Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation Review
Platforms: PS Vita, PC(Reviewed)
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, and Felistella
Publisher: Idea Factory International
So, following the very poor quality of the first Hyperdimension Neptunia, that is the PS3 one, a sequel, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, was rapidly placed in development, implementing a slew of changes along with a new protagonist and even a new dimension, as if the series was not already confusing enough when viewed as a parallel to the game industry. Heck, if you chose to jump into the series, completely blind, with this remake of the second game to guide you, I would say you have every right to be confused as to what exactly is going on, and who the blazes anybody in this confusingly constructed world are, and what they do. It actually got to the point where I felt there were chunks of the script that were omitted for whatever reason, and instead very goofy but nonessential scenes were kept in place of the backstory of the game’s antagonist.
That is already a really bad foot to start on, and I would say the opening of the game is pretty poor as a whole, but the plot is pretty simple when you break it down. GameIndustri is a land divided into four continents, each with their own protective Goddess known as a CPU, the CPUs are captured by a group known as the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime, or ASIC, which has put the land into peril. The only ones who can save the Goddesses and stop Arfoire are the Goddesses’ sisters, and a ragtag group a dozen humanized Japanese game developers who happen to be competent warriors of justice, because why not?
It gets weirder with its attempts to tying itself back to the industry, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The pairing of certain personified developers with select consoles, a piracy subplot that fits as well as a square shaped object does into a slightly larger circular hole, and figuring out what the other characters included in the game are supposed to represent, all make this seem like a storyline Idea Factory began writing before they figured out what the hell they were doing. In fact, most of the game is pretty much Nepgear and her ever growing party going from place to place to find thing that I would not call macguffins, but just barely, and then running into the same Underlings of ASIC, beating them, and letting them flee to fight another day. Nothing is all that surprising, at least until the game begins branching itself off into its many endings, and the story is only saved by its writing, characters, and the performance from the English voice cast.
In contrast with its predecessor, Re;Birth2’s writing actually comes across as something that was edited before taken to the recording studio, still not being particularly well written, and coupled with more than a few odd word choices, but it succeeds in being a consistently goofy, stupid, and funny script throughout the story’s duration. Okay, the little tweets that scattered the world map after every story event still come across as notes somebody took right before or after bed, but I would guess this to be the same in the original Japanese script. Regardless, this resulted in a couple hundred screencaps on my part, that I should go through so I could repurpose them for my Nigmabox Rundown segment, but probably won’t due to how terrible I am with title based tags. The actual characters are appealing and pretty consistent, but the fact that the cast can expand well past twenty does mean that some of the non-essential characters get left on the wayside, to the point where I was surprised when I heard their voice and saw their portrait pop up in a scene.
I previously praised the voice acting for being better than I had anticipated, and while that is indeed true here, as I went onto invest far more time than I should have in Re;Birth1, and am well on my way to do the same with Re;Birth2, the in-battle dialog really began getting on my nerves, specifically because just about every line is reused, there are only a few new lines to accompany them. The same goes for the audio in general, which also possessed a quirk that I couldn’t help but notice even after adjusting the in-game settings. The audio balancing in this game sucks, as certain tracks are far louder than others, and I cannot begin to tell you how annoying it is to barely hear the softly playing background battle music only to then be pelted by the loud world map theme blasting at full force. Although, the absolute worse has to be the level up chime and pair of two possible comments from the playable characters, which I only heard a few thousand times over my forty hours with the game, often twenty times in a row.
Moving onto the gameplay, which is unchanged to the point where you learn the same moves at the same level as before, I feel that I can just copy and paste what I said in my Re;Birth1 review, so I will with some minor edits. At its face value, I really do enjoy this title’s turn based combat. It’s fairly simple, fast, and does offer a nice bit of strategy, but I’m surprised that it was not given a bit more polish in just about every aspect seeing as how the combat system was designed to be repurposed for the entire Re;Birth trilogy. You move around a circular area with each character and select an enemy, or enemies given your weapon’s range. It sounds simple enough, but very early on I figured that you could manage to just barely squeeze in two enemy hitboxes if they are properly positioned. Unfortunately, characters do not move delicately enough to easily lock enemies into their attack range, meaning that the positioning can take far longer than one would like.
Once you do finally get ready to attack enemies, you then have a customizable three, or potentially four part combo where you mix in guard breaking, heavy, and special bar building moves to take down the enemy. The problem is that you are given so many of these moves over time, and it is not always easy to figure out which one is superior, as the game does not give you especially clear information. It gives you numbers, but I could not reliably determine the net damage of multi-hit or single-hit moves well enough to be confident about them, so I went with my most recently unlocked move in most cases. One thing I did learn, based on the general damage output and damage received, that the cast of characters in the game is not really all that balanced. With the Goddesses often being the most powerful, while every character based on a game company is either lacking in damage output, or their ability to take hits. Especially when the four CPUs, and not the CPU Candidates/Sisters that the game is named after, unlock the ability to effectively attack twice in a given turn at level seventy.
