Dedicated readers of my blog will probably be able to guess by this point that the fastest way to make me foam at the mouth is to mention Hyperdimension Neptunia, a game I declared in my Atelier Totori review to be the worst game I have ever played. Even though the game has been knocked off its throne of suck by Asura's Wrath, it should not get cocky as it is still absolutely bloody awful. I wrote a review of this game some time last year on deviantArt but I consider my reviews on there very inadequate so I want to do it again and I want to do it right. Plus, readers of my blog probably haven't read that review and there really isn't much else to review at this time so this will be a good opportunity to demonstrate how this game burns my toast.
I made the mistake in my previous review attempt of calling the premise of Hyperdimension Neptunia unique. I was wrong; the premise of a world based on entertainment media is hardly new and has been attempted in the past by such works as Captain N: The Game Master, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Pagemaster with games, cartoons and novels respectively with varying degrees of success, not to mention Disney's upcoming Wreck-It Ralph. Mind you, I don't have a problem with a premise that's been done before. This kind of premise actually has a lot of potential and it can be used to explore the culture surrounding such forms of media. What annoys me is when such a premise is underutilised in favour of something else so that it could still be put in the advertising for the sake of a quick buck. Hyperdimension Neptunia is less about games and more about fanservice with a bunch of non-contextual pop culture references thrown in.
So much potential... Too bad the Console War is only present for the first five minutes of the game.
Now, before I jump right into carpet bombing this game, I'd like to bring up two aspects of the game that I actually like before anyone calls me biased (even if that is true): firstly, I like the cast for the most part. It's full of memorable characters, my personal favourites being Nisa and IF because they're so entertaining; Nisa is overly hammy and IF is a deadpan snarker with some actually good lines that stand out against the drivel she has to be a part of. I like the human characters a lot more than any of the goddesses, which puzzles me as to why the goddesses are pushed so much in the advertising for each game and the human characters get very little mention. I mean, the goddesses are just stock characters with pretty much one personality trait each. Noire in particular seems to owe the Tsundere stereotype vast amounts of money and would much prefer to just get her debts over and done with. Also, you can only get three of them right before the final dungeon by grinding for an excessive-even-by-JRPG-standards amount of time three times over. This is also a requirement for the best ending. As you might expect, I went "Nope!" and left them to rot.
Incidentally, that reminds me; out of the ten possible party members, three of them need to be unlocked first and four of them are DLC only. This means that, for most of the game, you will have only three members in your party if you're stingy with money. Your fighting party can only consist of three frontline fighters and three backup fighters, the latter of which you will not have. This will result in most of the game being more of a monotonous chore than it already is. Now, as for DLC, I'm fine with most of it. I don't want the extra costumes and I don't need them, so I don't buy them. The game doesn't try to force them on me either, so I'm fine with that. Two of the character DLCs (5pb. and Red) are... slightly okay because they only make you meet them and then recruit them and, again, the game doesn't ever suggest you go out of your way to get them. However, I strongly object to having to buy DLC to fight with Nisa and Gust, who join your party but can't be used in combat until you shell out maybe $3.45 for both of them. This is a huge detriment to the game due to the lack of variety already present and the fact that the game is basically dangling a massive sign in front of your face going "Oh, look! You have recruited two very awesome characters! It's a shame you can't use them, though. Of course, you could if you just bought them, wink wink". I swear to God, I would shoot this game in the face if I could.
Nisa, you may be one of my favourite characters in the game but I am not going to spend $3.45 on a resource I already have.
The second part of the game that I actually like is the monster aesthetics, mainly the big lads. There are some truly monstrous monsters in this game, including some flipping huge monster deer, golems with factory chimneys for arms and even some rather impressive minotaur. They actually made me go "Holy crap, what the hell is that?!" when I first saw them, even though most monsters go down more easily than a card pyramid in a hurricane. This is in stark contrast to Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 where the monsters are so ridiculous that, every time I see a new one, I want to bang my head against the desk. A horse with bird wings replacing the front pair of legs? Tetris blocks? Visual novel screens with a text box acting as a floating limb? I know these are meant to be jokes and, anywhere else, I probably would be laughing. However, it doesn't work because the world of Gamindustri doesn't reflect video games; it only references them. Gamindustri is just our world given an anime makeover and with the names of everything changed to something video game related; it's the embodiment of video games and their surrounding culture in the same way that my duck toilet paper has a fondness for bread.
Holy smokes, that's cool.
