Hyperdimension Neptunia, much like the Dynasty Warriors series, just kind of exists in the West. Unknown to many, loved by a few and usually on the receiving end of extremely mediocre review scores, it is a series that survives on the passion of a select few and is happy to play to its niche audience by delivering the kind of quintessentially Japanese gaming experience that is becoming harder and harder to find on anything outside of the Vita’s wonderfully hardcore library of games.
The latest release in the series in business as usual in that respect – like its immediate predecessor, Re;Birth2 is essentially a retelling of the original PS3 release, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, and while that does guarantee a level of console quality polish, it also brings with it all the baggage that you would expect from a sequel to an already prosperously convoluted JRPG.
As Nepgear (the younger sister of the original’s heroine, Neptune), you and your scantily clad compatriots embark on a quest to save Neptune and bring a semblance of peace to the videogame inspired land of Gamindustri. Like the last game, the references and in-jokes will prove a big draw to fans of the industry, but as always, you’ll also be putting up with a great deal of distinctly sexualised imagery.
Whether you find it sexy yourself will be a matter of personal taste, but be warned, these decidedly young looking girls leave very little to the imagination which, while not a major surprise to anyone who might consider themselves a fan of Japanese games in particular, can still lead to some rather morally questionable imagery. It’s hardly full on hentai, but still, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be playing this game on public transport. This series unquestionably pushes the envelope with some rather gratuitous close-ups and an almost incessantly suggestive tone. Some will like it, some will hate, others like myself will be largely indifferent, but honestly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that, despite the story and gameplay being consistently entertaining, the constant stream of sexually charged imagery can become somewhat tiring.
Still, a general lack of clothing aside, Hyperdimension Neptunia’s on-going tale of Gameindustri is an enjoyable blend of parody and goofiness, all delivered with the kind of earnestness that, while quite ridiculous in many respects, actually offers the game a level of credence that would have been lacking had it gone for a purely tongue-in-cheek approach. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still nonsensical, and for newcomers, will be inevitably tricky to follow, but despite its faults, I found myself quite taken by this odd but surprisingly endearing tale.
As always, great story or not, a JRPG ultimately lives and dies by its battle system and luckily for Re;Birth2, the battle system is one of its undoubted strong points. Via an interesting combination of real time combat and traditional turn-based gameplay, Re:Birth2 delivers an immediately accessible, but ultimately deep system that is fast-paced and entertaining enough to get you through smaller battles and general grinding but with enough tactical depth to make boss battles and higher level encounters rewarding and technically interesting affairs.
With movement controlled by the player but defined by a circle of range that defines how far you can get per turn, positioning becomes a large part of battle with movement often as important as the actual attacks themselves. It’s hardly Final Fantasy Tactics, but it does add some much needed depth while keeping things immediate in a way that traditional turn-based affairs often struggle to achieve.
The battle system itself is actually relatively straight forward with the usual array of standard attacks, defensive abilities and item use making up the core experience. Rounding things off however are the Hard Drive Divinity System that allows for the unlocking of special forms and additional abilities once you build up 100 Skill Points while the EXE Drive System once again encourages the customisation of your party and their attacks. It’s hardly a necessity, but will certainly prove a welcome addition for tinkerers and a much needed additional ability for when you come across some of the tougher boss battles that are made far more manageable once you gear your team and attacks toward their specific weaknesses.
With its imaginative overworld and surprisingly attractive dungeon-based visuals, Re;Birth2 also happens to be another fine reminder of what can be achieved on Sony’s struggling handheld. Sure, it’s great that so many indie titles are making a home on the Vita, but with little in the way of full-retail support from the West, it’s good to see that there are still a few more technically taxing games coming from the East eager to push Vita’s impressive engine beyond the often more technically simplistic indie offerings. Sure, some of the textures are a bit bland and the cut-scenes are still largely fixed animations (no surprises there), but with some imaginative art design, a fully voiced script and a very catchy soundtrack, Re;Birth2 overcomes what was a relatively limited budget to deliver the closest thing you are likely to find to a triple-A gaming experience on Sony’s fantastic handheld in 2015.
The sexualisation of, well, just about every character in the game is a little on the nose and the convoluted plot will inevitably prove a sizeable hurdle to newcomers, but despite these problems and a handful of poor design choices (albeit, minor ones), Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation proves a highly entertaining, content rich JRPG that goes some way towards reminding us that the Vita is still capable of delivering console quality production values.
It has a few rough edges, and there is no getting around just how Japanese it all is (that could of course be seen as a positive or a negative), but for the most part, this is a technically accomplished JRPG with a fantastic battle system and an interesting if decidedly ridiculous story tying it all together. It’s not the massive triple-A release that some Vita owners are still waiting for (that’s never coming), but taken on its own merits, this is a fun, wacky JRPG that feels perfectly at home on Sony’s criminally underutilized handheld.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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