A decade ago, the original Hitmaker (Now known as Sega AM3, not to be confused with the current company calling itself Hitmaker that made games like A Witch’s Tale and Last Rebellion) made a game known as Segagaga. Although it was never released outside of Japan, the game was a love letter from Sega to its fans and also a farewell to itself as a player in the hardware industry. The game received praise and critical attention for the game’s sub-text, cameos and in-jokes about Sega and console wars in general. In 2010, Idea Factory and Sega made a spiritual successor to the game in “Super Dimensional Game Neptune.” Against all odds, the game comes out February 15th, 2011 here in North America and Nippon Ichi was kind enough to send me a copy of the English release several weeks before it hits stores. I’m a third of the way through with the game right now and although it’s too early for me to give it a full review, I wanted to let Diehard GameFAN readers know how the game is so far.
Much like Segagaga, I’m really enjoying the story of Neptunia. The game is basically the Gulliver’s Travels of video games. On the surface you can just read it as a weird little JRPG but the older you are or the more you know about the industry, the more cameos, in-jokes and parodies about the gaming industry you’ll encounter. So far I’ve seen references on everything from Tetris to Street Fighter. It’s very cute and unlike Segagaga, which could get pretty dark at times, Hyperdimension Neptunia is a very upbeat happy go lucky sort of game.
The story revolves around a goddess that has been divided into four parts: Green Heart (Microsoft), Black Heart (Sony), White Heart (Nintendo) and Purple Heart (Sega). The goddesses war with each other for a long time and finally realize that the stalemate won’t be broken until they team up and kick someone out…which happens to be Purple Heart or Neptune. This is a veiled reference to Sega leaving the hardware market, leaving only three players in this current seventh generation. Purple Heart lands on the world of Gameindustri head first, loses her memory and reverts to a form known as “Neptune,” but she can still access her goddess form. From there Neptune meets up with a girl named Compy and the two go on a quest to find “key fragments” which should save a sentient book known as Histoire from the big bad of the game, which is an anthropomorphic personification of the R4 flash cards that are so popular with pirating back in Japan. The characters are very cute and the story is fun, but it feels like a lot of it will be lost on younger or more casual gamers.
Another good thing are the character designs and/or models in the game. The character models of all the main characters are very well done. I hate the use of the word “moe,” but as the game itself refers to Neptune as a “super moe-moe,” I have to use it here. All of the playable characters in the game are girls ranging from cute adolescents to well proportioned women. Although some people might leap to the conclusion that this makes the game pure male fan service, the game is pretty light on sexual/romantic content so far save for a few bromides in the gallery. There’s a bandage/bondage in-joke and if you get the eventual DLC, you’ll have access to a Red Company/Entertainment based character that lets you do dating sim type stuff, but for the most part, the game is pretty much focused on comedy and in-jokes about the industry. That being said, you do get a skirt up view of Compy (who basically serves as both the nurse and schoolgirl fetish combined into one character) when you use her as the on-screen dungeon crawling character.
The graphics are well done and the character designs ARE very pretty, but I can see some female gamers being turned off by it while some male gamers focusing ONLY on the visuals, if you know what I mean. Enemies are mostly pulled directly from Trinity Universe, and the dungeons have a similar feeling…just not quite as good.
Although I really loved Trinity Universe and I was happy to know that Hyperdimension Neptunia uses the TU engine, I was disappointed to see HOW it uses it. The game replaces the battle system with a very weird and customizable combo system. It’s very easy to ignore the combos and just spam a few button and still dominate the game and very few gamers are going to take the time to make a ton of combos for each girl, or even one. I think the idea is a sound one, but the implementation is a bit off. The treasure find ability is also in the game, but you have to be exactly on an item to reveal it unlike TU, where you had a bit of leeway.
I also really don’t like that you don’t have complete control over your characters in the game. All of your defensive abilities, such as healing, reviving and the like are triggered by a chance percentage. You have a set of skills in the game. As you level up you gain more points to put into skills, but also more skills themselves, so you have to decide what points are going to go where. Thankfully this is constantly adjustable, but it also means if you only have enough points to have a 50% chance at using a healing item and it doesn’t trigger, you’re out of luck. You also can’t heal outside of battle and if a character is knocked out, they’ll come back after the battle with only a single hit point. This creates kind of a loop of frustration since most healing skills only trigger if they are hit (You eventually get some that are triggered by using a “defend” command.” It baffles me that I can’t heal when I want to and it’s definitely a decision I HATE, but I’ve come to accept it so far.
As you go through the game, you add new characters to your party. Unfortunately, some of them are “guest” only and you’ll have to get the DLC to make them active party members. Two of these characters are Gust and NISA (Nippon Ichi). I don’t like that you can get the characters on your team but then can’t use them until you get the DLC. Part of this is because the DLC isn’t out for the game in the States yet and so these characters are sitting at level one while my others are at level 20 or so, but the other part is that if feels like a pressure tactic to get one to pick up the DLC. It’s all well and good if the DLC for these characters is free, but in that case, why not just have them playable from the getgo. If we’re going to have to pay for the DLC for these two, then I have an ethical issue here. There are two other DLC characters I know of – Red (Red Company/Entertainment) and 5pb (A company that has never had any of its games released in the US, but she’s a DJ in the video game). Since they don’t appear naturally in the game, I’m fine with DLC for them ala DLC for a Smackdown Vs. Raw game. It’s the one’s that appear and join your team but you can’t use that I have a problem with. Especially if the content goes away ala Cross Edge or pretty much any game in a few years down the road when the PS3 servers go away. That being said, I know that in Japan, Neptunia received a LOT of DLC and most of it was free. So let’s hope the same holds up here in the States as well.
My other undecided part comes with the optional or ranked dungeons. In each of these dungeons, the goal is to achieve a certain objective as quickly as you can. Some of these are fine, like racing to the boss of a dungeon or finding a specific treasure chest. Where I get annoyed is when the challenge is based purely on chance or random events, such as item drops of a specific type of monster being encountered. At this point you’re at the mercy of an algorithm rather than your skill as a player – and this is coming from someone who is ranked #1 at nearly every single optional dungeon in the game, besting reviewers from other sites by some pretty big time limits. Oddly enough the secret to my success isn’t my experience with RPGs, but with games like Ikaruga and Gradius. In fact, if you’re NOT a shoot ’em up fan, you’re probably not going to get a perfect S-rank across them all (which I currently have) and an eventual gold trophy. I guess I don’t like the idea of being told to rush through a RPG when I play them primarily for the story. Still, I find myself addicted to doing the optional dungeons for the same reason I play shoot ’em ups and fighting games – an attempt to beat my high score.
Again, I’m only a third of the way through Hyperdimension Neptunia aka “Segagaga 2” (There’s even a trophy in reference to Segagaga! There are some things I really like, some things I don’t care for and some things I am on the fence about. Overall, I’d say I’m enjoying the game and loving the fact it actually made it stateside. You’re going to have to wait another two weeks for my official review to see if Neptunia fulfills its promise of being one of the “Ten Indie Games To Look For in 2011.”
Remember, Hyperdimension Neptunia comes out February 15th, 2011. You can purchase it from any gaming store and if you pre-order it, you’ll get a fabulous full-color hardcover artbook. It should be of the same quality that we saw in the Atelier Rorona one or any of the Nippon Ichi published animes. You can also order the game directly from the Nippon Ichi Store and you’ll also receive a pack of playing cards featuring the characters of the game. They have free shipping to boot, so if you like your pre-order swag, that’s definitely the way to go.