Once upon a time, in the world of Gameindustri lived four goddesses. Neptune, also known as Purple Heart ruled the nation of Planeptune. Noir or Black Heart ruled the nation of LastStation. Blanc, White Heart ruled LoWee nation. And Green Heart, Vert ruled LeanBox.
Ok, names were changed to avoid copyright issues, but you can easily guess which console each nation and each goddess represent. What? You haven’t heard about Sega Neptune?! Maybe it’s because it was scrapped when Sega left the console market. Or maybe… it was because three other goddesses conspired against Neptune and brought her down.
Thrown out of Celestial Plane, Neptune fell down to the lands below. Crashed on the head, she lost her memory and turned into a cute, ditzy and wa-ay too enthusiastic girl named Nep-Nep, who is now wandering around the land of Planeptune.
Down to Earth
Sadly, the gameplay of Hyperdimension Neptunia is less a fairy tale than its story. Mainly because of an excessive grind. Enemies, bosses especially, wipe your party in a couple of turns, if your characters are underpowered. And no indication what level you’re supposed to be for any particular fight doesn’t make things easier.
What does make things somewhat manageable is that there are no “random encounters” out of nowhere. All enemies are running around in the dungeon and you can avoid them or even chase them to lay the first blow aka “symbol attack”. In the latter case, when you will appear on the battleground Nep’s team will have increased initiative to make the first move.
Tactical options don’t stop there. Unlike most of the jRPGs, you can actually run around the battlefield. The range of movement is limited of course, but still, you can approach enemies from different sides. Sometimes you can even find a spot so your attack will get several targets at once. And enemies too can hit several characters that stand close enough, so be careful.
Attacks themselves are in fact combos. Before the fight, you can adjust what kind of strikes will be in your characters’ arsenal. Some rely on raw power to maximize damage, other apply debuffs, third do more damage to “guard gauge”, etc. There are also “finisher moves” that become available after “EXE bar” fills up. Though you can also spend that “EXE bar” to perform incredibly devastating “EXE moves”.
There are, of course, special moves (like spells that cost mana), various elemental alignments and other nuances that you would expect from jRPG. But again, too often a difference in power makes the fight one-sided, with tactics just making things a little quicker.
Hey, you! Yes you, behind the monitor!
Interestingly enough, Neptunia characters are well-aware of them being a part jRPG game. A lot of jokes and references are based on that self-awareness. Nep is particularly eager to show knowledge of all the tropes of the genre. Plus breaks the fourth wall on occasion.
And the world of Gameindustri lives up to its name fully. Not only protagonists are based on gaming industry consoles and companies, NPCs are often reference games, memes and even characters from other games. Same with enemies. If you know about gaming even a bit, you will immediately recognize where X-boxers, Pixelvaders, or Tetris come from. Have fun finding more subtle references!
Another source of fun is game characters themselves. All of them are deep, multifaceted individuals with interesting personalities… Ok, who am I kidding? All protagonists are cute girls of all types and, well, sizes. It’s quite clear, who was the target audience. Though those girls still have quite memorable personalities and their interactions with each other are anything but boring.
Even more, all four goddesses have two personalities! When ditzy Nep-Nep learns how to transform back into a goddess, using Hard Drive Divinity, she becomes focused and serious (until transforms again). And after a while, it is revealed that three other goddesses have “human side” too. Black Heart appears to be collected and diligent “tsundere” as a human, who lose all inhibitors in HDD form. Vert… well, I probably shouldn’t spoil too much.
There are many more characters, including companies and even game franchises in a girl form. In fact, IF and Compa – who become Nep’s best friends in the first chapter – are Idea Factory and Compile Heart, Neptunia’s developer teams personified.
The story is more complex than you can initially think. Of course, there are lot’s of “plot twists” made just for laughs, but remember that Hyperdimension Neptunia is a parody. There is no point to criticize the usual jRPG/anime shortcomings and cliches. Especially since the characters will do it themselves.
However, what Neptuina should be criticized for is developers’ laziness in porting the game to PC. Re;Birth1 is a remake of original PlayStation3 Neptunia. And the remake (initially released on PSVita) had indeed had useful additions. Like “the plans” that you could craft to change items, add enemies to the dungeon and even decrease/increase game difficulty.
PC version has nothing different from PSVita’s. You can’t even use a mouse in most parts of the game. Controller or the same controller scheme mapped on the keyboard are your only options. Heck, even some main story dialogs aren’t voiced in English!
And it’s not like Re;Birth1 became ideal game even on consoles. Grinding is still an issue, even if you know a few places with max exp per enemy ratio. Plans require certain materials and even the game has a database on monsters and dungeons, it still doesn’t show what materials you can gather there (the most useful thing!). And controls during the battle lack precision, often making you run around quite a bit to find a position from which you can hit multiple enemies.
Obviously, if you’re a fan of gaming culture, anime culture or their intersection in jRPG genre, you will forgive Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 it’s shortcomings in favor of the unique world, story, characters, and humor. But if you’re not a fan of 20-mins chit-chat (thank goddesses, you can fast forward and just read dialogs) about monsters, raids, beta-testing, and someone’s favorite food – even with interesting combat system there is too little challenge in terms of tactics and too much in terms of patience.