occurs in short seconds. The battle system was one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Neptune in her normal form
The game has a great sense of humor; it makes countless references to anime, manga, and video games. When Noire was talking about coming up with a phrase for when she transforms, she makes references to 6 different magical girl Anime series that many shojo fans would appreciate. They do not make any of the references by name, but a genre savvy person should figure out what they are trying to reference. There is sequence later in the game where Noire is talking about an anime she enjoyed about a high school band. After that she decides to buy a red guitar and start a band called “Coffee Time.” A hardcore anime fan would realize quite quickly that Noire is referencing the anime K-On. Over the course of the game, there are countless references to ideo games and anime like Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Dragon Quest, Idolmaster, Tales, Sailor Moon, K-On, Dragonball, Naruto, and many more. The in-jokes are very well done and it does bring a level of satire that is refreshing to see in games.

The issue with Hyperdimension Neptunia is you have to get past all the juvenile humor to get the satire in the game. Namco’s Tales franchise is known for having a couple of boob jokes about the token well-endowed female, but Hyperdimension Neptunia takes it to a whole new level. Nisa, the hero of Gameindustri is the butt of many jokes with her washboard chest. I know that when Neptune transforms she transforms into a beautiful, sexy, buxom vixen that is the envy of most women in the world of Gameindustri, but the running gag gets old when Iffy is joking about Neptune’s “Boobalicious” outfit so many times. In fact, the boob jokes are so rampant that in the first 2 minutes you already have enough of those that would make Team Symphonia blush. Green Heart comments that a healthy chest shows that she is a great goddess, and that White Heart and Purple Heart fail in that regard, only to have White Heart respond by calling her “thunder tits.” The running gag goes throughout the whole game, all the way to the very end. They were definitely not going out of their way to hide their fascination with the female anatomy.

Once you can get past the low production values and the juvenile boob jokes, Hyperdimention Neptunia is a great game. There is an incredible character dynamic and it has a strong cast of likable characters. The dungeons move fast so it is not an experience that drags on. The game has a wonderful battle system that is very customizable and so addicting. Hyperdimention Neptunia’s satire of the gaming and anime industry is excellent; there are so many references that would put a smile of any fan. The game is what you make of it, and overall Hyperdimension Neptunia is a great experience that has some flaws. It is a game with a unique concept of the console war, too bad that the real Neptune is nowhere to be found to knock some sense into Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Great review, I love Neptunia. All the hate the game gets is unwarranted.