Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (Sony Playstation Vita)

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed
Genre: Action
Developer: Tamsoft
Publisher: Idea Factory
Release Date: 05/19/15

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed isn’t a Hyperdimension game in the same sense as the core games. It’s not even comparable to a spin-off like Hyperdevotion Noire, which is at least a strategy RPG, and therefore exists in the same general radius of its counterpart. HNU is, essentially a Senran Kagura game with Neptunia characters in it, and has more in common with Shinovi Versus than anything within its own franchise, so if you’re only into the franchise for its RPG elements, you might be let down here. On the other hand, if you like action games in general, or Senran Kagura (or Dynasty Warriors, if we’re being honest) in specific, HNU is probably going to be your speed, as it is absolutely a lot of that. What this means is that, while there is plot exposition, and the game does allow leveling up, these are not even close to the focal points of the game; instead, the game is about half-naked magically powered girls beating on everything they see until they stop seeing things, and it’s generally pretty awesome. It’s a bit of a shift from what you might expect or want from the franchise, and it’s not without its hiccups, of course, so whether or not it’ll be your cup of tea will vary, so let’s get into the thick of things and see what makes HDU tick.

On CPU’s and referential humor… again

For those who might be coming into the franchise new (IE Senran Kagura fans), the Hyperdimension franchise takes place in a world dubbed “Gamindusti,” which, as I’ve mentioned before, is Reboot, if it were developed in Japan. The good news here is that you don’t need to particularly know a lot about the world, as HDU isn’t terribly interested in explaining it or expecting you to know about it. In the beginning you’re introduced to the four CPU’s (basically goddesses of the world of a sort) and the four CPU candidates (the sisters of three of the CPU’s who are aiming to take over for the CPU’s when they retire), as the two sentient avatars of popular gaming magazines from Japan, Dengekiko and Famitsu, want to interview them and see them in action. After a brief tutorial and introduction to the characters, the plot begins in earnest: requests from the people of Gamindustri are popping up like hotcakes, which may or may not be the result of something more sinister, and the ladies team up together to complete requests, get to the bottom of the increase, and hopefully create an awesome new story on the CPU’s and the candidates.

As plots go, there’s not really a lot going on here, but that’s probably for the best, as it’s friendly enough to newcomers without neglecting long-standing fans. There are plenty of explanations of plot points that are important, so you’ll have an idea of who the characters are before the end of the game, even if you’ve never seen some of them before, and there’s plenty of plot exposition to help you get to know who’s who and why they are how they are. There are also plenty of in-jokes for long-standing fans (such as joking about in-continuity pairings and old events), but they’re framed in a way that doesn’t leave newcomers confused, so much as curious, which is helpful. Honestly, the only negative thing about the plot is that it’s simplistic; things happen, bad guys are beaten, and by the end of the game everything’s resolved, but nothing of consequence really happens. There’s a bit of fourth-wall breaking to end the core plot proper, as well as some expanded plot elements in the post-game, but none of it really matters in the strictest sense. It’s all very fluffy and just seems like a reason to get everyone together so they can hang out and do stuff together, and while that’s fun and all, anyone looking for anything more involved won’t find it here. Given the kind of game it is, that’s not a huge deal, but it’s kind of odd given how Idea Factory games usually go.

Visually, the game alternates between 2D talking portraits for most cutscenes, a few rendered 3D cutscenes for dramatic events, and fully 3D characters for combat, and it all looks pretty good. The 2D character portraits have been redesigned a bit from Hyperdevotion Noire, so people won’t be in the same costumes, which helps out a lot if you’re a big follower of the franchise. They also animate well enough, switching between a large variety of facial expressions as they talk, so an expression isn’t static for an entire sentence, which gives them a bit more life than many games offer that do the same thing. The battle visuals are generally pretty good, as the different characters have a wide variety of unique animations, and (almost) nobody fights the same as anyone else (the exception being the twins Ram and Rom, who are notably similar, but have some effect differences). The environments also look colorful, interesting and varied between zones, and the enemies you’ll face also look interesting and varied from one to the next, though there are a few obvious palette swaps as the game goes that can get repetitive late in the game. Aurally, the voice acting is easily the best part of the game, as everyone cast here is entirely on-point throughout the game, and the delivery is top notch for every character. The game music is fitting to the game, as well, and while you’re not likely going to hum it once you’re done or anything, it’s well composed and fits the different events and environments well. The sound direction is also solid, and provides a good mix between video game style effects and actual combat noises.