Sorry, sorry, wrong game. Now, Hyperdimension Neptunia's plot concerns a girl named Neptune who has plot convenient amnesia, presumably won from eBay, after being thrown off Celestia to the ground below known as Gamindustri. Here, the game misses a chance to be creative by, rather than having it pronounced as 'Guh-min-dus-tree', having it pronounced as 'Game industry' which sounds much more in-your-face. Anyway, Neptune has been asked by Histoire to rescue her by finding the four Key Fragments in the four landmasses of Planeptune (Sega Neptune), Leanbox, Lowee and Lastation. Along the way, she gets constantly opposed by the other goddesses as well as a witch called 'Arfoire' (Okay, I admit that's actually a pretty clever name). The game's meant to be against piracy but that hardly gets mentioned outside of Arfoire and a rather weird mention of 'illegal discs' very late in the game that gave me the impression that the developers went "Oh bugger nuggets! I forgot to mention piracy was bad throughout this entire game! I better fix that!"
Neptune's quest to find the Key Fragments is constantly put off to the side like the main story of Skyrim in order to help out each landmass that isn't Planeptune with their big problem. Only once this problem is solved is Neptune pointed in the direction of that landmass' Key Fragment. Kingdom Hearts II had the exact same problem of the main plot only appearing after you've done everyone else's subplot. It's poor pacing. This only gets worse right after you find all the Key Fragments, which is when the game makes you search for four more MacGuffins. Now the game just reeks of uncreative and unmotivated writing.
They do this a lot.
Let's move on to the secondary parts of the context, like the jokes. As I said before, most of the video game references have pretty much nothing to do with the game, are very in-your-face and are essentially there for one-time jokes that don't make sense, like drawing a moustache on a tree along with a speech bubble pointing to it going "LOL". Some notable examples include the Watch & Game cutscene, the cutscene involving Wowser, the cutscenes involving a guy who wants to make a game as good as GG7 and the cutscene about some deliverymen loading a truck in the style of 'Detris'. As I hope you all know by now, non-contextual pop culture references are about as funny as arrow to the knee jokes. It only gets worse when they just toss in references with absolutely no rhyme or reason, such as including a dungeon called 'Hirool castle' in the Xbox land.
Another part of this game that really annoys me is the god damn soundtrack. At best, it's average and forgettable with the exception of Lastation's theme because that music is awesome and it is an outlier that is disqualified from the data collection. At worst, it makes me want to throw my computer out the window. While the only two regular battle themes in the game sound like a cat being put through an auto-tune filter while being massaged by an armless person with a long nose and the other sounds like a xylophone edition of Whack-a-Mole played by a paranoid cat, the worst music has to be that bloody annoying "silly" music that plays from time to time in cutscenes and is more obnoxious than the Sonic drowning tune and that low health warning in Pokémon put together.
As I post pictures and not sound files, I thought this was the only thing appropriate. Let's see if it works.
And now we are at the gameplay. I hope you're all ready for this because this may blow your mind; the game uses random-encounter flash-transition turn-based combat. Yes, some games apparently still use that outdated nonsense. Of course, that wouldn't be too bad if it was implemented somewhat competently. Each character can use four buttons to take one of four actions: square for defend, triangle for a weapon attack, circle for a physical attack and X for a ranged attack. Now wait a minute; doesn't this look more like a control scheme for an action game? Why, yes it does. In fact, the game takes it one step further by making it possible for the characters to make a chain of four attacks, all modifiable. That means you can have about 81 possible combinations of attacks of your choosing, whether you want your XXXX combo to do a fast-shooting combo or a power-shot combo and so on. This sounds good for advertising but this is not Lollipop Chainsaw; this is a turn-based JRPG. Just come up with a combo that uses the character's best offensive stat and the last attack with the Combo Link trait and spam it because that's the only worthwhile combo.
For the same reason that one should never make a random chess piece spontaneously disintegrate every three minutes of a game, real-time elements and turn-based combat should be kept as far apart as possible. A good example of this is in the side missions; you get graded on how fast you do them. Of course, you have a timer going on as this happens, even during portions of battles in which you have no control, like the attack animations that are comparable to Sephiroth's Super Nova. Fortunately, those can be skipped with the L2 button. This resulted in me mashing L2 for the entire game as if leaving it alone would kill me. With this in mind, one could argue that the special attacks and transformations are complete wastes of animation. One could argue the opposite but I refuse to believe that anyone can play this game and not press L2 for at least a significant portion of it, even one-sixth. The biggest reason that I'm adamant about such a claim is that the health of most enemies means that battles can outlast entire religions and get really boring really fast.
