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.