On transformations and exploding clothes

The basic gameplay of HDU, as mentioned, is patterned after that of Senran Kagura, meaning that it’s essentially Dynasty Warriors with more obvious magical powers. Your characters have light and heavy attacks that can be chained together into combinations, and can dodge and jump to avoid attacks or move into position for combat as needed. As you beat on enemies, you build up two meters simultaneously; the SP Gauge, which fills up in individual blocks and can be used for special moves, and the EXE Drive Meter, which can be burned to transform (which we’ll get to in a second). Additionally, you can bring up to two characters into battle at one time, and while you can elect to go it solo (and some stages demand it), having a partner means you can tag in and out as needed to conserve a weak character (as characters heal while on standby), charge up EXE Drive (the secondary character gets the charge by default), or just switch up combat based on what’s needed. The tag-team systems are interesting, but everything else should be familiar to anyone who’s played any of the games this borrows from, and even if you’re coming into the game cold, there’s a strong tutorial at the beginning and a full library of information to refer to as needed.

What makes the game unique to itself comes down mostly to the wide variety of special moves, the transformation options, and… oh, right, the exploding clothes. To address the most obviously eye-raising point, in the beginning of any stage, your characters have intact outfits, which improve defense against enemy attacks. As you take a beating or use strong attacks, however, the outfits get stressed, and if they take enough stress, they rip apart, which, in addition to being cheesecake moments, drop your defense while raising your critical damage and EXE Drive gains. Now, you don’t have to deal with this thing if you’re more prurient in your interests, as your characters can unlock unrippable costumes… as well as more easily ripped, or even pre-ripped, costumes, so there’s something for everyone here, really. In addition to this sort of costume variety, you can also equip various tools to help in combat beyond different costume types; each character has multiple different weapons and accessories they can equip, which can improve their stats, start them off with EXE Drive boosts from the start of a mission, lock them from leveling up, and other things, depending on what you equip. Unlike in other Neptunia games, however, instead of earning money and buying or developing items, here you get medals as you beat enemies, based on their type, and as you earn more medals, you can unlock stat boosts and accessories for everyone, and weapons for each character that are unique to them. You can do this the normal way, or you can grind out stages in hopes of unlocking specific benefits, depending on how you prefer to play.

You’re not just given the ability to beat on enemies with your weapons as you play, of course. Your characters have special moves they can perform which allow them to deal high damage to large groups at once, and each consumes between one and three SP bars, depending on how powerful the move is. You can also use your EXE Drive to transform into a more powerful form; for the CPU’s and CPU Candidates, this involves transforming into their CPU forms (complete with different outfits and personalities), while Dengekiko and Famitsu just get more powerful and change their attack patterns. Using these forms drains EXE Drive energy for as long as they’re active, and while you can offset this drain by beating the mess out of enemies, you’ll only get so long to use it regardless. EXE Drive energy isn’t just used for powering your alternate form, however. You can actually use an EXE Drive special move while in CPU form for heavy damage; it consumes a sizable amount of the bar, but it does massive damage and can put the hurting on enemies or bosses alike, as needed. You’ll also learn how to perform a Lily Special later in the game, which is similar to an EXE Drive attack, but can be performed without transforming, and requires two characters in the mission to perform, but does a massive amount of damage to basically everything on-screen, making it a powerful, if expensive, tool in your arsenal. Finally, you’re also able to earn improved Lily Rankings, based on how frequently certain characters team up; this gives you gameplay bonuses for those teams, as well as added bits of dialogue, so you’ll have plenty of incentive to keep teams together when possible.

