Felistella tackle Compile Heart’s hit IP with a remake of the first game for Vita, tightening up the gameplay mechanics while keeping the great sense of humor in tact.
World-building & Story
Set in the world of Gamindustri, Re;birth 1 follows the warring goddesses of a number of nations as they fight for control of ‘shares’ which give them power. The twist here – and the major driving force of the franchise – is that each goddess is a personification of a different games console manufacturer and they war they’re fighting is the console war.
It’s an incredibly interesting setup and makes way for some great humor from the writers. I’m not ashamed to admit that a number of references went straight over my head, but even with that I found myself chuckling at funny nods to existing events throughout the story. And indeed, humor is central to the experience here – the plot is by no means serious and is often just a series of amusing events pieced together.
The setting also allows the writers to bring in personifications of other things – developers and franchises from Japan etc, each with a personality related to the real-world attributes of what they’re referencing (i.e Tekken fights with her fists while Falcom is an adventurer). It’s all very rooted in otaku culture and without a knowledge of this many aspects of the game may be lost on you, but Vita owners will likely have had plenty of exposure to what’s on offer here.
As such, the world-building really is on point here – it’s a completely new and different world yet one that feels instantly cosy and familiar. Whether you’re venturing through the industrial depths of a factory in Lastation or the green fields of Planeptune, Hyperdimension Neptunia creates a fun and interesting landscape based on existing ideas relating to gaming.
The actual story itself here is fairly light – although there is an overarching plot which you can follow through involving an antagonist based on a piracy unit and the rebuilding of each of the nations, it’s nothing spectacular and certainly won’t be troubling Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid in complexity any time soon. With that said, it was much better than I was expecting and I found myself engaged to see what happened in the end, although that was mostly due to my connection with the characters.
Yes, it’s the cast that’s the star of the show here. They’re all incredibly likeable, whether its the ditzy and pudding-obsessed Neptune to the stoic and tsundere Noire, each has their own personality and set of obstacles to overcome that were a joy to watch. Surprisingly, there were a number of touching moments too particularly involving Noire’s personality softening up that I really wasn’t expecting.
It all comes together to create a world that may be light on plot, but is full of likeable characters; silly events and just a general goofiness that makes Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 1 easy to love.
Presentation & Sound
In presentation terms, the game isn’t far removed from the sea of budget Japanese RPG’s that make up a large part of Vita’s library – series like Atelier; Lost Dimension or Tales. That means that individual elements might not hold up, but on the whole the game looks pretty good.
Despite the Re;birth 1 being listed as an RPG, you’ll spend a vast amount of your time engaged in VN-style conversations between the characters. These are pretty impressive – not the most animated, but drawn well and featuring plenty of liveliness to keep them entertaining. The English voice actors all do a good job with their characters too, from the sultry Vert to the bipolar Blanc, each feels unique and – crucially – there’s some very funny line delivery here.
In-game character models are equally good – each girl looks unique in design and clearly a lot of effort went into realising them. Sadly animations can occasionally get a little stiff and awkward – particularly noticeable is the way they float across the environment rather than looking like they’re walking on it, but this is a minor gripe as battle animations and most everything else are solid.
Speaking of battles, the game’s super moves are a particular highlight and became a staple impressive part of the series’ presentation. Taking things out of the combat field into a Tron-esque wire-frame grid, each girl launches a spree of visually spectacular attacks against a chosen foe – ranging from Neptune’s flurry of sword strikes to Vert throwing and exploding her spear. Colour is abundant and even though you’ll come to rely on these moves later in the game, you’ll never grow tired of using them just to admire the spectacle.
Other aspects of the presentation range from inventive to completely uninspired. The latter is undoubtedly the environments – at first you’ll find them impressive, full of colour and little features of detail that seem to transcend the meager budget the title undoubtedly had. Play a little further and you’ll understand why – each area is repeatedly reused, sometimes with just tiny features changed (although often not), meaning it quickly becomes tiresome running through the same place over and over.
However, things like the world map and menus are much better. One of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series’ quirks is a dedication to retro design – this shows in things like the end credits which are presented in 8-bit style showing the post-game adventures of the main cast. Although the game’s map is merely a series of selections from a menu, you can interact by it by clicking on little super-deformed versions of characters who tell you interesting (and sometimes amusing) tid-bits about the world. It’s touches like this that reinforce the notion that this isn’t just a by-the-numbers cash-in JRPG.
Sound remains mixed – effects begin to grate after a while with the same mechanic screeches from enemies and grunts from the cast being played far too often. The same applies to music which is extremely overused, but the game could still occasionally floor me with a fantastic piece of exploration or battle music.
