While Compile Heart's Hyperdimension Neptunia series has generally been known as a Japanese RPG series that frequently pokes fun at JRPG and anime-related tropes, it has branched out into other genres as of late. The latest entry of those spin-offs comes in the form of Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed. As the name implies, this is an action-themed title from developer Tamsoft, who's most well-known for their work on the Senran Kagura "Versus" line of titles. With a new developer at the game's helm, how does the action-based gameplay mix with the JRPG-ness of the Neptunia series? Surprisingly well, in fact.
For those not versed in Hyperdimension Neptunia's mythos, it's set in a world called Gameindustri: a pun for game industry at large. The world is protected by the four Console Patron Units (CPUs) and the CPU candidates working to eventually become full-fledged CPUs themselves. The charm for long-time fans comes in the way that the characters openly break the fourth wall periodically by referring to known gameplay mechanics and by their characterization being tongue-in-cheek jokes and references to current gaming trends.
This comes into play in Action Unleashed with the girls' reaction to the new gameplay mechanic that was featured in the Senran Kagura "Versus" titles: costume breaking. After taking too much damage or spamming one too many higher-level attacks, you'll cause part of your costume to break, which sharply decreases your defense but also increases your attack. And just like in Senran Kagura, the game will display a short cutscenes that zooms into the character to show off said destruction complete with jiggle physics.
Amusingly, the girls shortly after experiencing this "feature" end up complaining about it in an amusing fourth-wall breaking cutscene. This extends to other parts of the game, as the characters will speak up about mission objectives that are ambiguous and why they have to get to the end of the dungeon to get a good item instead of it being handed to them, as two examples. It's an amusing way to "explain" why the player is going through the repetitiveness and make it a little less rote-feeling. These cutscenes are 2D animated portraits similar to the other games in the series, so if you're used to that presentation method you'll feel at home here even with the differing gameplay mechanics.
If you've played the Senran Kagura games mentioned earlier, you'll have a pretty good idea of how the core gameplay works in Action Unleashed. Instead of the turn-based battle mechanics of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series proper, you'll control up to two of the CPUs at any given time fighting using beat-em-up gameplay mechanics. You can switch between either of them at will while fighting and can deal small attacks or all the way up to special attacks that hit multiple enemies at once.
Similar to the Senran Kagura games, after your EXE Gauge slowly charges up to full you can change the character you're playing as into their HDD form. This form, which has slight costume variations for certain characters and a complete overhaul including their personalities for other characters, gives you more power, faster speed, and more devastating attack combos to choose from. Something else to note is that you can customize both the character's normal and EXE forms before battle to suit your own battle preferences. This approach works well to cater to newcomers to the genre and those who are pros, as the former can beef up their weaker stats, while the latter can go for more of a glass cannon approach.
The problem, which was something the Senran Kagura "Versus" games had an issue with, is that the battle environments tend to be more enclosed than the grand open battles one would see in a Dynasty Warriors title. Sorties tend to be smaller battles that have the next area gated off till you beat the required number of enemies to progress further. This wouldn't be as much of an issue if the battles featured fearsome enemies, but sadly many of the battlegrounds feature smaller, less threatening enemies that feel more like fodder to increase your EXE Gauge before the real prize shows up.
This issue is further complicated by many of the missions being "defeat X number of enemies", with only a few either being a bigger, stronger enemy or the game simply not revealing what the objective is and you having to figure it out. The developers for some reason tended to bunch up the former type of missions back-to-back, so it starts to become a slog periodically when a long stretch of them occurs.
Graphically, the characters are quite detailed with a nice cell-shading touch to them, which makes telling them apart from the backgrounds elements much easier when the action gets hectic on the screen. The backgrounds on the other hand are a bit barren, but they do take their roots from aspects of the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise and don't feel generic.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed aimed to be an action based spin-off of the main Japanese RPG franchise, and in that sense it succeeded. But outside of the characters, it feels like a re-skin of the "Versus" line of Senran Kagura games and shares the same weaknesses those games have. This is a good base to start out with, but I'd like a future game in this series branch out more and try some new things.
|The fourth-wall breaking and banter between the characters is on-point.|
|If you liked the Senran Kagura "Versus" line of games, you'll feel right at home here.|
|The art style for the characters and enemies makes them easily stand out with the hectic action on-screen.|
|The battlegrounds can feel constrained at times.|
|Too many "beat X amount of grunts" type of missions between the better ones.|
|Feels more like a re-skin of the Senran Kagura "Versus" games at times than its own entity.|