The Hyperdimension Neptunia series decided to shake things up a little with Hyperdevotion Noire, the 2015-released strategy RPG from Sting & Compile Heart which provides an enjoyable entry-level SPRG on Vita.
World-building & Story
The Hyperdimension series has a somewhat convoluted history, having multiple different timelines but with many of the same characters. So while you’ll get used to the same faces; locations and themes, things always seem a little different between titles.
To provide a brief history – the series mainly centres around a ‘console war’ (yes, a reference to the actual console wars :P) and sees 4 ‘CPU’ Goddesses (representing the consoles of Microsoft; Nintendo; SEGA and Sony) fighting for control of the land, sometimes alongside their ‘candidate’ sisters (representing the handhelds of Nintendo; SEGA and Sony).
Many other personifications of game companies (i.e. Falcom); series (i.e. Rin – who represents Metal Gear Solid) or even hacks (i.e. Arfoire – who represents the R4 unit) make their way into the storyline of whichever game they’re appearing in.
For Hyperdevotion Noire, the setting shifts to ‘Gamarket’ rather than ‘Gamindustri’ from the Re;birth games. However, expect to see many familiar settings from those titles – just instead interpreted in the design of Sting’s smaller-scale SRPG maps rather than the winding dungeons of those titles (which actually makes a refreshing change).
The setting is one of the series’ biggest draws, creating an interesting backdrop for the various antics of the characters to play out on. World-building in this particular title takes a back seat as you’re already expected to know all of the above mentioned things as a fan of the series.
The actual story in the game is standard Hyperdimension stuff – Noire gets tricked into destroying all of her shares and as such her ‘generals’ (representations of many gaming franchises which are new to the series) leave and she has to unite with the other CPU’s to rebuild her nation and re-unite Gamarket. What you’d be expecting, but as is also standard with the Neptunia games, there’s a hell of a lot of humour and references to real-world gaming in there, that makes an otherwise dull story incredibly more lively. It certainly helps that all of the characters are likeable and you’ll find yourself chuckling at their banter and self-referential jokes.
Presentation & Sound
I can’t really deny that Hyperdevotion Noire is a mixed bag. The graphics themselves are sharp enough and the character models are well-made – although therein lies one of my problems, in that the game chooses a chibi-graphic look which is sometimes at odds with the character designs (particularly when in their HDD forms). It provides a new look for the series but it’s one that I’m not entirely certain works in this world.
In battle the characters move around their battlefield and attack with pretty standard animations – what remains impressive (which again is something which has remained throughout the series) is the special attacks – which are flashy and fun to watch even after the 50th time or so.
Another thing that has remained consistently impressive in this series in the VN-style conversation scenes that make up a large chunk of the game to provide interaction between characters. The characters are animated well during this and exhibit various funny reactions to each other.
As previously mentioned, the maps of the game received an overhaul and are based on places we’ve seen in the previous titles but now shown as small-scale grids for your characters to move around. As is consistent with the series, some maps have intricate designs and look very impressive while others remain very bland.
Sound is definitely one of the game’s strong points – while the attack noises and general battlefield effects are nothing to write home about, both the voice acting and soundtrack are impressive. The VA’s deliver their lines with cheerful positivity and generally bring the characters to life.
But it’s the soundtrack is actually the star of the sound package to me – there’s plenty of recycling of songs from previous games as is par-for-the-course for the series, but there are new tracks on here designed specifically for the game that are both catchy and fitting (a particular favourite of mine is the ‘Sim Noire’ theme that fits perfectly when you’re decorating Noire’s Basilicom).
Gameplay & Content
The majority of the game is made up of a by-the-numbers grid-based SRPG system. There’s not a great deal to say about the basics – characters and enemies both occupy a number of spaces on the grid; can move about within certain confines per turn and can choose a second action after moving (attack; use an item etc.)
There’s various other standard SRPG systems at play here – you can lift and throw objects; there are different terrain heights which give you an advantage or disadvantage when attacking and there’s various environmental hazards to overcome such as rivers to cross. Nothing particularly new, but it keeps the battle gameplay varied.
What makes Hyperdevotion Noire interesting is the ‘Lily Boost’ system that involves adjacent units activating special powers (SP reduction for skills; increased damage) by kissing the attacking unit. This makes positioning important and also means you have to consider where all of your units can go during a turn because even if a unit isn’t in range to attack, they can provide other bonuses to units who are in range, which provides a deeper level of consideration than simply moving your units in range to attack.
Despite all the intricacies to the combat, the game rarely poses a challenge as long as you engage with all the systems (side quests; buying items; crafting new equipment), making it a somewhat easy ride throughout the battles.
Aside from the combat gameplay, you’ll spend time in visual novel-style linear conversation sequences between the characters, as well as spending time in Lastation in a menu through which you can access shops, item development and disc burning – all elements from previous Neptunia games that allow you to equip your characters to the teeth with items and equipment to improve their situation in combat.
New to Hyperdevotion Noire is ‘Sim Noire’ mode in which you help Noire decorate her Basilicom with various items and deal with requests from residents. The former simply involves spending money to get new items while the latter has you choosing between two options to resolve the request – one of these options will be met with approval by Noire while the other will be met with disappointment. While it’s not always obvious what the correct answer is, I found it a fun system to mess around with and the result – whether correct or incorrect – is almost always humorous.
In terms of content, the game is boasts a decent amount to do – there’s 9 chapters to clear with plenty of missions and side-missions along the way so you’re looking at 20-25 hours to clear it all – after this you can still grind the true ending and max all the lily ranks between characters.
I’d note that the game ran smoothly for all the time I’ve played it, although it’s hardly an issue when you’re playing a turn-based SRPG.
Just a quick note on DLC – there’s your standard Neptunia stuff in there like item and costume packs for all the characters, but in addition there are new characters which can be obtained through downloadable content – Compa & IF return from previous games, and Sting (representing the title’s developer) is a new addition. There’s also Tiara from Fairy Fencer F – one of Compile Heart’s other RPG’s.
The DLC missions themselves all follow the same formula, you’ll have an introduction to the character and then you’ll either have to battle them or battle to save them, then another VN section followed by a battle against a boss alongside the new character, after which they’ll join your party. None of the missions are particularly challenging or lengthy, averaging me about 30 minutes to complete per mission, but for the price of admission (£1.69) I feel that they were worth experiencing, especially to expand your character roster.
Hyperdevotion Noire isn’t a particularly adventurous game, playing it safe by SRPG conventions. But that doesn’t stop it being a polished, enjoyable experience with plenty to offer for either long-standing fans or newcomers to the franchise.