I never wanted to buy a hard copy of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. If anyone saw me with a copy of a game featuring half-naked girls on the front cover that I bought with my own money, I think all my dignity would die before they even had the chance to ring 000 (that's the Australian equivalent of 911, just in case you didn't know). Thankfully, however, the game was released as a digital download on the PSN earlier this month and, you know what? I was actually eager to buy it. After all, I've been endlessly bored and depressed by new games right now and I find there's nothing more therapeutic than thrashing something I hate. Having bought mk2 and downloaded it, I sat down with as much glee as I could possibly muster at the chance to really get mad and unwind during this miserable time of year. I... am confused right now as to how I should feel reviewing this game. On one hand, it is really bad and I can genuinely rage about it. On the other hand, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is so bad, so unforgivably awful that it makes me look back at its predecessor fondly. It violates almost every single thing I believe in and I'm ashamed enough that this game even exists, nevermind me owning it and playing it.
Due to the overwhelming negative critical reception of its laughably bad predecessor, mk2 is a series reboot but you wouldn't think that looking at the title; mk2 sounds more like a fancy name for a sequel rather than a revision and I'm surprised no one brought this up to NIS. Anyway, due to the overwhelming commercial success of its laughably bad predecessor, mk2 was developed with an actual budget this time around. Starting the game, we are treated to an opening that, despite being cheap enough to only use the official portraits of the characters, consists of special effects so flashy that they should never be shown to Michael Bay lest his shouts of approval shatter every glass surface in the world so we can already tell where all the money has been wasted. Well, we're off to a flying start; you'd think they'd have learned their lesson about resource management from their last game.
My word. If our taxes paid for this stuff, I'd be out for blood right now.
In this instalment, Gamindustri is under threat by ASIC, an evil organisation that wishes to spread piracy around the world for the sole purpose of getting followers in order to get enough faith to revive the Deity of Sin, Arfoire. If there's one thing this game taught me, it's that you have to join some deranged cult before you can pirate games rather than just go to a website, download whatever and then do whatever. Anyway, the story starts with a cutscene depicting the four goddesses/CPUs fighting a losing battle against CFW Magic, one of the Four Felons, in the Gamindustri Graveyard. I would just like to mention now that this has to be the crappiest cutscene I've ever seen in any game this console generation. It's the kind of thing anyone even remotely competent in the art of machinima could put together while drunk in a day or two. Really, Idea Factory? Is this really the best you can do? This is a PS3 game that's graphically inferior to Gamecube titles and that is absolutely shameful. What makes this even worse is that this is still the only cutscene of its kind in the entire game; everything else is either visual novel style or the character models just stay in one place.
Anyway, the CPUs are all captured along with Nepgear, Neptune's sister and Planeptune's CPU Candidate who was brought along. Three years later, Compa and IF go to the Graveyard to rescue them but, thanks to the timely intervention of CFW Judge who was guarding them for three years, they are only able to rescue Nepgear before being forced to escape. Realising how outmatched they are, the party of three decide that they must travel between the four landmasses and gather the power of the mascot characters so that they can try again. Along the way, they'll come across many characters who you are supposed to like but will turn out to hate (with the exception of the humans such as Nisa and newcomer Cave). Mina and Kei, two of the Oracles, seem to have an aversion to having their CPUs rescued and will not help you at all and Kei seems to like sending you out on asinine chores that his own employees could take care of on their own. The CPU Candidates, with the exception of Rom, seem to have nothing better to do than belittle Nepgear and her friends at every turn. Uni and Ram keep calling Nepgear synonyms for "weak" and "stupid" but Nepgear still wants to make friends with these absolutely horrid people while any sane person would look up available mercenaries with one hand and slam their faces into a door with the other.
Say that again and I will run your head through those holographic screens.
There are two major things that bug me about the cutscenes in this game: firstly, the anime-style portraits have been replaced by 3D models because God knows I wanted to look at those ugly things for most of the game. Secondly, in regards to English voice acting being turned on, some cutscenes are voiced and some aren't. By the way, I'm not talking about the side cutscenes; some cutscenes that are part of the main story and are crucial to the plot are sometimes not voiced. What the hell? I know the entirety of the budget was allocated to the overly flashy opening but, seriously, why aren't some of the story-central cutscenes voiced? There are some cutscenes that you could omit entirely without detriment to the plot that are voiced, including one in particular that really really disturbs me.
