One fine day, a collective of Japanese developers known for their creative take on the role-playing genre decided to band together and create a game that would satire the very thing they do. This game was last year's Hyperdimension Neptunia. Now the very same group "“ actually, from hence forth I shall refer to them as the Prism Rangers of the Japanese game industry "“ is back again with a sequel dubbed Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. Same old comedy, same old satire, but wholly improved since the original.
The game is set in the realm of Gamindustri, pun completely intended, and unfortunately starts off with the first game's Console Patron Units (CPUs) falling in battle to Arfoire, the game's villainous antagonist "“ her name is meant to sound like the R4 chip that enables DS owners to pirate games. Three years later, IF and Compa mount a rescue effort, but are only able to save Nepgear, Neptune's younger sister. With the rest of the CPU goddesses left imprisoned by Arfoire, it's up to Nepgear, IF and Compa to save the day.
The plot is as predictable as any typical JRPG or anime featuring a lead character who's unsure of herself, but eventually overcomes her fears and rises to the occasion. That said, it's the curious undertones and reflections of the state of the game industry that piques interest here. Piracy is easily the most noteworthy subject in question, although several jabs are made at the lack of innovation and the fear of releasing new IPs. The jokes aren't subtle, but that's what makes it entertaining.
Each character is mostly based on an existing console, such as Nepgear being based off of the Sega Game Gear, or Uni off the PSP. It's all quite humorous as each CPU has their respective regions within Gamindustri, like Planeptune, Lastation, Leanbox and Lowee "“ apparently, anything out of Lastation is "future-proofed." The game script tends to refer to these in parallel to their real-life counterparts, which can make for some amusing dialogue so long as you're aware of what's going on in the game industry. Therein lies one of the downfalls of the game. It depends on players' knowledge of the game industry. If that knowledge is zilch, most of the humour will simply fly over your head. If not, then there's plenty of fun to be had. Mega Man's Keiji Inafune even makes a cameo appearance in the game, in more ways than one.
The main plot point will have players traversing Gamindustri and completing quests in an attempt to increase CPU shares, while at the same time decreasing Arfoire's shares and her dominance over the realm. Since the goddess' disappearance at the start of the game, the people have lost faith in their CPUs, and have succumbed to the tempting free, illegal chips distributed by the Arfoire International Syndicate of Crime (ASIC). All of these narrative devices are nicely packaged into the game's mechanics, making for an immersive experience where your actions will affect the overall outcome.
There are quite a number of changes that have been made to the gameplay since the first game. There are three portions: the world map, towns and dungeons. Players can traverse Gamindustri by way of moving an 8-bit Nepgear across the illustrated world map. In towns, there is the item shop where you can purchase items and equipment, you can also synthesize items; the guild where quests can be accepted and reported; and the Chirper, an in-game social networking system. Depending on who you socialize with, certain events can be triggered that will affect your relationship with other characters.This leads into the Lily Rank system. Lily Rank is affected by your actions towards your party members. This ranges from including them in your battle party, engaging with them on the Chirper, or utilizing the Partnering system, which literally partners two characters together in a party where the partner acts as a support member, providing various passive abilities and other statistical boosts in battle depending on the partner. In addition, certain items can only be synthesized with a specific partner, and some partnerships will enable the ability to use "Coupling Skills."
Dungeons, while still relatively linear, are much bigger and open. Encounters with monsters are no longer random, instead they roam around the level and players are able to engage them by running up to them, or pre-empt them by attacking first. If your characters are much stronger than the enemy, a pre-emptive strike will instantly knock them out with you having to enter a battle.
Like the first Hyperdimension Neptunia, battles are turn-based and utilize a combo system. Unlike the first game, characters can freely move around the map so long as they still have enough action points to spare. A movement ring will display where you can move, and shrinks as you perform attacks or support actions. Think of Phantom Brave's free-roam mechanic, it's just like that. Every move consumes AP, while special abilities use both AP and SP. SP points can be gained by performing actions, and can be carried over from battle to battle. AP can be stacked by passing on your turn, allowing you to perform longer combos. Moreover, you can then perform EX attacks if you meet two conditions: one being the required amount of AP, and the other, having the right combo sequence "“ which can be earned by levelling up.
