Is it just me or does it seem like Japanese game publishers are having a contest on the most outlandish title they can get away with slapping on a box? I still think Square Enix is winning.
But I digress. MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies is the latest spinoff title in the increasingly popular Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise. It continues the trend of granting important characters in the main RPG series their own titles to flourish in, the first being Hyperdevotion Noire (see what I mean with these titles?). Unlike that game, Blanc’s debut is in the form of an action/beat-’em-up game developed by Tamsoft, best known for their work on Senran Kagura and Onechanbara. They were also responsible for Hyperdimension Neptunia U. Phew, that is a lot of lines to draw. I’d be surprised if you weren’t confused by now.
MegaTagmension (or should I call it Blanc for short? MTB+NVSZ, perhaps?) sees the heroines of Gamindustri participating in academy life in order to learn more about humans and their culture. Unfortunately, attendance at the school is too low to keep its doors open. Neptune, as representative of the school’s film club, concludes that the best way to save the school is to craft a zombie movie so good that it would draw in prospective new students. She recruits Blanc to both write and direct and things go swimmingly until actual zombies show up, forcing the girls to have to balance both film making and discovering the origin of the undead.
While there’s not much that actually happens in the narrative, much less anything that could contribute significantly to the overall Hyperdimension canon, there’s a fair level of amusement in the proceedings. I dare say it’s the primary reason for taking the plunge. Blanc’s character is not as goofy as that of her co-stars, but her deadpan delivery of lines really sells it as she rewrites her movie script in the middle of scenes and comes up with outlandish scenarios to put her actors through. I have to applaud the other voice actors as well for their ability to deliver their lines in very B movie style befitting of the movie Blanc is trying to construct.
The CPU’s and CPU candidates are joined by characters first introduced in the most recent HDN games, such as Uzume and Famitsu. MegaTagmension also marks the first appearance of the character Tamsoft, modeled after the game’s developer. She predictably looks like a cross between a Senran Kagura and an Onechanbara character, though I was disappointed that they didn’t do more with her in the narrative. Still, additional playable characters are always nice to have, and she certainly fits right in.
If you played Neptunia U, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. When beginning a mission, you’re asked to choose two characters to bring into battle. Each one can be equipped with more powerful weapons for both their base form and their transformation (if they have one), with more unlocked with in-game currency as you play. Other upgrades and cosmetic changes can be purchased and applied too if you prefer to customize.
Once you’re dropped into a zone, you’re almost immediately assaulted by zombified versions of popular HDN monsters and your goal is to hack everything to pieces. There are a lot of things you can do to accomplish that feat, as each character has two main attack buttons at their disposal and each fighting style is fairly unique. There’s also the ability to jump, guard, dash or initiate a number of SP skills. Support characters will lend their abilities once a cooldown timer expires and you can tag your partner in and out on the fly. Using the same two party members repeatedly will grow their affection and in turn unlock more skills for you to use. And let’s not forget about transformations and EXE drives.
Really, there are so many functions that often times three simultaneous button presses are required to initiate some of them. The control scheme is a bit too busy for a combat system this simplistic. I found myself having to remember half of the commands after taking even a short break with the game, which could’ve been mitigated by having something like the touchscreen activate transformations or some other major ability.
Each stage has a suggested level in which to tackle it and since the unused characters don’t gain experience when not in use (and unlocked characters don’t start at a higher level), you may find yourself using the same two characters throughout the entirety of the game unless you feel the need to grind out stages. Granted, this isn’t terribly difficult to do on account of how short each stage is (a couple minutes on average), but adds more repetition to an already samey experience. Taking a specific two characters into a stage may trigger an additional scene too, but it’s unclear how a person would know who will unlock these without simple trial and error.
While I was entertained by the combat, the level of variety seemed lacking even for a game of this genre. Most of the throwaway enemies vary little in their strategy, and the challenge of contending with some of the bosses and bigger foes has more to do with them hitting like a truck more so than having a strategy that has to be overcome. Not only that, but the majority of the missions have the tendency to drop you into massive arenas where the action tends to happen within a small segment of that. Once in awhile you’ll find yourself in a situation where enemies stop spawning and you have to go on the hunt within the rest of that massive map to find them, but this is poor design. I thought perhaps the multiplayer mode made use of this added space, though I found that to not be the case. MegaTagmension would’ve benefited from either smaller, more detailed arenas in which to do battle, or have the larger ones adjusted such that there was a reason to traverse the entire thing for a reason other than to get a stubborn spawn to trigger.
Speaking of the multiplayer, I waited until after launch date to write this review thinking that would be the stronger aspect of the experience. And in a way, it is. You can play this mode online or locally via ad-hoc play, but either way the core is the same. Players form a party of four and take on missions cooperatively to slay… whatever it is they are asked to slay. The experience is nearly identical to the solo campaign, though the missions themselves are different and it’s way more fun to play with others. Success in missions will raise your rank, and in turn, the quests you can participate in. The community doesn’t seem terribly active right now, with only a few rooms being available even on launch day, which is a bit problematic. Still, if you get the chance I encourage you to try it out. If we’ve learned nothing else from popular zombie titles like Left 4 Dead, it’s that slaying zombies is much more fun as a team.
The game is visually on par with its predecessors on the Vita. Character models look good and cutscenes are played out using 2D character cutouts. The arenas in which you do battle are pretty bland looking though, which is a shame. At least the zombified monsters turned out to be aesthetically appealing.
MegaTagmension managed to both entertain and frustrate me during my time with it. Tamsoft can put together a decent action game with functional mechanics when they set their minds to it, and for the most part they fulfilled that here. That being said, this is absolutely a step down from last year’s Neptunia U. The locales are simply too bland and don’t make good use of the large space and aside from the additional characters and multiplayer mode, there’s simply not enough here that wasn’t done better by its predecessor. And that’s without taking into account how short it is (the campaign will last you a few hours tops). Fans will get a kick out of Blanc and Neptune’s attempt at making a B movie zombie film, but those looking for something beyond funny writing will find a half-hearted attempt at an action game that does little to justify its existence in such a short time after the last one.
Short Attention Span Summary
Tamsoft returns to the Neptunia franchise with MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies in what is perhaps the most insane title they’ve conceived for a spinoff game yet. The script manages to be quite entertaining and the combat mechanics they’ve cobbled together work fairly well, even if the control scheme is far more complex than it really ought to be. But beyond the addition of a multiplayer mode, the game just doesn’t offer enough new to justify its existence. Missions, as well as enemy types, feel much more samey this time around, and the arenas in which the fighting takes place are far too large for the amount of real estate actually used at any given time. Hardcore fans likely won’t care, but this is definitely one to wait on a price drop for.