The story is where the game falls apart. Firstly, the dialogue is so embarrassing that the only thing stopping me from changing the voices to Japanese is that the villains have such good voicing that I cannot bear to miss. Secondly, the plot is utterly stupid. Just one example: the party arrives at Leanbox at the behest of its Oracle, Chika Hakozaki (the Oracles have Japanese names in Gamindustri because that makes perfect sense), but, when they finally meet her, she is acting funny and she refers to the faces of the party as "ugly mugs". If your brain is actually a brain rather than a rubber ducky, you'd be able to conclude that Chika is an impostor and is actually Linda, the recurring miniboss that you've met around five times preceding that moment. Sadly, the entire party, including IF, and Cave never actually figure it out despite IF being the smart one. You might excuse this by saying the game is silly and just playing around but it isn't. It plays everything perfectly straight. The story of this game is serious. Even though the plot is about as intelligent as a toenail.
Before you ask, yes: that dialogue is said with a completely serious tone.
I've said before that I'm fine with following railroaded plots but, as is the case with everything else, there are limits. One thing that never fails to burn my toast is when the characters perform idiocy that I or anyone else with an IQ of over 5 would avoid. Case in point: four of our protagonists confront Linda in Lowee. Linda then takes a child hostage in order to escape. Somehow, this child was within arms length of Linda and didn't move away from Nisa's shouting, the building hostile atmosphere or the incredibly shady-looking and obviously evil Linda. Alternatively, if the dialogue is of any indication ("Hey, you! Precocious little kid!"), Linda just ran to the child possibly a few metres away and took her hostage while the heroines did absolutely nothing to stop her. Couldn't they have just grabbed her coat and go "Where do you think you're going?"
I believe this problem ties into the use of visual novel cutscenes. The thing is, we're told everything but we never see it, meaning the story can tell us whatever is happening and we don't really have a choice but to believe it. Another example: the first boss fight with Linda takes place at the end of a dungeon with only one path leading into it. Despite being beaten up badly, she still somehow manages to escape as Nepgear, who still seems to be in good condition, makes no effort to stop her. Now, I'm well open to the idea of visual novel cutscenes being done well. The problem is that this game doesn't do them well and I'm lacking some visual information like where exactly I am and what some characters look like. The mascot characters, all of which are named "<colour> Disc", appear in one piece of artwork as little pixie things or spirits (it's hard to tell) yet Linda keeps breaking them. Are they discs, spirits or fairies? I can't tell. Speaking of which, you know how the last game's cutscenes had almost all NPCs with just a silhouette? Yeah, they don't get that luxury this time around. They get nothing. Including the discs.
What the hell do you look like?
Speaking of characters, the cast seems to have received a bit of a downgrade in this game. Neptune's been kicked out of her protagonist role and replaced with Nepgear, who, despite being more sensible and level-headed, lacks Neptune's charm, mainly because she's too bland in comparison to her energetic sibling. This may be because Nepgear's ego is so easily shot to hell on a regular basis and she doubts herself a lot for two purposes: 1) Nepgear can get something resembling character development and 2) the player will feel inclined to treat her as a troubled woobie that they will want to cuddle her. These don't really work, the first because Vert did this much better in the first game and the second because, by the third time she almost bursts into tears when she was teased, I just wanted her to get over it. I know it's for character development and woobieness and all that jazz but there are better ways of going about it than making Nepgear whine all the bloody time.