Performing Hard Drive Divinity mode, a battle state exclusive to CPUs and CPU Candidates like Nepgear, also requires SP. Triggering HDD will boost your power, but also regularly consume SP until the character runs out. On a more aesthetic note, players can customize the Processor Units that appear when HDD has been triggered. There's quite a lot of options, and on top of that you can create and import your own Processor Unit texture by downloading the template from the official website and dumping it in the image directory of your PS3.
The combo system is now much more streamlined, where the first game had a confusing list of customizable combos, the sequel has simplified it into three main categories: Rush, Heavy, and Break attacks. This isn't to say that it's less customizable, far from it, it's just a lot easier to customize. No one enjoys looking down a list of a billion combos. Rush attacks serve to increase your hit count, while Heavy attacks consume more AP, but deliver much more powerful blows. Breakers will deplete an enemy's Guard Gauge far more effectively than the other two attack types. Each category has its own sub-types too. For example, Rush and Rapid fall under Rush attacks, whereas Power and Mighty Blow fall under Heavy attacks. These sub-types are dependant on the order of input, so you can easily string together a Break, Rush and Heavy attack, but have each input correspond according to your pre-determined command set.
To keep you own your toes, monsters can randomly go berserk. When that happens, they heal and gain a significant boost in power. Furthermore, it's viral, meaning that it can infect other monsters on the field of the same type. It's an intriguing mechanic that can lead to some hectic, and even desperate, situations.All of this works together to form a deeply satisfying, and rewarding, battle system. At the same time, it's also accessible enough on the surface level for newcomers to enjoy without worrying about all the little details. Quests can be done as many times you like, and the story has been paced so that you won't find yourself grinding too much. The only gripe is the lack of variety in quests and monsters. More often than not, Neptune and her friends will be off trying to slay some monster or gather certain materials by slaying some monster. Doing it any longer than an hour at a time can become quite boring. Thankfully, the battle system is rewarding and comical events do help provide some incentive to keep pushing forward.
Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 looks far better in comparison to the first game. It's nothing stellar or jaw-dropping, but it gets the job done. Environments are colourful and the hand-illustrated backdrops are lovely in their own right. Events are performed in a visual-novel style, however 3D character models have replaced animated the 2D illustrated portraits. This may be irksome to some, especially fans of visual novels, but it has a surprising amount of charm to them. Characters appear more, for a lack of better words, animated and expressive. The animation has also been improved, with characters feeling more grounded in the world. Unfortunately, it is still relatively rigid, more so than some PS2 titles even.
The soundtrack is entirely out there. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. There are a good number of tracks that are enjoyable to listen to and the theme song is catchy. A lot of it is contextual. The rest just seems like filler. Noisy filler. The game also features both the original Japanese voice over tracks, and an English dub. Needless to say, many will find the Japanese tracks preferable. While the dub isn't terrible by any means, the dialogue and script simply make it sound overly dramatic and cheesy. Ironically, that's what the Japanese track sounds like too, it's just even more pronounced in English. Moreover, while every line of dialogue is voiced in Japanese, not all of it has been recorded in English. Several less-than-major events that have voice overs in the original recording become reading segments in the dub, which is somewhat disappointing.
All in all, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is a far more enjoyable game than the original, and as a standalone game as well. While the plot is as predictable as they come, the allusions and jabs at the issues the game industry faces is an amusing one. Characters are fun and charming. The strategic, turn-based battle system, combined with the flexible combo mechanics, Partnering and Lily Rank systems, is one of the most rewarding ones out there. Although not the most impressive in the looks or sound department, the game is still charming enough on its own. Bottom line, if you're looking for a fun JRPG to play on your PS3, this is it. More so if you enjoy games that don't take themselves too seriously while simultaneously offering addicting and engaging mechanics to fool around with.
|Amusing, and often comical, allusions to the game industry.|
|Deep, rewarding battle system.|
|A lot of content to toy around with.|
|Graphics are colourful, but rather bland and flat.|
|English dub doesn't cover the entire script.|
|Soundtrack is quite out there.|