Review by Heatmiser
"Virtually everything the JRPG genre should not be."
It's hard to conceive, but Hyperdimension Neptunia manages to wedge in pretty much everything that's wrong with the JRPG genre into one terrible, utterly forgettable video game. Coming from a reviewer who's played almost every US release in the genre from Dragon Warrior 1 all the way up to Atelier Rorona, I can honestly say it's one of the worst Japanese role-playing games I've encountered in ages.
We'll start our review the same way we start the game: tons and tons of text, with no actual character animations or cutscenes whatsoever. Yep, once again, Compile Heart and Idea Factory have combined their formidable forces of failure to create a gaming experience more akin to a visual novel than an actual video game. The story, bland and cliche-riddled as it may be, is told entirely through text sequences, with nary a CG movie or even an in-game graphical sequence to be found. Not that you're missing much; the storyline literally follows the "an ancient evil awakens" old saw, and doesn't deviate from the pattern even once. No cool plot twists, no original takes on the genre, just predictable text blob after text blob until your eyes are left squinting and bloodied (note: your eyes may vary).
I'll summarize the "story" for you: The player takes the role of Neptune, our dim-witted hero, who represents all that is good and wholesome in the video gaming industry. At least she thinks she is; true to form, this awful game utilizes the awful cliche of "the hero with amnesia!" Ugh. The game industry itself (referred to in the game as... "Gameindustri") is represented as an intergalactic array of planets with names like "Lowee" and "Lastation", obviously representing the Wii and PS3 systems, respectively. This is not nearly as poignant as you might imagine, and most of the game's humor or wit is derived from silly elementary school-caliber gags and blunt, obvious video game parodies (ha ha, a plumber fights a mushroom! Ha?). The parodies might have been funny... if NPC characters had faces or bodies you could see. No, instead the makers of Hyperdimension Neptunia have decided it was only necessary to draw character art for the half dozen or so main characters, and represent literally everyone else via black silhouette and NOTHING else. Every single NPC, every single side character you talk to is just a soulless, faceless black cardboard cutout, and it infuriates me to no end that a game design so utterly lazy and contemptuous of its audience was allowed in a major JRPG release such as this.
The graphics continue their trend of mediocrity with the Idea Factory/Compile Heart trend of giving us a small handful of drawings to represent the main characters & their 2-3 expressions (usually ones of befuddlement or moe), a series of unbelievably bland and repetitive dungeon environments, and... not much else of note. If you played Trinity Universe you can skip most of this review, as Neptunia's all pretty much the same recycled garbage. And in the case of the game's music and sound effects, "recycled" is even more appropriate a term. Some of the sounds were lifted directly from recent Compile/Idea games, and rather shamelessly to boot! It'd be different to steal from a good game, but to steal from Cross Edge? Trinity Universe? Why not just ask Uwe Boll to direct the darn thing and be done with it?
Another property stolen from previous games: the battle system. Ugh, the battle system. You know by now that Compile/Idea want you to press a seemingly endless string of square, triangle, cross, and circle (each representing a different attack type) in order to seam together a Xenogears-like battle chain, giving you free reign on how to lay down the smack upon your enemies. The problems begin when you've got to keep in mind a 20- or 30-button combo for each and every battle. Add to this the fact that you can edit any and all of your combos in the menu screen (which you'll have to do repeatedly as you level up and gain more room for longer combos), and you'll have to keep in mind dozens of different double-digit combinations of battle inputs during every battle for every situation you may face. There are in-game directions for your different combos and their branching paths, but given that certain elements in battle require you to fight against the clock, you don't always have time to read everything over so rapidly. So, in essence, you'll have to pre-program dozens of combos, edit them constantly, and memorize your best ones, often dozens of button presses long. And you get to pay money for the privilege!
Oh, speaking of paying! Yes that's right, a horrible game wouldn't be quite horrible enough without wallet-gouging downloadable content that should have been included free to begin with. Hooray! During your adventures, you have the opportunity to recruit a couple of seemingly useless party members. They can't fight, they can't help, they just sit there like moe bumps on a moe log. Fast forward to a couple weeks or so after the game was released stateside and gosh, wouldn't you know it, these "seemingly" useless characters can actually become fiends in battle, destroying anything in their paths... if you're willing to pay $2 each for them as DLC. Now, four dollars American shouldn't make or break anyone, but really now. Imagine playing Final Fantasy 7 and having to pay extra for Tifa. Imagine playing a Madden game and having to shell out more money for the Baltimore Ravens. Heck, imagine wearing a jacket and having to pay bonus money for a right sleeve. It's infuriating on so many levels, not the least of which being the concept of having to pay more money to a game that is terrible in and of itself. They should be paying ME to play it, and even then I'd ask for full medical and dental benefits for myself and my family.
Well at least I got all the bad stuff out of the way, so now we can focus on-- oh wait, yeah, there's random battles.
Lemme repeat that, in case you thought you saw a text mirage or something: Random. Battles. In a role-playing game. In 2011. It's like buying a brand new, state of the art automobile, tricked out with all the current digital gadgetry and technology, and then sticking a freaking cassette tape player in the middle of the dashboard. To put this further into perspective, the people behind Chrono Trigger wayyyy back in 1995 thought that the concept of random battles was played out. A decade-and-a-half later, and what are my eyes seeing unendingly in each and every dungeon in this game? I'll tell you what they're seeing. They're seeing Compile Heart and Idea Factory plumbing the depths of the genre, whipping out some big ol' shovels, and digging even deeper than I thought was possible. In a word: embarrassing. In another word: fluggleploppen. That's right, I made that word up out of pure frustration at seeing RANDOM BATTLES in an RPG over 15 years after Chrono Trigger's release. That's how aggravating Hyperdimension Neptunia is. Driving some of us to insanity!
Honestly, I'm trying to think of the good parts of this game that I may have forgotten. A terrible battle system. Subpar, repetitive music and graphics. Boring character designs. Blank, undrawn NPCs.
Nope, I'm not missing a thing. Well, that's not entirely true. One thing I actually can say I'm missing now is the 40-50 hours it took me to finish this debacle. If only there was DLC to get THAT back. It'd be the one and only thing worth mentioning about Hyperdimension Neptunia, one of the worst JRPGs of this or any generation of consoles.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/03/11
Game Release: Hyperdimension Neptunia (Special Edition) (US, 02/15/11)
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