Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 (PS3) Review

USA Collector's Edition Cover

When Hyperdimension Neptunia was initially announced, it intrigued people with its unique concept and sexy female characters. The game was a parody of the console wars and it had gaming companies and consoles represented by a personified character. Neptunia was released in the United States and Europe and it met NIS Americas expectations. With the success of the game in the West, Idea Factory and Compile Heart worked on an alternate universe release of the game that was meant to polish the game experience. The result was Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, a game that fixes many major issues with the original game, but it also regresses on what made the original release so memorable.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 game is not a straight sequel that its name implies; it is actually an alternate universe. The game takes the cast and cosmology of the original game and expands it in a different direction. Characters from the original game maintain their personalities, but the relationships they share are slightly different. Instead of being vicious enemies who are trying to take each other out, the Goddesses of Neptunia (as in Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert) are friendly rivals. They also expand the cast by adding the “CPU candidates,” or little sisters of the main CPU’s from the original game. Instead of being in a four floating worlds with four distinct cultures and economic development, all four lands of Gameindusti are part of one huge continent with a similar level of technology and development. The reason they did not go for a straight sequel makes sense since the dour true ending of the original game essentially negates any existence of a sequel. This game could be played without any knowledge of the original game, but playing the original game will enhance the user’s experience.

The four CPU candidates
in Bikinis
The cast of characters in this game are large compared to the original game. The lead character is none other than Nepgear, the CPU candidate goddess of Planeptune and the little sister of Neptune. Nepgear is responsible, hardworking, but has a ditzy personality like her sister. Her appearance is very similar to Neptune, with longer hair and a more curvaceous body. What she is missing is the energetic and infectious personality that made Neptune such an amazing lead character. Nepgear is likable, but she is not as memorable as her sister is. Representing the Sony PSP is the CPU candidate goddess of Lastation, Umi. She is Noire on steroids in that she is much more of a tsundere than her sister with a total sister complex. Umi is unique in that she is the only character in Neptunia that fights with a massive gun. Representing the Nintendo DS is Ram and Rom, the twin sisters who are the CPU candidate goddesses of Lowee. They both are very childlike, with Ram being the pouty type, and Rom being the introverted twin. Aside from the CPUs, there are other party members that represent gaming companies IF (Idea Factory), NISA (Nippon Ichi Software America), Compa (Compile Heart), 5pb, GUST, Cave, and Falcom. Overall, the cast in the game is strong and their interactions are a strong point in the game.

A game’s story holds the game together and it is typically what separates a strong game from a weak one. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 has a unique storyline that parodies the influence of piracy in the gaming industry. The game starts with the four CPU goddesses and CPU candidate Nepgear engaging in battle with Arfoire’s minions in the industry graveyard. They lose the battle and are captured. Three years later, the world of Gameindustri is in turmoil with the absence of their leadership. With the Goddesses captured, an organization called ASIC uses piracy and to capture marketshare of the people in Gameindustri. Compa and IF go to the industry graveyard to recuse the CPU goddesses and Nepgear, after waking up Nepgear they fight with one of the lead bosses and decide to flee. With her friends, Nepgear decides to go all over the world to get the three other CPU Candidates on her side, to rescue their sisters and take back Gameindustri.

Nepgear has some confidence issues
The game is comprised of several things that the player can do. In the world of Gameinudstri there are four central hubs: Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox. In each of these central hubs, they can go to the shop and buy new items. Taking a page from GUST, the player can also get raw materials and synthesize them to create unique and powerful items, weapons, and accessories. For story events, the characters go into the Basilcom, which is the headquarters for the goddesses of each territory where they meet with the Oracles or Goddesses of each land. As Nepgear, the player has the ability to take quests to improve people’s perception of certain goddesses and increase or decrease the marketshare in each territory. The player can take on as many quests as possible and completion of the quests is met with a notification upon leaving a dungeon. Marketshare is more prominent in this game and it is explained better compared to the previous game. Nepgear can interact with the other characters through the “Chirper” (obviously a reference to Twitter), where you can examine what a character things and sometimes it leads to an event where they have interaction with Nepgear to increase affection.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 has multiple endings, and these endings are determined through something called “Lily Rank.” In this system, interaction with characters can increase their affection for Nepgear through the Chirper events. The interaction is similar to the skits popularly found in Hyperdimension Neptunia, where Nepgear would interact with them and learn more about the world of each character. Nepgear can also increase affection by having characters as partners or having them fight alongside her in battle. The character with the highest affection is the ending that you will see when you beat the game. For the record, the first ending I got was with Nepgear’s big sis, and it was a cute little ending. I am currently replaying the game through “New Game +” to get the other endings. Getting a Platinum trophy in this game is impossible if you have not gotten all the endings.