I'm a bit disappointed with IF this time around; she's supposed to be the smart and rational one like she was in the first game but she holds the idiot ball so often that I don't get that impression at all. I am, however, very thankful that Nisa, Gust and 5pb return and actually take part in the story events this time around, not to mention they all stand above their peers. Cave and Falcom are also introduced to the game, the former having something to do with the story and the latter not. Nisa's delightfully hammy, Gust and 5pb both demonstrate remarkable judgement at points in the game, Cave manages to pull off the tricky manoeuvre that is being stoic and aloof while still being a likeable and amusing character and Falcom is... well, she doesn't really have much character which actually makes a lot of sense considering Falcom made Ys: The Oath in Felghana and she seems to have been modelled after Adol. What surprises me is that the emphasis is not on these lovable humans but rather on the Oracles and Candidates, almost all of which seem to go out of their way to be as unhelpful as possible while the humans always ask (well, Cave and Falcom need to be bought first) to help your party and turn out to be much more useful.
Heh heh heh.
Anyway, one reason I miss the first game is because it just brushed over the anti-piracy message and left it alone for the most part. This game, on the other hand, never shuts up about it. I wouldn't mind this if the issue of piracy was handled with the slightest bit of tact. It isn't; the game just goes on and on about how piracy will destroy Gamindustri. The in-game glossary even tries to make this even more dire, saying that Gamindustri is a world that embodies the video games of all worlds and, if Arfoire wins, piracy will run rampant and destroy everything. Now, I'm as anti-pirate as they come but this sounds incredibly exaggerated and I grew weary of the constant messages as quickly as I imagine my friends do when I keep pleading to them to read and comment on my reviews. Furthermore, I'm still sore about Gust and Nisa being DLC in the previous game and Idea Factory are the absolute last people I want to hear anti-piracy preaching from, especially since DLC characters cost $5 Australian this time.
It only gets more unnerving as the game goes on, though. You see, the goal of the good guys is to "exterminate" ASIC. Towards the end of the second act (not the second chapter), the Oracles establish an embargo on Arfoire's products in order to finally win followers back to the four landmasses. When all the CPUs are inevitably rescued, the party can finally march out and take down each and every single one of the Four Felons so that piracy can never again poison their world-
Hold on a moment; isn't this sort of how Nazi Germany started?
... When did this game get so dark?
Well, this somewhat light-hearted adventure just took a turn for the worst, didn't it? I vaguely recall reading that, starting out, the Nazis established a boycott on all Jewish-run businesses and I don't think I need to go into detail about anything else. Anyway, fascism aside, this is the reason this game cheeses me off. To combat piracy, the characters- more specifically, the Oracles and CPUs- don't even think about making diplomatic discussions or revising their policies. I don't even think a diplomatic attitude would even be that hard; CFW Brave is an anti-villain who is essentially Santa Claus if he was a villainous giant mech. They could just easily take him aside for a peaceful talk and see how they can better their services but nope; the best way to curb piracy is a pirate massacre. One line spoken by a pirate is "Now I can play all those games that I'm too lazy to work a job, earn money and purchase on my own!" Even though I'm anti-pirate, I still feel insulted on the behalf of all pirates.
Actually, it's funny I mention taking CFW Brave for a peaceful talk because that's sort of what happens later in the game; he returns and debates with Uni about the merits and evils of piracy before throwing down. This moment, along with the Conquest Ending (which, by the way, is insanely disturbing and I suggest you don't watch it before going to sleep), is actually decently written and I get the impression there's at least one person in Idea Factory or Compile Heart (IF/CH) who's actually trying to make something out of this game but their efforts are for naught while they're around a bunch of monkeys screaming "MOAR FANSIRVIS!" My gripe with this scene is that it's the only one of its kind. If the entire game was more grey when it came to piracy rather than portraying the issue as black and white and the antagonists were decently explored, I'd be a lot kinder to it. Unfortunately, as it is, the scene is the exception rather than the rule and, after it, we just go back to the whole piracy-is-absolutely-evil shtick anyway.
Aaaand this goes on for a bit of a while.