On post-game and replay

You can plow through the core game in around ten to fifteen hours, give or take; the missions are less about exploration and more about smearing dudes, but there are a lot of plot points available to see that unlock new missions to take on, so how long the game takes to clear will depend on how dedicated you are to unlocking everything. Once the game is complete, you’re offered the ability to jump back in to clear the missions you’ve missed, as well as take on new and more challenging missions post-game for added rewards and such. There’s also a tournament of sorts you can jump into for even more unlocks and such, and if you aim to unlock everything you could easily lose forty or so hours on the game all told, which isn’t bad. The only obvious thing missing is multiplayer in any fashion; the game isn’t really set up for it, but having a mode that allows for it from jump would’ve been a nice addition, even if it’d be complicated to implement. Otherwise, fans of the franchise should enjoy all the weird interactions going on between the characters and in the game world, and casual fans should enjoy pasting everything for hours, but in easily digestible chunks.

The most obvious issue with the game, pound for pound, is that it’s basically going to be a limited experience for anyone who doesn’t enjoy Senran Kagura or Dynasty Warriors games in general. There are special attacks to use, to be certain, but at the end of the day, the game is largely “spam Square until meters are full, unleash special, repeat until win.” Hell, the game even kind of punishes you for using strong attacks by weakening your armor for doing it, so players who want to keep their armor intact will avoid doing so until the halfway point of the game when clothes basically explode in seconds anyway, or at least until they get the invincible suits. I love the gameplay, let’s be honest here, but I love Dynasty Warriors; if you don’t, you won’t, and that’s something to consider. Also, it bears mentioning here that the game features exploding clothing and half-naked girls, and some of those girls look… underage, which, while not specifically bad in how it’s handled, can be… awkward. There’s also kind of a limit to what can be done with the game, all in all. The missions are short, and you only have ten characters to work with, each of whom only has three weapons that can be unlocked for them based on how many enemies you slay. The game tries to mix it up with different locations and some specialized missions that don’t tell you their objectives, but even then the variety is few and far between there.

Taken in small chunks, or by someone who loves Senran Kagura, Dynasty Warriors, Hyperdimension Neptunia or even just slaying lots of dudes endlessly, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is pretty fun, and it’s easy to enjoy no matter what your skill level or dedication to the product. The plot’s fluffy and not terribly hard to understand or appreciate, the game looks and sounds really good on the Vita, and the gameplay is simple to pick up and easily understood by anyone with any kind of genre familiarity. There’s plenty of content and depth to the game if you like what it does, and if you’re fine with girls wearing exploding clothes and wielding deadly weapons to slay goofy monsters, you’ll have a lot of fun with this, even if you’re not familiar with the subject matter. That said, the plot basically amounts to meaning almost nothing in the end, the game (like most of its genre) amounts to spamming Square and using the odd special attack a lot, there are some questionable moments based on the perceived ages of the characters, and the game can get repetitive in large doses if you’re not a big fan of something it’s doing. HDU is definitely worth its asking price if you’re a genre or franchise fan, or just looking for something to do in small doses, as it definitely does a good job of offering something to people in those groups, and while it’s harder to recommend to someone looking for depth, most people should be able to have fun with it, honestly.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Here’s everything you need to know about Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed: it’s one part Hyperdimension Neptunia and one part Senran Kagura, so if you like that idea, you’ll like this, and if you don’t, you won’t. For anyone on the fence, it’ll depend on what you want from the game. It looks and sounds great on the Vita, the gameplay is simple to understand, there’s a lot of depth to the experience in terms of overall content, and it’s a lot of fun to destroy legions of video game character parodies in small doses. However, the game is kind of limited plot-wise, the gameplay is simplistic more often than not, there’s a good bit of repetition to the product and some of the content is a bit questionable, so it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for something simple and fun, or you like the franchise this comes from or the franchise its mechanics come from, HDU is almost certainly worth your money, but anyone looking for more substance or variety might not find that it holds up.



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