Gameplay & Content
Blending a number of genres but mostly Visual Novels and RPG’s, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 1 has many different parts which make a relatively cohesive whole. For the most part things work well, although at times the game’s lack of budget is all too apparent which definitely detracts from the experience.
A large amount of your time will be spent watching character interactions between the cast, which are generally pretty humorous and light-hearted. There’s no interactive elements to speak of, but this isn’t really an issue if you’re used to this sort of game. Aside from this, menu navigation will also take up a large amount of your time whether this is taking quests or navigating to new areas.
The world map is an interesting element – while simplistic in the sense that you’re only choosing options from a menu, as previously mentioned there are more interactive elements than this. ‘Chriper’ is the Neptunia series’ version of Twitter and is implemented as little character portraits on the map which you can click and read their chirps. It’s unique and interesting and serves to liven up what would otherwise be a bland part of the game.
Once you’ve selected one of the game’s environments, you’ll find dungeon crawling is the name of the game. The playable character can be changed at any point and each can jump, although this is largely superficial as there’s only very minor platforming on show here. Enemies are represented when exploring and must be run into to initiate combat, meaning you can also choose to run away from encounters before they even take place if you wish. This is a feature I’ve grown to love as I’ve gotten older and makes RPG’s with random encounters feel archaic by comparison, so it’s nice to see it implemented here.
In another interesting idea, items can be collected in dungeons but need to be searched out – by pressing a button you can scan the environment around you and any hidden items in a certain radius are revealed and you can collect them. It’s similar to a mechanic that was in place in Wild ARMs 3 and wasn’t something I’d ever thought would be revived – it adds another nice layer of interactivity with the world, but can grow tedious as you hunt every corner for hidden treasure (and it’s always in the most remote part you can think of!)
Combat is a mix of turn-based and strategy elements, actually working pretty well in the beginning although can quickly be broken. You’re transported to a bespoke arena based on the zone you’re fighting in and each character can move freely in this within a certain radius, although only one at a time. A visual attack box will be shown on screen to allow you to figure out which enemies you can hit, which can add a little frustration as you spend ages trying to line up the perfect attack. Once you’ve moved your character and lined up your shot, it’s on to the combat options.
Re;birth 1 actually includes a lot of variety in this regard. You have three basic attacks – break; rush and power, with the former reducing enemy shields; middle increasing your exe drive and latter doing the most damage, creating an interesting power vacuum as you decide between offence or long-term planning. Once selected, you’ll need to hit the button corresponding to your chosen attack a few times to produce a combo, or merely end your turn if you want to finish attacking. A variety of skills can be used in addition to these based on an SP bar, such as heals or stronger attacks, meaning you’ve always got a lot of choice.
The most interesting part of combat is the exe moves – the aforementioned flashy attacks that can often take down your foes in one. They’re tied to a separate bar which is filled by using rush attacks but this is where the game begins to fall apart – spamming rush attacks followed by using exe drive is by far the most effective strategy due to the massive power of these moves, leading to repetitive tedium in the combat after a while. It’s merely a matter of lining up your attacks, hitting triangle then next time using a special move.
Of course, foes can make full use of all the strategies you can use including tactical field positioning and exe attacks. In general, enemy AI is pretty decent and if given the opportunity can make quick work of the party, making use of multi-hitting powerful skills. In fact, you’ll find a number of difficulty spikes during a playthrough and despite the game being split into mandatory and optional dungeons, you’re expected to explore all side content and grind a little to progress.
As such, Re;birth 1 can be a lengthy experience – upwards of 30 hours, which was a time-frame which flew by when I was playing, but will entirely depend on your tolerance for putting up with same-y content interspersed with conversations.
Compile Heart elected to include a decent amount of DLC for their first Vita Neptunia game, ranging from ‘Additional Content’ packs which add plans for new items and battles to ‘Battle Entries’ which add new characters to the mix including Histoire, Peashy and Plutia. The latter two are additions from Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory and their non-canon inclusion here is quite nice; but Historie is a major character from the game and it’s a shame to see her only be playable in the form of DLC.
They don’t add a whole lot to the title, but for 79p each they’re working checking out if you’re interested in expanding the content beyond what’s available – plus the new characters are pretty fun to mess around with playing.
Re;birth 1 is a fantastic introduction to the franchise and a game that really has no right being as fun as it is. The characters are likeable; the story is light-hearted and the game itself is a blast to play, although over time your appreciation will wane as you run through copy-pasted dungeons spamming the same moves. Still, as the debut RPG outing for the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise it shows great promise for what’s coming next, and is well worth picking up if you’re looking for a humorous, enjoyable RPG.