There’s a good chance that many of you will be unfamiliar with Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s RPG series, Hyperdimension Neptunia. It’s not surprising, considering the niche market that the games are aimed at within the RPG genre, as well as the relatively low amount of publicity that they receive in Australia. They feature cute female characters who fall clearly into the moe category, bright presentation, and light hearted stories. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is the third entry in the series, and it takes the gameplay systems that were introduced in the previous game and refines them further. With a completely new setting, and some new characters, the game is attempting to set itself apart from the other two titles. So, is it successful?
Overall, the answer is a definite yes. To give some background info, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is set in the world of Gameindustri. Gameindustri is made up of four different nations, called Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox. If those last three names sound familiar, they should, as each one is based on one of the consoles currently involved in the real-life console war. Lastation represents the PlayStation 3, Lowee is the Wii/Wii U, and Leanbox represents the Xbox 360. Planeptune is the odd one out, since it’s loosely based on Sega’s old consoles, like the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast. Each nation has a ruler, all of whom are female beings known as CPUs (Console Patron Units).
Each CPU is basically an anthropomorphic game console, and it’s certainly a novel concept. They draw strength from the faith of the people who live in their respective nation, and their level of strength is measure in Shares. The CPU of Planeptune, a girl called Neptune (who is based on the unreleased Sega Neptune), is the main protagonist of the Hyperdimension series. Victory‘s story involves Neptune being transported to an alternate reality, where she discovers a new threat to Gameindustri, as well as some familiar yet slightly different allies. She has to quickly work out how to survive in this new world, and her major new ally is Plutia (who is based on the unreleased Sega Pluto), the ruler of this world’s Planeptune.
Victory‘s combat is definitely one of its strongest elements. Battles are optional, with the game opting for a free roaming style instead of random battles. Enemies will roam the environment, and chase you down if you get too close. You have the ability to strike them before the battle begins in order to gain an advantage, but if you miss, the enemy will get a free hit. At first, the battles themselves appear to be fairly standard turn based fare, but upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that only the turn order is set. Like the previous game, you can freely move each of your party members around the battlefield during their turn. Their placement in relation to an enemy will affect how much damage they do, how many enemies they can hit simultaneously, and how many of your characters the enemy will be able to target during their turn. The general rule is that the more spaced out your characters are, the better, since this reduces the impact of hostile area-of-effect attacks.
Victory‘s story features heaps of references to other game series’, including Katamari, Metal Gear Solid, Pokemon, Mario, Fire Emblem, and many more. Some of the game’s enemies serve as further references, such as vicious warp pipes from the Super Mario series, living Tetris block monsters, and even the ghosts from Pac-Man. There’s a great variety of creative enemies to battle, but unfortunately, many of them have been recycled from the previous game. In some cases, they haven’t even been renamed, making the copy-paste process all the more obvious. The same goes for the environments that the characters explore, although there’s some new additions, some of them have been simply copied over from the second game. The fact that the environments are also lacking in detail, as well as the fact that the same ones are used multiple times even within Victory, does nothing to help the situation. It’s not quite bad enough to bring the game down, but it does cheapen the overall experience. Even the music suffers from the same problem. Although it’s all high quality stuff, a lot of tracks have simply been re-used from the previous game. Fortunately, the voice acting is good across the board, and you can really tell that the actors have settled into their roles well by this point.
Getting back to the combat, battles play out turn by turn, with each character able to perform a certain number of action during their turn. Just like the previous game, they can move and then attack an enemy, execute a special attack, or defend. Crazy, over the top special attacks are the norm, featuring exaggerated animations, huge weapons of all kinds, and sometimes objects that aren’t even weapons at all. Even Japanese game designer Keiji Inafune finds himself used as a weapon for a few attacks. Why? Simply because they can. Attacks are executed by pressing the X button, and then pressing any of the controller’s face buttons. Each button corresponds to a different type of attack, and you can combine them in any way you like. Some attacks simply deal damage, while others will chip away at an enemy’s shield. If you can successfully destroy an enemy’s shield, you’ll deal double damage to them, but you’ll also be taking damage while you do so. Each character also has access to their HDD form, which is basically a powered up, sexier version of their regular selves. Using these forms will cause your SP to drop each turn, though, so they need to be used sparingly.
It’s up to you as to how you want to approach each battle, and Victory adds a new element to the mix in the form of EXE Drive attacks. These rely on a gauge which slowly fills up as you battle. When the gauge is full, you’ll be able to execute an extra, powerful attack at the end of each character’s turn. You can also choose to use up the gauge in order pull off a ridiculously powerful attack which can deal serious damage to even the most powerful foes. These feature the fanciest animations in the game, and they’re quite a sight. There’s a traditional levelling up system as usual, with experience points earned at the end of each battle. Your party’s equipment has a big impact on their stats, however, and there’s a full crafting system for creating new weapons, armour, and accessories. This system works really well, as you’re given a full list of materials needed for each item, and the game records where each of them can be found.
The game’s script is definitely one of its major highlights. The localisation team have clearly had some fun with the writing, putting together heaps of gags, and giving all of the characters distinctive quirks. There’s witty jokes, clever one liners, and some rather effective use of fourth wall breaking. In fact, characters don’t just break the fourth wall, they shatter it. Neptune herself is often the one who does so, reacting humorously to cliched elements of the plot, calling out character tropes, and just generally making various notes for the player’s benefit. It’s a game that never takes itself very seriously, and almost always has a light hearted feel to it. The villains are all dealt with humorously, and as characters, they are sometimes played simply for laughs. The writing isn’t always consistent however, sometimes the jokes are a little too obvious, or end up falling flat, but overall it’s a very good effort.
Victory‘s graphics are very much a mixed bag. The lengthy story is told through the use of 2D cutscenes, and these are the game’s primary graphical highlight. They feature gorgeous, detailed 2D character and background art. Character portraits are layered, which gives them a slightly 3D look, and they are also subtly animated. You can see them slowly breathe in and out, as well as blink and move slightly. The character portraits are never static, and this attention to detail really gives the cutscenes a high quality feel. On the flip side, the in-game graphics are very average, with character models and environments being just good enough to get a passing grade. It’s a shame that the whole package couldn’t be as well polished as the cutscenes.
It takes a minimum of about 30 hours to get through Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, at the end of which you’ll be rewarded with the Normal Ending. Earning the Good Ending takes a few hours more, while the True Ending can be reached at about the 45 hour mark. The catch is that if you want to see all three endings, you’ll need to do two playthroughs of the game, since the Normal Ending cuts you off from the other two. That’s not so bad though, since all cutscenes in the game can be quickly skipped through, which saves a lot of time. It’s certainly not an easy game, however. Victory comes down quite hard on you at times. There’s multiple difficulty spikes,and when entering a new area, you can often expect to be crushed by the regular enemies. This means that the game does require a reasonable amount of grinding, in order for your party to keep up, which may begin to frustrate certain players.
Overall, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. Simply put, it’s a good RPG, which ticks enough boxes for it to be an enjoyable experience. There’s no doubt that the game’s target audience will have a lot of fun with it, it’s a well crafted piece of fan service in many ways, and even those who are on the borderline (such as myself) will be able to squeeze enough value out of it to justify the purchase. Many may find that the somewhat one-dimensional characters simply don’t click with them, or consider the game to be more of a mindless grind fest than anything else, but that’s ok. This game isn’t for them. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory knows its audience intimately, and despite its various flaws, it’s a definite step forward for the series.
Likeable characters | Engaging story, with plenty of humour | Battle system is enjoyable
Graphics are a mixed bag | Too many re-used assets