(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
If there’s one franchise that’s been consistently devoted to Vita, it’s Hyperdimension Neptunia. Eight titles have released across the past three years, ranging from idol-raising simulators to co-operative hack ‘n’ slash, with a further game due out in Japan before the end of 2016. What’s been core to the series (aside from a cracking sense of humor) is a backbone of surprisingly solid turn-based RPG’s and after somewhat of an absence, Superdimension Neptune vs. SEGA Hard Girls returns to this design.
From the moment you start playing, things seem a little different. You’re treated to a gorgeous cutscene of IF riding through a desolate landscape on a futuristic motorbike, although this quickly cedes to a more familiar scene of goddesses fighting – although perhaps not quite the goddesses you’d recognise from playing previous titles in the series on Vita. Neptunia games have always been about console wars featuring characters who represent various videogame consoles and the latest game takes this one step further by introducing a separate set of characters based on SEGA Hard Girls – a different set of anthropomorphized goddesses.
In effect then, you’ve got two sets of characters each based on the same consoles and this is what forms the focus of the plot – the goddesses of Neptunia fighting the goddesses of SEGA Hard Girls in various different time periods. Rather than being led by Neptune herself, this time IF takes centre stage and it actually makes a welcome change as her sarcastic quips and status as an outsider make her a likeable protaganist. She’s quickly joined by more familiar faces and it isn’t long before Neptune makes an appearance (and gets turned into a motorbike… don’t ask), but the focus is definitely on IF and her adventures with Hatsume Sega from the SEGA Hard Girls.
It does, admittedly, take a little while for the plot to get going and I found myself pretty confused to begin with. As with many titles in this series, the plot is standalone and doesn’t rely on knowledge of any previous games, although it does provide a nice little bonus. Story is told through a familiar mix of VN-style scenes mixed with CG stills which are impressive as always. There’s the same level of humor you’d expect with Neptunia throughout the game and I found myself chuckling quite often at some of the fourth-wall breaking comments or references to real-life events.
In an interesting turn, the game takes a leaf out of Trillion: God of Destruction‘s book by telling its story in cycles. The main plot centres around a ‘Time Eater’ who is slowly erasing history, which prompts IF and crew to travel between time periods to learn about the world and train up in order to defeat the evil. This means that after a certain amount of time you have a mandatory boss battle to progress – one that’ll give you a right beating the first few times you fight it. The world will then ‘reset’ and you’ll be given another chance to pick up where you left off, luckily while retaining your levels and quest progression.
It’s definitely an intriguing system and provides a nice diversion from the usual Neptunia plot, but ultimately feels rather superficial and doesn’t do a lot other than pad out the game. In reality, what you’re doing here is exactly the same as the Re;birth games – completing every side quest and optional dungeon you can in order to grow stronger, then progressing the plot once these are complete.
Actual gameplay should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a prior Neptunia title – you have a hub from which you can accept quests and shop in. You’re also given a world map with locations you can choose between and explore in minor dungeon-crawling sections. Rather than having one large world map, the game offers four different time periods based on four different SEGA consoles – Mega Drive, Saturn, Game Gear & Dreamcast. Sadly each one shares exactly the same map layout and – unfortunately – almost exactly the same locations. While this makes sense from a narrative point of view, it quickly becomes tedious and what’s most disappointing is that many of the dungeons are literally copied and pasted from the Re;birth games, meaning even if you weren’t sick of them before playing Superdimension, you definitely will be once you’ve finished.
Thankfully developer Felistella has included some neat new features to make dungeon traversal more enjoyable. Jumping – a feature present in previous titles that seemed to serve no real purpose – is now an integral part of getting around thanks to actual platforms, scale-able walls and ropes the characters can climb across. The Mario-esque jump-blocks from Re;birth 3 make a welcome return; environments have plenty of break-able objects which provide items and IF can crawl through certain tunnels to reach hidden areas. It all combines to make a much more interactive environment. While it’s disappointing to see so many re-used areas, at least you’ll be exploring them in fun, different ways.
There are, of course, a few problems with these changes. Camera control has never been the series’ strong point and I found some platforming challenges particularly nightmare-ish due to the camera constantly snapping behind my character meaning I couldn’t judge the depth of my jumps. Each level has a set number of coins as well as a hidden baseball to collect which provide various rewards meaning you’ll try to explore every nook and cranny, but this is often at odds with the large number of monsters roaming the map which you’ll be trying to avoid. Still, on the whole I was a big fan of the changes and felt that they’re definitely pushing the series forward.
The changes continue with the combat system, which is largely similar to that seen in the Re;birth games but with a few tweaks. Battles are turn-based and each character has a movement radius they can run around freely before engaging in attacks. There are various special moves and exe drives (which are as flashy as always) that consume SP to use and most characters can transform into more powerful versions including – for the first time ever – IF herself.
The first of the changes to the combat system comes in the form of your methods of attacking. In previous titles you chose between three different attacks – rush, power and break, each having a different effect for your own meters and the enemy’s health. This is abolished here for a more simple system – each character has only one attack that fills up the attack meter – once the attack meter is filled beyond a certain point your turn ends. Depending on how much of the bar you fill up, your next turn will come around quicker, or you can choose to use it all up in one go which releases a flurry of attacks but doesn’t allow that character to attack again for some time. It provides an interesting risk/reward system but ultimately I found it rather shallow as I spent most of my time in battles literally mashing one button and ended up yearning for the opportunity to use rush attacks to fill my exe drive.
The second big change is interactivity in battle arenas; each time you enter battle, a number of stars will appear which you can jump and grab. These will provide various boosts such as HP, SP etc. While a nice distraction, I found myself mostly ignoring these in favor of diving straight into the fighting. You’re also given a second meter which fills each time you attack and this provides the most interesting new mechanic – once this is full a new star appears which gives you complete control of the battle, giving all allies unlimited turns as long as the meter is filled. Sadly, this quickly becomes so overpowered that you’ll spent a lot of time grinding the meter to full before engaging in a boss battle just to give yourself the advantage.
Overall, I wasn’t a massive fan of the changes to the combat and preferred the systems used in the Re;birth titles, but I applaud the developer for taking a chance on trying something different.
Technically, Superdimension is exactly what you’d expect from the series at this point – VN cutscenes are good, character models are detailed enough and environments are colourful but lack detail. It’s worth noting that the framerate can get a bit wonky – nothing game-breaking – but there were occasions where you’ll get periods of slowdown. These mostly occurred in the more populated areas of dungeons and when particular effects were happening on screen during battle.
Sound is – as with most Neptunia-related products at this point – a lot of familiar with a little bit of new. Sound effects (such as monster noises) are all taken straight from previous games and there are many, many re-used songs from the previous titles. Superdimension does feature a few new tracks of which the title screen song is the most impressive, but ultimately it’s nothing worth writing home about.
Overall the title is a mix of some great ideas held back by what appears to be a lack of budget leading to alot of re-used content. Despite this it’s a title very much worth owning if you’re a fan of the series or even just of turn-based JRPG’s in general and I hope that a number of its new concepts are included in future Neptunia titles in order to make a truly fantastic game.