That lovely little button the bottom left... why are you even here?
Now, let's get to the dungeons. Dear goodness, the dungeons. You remember how, in my Fortune Summoners review, I complained about repeatedly going to dungeons for really contrived reasons? Yeah, turn that up to eleven to the power of eleven and you'll get this game. The entire extent of this game's gameplay is running back and forth in dungeons killing enough monsters, getting enough random drops, killing the boss monster or getting to the end of the dungeon. That is literally all you will ever do; run around and kill things in dungeons. Ugly dungeons, mind you; it seems like the dungeons from Fortune Summoners were airlifted into a 3D environment and stripped of all their strategic design and puzzles; walls are copy-pasted endlessly, they all consist of one floor and most passageways only lead to dead ends.
Your characters have various tools to be used in dungeons, including a hammer to bust down breakable walls and generally act as a Continue Game function, a bell to call monsters and a treasure finder that finds one hidden chest per dungeon, but they're all massive wastes of time that I imagine were thrown in in a desperate attempt on the designer's part to have an argument to anyone who says that the dungeons are all barren and hollow. This isn't helped at all by utterly stupid design decisions probably made by the lead designer's ex-girlfriend's son; Neptune's Hammer Break breaks down obstructions in the path but it has a recharge time of maybe thirty seconds. That might not sound long but some dungeons will put another obstruction right behind the first obstruction and another one behind that with the clock still ticking all the while. Did you forget about the side quests and the timer? Idea Factory sure did.
Later on, you will be doing this again. And again. And again. And, each time, the obstruction won't actually be destroyed until after the animation is finished.
If that's not enough, you don't explore towns in this game. Outside of dungeons is an entirely menu-driven interface; the six options you are given are Shop, Explore (click on words to unlock dungeons and cutscenes), Search (go to the dungeons in question), Gallery, Settings and Exit (return to the title screen). Well, so much for fleshing out the world, eh? Didn't we kind of all but abandon this around about the sixth generation? I figured that the only games that still use this kind of system would be indie or freeware games because of money limitations. I bought this crap for $60 Australian first hand. While I am by no means savvy in terms of business-related morals, isn't it kind of unethical to release a game with even less... anything than an indie game and charge your average AAA game price for it? Also, it's entirely possible to get duplicates of items but you are not allowed to sell anything, meaning you are stuck with any useless crap you get. How wonderful.
But the absolute worst design decision in Hyperdimension Neptunia, and everyone who has played it will agree, is the god damn random healing. Say what you will about full healing after each battle in The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles but at least it was reliable! Rather than using healing items, you gather up to 999 of four coloured bottles from dungeons and shops to be used for several item skills which let one of your characters do a specified action (healing) to a certain degree (30% restoration) at a certain time (after your enemy has attacked your character) when a certain condition has been fulfilled (when your health is below 50%). These skills cannot be activated manually; rather, they have to have their chances of being activated manually adjusted by pouring a limited number of points into each one, like putting 32 points into your cure poison skill to give it a 32% chance of occurring when it's meant to. It takes about an hour to be able get just your most basic healing ability to 100% and there are tons others that you'll need. By the way, while we're on the subject, why do I need a specific one-use-only (thankfully stockpile-able) item to escape from battle?
At first level, you only have enough points to make your most basic item skill work 50% of the time. Isn't this ingenious design?
Hold on, my friends, because it gets WORSE. How? From a technical standpoint, of course! Now, I'm not normally one to care about graphics no matter how good they are- I can't even remember the FPS difference between Modern Warfare 3 and Resistance 3- but these graphics are outright crap. I played Wii games that had better graphics than this. Hell, I played Gamecube games that had better graphics than this! Not only is the frame rate constantly buggered, even during turn-based combat when there are no more than six combatants on the field at any given time, but sometimes, when wandering around dungeons, a part of a corridor will be separated from you by blackness because it hasn't loaded yet. I'd understand if this game was made for the Sega Neptune (come to think of it, given the graphics, I wouldn't be surprised if it was) but this is a game for the PS3, which is the console equivalent of five tanks fused together with magic.
After exploring the Internet a bit, I found out the reason for such cost-cutting; the game had little to no money to work with. I searched around for exact figures, as well-known indie game Braid apparently cost $180,000 to make and I would've liked a comparison, but my efforts didn't bear fruit, and neither did my efforts to find an official statement of a lacking budget for the game, meaning I only have the vague word of the Internet to believe. Eh, oh well. Anyway, seeing as I appreciate the efforts put into a game by people with limited resources, people tend to gravitate towards financially unwell competitors in an industry and the smaller competition is almost always stamped out or absorbed and turned into an empty husk by larger companies, surely this means I should cut them some slack? After all, they had not a lot of money at all so it's not like I could expect too much of them like I could with bigger games like Skyrim, right?
