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Hyperdimension Neptunia is undeniably a fun-sounding concept. In an RPG world based on the actual game industry, consoles and game developers personified as cute anime girls save the realm from rampant piracy, making joking references all the while. But as the original game showed, not even a cute concept can completely save an RPG from repetitive dungeons and poor combat design. Combine those factors with a healthy slathering of moe pandering and you had a game that was both disappointing and uncomfortable. Fortunately, developers Idea Factory and Compile Heart completely revamped the core gameplay for the sequel -- unfortunately, they also chose to drop the silliness and up the “sexiness” in the process.
As Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 starts, things are not at all well in the land of Gamindustri. The patron goddesses of the land (who are personified incarnations of various consoles) are trapped in the Gaming Graveyard, held there by evil forces spreading lawlessness and piracy throughout the land. Of, course the fact that they’re being held there in an unconscious state bound by tentacle-like appendages as their breasts swing pendulously should be enough to clue you in on what you’re in for over the next 20-30 hours or so.
Anyhow, the two faithful companions Compa and IF (who represent the game’s primary developers) rescue Nepgear, little sister on previous heroine Neptune, and travel to the various factions of Gamindustri to seek assistance in saving the goddesses. The conceit this time around is that you’ll meet several “little sisters” of the previous game’s console incarnations, all of whom are based on various real-life portable platforms, all while performing various missions to help free the land from the grip of the wicked Arfoire. You’ll also get to meet some other niche developer representations: NISA herself shows up a short ways in, while Falcom, Gust and shooting developer Cave also put in appearances.
The core gameplay, much like the original game, is primarily driven by quests and dungeon romping: you’ll either get sent on a story mission or take an optional quest in towns, enter a dungeon, accomplish the objective/see the requisite story sequences, and move along to the next set of locales. The combat and exploration, however, have seen significant improvement this time around. The original Hyperdimension Neptunia was afflicted with combat and exploration that could charitably be described as “glacial,” with even simple fights dragging out for far too long. These elements, thankfully, have been completely overhauled for the sequel.
Where the original game used a fairly standard turn-based combat system, Neptunia mk2 splices in an element of movement and positioning that adds a tremendous deal of speed and strategy to the mix. Characters can now move a set range when their turn comes up, and attacking enemies and utilizing skills involves moving your team into the range of targets. Of course, movement has a defensive element as well: some enemies have attacks that cover a broad amount of space, so you might want to place characters far apart – but this could also put them out of range for healing spells and items.
The “create-a-combo” system, which allows you to chain certain types of attacks of you choosing together for varied effects, is also improved: It moves much faster and features more options. Do you go for a damaging, multi-hit combo, or conserve your attack resources and focus and a few strikes to lower the enemy’s defense? These are things you’ll have to frequently consider. While standard battles are generally a pushover, there are some genuinely fierce boss fights that put the new combat elements to good use. These more challenging encounters are quite fun, and battles with the bigger bosses are a high point of the game.
Combat isn’t the only thing that’s been improved. The game moves at a brisk pace, with new and interesting characters joining the fray from fairly early on. The areas you can explore are smaller and quicker to traverse, which makes them far less of a chore to run through. The interface in and out of combat is easier to navigate, and items can be freely used at any time. But there are still some problematic bits: environments still suffer from constantly recycled assets, a substandard framerate, and a camera that seems to want to spite you at times. (When you want to avoid an overpowered mini-boss, the last thing you want is the camera to focus on the top of your character’s head instead of what you’re trying to dodge.) Much of the silly, random-gaming-reference-laden humor from the original has also been toned down. Regardless of what one might personally think of the quality of said humor in the previous game, it was one of its major selling points, and seeing it reduced in quantity is a disappointment.
Although the humor’s been subdued, the tiresome anime storytelling clichés and moe tropes have been increased exponentially. The original game had a heavy dose of questionable innuendo, but Neptunia mk2 goes above and beyond what's necessary with double entrende-filled dialogue, ridiculous outfits, and scenes that can hardly be perceived as anything other than titillation (for example: Two young females have to seemingly kiss to unlock one’s true power? Makes perfect logical sense!). The fact that the central heroines seem to be of a much younger age than the previous game also makes the leering eye they’re presented under that much more discomforting. It could certainly be argued that this game is tailor-made for a very, very specific niche (i.e. Japanese media otaku who get their jollies from watching girls of dubious age in suggestive situations who also like gaming in-jokes), but by pandering so hard to these players, Neptunia mk2 successfully alienates almost everyone else who thinks a game poking fun at the console biz would be enjoyable. It’s a disappointing approach to a subject ripe for parody.
As it stands, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is easily a superior effort to its older sister in the gameplay department. Despite this, though, it really isn’t that much more fun. With fanservice taking precedence over parody, the impetus to play further becomes less “what element of the games biz will be referenced next” and more “is this game really going to go there?” But even that trainwreck-watching mentality becomes tiresome over the game’s brief campaign. There are better satires of gaming in other forms, and they likely won’t leave you feeling kind of dirty afterwards.
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