When I get into a game, I have a habit of talking the ear off anyone willing to listen about every minute thing I notice. You would think I would channel that into articles and reviews on my website more frequently or something. Well, ever since I started doing those comics, I kind of got in the habit of clamming up and trying to ‘save’ my thoughts for those, but at times a game comes along that gives me more to talk about than can gracefully fit into a comic panel layout. And as text dense as some of my worse strips can get (if I’m self aware of the problem and call attention to it, it’s totally forgiven right!?), that’s probably saying something. So that brings me to the Neptunia series, which I have sort of a history with already.
A few years ago, my friend Steve and I were trying to put together an experimental-style animated short/pilot of an Eishi n’ Dixie video series, getting as far as getting a script and dialogue recorded. The subject was a niche PS3 RPG, as I tend to wind up acquiring, and it was called Hyperdimension Neptunia. And it was dullllll. Going in, all I really knew was that it was supposed to be full of little in-jokes about the gaming industry, so I was kinda curious about where they’d go with that. Apparently, not very far- extended visual novel style dialogue sequences, soundly meh music, a battle system that kind of felt like Xenogears but less good… overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the game as much as the general idea. I didn’t really pay the sequels much mind beyond “how in the fuck did that get a sequel?”, until I got a half decent rig and started down the Steam Sales hole. Among the things I wound up with by the end of the 2015 summer sales were Neptunia Re;Birth 1 and 2; PC ports of the enhanced Vita port that were supposed to be vaguely “better.” And yeah, they kinda are. The battle engine had been refined through the sequels then applied to the ports to make them well, better, as well as attempt to fix some story problems, to limited success. I’ll save that part for later because complaining is fun and I don’t like to start with dessert.
Combat lets you move characters freely around within a set range circle during their turn and attacks are tied to a ‘hitbox’ area that you can fine-tune the angle of so you can catch multiple targets in your swing. Normal combat consists of combos made of slotted skills, split into Rush, Power, and Break types, which respectively build up combo hits (meh), focused strong attacks, and attacks that more quickly wear down the enemy’s Guard gauge, leading to a weakening Guard Break. These include spells in addition to physical attacks, so each turn you can choose the slotted commands that best suit the situation. Then, you have the EXE gauge, which stores power stocks and not only enables Limit Break style attacks, but adds EX Finishers to the combo chains of the party. It sort of makes you have to think whether that extra attack per turn is more useful than a flashy super move, since using an EXE depletes the gauge by one or more chunks and cuts your overall options back down. It might seem like kind of a shallow looking system, but between the free movement, targeting and the almost fighting-gamey inputs, it’s a surprisingly fun system, especially when you’ve got a boss on the ropes and finish them with an over the top special attack.
The Re;births include a new mechanic called the “Remake System,” which is kind of a crafting system that lets you not just unlock items for the shop, but ‘craft’ changes to the overall game. You can add dungeons, alter the items and enemies within them, ‘create’ bonus characters, and even affect overall game balance like permanently reducing the effectiveness of status ailments or allowing you to kill weak enemies on the map with a sword swing instead of going into battle. It’s a pretty cool setup, and I don’t even get especially annoyed gathering materials since it’s usually pretty clear what monsters drop what. (It’s a little harder to keep track of Harvested items on the maps themselves.) The other system that’s neat but not quite as important is the market share system, where doing Quests not only gives you money and items, but also pushes one faction’s market share up a percentage while lowering another. Getting different endings and unlocking all the non-DLC characters requires you to game the market to certain levels, and when shooting for the True Ending, you need to make sure that the enemy has 0% of the Shares and all four of the friendly lands are pretty evenly spread.
Which brings me to a category I like to call the Tangible Flaws. Re;Birth 1 seems to really love lulling you into a false sense of security then throwing an overpowered boss in your path, more or less mandating you re-evaluate your slotted skills and more often than not, grind for a good while until you can brute force it. It happened frequently enough early on that when actual “supposed-to-lose” fights happened, I was wasting Revives and SP Chargers trying to cling to dear life. It was irritating enough that once I progressed enough to go through the Fairy Fencer F collab fight and get some utterly broken gear from it, I squatted in the Arena until Neptune was Level 99 and took care of the last few chapters without breaking a sweat. Neptunia Re;birth 2 seems to have toned it down a bit, but in all honesty, I’ve been playing from the start with another free dlc collab weapon because I wasn’t in the mood to get brick walled every couple hours again, so it may just be me putting a band-aid over the problem before it happened. So, if you’re interested in the game, do be prepared for the occasional level grind.
The thing that I think hurts the game the most is the sheer volume of drawn out, visual novel-style portrait plus text cutscenes in it. It ties in with the more subjective problem of “How Much Fucking Kawaii Uguu Can You Stand?” Neptune and her pals are all relentlessly ‘quirky’ and chatty as hell. The actual storyline isn’t groundbreaking, but the novelty of Fantasy World Plus Video Game References is buried below giant bags of pink packing Styrofoam. Technically, you can skip about everything (even long attack animations), but if you’re fast forwarding through an RPG, it’s kind of failing in a major area. If the dialogue was edited down by a lot, you’d really end up with a pretty breezy, fun game. Hell, it would probably cut an hour off the run time if you just omitted the times a character who’s not really in on the conversation pops in to go “yes, I agree” to remind you they’re in the party. The characters aren’t without their charm, but you’re given it in way too large of a dose at a time.
In the end, I’m still having fun, so I guess that’s something. Streaming it with friends so we can groan and riff our way through the lame parts is fun, and there are some decent ideas and jokes scattered in there. It’s a fun game that I think does deserve a bit more attention, but needs to learn just a little bit of restraint in subjecting the audience to fifteen minute sequences of being stared at by doe eyed, pink haired paper dolls with Newgrounds-esque ‘breathing’ animations. Re;birth 2 has been mostly more enjoyable other than the annoying little twin girls and a certain giant pedophilic robot with a six foot tongue… so hopefully it keeps that up as I enter the last chapters. The enjoyable part. Not the tongue part. The tongue part can fuck off to hell.