I love working with NIS America because, to quote Forrest Gump, “You never know what you’re gonna git.” They are the home of one of my favorite franchises of all time (Disgaea), yet on more than one occasion, I have reviewed games that just left me confused.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is one such game, though to be fair, I actually enjoyed some of my time with the game. As with many of these JRPG franchises that I am asked to review, I haven’t played any of the earlier installments of HNV (I am NOT typing out that whole name every time). As a standalone game without any knowledge of previous installments, how does HNV hold up?
The answer to that is: not horribly, but not well, either. After a slow start, HNV ended up being a lot more fun than I was expecting. Sure, it’s got all the trappings of a JRPG that many don’t like (grinding, text heavy cutscenes, annoying, shrill characters, overload of PINK), but there’s something charming about this game that made me enjoy it. Perhaps it’s the not so subtle jabs at the console war that make up a huge portion of the main storyline, or the fact that the combat is SO over the top, but at times, it was fun.
The world of HN takes place in Gameindustri, which is comprised of Planeptune, Leanbox, Lastation, and Lowee. Each of these regions is a thinly veiled representation of Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo. Console wars…right?
In HNV several years have passed since the events of the first game. After preventing Arfoire’s revival, Gamindustri has remained at peace without any major issues. The CPUs and their younger sisters have been enjoying their quiet lives for a while. Then one day, the CPU of Planeptune—Neptune—is sent to another dimension. This new dimension is basically the Gamindustri of the 1980s. In this dimension, a group of villains calling themselves the “Seven Sages” are trying to create a world without CPUs. With help from her new friends, including that dimension’s CPU of Planeptune—Plutia—Neptune begins her quest to protect a totally different Gamindustri.
The trick (for me, anyway) to accepting the story of HNV is to treat it in a similar way to how I watch the Matrix films. Whenever I watch the Matrix trilogy, I like to think of it as a dramatization of an antivirus program hunting down and destroying a computer virus, and that the films are a cool way to show what could be going on in my computer right this second. HMV does a similar thing by dramatizing the console wars and creating a “what if?” plot to show what could happen if the console wars were actually…well…a war. Just for that (and for the numerous tongue-in-cheek “wink wink nudge nudge” references scattered about the story, the story elicited more than a few chuckles on my end.
However, that’s the only real positive about the story. I hate to bash, but the story doesn’t really end up being more than a bunch of word vomit. Yes, there’s a plot at work here, as evidenced above, but the delivery is pretty poor. We’re talking scene after scene of talking heads with more text than you can shake your fist at. I never ended up really caring about these characters, and I hate to admit this, but I had a hard time telling them apart as well…except for Blanc who has an incredibly throaty voice that just sticks out.
Here’s the thing though; HNV is really in your face. There’s no moderation here; if a character is shrill and annoying, she’s really really shrill and annoying and is that way for the whole game. If you’re exploring an area and jump and your character goes “Hai!” that will happen EVERY TIME YOU JUMP. If you enter an area that’s pink, then expect every single thing, including thought bubbles, NPCs, shrubbery, etc. to be really really pink. During battle, if your character gets hit, she will cry out in pain with a sharp “Oh!” However, what if you are attacked with a move that lands 25 hits? You guessed it…25 “Oh’s!”
It’s all quite the assault on the senses.
Something kept drawing me back, however. No, it wasn’t that the fact that I had to play the game in order to review it. Maybe it was the overall quirkiness and the fact that the game was so unashamedly weird, but it started to get interesting after a while, even if only for the briefest of moments. For starters, the combat mechanic, while somewhat simplistic, is actually quite addictive. Similar to the recent RPG hit Ni No Kuni, HNV uses a dynamic combat system that allows freedom of movement during battle. When it’s your turn, your enemies stay still while you are free to move about. You can position your characters however you like and choose between three modes of attack; power, break, and rush. In addition, you also have your typical defend, use items, and special attacks.
The fact that you can move about to gain a tactical advantage is what makes the combat interesting. You’re not locked into a fixed position at any time, and positioning your characters becomes vital if you want to avoid the enemy’s more powerful area attacks. While it’s not as free as Ni No Kuni’s combat (where you can move around even while most commands are in the process of being performed), HNV does stop your character when a move is launched, but still does a nice job of bringing some balance to free movement and turn based combat.
There’s actually a surprising amount of things to do besides the main quest in HNV, so perhaps that’s what kept my interest. Not only can you do your typical leveling up for you characters, but you can also level up scouts who you can send out to explore and gather info on dungeons. The higher the level of your scout, the more they will find. When your scouts return from exploring, you can break or repair flag triggers, which are used to activate different events within dungeons (changing enemy spawns, new items, etc). You can also partake in a number of “fetch” quests (no surprise there) and collect blank discs scattered about and “burn” different types of data onto them to access new abilities. It’s a fun and quirky, but seems a little redundant after a while.
There are a fair number of issues at play here that prevent HNV from getting a higher score. I mentioned side quests and the main quest earlier; honestly, I was being generous. There’s not much of a difference between side vs main as far as quests go; they may as well ALL be random side quests. It seems that all the quests that you partake in turn out to a bunch of tasks that don’t really tie into the story much. There’s a lot of repetition in quest types, and most of them fall into fetch quests or “kill x number of ______” quests. In fact, it almost seems as if these repetitious quests were intentionally placed into the game in order to make it longer. No bueno.
As with most games of any genre, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory has some good points and some bad points; but the bad outweighs the good by a landslide. There’s a fun combat mechanic to be found here, and the plot is just witty enough for me to chuckle at times, but overall, this game just felt like “work.” A game should never feel like work; even something as blisteringly difficult as Dark Souls still ends up playing like a game. HNV just felt tedious after a while, and it’s hard to plow through a game that doesn’t seem to have any real purpose other than just BEING.