Of course, even though the main story is told seriously without the slightest bit of self-awareness or irony, that doesn't mean the game doesn't have jokes. Far from it, in fact; there are plenty of jokes but, as was the case before, they suck. Again, all they ever do is reference. The Oracle of Lastation wants you to fetch materials for him so that Lastation can make a device that can "do everything", a recurring PS3-related joke that is now more tired than Axel's "Got it memorised?" line. It doesn't even make sense in context. This isn't even lampshading: lampshading is "Why can't we jump?" or "Whoa! This slime is actually four slimes!" or "Uni, firearms like that rifle you're wielding right now are supposed to have an effective range of much more than six feet." Other references include "I'm not good for tactical espionage action" and "Compa's cake is never a lie". These references, again, are just thrown in the dialogue randomly with no thought beyond "Hey, that's from a video game! Let's put it in there!" Some of the references are also very obscure and not even about games: one of the monsters is called a Moulin Rogue. Well, you learn something new every day; I wasn't aware that Moulin Rouge! was a widely recognised movie in Japan.
Video game humour is not that hard; 3D Dot Game Heroes and Kid Icarus: Uprising proved that. While they did reference other games, that wasn't their primary source of humour. Primarily, what they did was poke fun at themselves and, by extension, common video game tropes. If you want to take it one step and beyond, make the tropes have consequences for the player, like that angry woman behind the wall in 3D Dot Game Heroes. Here's an idea on how it could have been done in this game: Kei knows where the mascot is but he won't tell you unless you go on a fetch quest for him. At that point, IF, being the savvy one with common sense (or should be), would tell Kei that they are on an important mission to rescue the CPUs and getting the mascot means they can finally bring back Lastation's boss that has been in captivity for three years so he can just shove it. That or something else that will make them bypass the fetch quest. You know, make them not only aware of the tropes but also willing to exploit them.
Wow. It looks sort of like that head from Brain Training. My thighs are now red from all the slapping in laughter.
The humour is also a bit more visual this time around, mainly with the monster designs. As you might have guessed from my Hyperdimension Neptunia review, I loathed these ones. Animated Warp Pipes, a floating head made after Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, floating Tetris blocks, visual novel screens with a text box acting as a floating limb, cardboard boxes with crowns and designed after birds and many others look absolutely absurd and have no place whatsoever in a game that's trying this hard to be taken seriously. The only decent monster designs, with the exception of CFW Judge, have been airlifted straight out of the first game in a remarkable show of creative bankruptcy. I would like to know exactly what happened to artists that created such awe-inspiring monsters in the first place.
There are other things I'd also like to know. The game has a glossary which explains, amongst other things, how Oracles and Sharicite work as well as give a brief overview of Gamindustri's history and the four landmasses but there are some questions raised throughout the game that are never answered. The Four Felons have drastically different appearances; Magic looks like a CPU, Judge a giant robot, Brave an oversized action figure and Trick a teddy dinosaur. Why is this? Furthermore, what is their backstory? Brave says he's in for the sake of getting games to children but, apart from that, I don't know anything about his motivations or that of the other Felons. 5pb is said to have magical singing powers but where do they come from? Why is she the only one with them? Can anyone else increase the stats of their allies by singing? What the hell is Pirachu? IF says he may be a monster but that doesn't make sense: he is capable of speech and thought. If he is a monster, why is he so unique? Furthermore, what is up with the mascot characters? How did they come into existence? What, exactly, are they? Also, why is it that the personalities of the CPU Candidates don't change when they go HDD yet the opposite holds true for the regular CPUs? None of this is ever explained.
Why do you all look so different?!
Speaking of monsters, combat's actually been improved a bit. Random encounters have been replaced by interacting with monsters on the field (although the hitboxes are a bit skewed and battles can start before you actually touch the enemy), your skills are accessible by a skill menu and it's now possible to heal in and out of battle without setting a bunch of random gauges and crossing your fingers. However, that just means the combat has been elevated from I'd-rather-stab-out-my-fingers-with-a-fork-that's-on-fire to just mediocre, especially since they still keep that combo system from the first game (albeit streamlined a bit). One very stupid move that has been implemented is the ability to move the characters: on each of your character's turns, they can move in a certain diameter so that you can get closer to the enemy and attack. This sounds like it might have strategic value but all it ever comes down to is getting all four of your characters, putting them on all four sides of your enemy and wailing away. The only difference between this game's combat style and that of the previous game is that you have to get to your enemy first. It's like a racing game where you have to drive your car to the starting line before every race.
