Did you think the console war was over? Did you think a particular console had single-handedly triumphed over all others? Did you think your favourite platform would be personified in well endowed anime girls? No? Didn't think so. Hyperdimension Neptunia is all of the above. Brought to you by an all-star developer cast including Nippon Ichi, Sega, Compile Heart, Idea Factory and Gust, and published by NIS America, Hyperdimension Neptunia is a Japanese RPG for the PS3 that is filled with plenty of fan service, something that's especially welcoming for fans of the genre, but how does it hold up as a game by itself?
War has raged for centuries past on Celestia between goddesses known as CPUs, short for Console Patron Units. The world below, Gamindustri, is split into four regions, each protected by their respective CPU. Right from the beginning, it's clear that the plot isn't going to be incredibly thought provoking, but it still contains the usual comic banter that comes with just about any NIS America game to date. The entire premise is a hilarious satire of this generation's console war with each CPU representing a platform: Noire being the PS3, Vert the Xbox 360 and Blanc being the Wii. You, however, play as Neptune, the main character and CPU who has been banished to Gamindustri in order to quell the war in Celestia.
Satirical plot aside, there are plenty of hilarious moments and references to the game industry that any gamer can appreciate. From Sonic to landmasses named after consoles and even a special attack that resembles the Xbox 360's Red Ring of Death, Hyperdimension Neptunia is a charming little game that goes out of its way to give players a good chuckle.
Moving on to the gameplay, Hyperdimension Neptunia offers a relatively easy, yet surprisingly deep, system to pick up and play. The game is essentially a dungeon crawler and players will be required to fulfill certain criteria to clear a dungeon, ranging from boss monsters to gathering quests. Battles are turn-based and heavily focused on a combo system. And this is where the customization comes in. Players can customize and create their own combos using the Combo Skill tree. Each combo is limited to four buttons, but can be linked together using a Combo Link, allowing players to chain their combos and create devastating chain attacks. Images can also be imported to create your own custom spell. Unfortunately, the game makes use of random encounters, which are scarce at best, even on Hard mode. Players can easily spend 20 minutes in a dungeon trying to engage a random battle and it becomes increasingly frustrating at times.
In addition to the Combo Skill system, players can also equip their party with support abilities using the Item Skill system by assigning action points to any particular skill. The more action points assigned, the higher the rate at which the ability is used. You'll earn more action points as you level up. The gameplay mechanics are essentially the same as Trinity Universe, another Nippon Ichi, Gust and Idea Factory collaboration, albeit with a number of improvements and plenty of polish. Players can take their time with battles as action points are only consumed when an attack is performed.
There are two things to watch out for when battling against monsters. One is their health gauge and the other their guard points. If the guard gauge is brought down to zero, a guard break occurs, enabling players to deal massive damage. In addition, as a CPU, Neptune is able to transform from her human form into her goddess form, giving her a boost in power.
Moving around Gamindustri is done by checking the Explore and Search menu options. New dungeons appear as more of Gamindustri is explored. Jumping between the different landmasses is a bit trickier. Players will need to wait for a landmass to draw close to the one they're already on before they can visit it. However, you can also fast forward time if you don't like waiting.
Unfortunately, the majority of the game doesn't look all that impressive when it comes to visuals. Dungeons are extremely linear, bland and barren for the most part. Battles are hard to come by and the graphics look like they're from a PlayStation 2 title. It's a significant step up from Trinity Universe, but it isn't anything to be amazed by. However, the Active Animation Adventure system is back and looking better than ever. The game's story is played out in a visual novel style with character portraits placed against a backdrop whenever a conversation or event is triggered. The portraits are animated, complete with various facial expressions, body language and gestures. It's quite well done and one of the high points of Hyperdimension Neptunia's presentation. In addition, there are event scenes that are very borderline. Like I said earlier, plenty of fan service to go around.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is completely hit and miss. Several scores are simply annoying beeps and blips while other tunes can be quite catchy. Players have the option of choosing between the original Japanese voice acting or the English dub. Either performances are commendable, although there can be some points where a character's voice just starts to rub off in the wrong way. Compa's Japanese voiceover, in particular, becomes increasingly annoying after a while.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a fun and addicting game if you're into dungeon crawling RPGs with a highly customizable combo system. You'll spend a good number of hours just tinkering around with the combos and figuring out what works best. However, scarce random battles, less-than-inspiring graphics - with exception to the Active Animation Adventure which is relatively enjoyable - and game mechanics that seem aged in this day and age, keep the game from being anything but average. The satirical plot is a fun bit and fans of NIS America will certainly enjoy this game; however, it still remains a tough cookie to recommend to anyone save for fans of the genre.