Many thanks to Idea Factory International for the review copy of their game! This review covers the Steam port of the title.
Full disclosure: This is the first Neptunia game I’ve played. It became clear to me early on that this was going to be an issue – probably more-so than with any other series I can recall. Details below.
The Game Industry Is In Trouble!
The Hyperdimension Neptunia series was launched by the Japanese company Idea Factory in 2010, and has blown up into a dozen games and counting in the intervening period. The games implement the unique premise of anthropomorphized video game companies in a comfortable JRPG format; the world is Gamindustri, and the four regions within it are Lastation (Sony), Leanbox (Microsoft), Lowee (Nintendo), and Planeptune (Sega, with the name based on a failed early console design). Each character represents a specific console within their region, and rules through “Shares” which represent public support for them as CPU (Console Patron Unit). So clearly, there’s nothing else out there that’s quite like this.
Megadimension Neptunia VII is a collection of three separate stories that were originally intended for separate release. The main character, Neptune, travels to different worlds (along with her sister Nepgear) in order to restore the flagging fortunes of Gamindustri, and interacts with other CPUs in each story. The set-up of the world is full of game developer in-jokes; for instance, the plot takes place during the “CPU Shift Period”, representing a change between console generations where people start to disparage the old systems. There are even characters who exist as not-so-friendly jabs at rival game companies, like the Bandai-Namco character being depicted as a money-grubbing coward.
Those Characters, Tho
I cringed a bit at some of the fundamental silliness of the basic information I had – perhaps I’m not the target demographic, if I’m not sold at this point – but I wanted to keep an open mind. And ultimately, isn’t creativity one of the most important things in gaming? These were my thoughts as I fired up Megadimension Neptunia VII on Steam. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that all of the main cast were young anime girls with archetypal personalities!
No, I mean it. You’re going to have to imagine my delight, because it doesn’t exist.
The protagonist, Neptune, is the unaware, overly enthusiastic type, minus most of the required comedy. This character reminds me of the delightful anime series Excel Saga, if the script had been written by a hostile A.I. and then printed on a warrant for my arrest. The bubbly personality is there, but none of the jokes made me laugh and the fourth-wall breaking only served to constantly rip me away from any possible connection to what was going on in the story. Her sister is just the shy, brainy one, and everyone else they meet is similarly describable in a few words. There are some character-based laughs, since this whole thing is set up as a parody of sorts, but treating everything like a joke comes with two issues: 1) The stuff you’d like to have taken seriously doesn’t land because you lack pathos, and 2) It had better be a pretty damn good joke. (This isn’t.)
It’s obvious that the developers don’t care that much about the characters either, since they’re willing to occasionally strip them naked (censored by a few well-placed objects) for pointless fanservice in a T-rated game.
This actually kind of fits, because the characterization and delivery in this RPG remind me of nothing more than early 2000s Japanese dating sims (the kind I may or may not have experimented with in high school), where such scenes are commonplace. I don’t consider that a point in the game’s favor.
Well, This Got Weird
Megadimension Neptunia VII is the latest entry to the main series, after Idea Factory spent the last few years walking it back with spin-offs and remakes, and it’s obvious right away that the player won’t appreciate this game without already being a fan of the series. We’re thrown into a story that is a continuation of what went on before, with motivations and comments that we’re just assumed to understand. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since Mega was first released on a brand new generation of consoles; it seems like a wasted opportunity to catch new players up and give them some buy-in. The plot is actually quite detailed (the main story takes over 30 hours to complete and there are plenty of side quests for the completionist), but with so much to keep track of, this actually works against the game as it doesn’t do a good job of peeling the layers back for newbies.
Why Are You Trying To Hurt Me?
Some very questionable game design choices were made here in the service of the cutesy anime girl aesthetic. The one that sticks out the most to me is that every time you hit the “jump” button in a dungeon area, the high-pitched voice of the main character says something like “Boing!”, “Jump!”, or “Like a kangaroo!” Every. Time. I understand what they’re trying to do with this kind of thing, reinforcing the personality of the game, but Rule Number One of a video game – even a “parody”, if this series wants to wear that hat – is that the player shouldn’t be punished for playing it.
The game is mostly competent on the technical front, though I could have done with a little more direction about which objects in the environment were interactable. I spent considerable time trying to get past boxes that looked breakable, only to ultimately give up and move on, assuming I was missing something while the game silently mocked me with its nigh unreachable treasure chests.
My Eyes Are In A Different Dimension
The visuals in this game are a very mixed bag. The overworld and dialogue sections have some nice 2-D aesthetics, but they hardly blow you away. The lost potential in the dialogue scenes is troubling, though, because the set-up really does match a typical J-Sim – the characters mostly stand statically on the screen while huge chunks of text go by as if you’re reading a manga (like the otaku you are). The bigger issue is that the dungeon areas feel like they could have been rendered by the PlayStation 2, with relatively simplistic graphics and little to make that portion of the game shine. It seems like the designers saved their most impressive graphics for the title screen and activation of special attacks.
The sound design in Mega ranges from solid voice work (which largely annoyed me but seems well-acted and consistent with the overall game) to downright good music. The monsters you fight have quirky sound effects to give them a bit of personality – giant robots mutter to themselves about the danger of imminent shutdown as you beat them up – which is a fun way to bring the world to life, at least until the dialogue undoes that.
The Only Thing Boiling Is My Temper
I played this game on Steam as a port that comes months after the initial release on the PS4. This was a bad idea. The button references within the game haven’t been changed for this version of the game, which means that any advice the game had for me about which button to push went out the window as I figured out on my own which key was mapped to “L1”. I can only conclude that this isn’t a true port but rather an emulated version of the original game, since nothing was changed for the PC edition and the controls are borderline painful to use. I had to switch between having two hands on the keyboard and a hybrid keyboard/mouse stance from moment to moment, and in all my experimentation with finding the right buttons I’m still not sure if I figured everything out to its full potential. This lack of an update to the control scheme strikes me as particularly lazy; it’s clear that this game was designed for the console, and playing it on the computer is a big mistake.
I’m Feeling Combative
For all my knocks on the story and character work here – and I recognize that not everyone feels the same way, since this world is something of a phenomenon in Japan – there actually is some pretty solid gameplay here once you make it to combat. The game features rich fighting mechanics with tons of customization possibilities; you can mix up your attack combos, pair your characters to gain joint special attacks, and transform your PCs into better versions of themselves if you possess the right items. The enemies pose a reasonable challenge that goes beyond the typical hacky-slashy, my-stats-are-better-than-yours fare. Movement plays a big role in combat, and if you coordinate properly you can literally break the enemy apart and exploit its weaknesses. The battles are fast-paced and don’t become stale the way some JRPGs can. Some of the menus are a bit cumbersome to navigate, but once you get a feel for it you can actually have quite a bit of fun with this fresh take on RPG combat.
Ohh, I Get It, “Gamindustri”!
As a newcomer to the series, I find little to recommend Megadimension Neptunia VII to the average RPG player. I’m sure that pre-existing fans will find it to their liking, which seems to be all that Idea Factory needs to keep pumping these games out, but for me, the story and largely pun-based comedy both fell flat. You might be able to find some fun with the solid combat mechanics, but for me it isn’t worth sitting through an otherwise grating game. And if you do decide to play it, make sure you stay away from the Steam version!
- Rich combat mechanics, once you get there
- Solid sound/music
- A substantive game, if this is your thing
- Terrible Steam port
- Weak comedy that lets down a creative premise
- Annoying characters (YMMV)
- Antiquated dating sim interface