Neptune and Nepgear
Dungeon design in this game is similar to the original one, in that many dungeon designs are recycled repeatedly, with slightly different designs and different enemies. What makes the game a better experience is that the dungeons overall are better to look at and there are some very unique, inspired dungeons. The dungeons also received a huge graphics boost compared to the original game, with more detailed environments. There is a consequence to the huge improvement in graphics and detail, which is the slowdown that happens quite frequently. The slowdown is very prevalent in the final dungeon of the game and those who are more sensitive to framerate drops should be warned. I praised the original game since the dungeons are brief, with a ton of variety in design. This game continues that aspect to make the dungeon crawling as painless as possible.

The battle system for this game is far superior to the original game. Once a battle is initiated, you move one of the four characters to a determined location. Depending on the location of the character, they can use an item, heal themselves, or attack an enemy. There is a box in front of each character that indicates the “range” of the attack the enemies affected; some weapons have a larger range than others. A shrewd gamer would always try to use their weapon range to attack as many enemies as possible to get the battle done faster. Once the attack button is pressed, then they can do combos, which consume AP (attack points). After all the attacks are used, they go to standby for the next character or enemy to attack. When a character is attacked or they attack, they get SP points. A character can use SP points for special attacks and healing magic, or in the case of a CPU character, they use SP to transform into their Goddess modes. The battles are fast and they are a far superior experience compared to the original game.

5pb, the pop star/savior of Leanbox
Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 has some strong positives, the gameplay is better, story moves faster, graphics are better and it feels like a more complete package. The gameplay in Neptunia Mk2 is a far better experience; the game’s battle system flows much better. There were many instances where I found myself losing due to bad strategy, not because of balance. The story itself moves much faster, with less focus on funny skits and more focus on developing Nepgear’s journey to save her sister. The graphics are far better, with the in-game character models being far better than the original release. The dungeon graphics are also like night and day compared to the original release. Overall, the gameplay improvements make the game feel more complete than the original one.

The game has some design flaws that I would like to point out. One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is the button placement during battle. The button used for skipping a turn is the same button that is used for items; the only difference is that to get to the item button you had to toggle R2. I found myself skipping characters when I needed to get an important item to take out status ailments or to heal a character. The fact that they kept a secondary row of buttons was quite frustrating. It would have been better had they mapped the skip button to R1 and items to the circle button. The button placement issues also showed up when it comes to activating HDD mode. To activate HDD mode (to transform one of the goddesses) the same button is used to activate it and deactivate it. I have found myself accidentally deactivating HDD mode on accident near the end of a combo. It would have made more sense to have the activate HDD mode mapped onto a different button as the deactivate HDD mode, or even better remove the deactivate HDD button entirely.

Cave, the cool buxom
red-haired sniper
As great as the game is, there are some serious flaws in the game that original will not like. The first is that the narrative of the game in this game is more focused, at the cost of character interaction and funny “skits” of the original game. There is less character interaction, which makes it harder to develop them and relate to them. Each character by the end of the original game was heavily developed due to the skits that brought out their personality. The game is also not as funny as the original one; there is less satire on the gaming industry as much as the original one. While the game had some funny moments, specifically a certain character calling Nepgear “Nep Jr” and Cave being called “Ginger Girl” (she does have Red hair after all), the game was not as funny overall. The game also replaced the gorgeous 2D portraits with 3D portraits. While they are more animated and have more personality in Neptunia Mk2, they are also low polygon and it does not do the art justice. The candidate CPU’s are also not as likable as the original 4 CPU Goddesses, and you will find yourself pining for some more funny interactions between Neptune, Noire, Vert, and Blanc.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is a game that fans of the original game will enjoy quite a bit. The cast of characters are good, but they are not developed well enough to be connected to them. As a reboot and/or alternate universe, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 takes the concepts and ideas of the original and actually makes it a very solid game. It is an improvement in the gameplay, focused storytelling, and the graphics. It also takes a couple of steps back by removing some of the satire and humor that made Hyperdimension Neptunia one of the funniest games I have played in a very long time. If you played the original game, you will love this one. If you are new to the franchise, I suggest playing the original game first to see if this kind of game if your cup of tea. The franchise will continue in the future, there is already rumblings of a new Hyperdimension game starring Noire due to her insane popularity. Looking in my crystal ball, I see a Hyperdimension Noire in the future.

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