I’ve played some very unique, very niche JRPGs recently, but none have come anywhere near the levels of sheer madness found in Hyperdimension Neptunia on PS3……I mean, c’mon, even the title is insane. In a genre famed for its crazy titles and bizarre premises, Hyperdimension Neptunia rather effortlessly rises to the top. To say that this is aimed at a very marginal market would be an understatement, but while the majority of gamers will look on with confused eyes and mild headaches, some…..just some, will grow to love this extremely unique JRPG.
Whatever anyone might say about the final product, the core premise is undoubtedly one of the coolest, most geek-tastic ideas ever conceived. Based on the idea of the console war between Sega, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo being an actual war, Hyperdimension takes the previously mundane concept of a videogame company and replaces it with scantily clad, super cute anime goddesses. These goddesses, or CPUs if you will (Console Patron Unit), are now fighting for control of a human world that is no longer in balance with the warring lands of Gamindustri.
Split into four separate videogame related lands, Gamindustri represents a potentially varied and beautiful place to explore. Problem is; there’s really no exploration to be done. Movement around these locations is achieved via a menu based overworld akin to the one found in Sega’s other current-gen JRPG, Resonance of Fate. Like that game, Hyperdimension’s on foot exploration is exclusively dungeon-based, with the only break from combat coming via simple puzzles, basic looting and loads and loads of dialogue. Unlike the beautiful looking overworlds of Lowee (Nintendo), Planeptune (Sega), Leanbox (Microsoft) and Lastation (Sony), the dungeons themselves are usually bland and rather lifeless. There are multiple paths but these often lead to little more than dead ends and additional treasure.
Playing rather unsurprisingly as the fallen Sega Goddess, Neptune (it is produced by Sega after all), you’ll team up with a group of equally scantily clad mortals based loosely on the four companies involved in the game’s development in order to fight off the mysterious enemies that have appeared across the four worlds of Gamindustri while helping Neptune reclaim her memory (the Japanese sure do love a bit of amnesia) and rightful position as a Goddess. With overt sexuality, innuendo aplenty and gravity defying boobs as far as the eyes can see, Hyperdimension is the kind of game that, from a tonal perspective, is likely to appeal and appal in equal measures. One aspect that is likely to please, however, is the raft of brilliant region-specific videogame references. As a particularly big fan of Sega, just spotting many of these proved a huge amount of fun. Sadly, as great as the premise and much of the dialogue is, the story is often muddled and fails to live up to the huge potential provided by such a uniquely and crazy setup.
So, with exploration kept to a minimum, I’m sure you want be surprised to hear that Neptune and her group of sexy anime friends get to do a whole lot of fighting throughout Hyperdimension’s reasonably hefty play time. While the battle system itself is home to a great deal of potential, the lack of challenge provided by most, if not all, of the enemies encountered on your lengthy adventure means that digging under the surface is rarely necessary. Initial curiosity will probably see you going beyond the basics, but with no need to expand upon your primary tactical approach, it becomes all too easy to fall back on a basic pattern of attack that will get you through the majority of enemy encounters.
Lack of challenge aside though, Hyperdimension’s battle system is actually pretty solid. Based primarily around AP (Action Points) that are used up as you move, attack and heal etc, the majority of combat is achieved via an array of combos that can be collected and edited to your liking in the combat menu. It can be a tad unruly and initially overcomplicated, but get to grips with it and the Game Disc System delivers a great deal of depth. More importantly perhaps, it also delivers attacks using the power of classic Sega titles such as Altered Beast, Shinobi and Alex Kidd – believe me, it’s as awesome as it sounds! With some nice visual flourishes and a penchant for the OTT, battles are often visually impressive with elaborate attack animations and flash effects the norm. Some of the more outrageous attacks can actually take quite a while to get through and subsequently lead to numerous five minute plus battles, but while many of these can be skipped to save on time, given the visual quality of the animations, I found myself letting the majority run their course.
The characters themselves also look great. They animate well and despite the severe lack of clothing, are all rather suiting of such an outrageous premise. The fact that dialogue is taken care of via static anime images certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but chances are, if you’re playing this game, it’s probably something you have grown accustomed to while playing other JRPGs of this ilk. For what it’s worth, the drawings are fantastic and the voice acting, while inevitably of the Japanese, whiny schoolgirl variety, is consistently delivered with a degree of quality and commitment that makes the often disappointing storyline much easier to bear.
Hyperdimension Neptunia has one of the greatest premises of all time, a solid battle system and some very decent animations. Sadly, it also suffers from untidy storytelling, boring dungeon locations and a severe lack of challenge. Both in terms of its tone and mechanics, Hyperdimension Neptunia is the very definition of a mixed bag. The cool nods to gaming past will be enjoyed by many, but the surrounding Japanese-centric sense of sexuality will only be for a select few. It’s well worth a punt if you hold an interest in Japanese gaming culture, but if this is your first foray into the often bizarre world of JRPGs, you’d be better off getting your virtual feet wet elsewhere.
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