I felt that the first Re;Birth title did have some, well, not really difficult, but annoying moments where the difficulty spiked. Well, that problem was effectively avoided for me thanks to the DLC I picked up with Re;Birth2, which more or less gives Nepgear the most powerful endgame item right from the get-go, and gives you a Super EXP Up plan. And when you combine this plan with the regular EXP plan, your gained EXP increases tenfold. Without these benefits, i can only see the first few chapters of this game being a rather obnoxious slog through the same repetitive enemies until you get the plans for an instantaneous win against every non-scripted encounter, including optional bosses harder than anything in the main storyline… Yep, game’s broken.
I kid, but this is pretty alarming as far as I am concerned, yet not as much as the fact that that somebody, at lot of people in fact, approved the aforementioned plans. At an idea level, plans exist to add new content into the game, apply gameplay quirks, and introduce new items to purchase. However, in order to not only obtain these plans, but unlock them, you need to go through a special kind of management and information gathering hell that is thankfully listed decently through this Google Doc. If you want to, say, unlock the plan to increase your overall Credits obtained from every battle, you need to go through a… twelve step process where you hop from dungeon to dungeon, adding modifiers to the enemies in order to hopefully receive new items and use those items to help unlock new dungeon modifiers. Eventually, you will get all the materials you need, after wasting your time trying to figure out the convoluted and confusing metagame progression system that I honestly hope somebody will find a way to remove from the game in its entirety. Also, this inclusion encourage you to play through the game, and get the same ending, three times.
Oh, yes, the ending requirements. In short, getting all nine of these is a royal pain, and the game does not help you at all. For example, the best ending requires that you recruit all characters, which is a time consuming task in and of itself, raise the bonds between Nepgear and the other characters to an eight or higher, and see three scenes detailing an ancient sword, which occur when an area is unlocked, not after any requirements have been unlocked as some have reported. You then need to manipulate the games’ poorly implemented share system so that Nepgear’s nation owns 55% of the worldwide shares, and then go fight one of the big bads behind ASIC… Or you can screw it up, get a different ending, and see a scenario where GameIndustri destroys itself via stagnation and the downsides of a monopoly.
What irks me about a lot of these things is how easy it would be to fix them. Yes, that depends on how the games were made, and so forth, but most of these issues feel as if they could be fixed, albeit in a rather slapdash manner, by a mod that removes a lot of the time wasting and confusion the game possesses, and perhaps balances it out a bit. Maybe add in an NPC on the world map who very plainly explains how to get all the endings and characters, and gives the player all the resources they would need for every plan they would need to do so.
Unfortunately, these games are made as if one is running from the cops, and it does show itself in regards to the visual recycling of dungeons and enemies. Now, for the record, this is far, far better than the blatant reuse in the first Re;Birth title, dungeons and enemies are both more varied, and a lot of the asset repurposing is done for the optional adise dungeons. Oh sure, enemies and maps are brought over from the first game, along with stupidly overpriced costumes, weapons, and general equipment, but considering the game was pushed out about five months after the prior title in Japan, I don’t have much of a problem with it. Okay, I do think it’s pretty lame whenever you have one base pose for a character that was recycled for the entirety of… all six Vita games I think. Beyond that, the game is still a PS3 title that was brought to the Vita, and later brought to the PC, so while not very technically impressive, its simplicity, art direction, and well designed models all amount to a game that looks pretty modest, and will likely not have much trouble aging.
However, I feel the need to comment on something about the PC port, as it was a problem in the first game, but I feel it is worse here somehow. The game’s framerate regularly dips to the twenties for seemingly no reason, and it is not an isolated incident regarding my hardware. It depends on how one’s hardware handles games using OpenGL, which is pretty rarely used nowadays, and as such even fairly powerful machines may have difficulty running this port of a Vita game. Unlike with the first game, there has not been word from the developers about patching or updating the game, but from what I heard, even the original Vita versions had framerate problems.
If there are two things that annoy me about my dumb Autistic brain, it’s my tolerance for number driven JRPG bullcrap, and the dedication that comes with it, and my innate fixation on how you can improve something and pointing out what is wrong with it. It’s why I have so much difficulty picking out my favorite… anything, really, because my brain chooses to fixate on what is wrong with something rather than what makes it so good… At least in most cases. I try to rationalize this mindset by claiming I use it because I care, and want everything anybody ever made to be as good as it possibly can be. Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation is a particularly irksome example of this, as there is a good game hidden behind the layers of bullcrap that the game houses, and most of it could be pretty easily fixed if so much as the save file is edited. It would result in a not expertly structured, but low stress, entertaining little JRPG romp with a love of dumb anime bullcrap, instead of a game where I constantly had to check external sources in order to make sure I knew what the hell I was doing, effectively wasting my time.