One thing that the movement system introduces is range as a combat element, which is made pointless by your average approach being flanking your enemy on all sides and wailing away. However, I think the game resents me for this: while the standard attacks of my characters can only hit one square in front of me on most occasions and two squares at every other time and my enemies have to be standing right next to each other for me to actually hit them both at once, enemies can inflict huge amounts of damage at extremely long ranges and hit party members who have to be at least three squares apart from each other. During my second boss fight, where I was fighting one on one with Linda, I got my backside handed to me twice in a row because, despite being ages away from me, Linda could still use an attack called "Explosion" which knocked off three quarters of my health on her very first turn.
The funny thing is that those claws have exactly the same range as Nepgear's sword.
Another thing that bugs me is the accuracy of the player characters or, more appropriately, lack thereof. It's quite funny to see IF slash and kick at her enemy like a gajillion times and never land a single hit like she's magnetised in such a way that the enemies just repel her attacks. Of course, IF's only the most frequent one in combat to miss. Special notice goes to Uni, the rifle user, if only because this sounds hilarious out of context: on top of being unable fire at her enemy with confidence unless they're at most two squares away from her despite having some of the biggest firearms I've ever seen in gaming, she still misses half the time. It's like the sights are attached to the bottom of the gun. I'd love to see her feature in a Call of Duty game and try to fire at a Russian only to completely miss and knock off Captain Price's sweet hat and Price was standing behind her.
The dungeons have also been revamped but, sadly, we still only have a map screen and a menu-driven interface outside of those, which is a shame; I would have loved to traverse the world of Gamindustri and explore the intricately detailed cities so that I can point out what doesn't make sense. Anyway, rather than have a single dungeon for every single bloody mission, now there are only a select few ('few' as in relative to the first game, mind you) dungeons where the requirements for your missions can be found and where events of the story can take place. They're also much prettier now; the first dungeon even has an open sky and a bridge. One of the factories even has sunlight coming in- oh goodness gracious me, did I really get excited about that? Bridges, open skies and sunlight are completely standard things that I'd expect in games from twelve years ago and it took one failed game for Idea Factory to come to the same conclusion.
And now... the fanservice. Or, as my friend likes to call it, the Fanservice (note the upper-case F and the formatting).
You know what? If it were just everything above, that'd be enough for the game to still rank a bit below Hyperdimension Neptunia. However, the game feels the need to ram the knife further in my spine and twist it with a wrench before hammering it in with a wrecking ball just to be sure. Let's put aside the designs of the characters for now and... Well, on no less than three occasions are our heroes... "indecently assaulted". No, I am not kidding: Occasion #1 is the four CPUs being bound by cords with their clothes damaged and one of them is gagged by a cord. Occasion #2 is when the party is attacked by slime monsters that decided to slime into their clothes and Nepgear says "Wait, don't go up there! That's not for you to explore!". Occasion #3 is CFW Trick licking Ram and Rom, the youngest characters of the cast (thankfully, this is a visual novel cutscene so we don't actually see it but it's still disturbing nonetheless). This wouldn't be so freaky if Trick wasn't firmly established as a lolicon. Why do the writers put the heroines through so much pain? Is this really funny or, God forbid, arousing to anyone?
What. The. Hell?
Watching these scenes, and playing this game as a whole, I feel incredibly unclean. The Fanservice goes way too far and makes me feel angry and physically ill. The anti-piracy messages just add fuel to the fire; I'm against piracy and I understand anyone who makes a message against it but this strong-arm approach is not a good way of going about it. If you took away both of those, what you'd be left with would be just a below average JRPG that occasionally brings up a certain name or thing and expects you to laugh at its ability to take a trademark and change a single letter, or perhaps a word if it's feeling daring. Unfortunately, this game is the reality and what we have is an offensive, repulsive mess so filthy that using a disc cleaner on it may make it disintegrate. I would love to do this but I bought this game as a digital download for $80, so I guess that means I'm as smart as this game's characters.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
And thus enters the second stage of my war with the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. As always, constructive criticism is welcome.