Throughout 2015, I reviewed the three Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth games, a trilogy of remakes for the first three games in the series, and my dissatisfaction with their quality only intensified as I went through one every few months. They weren’t bad games, just meddling and complacent with abiding by negative gameplay based JRPG tropes and recycling content and assets like mad. But before Megadimension Neptunia VII, which is looking to fix a lot of the misgivings of its predecessors, comes to PC, there’s Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, a button basher spin-off from the Senran Kagura developers.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review
Platform: PC(Reviewed), PS Vita
Developers: Tamsoft, Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Specifications: Intel i7-4790, 16GB of RAM, R9 390, Windows 10
For those unaware, the Neptunia series is a parody of the game industry in a very loose sense. The main characters are the manifestations of various game companies and systems and there are plenty of references to the game industry, but if you changed the terminology and color scheme around a bit, it would be completely unrelated. It would just be a story about four tropey goddesses and their sisters who rule opposing nations with their assortment of little sisters and regularly get together to play instead of leading their countries.
But as is customary, the tranquil days are disturbed by a storyline that I honestly cannot take seriously given how basic it is. A disturbance happens, monsters infest the same twelve areas, the eight main characters fight, they find a big monster, fail to beat it, find a way to beat it, beat it, and win. The end. There is a subplot centering around the new playable characters based on popular Japanese gaming magazines, Dengekiko and Famitsu, but they hardly contribute anything to this wafer thin story.
I actually thought it would go into a direction that would weirdly vilify game journalism and make it out to be an all controlling media bracket, but I guess someone on the development team realized just how foolhardy such an idea is, and chose to make the story little more than a distribution method for more Nep-Nep style nonsense, jokes, guffaws, and larfs. In all seriousness, the humor interlaced throughout this story is among the strongest it is across the entire series, and the fully voiced dialog scenes help provide the reward that story would normally be presented as.
So the story is rather stocky and simple, but this being an action oriented spin-off by a developer of action games the gameplay has to be engrossing, right? Well, not really. It’s actually upsettingly simple.
You select two of the ten playable characters, shove off to a battle arena, and then fight an stream of enemies until either you hit a quota or a stronger enemy appears. Fight with character A to build up the EXE meter of character B, and then use the meter to enter a super form that trivializes combat. Any easy feat assuming you are halfway decent at crowd control, have high enough stats, and are comfortable with repeating the same combo string a couple thousand times, as each characters only have two of them.
Now, you could read that as a reductive post about a lot of games, such as the Musou or Dynasty Warriors series at large. But whereas those games have somewhat complicated leveling systems, item drops, equipment, optional objectives, secrets, base capturing, maps that are bigger than one room, and more complicated combat, Neptunia U doesn’t really have anything else. Okay, it has a supposed one on one battle mode between your characters where you can easily beat them in three hits if you give them crappy equipment… And a dungeon where you fight more of the same enemies… And a few equipable items… And a couple things you can grind for… I think that’s everything.
Amidst the repetitious and dull gameplay, Neptunia U continues the trend of asset recycling, an economic model that makes sense when you have quality looking enemies and nice looking environments. It’s actually actually far more tolerable here because it’s not hiding the fact that you’re fighting the same enemies from the mainline games in the same areas listening to the same music with the same character models with the same alternate outfits and weapons. It is a different genre, you’re seeing the assets used in a different way, doing different animations, and are listening to different voice clips. Maybe my expectations were submerged after the Re;birth trilogy, but I find that to be enough.
Asset recycling aside, the game looks quite good, sporting a solid framerate and pleasant visuals throughout the experience. The visual novel cutscenes are improved, now sporting five characters on screen at once and lip flaps synchronized to the English dub (it’s sad I find that to be a major innovation). A dub that covers every line of dialog in the game, and even feels the need to chime in whenever you do anything in the blasted menus. I cannot stress how annoying having a character say “now loading” can be when two second loading screens happen before every mission. You can turn voices off, but that applies to every one of the character’s lines, not just the obnoxious menu voice clips.
There’s also a technical snafu I ran into while playing the game in the first week. Something having to do with the resolution. I think the 1080p resolution option actually displaying at a higher resolution than my monitor can support, as it shrinks down Steam UI elements, moves open windows, moves my desktop icons, and even shrinks my mouse. It’s a minor, but peculiar qualm that results in slightly blurred character portraits more than anything else in-game, and I’m sure Idea Factory international will fix it before too long.
Neptunia U is what I would call an underachiever. It’s not bad, just wholly average and devoid of any unique mechanic that makes it more than a cathartic game about beating up enemies as you ideally listen to a podcast in the background to numb the tedium, only pausing when a cutscene plays. That’s how I played the game, and it was a satisfactory experience that featured enough references and content relating to the mainline games to appeal to fans, but little else.
…Unless you’re a pervert who likes games where anime girls can get their clothes torn off. A mechanic I forgot about until just now because you can disable it pretty easily.