GOD NO! Having a lacking budget isn't a valid excuse for making a subpar product, especially not one of this level! Cave Story and Iji were both freeware games that were freaking marvellous and were worked on by a number of people so small that you could squeeze them inside a telephone booth! They had constraints but they knew how to work around them! Look, I know making the most striking, epic experience ever that can sit on shelves alongside graphically intense games and put them to shame is going to cost a fair deal of money. If you most definitely do not have enough money to even attempt such a thing, don't attempt to do it anyway.
Hyperdimension Neptunia's chief failure is poor resource management. Now, given the financial situation, I understand their use of visual novel style cutscenes, portraits and all. What I do not understand is why they allocated precious money that, in such a situation, is like fresh water in a planet-sized desert to making the portraits move. Yes, you heard that right; the portraits in these visual novel cutscenes move. The chests of characters bob up and down to show that they're breathing in and out, their eyes follow things happening off screen, their faces turn and their heads tilt. The breathing part is the worst because characters breathe in and out even while they're talking. I didn't notice this until a friend told me but now I can't shake it off. Hey, Idea Factory? I don't suppose you could have allocated that money to something worthwhile? Perhaps graphics that don't suck? Maybe giving portraits of equal value to everyone rather than just the playable characters and two NPCs, leaving every other NPC with nothing more than a small silhouette with a frame (seriously, that's pretty lazy)?
Oh, for the love of...
There are also a few problems with the audio that might have been fixed if Hyperdimension Neptunia wasn't so focused on making a convoluted combat system with enough potential combos to scare the hell out of BlazBlue and a ridiculous random healing mechanic. Whenever I use very powerful attacks, like Neptune's Neptune Break which is obtained very early on and is about as balanced as Asura in a fight against Elena, the sound seems to peak and get all static-y. That is it.
Finally, we have arrived at the part of the game that would trip up even the staunchest critic in the entire world. The part of the game which was so hard for me to think about that I had to discuss it with my friend just to be able to keep my head straight. Here we are, very reluctantly, at... ugh, the fanservice...
Oh lord, this is going to be painful...
Now, if the game just had panty shots, questionable outfits, especially when it comes to 5pb. who looks like she's just wearing skimpy lingerie, and suggestive pictures, that would be enough for me to just say the fanservice makes me uncomfortable. However, I need to go at least one step beyond that because the main cast, for the most part, only look to be around fourteen years of age. Being very defensive of children, I have to raise the issue as to why anyone would ever approve of this blatant sexualisation of minors. Some of you might argue that this isn't such a big issue and I'm making mountains out of molehills and, in all honesty, you could be right provided the stars and planets are aligned properly and people have died in enough geographical locations to form a specific shape that can alter reality but, frankly, your arguments are invalid in the face of blatant sexualisation of minors. This is something that needs to be addressed, especially since the whole Tropes vs. Women debacle has proved that our culture still has a lot of growing up to do.
And somehow... somehow, and forgive me for going off on a tangent here, but the sequel makes it worse. I could explain this in excruciating detail as I always do but... I think the next images just about cover it.
Please forgive me but I would like to formally request an adequate explanation of WHO THE HELL THOUGHT THIS WOULD FLY?!
In summary, Hyperdimension Neptunia is to games what a bruised apple with a cup of curdled milk is to fine dining. It tried to do what its budget couldn't possibly allow and collapsed under its own weight. If games are all competitors in a game of Poking the Angry Bear and everyone else had the common sense to either bring a motorcycle and a suit of plate armour or the longest stick they could find, Hyperdimension Neptunia is the resident idiot who went stark naked, covered in honey and who just went right up to the bear to poke it. Against all the odds, however, it survived. Now it has two sequels despite being one of the most critically panned games in recent history and a devoted fanbase pretty much overnight. I don't get why people like this game; the jokes are horrible, the game's as technically adept as a submarine made of bread, the fanservice is outright uncomfortable at least and the combat is nothing short of atrocious, and those are only the biggest problems. How, exactly, can anyone make such a sub-par product and actually profit from it?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have Hyperdimension Neptunia fanfiction to write.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
I wonder how many wars I have incited over this review? Man, formatting reviews for this site is a pain in the arse... I don't think I'll do it again.