I am not overly familiar with the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. I had played the game when it first came out on the PlayStation 3 and, to be honest, I’m surprised that such a quirky series has lasted long enough to be a video game franchise and anime series. For the uninitiated, the series is set in the world of Gamindustri, whose four nations are ruled by anthropomorphic video game consoles—represented here as cutesy, pre-teen anime girls. Neptune, the main character, is modeled after the Sega Neptune (the canceled precursor to the Sega Saturn) and her friends/rivals include Noire (PlayStation 3), Blanc (Nintendo Wii) and Vert (Xbox). In Megadimension Neptunia VII, these CPU girls are about to enter the “Shift Period,” a chaotic time where the citizens of Gameindustri search for new CPUs to replace those currently in power. What this amounts to is a period of turmoil fueled by rumor and gossip intended to decrease another CPU’s standing. As Neptune and her sister Nepgear prepare for the shift, they stumble upon an old Dreamcast VMU that transports them against their will to the Zero Dimension, a virtual world suffering from near-apocalyptic conditions at the hands of four evil giants that have lol but wiped out the dimension’s native inhabitants.
As far as my research has shown, little has been changed to the story for what is essentially an enhanced release of Megadimension Neptunia VII, a game this site reviewed when it was released in 2016. What may interest fans of the series is that the graphics have been updated for this new edition thanks to a new game engine and combat now allows you to build your own attacks each turn simply by choosing moves to fill attack slots. At the start of your next turn, you can either reuse the attack or create a new one from their repertoire of combat moves. Combat plays out like any other modern open-world RPG. You’ll traverse a dungeon to advance the story, collecting items and fighting monsters that wander around the area. Striking an enemy unawares gives you an advantage at the start of turn-based battles, a tactic the monsters can use on you as well. Battles play out in an open field where you can position the characters in such a way to perform co-op combos and formation moves that yield devastating results. There are rules to follow to make them work, such as everyone having the exact amount of action and special points—AP and SP respectively—and be in or out of their special HDD forms. I found these co-op abilities to be strangely restrictive at times. Even though I thought I was following the rules, the commands I wanted to use and had enough points for were grayed out for reasons I couldn’t discern. Such barriers seem a little arbitrary but it’s a good way to prevent you from being overpowered because these attacks practically vaporize targets, and making combat easier than it already is. The battles against the giants offer a nice change of pace to the normal grind because of how you have to position each character across different platforms in order to trigger co-op moves because their standard attacks won’t work.
The game’s graphics and game engine have been updated for this release but without having played the original, I cannot provide you with much context. I will say, however, that the game’s visuals really pop. This is a bright and colorful game when it wants to be especially during the visual novel-style cutscenes that take place in between battles and dungeon crawls. Presented as 2D cartoon characters with hints of animation, the character designs are detailed and full of color that does a good job of resembling their 3D counterparts which also look great because of the high resolution textures. The game’s bright visuals extend to some of the dungeons. The layouts may not be particularly exciting but the aesthetic and themes, such as an old arcade to a TRON-like wonderland, dazzled my eyes. Given the anime leanings of the game, there’s quite a bit of fanservice in play. The costumes alone are enough to raise an eyebrow as the characters normal and HDD forms wear costumes that show off a lot of skin and amble breast sizes. The game wastes little time for titillation in an early splash screen featuring three anime girls frolicking in a pool of water with no clothes on, though their lady bits are strategically covered by hair, limbs, and bright white stars. In battle, you’ll be treated to panty shots, butt shots and boob jiggling (especially so during the girl’s HDD transformation scenes) whenever you perform special moves.
But what of VR? Megadimension Neptunia VIIR advertises a new way to play the game if you own the PlayStation VR. This was, after all, the main reason I sought out this title. Unfortunately, I came away hugely disappointed but I don’t think it was entirely my fault or level of expectation. The VR experience is a forcefully tacked on character meet and greet experiences that feel like an underdeveloped attempt to sell more copies. Hell, you don’t even need to own a PSVR to partake in these interactions, so…why even bother going through the trouble of making it compatible with the virtual reality headset? After about the fourth encounter, I stopped using the headset because it most certainly wasn’t worth the trouble of putting it on. These little episodes take place in a small bedroom, which is really a Matrix-like loading room sandwiched in between reality and the video game world of Gamindustri. As the story calls for it, or if you choose to go directly from the in-game menu, you’ll have a chance to sit and watch as one of the Neptunia girls show up and talk to you about random, inconsequential stuff. There’s an option to decorate the room with items you acquire during the course of the adventure but really, who cares? None of this stuff feels like it’s in service of anything but giving you an opportunity to ogle anime girls who bounce, prance, and fawn over your existence and ask you “yes” or “no” questions. One element of these scenes that really distracted me was the character animations. They don’t match the gait and personality of the girls as depicted in the video game. Instead, it looks like they were mo-capped by Japanese show presenters whose every movement is unnatural because of their overly exaggerated and fiercely choreographed gestures and body language. What this all amounts to is turning the VR pieces of Megadimension Neptunia into My First Virtual Girlfriend. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s cool. It’s just that you could do a whole lot better than this.
Megadimension Neptunia VIIR is a product for fans of the series. People coming into this cold are likely to scratch their heads over a game that’s an embodiment of Japanese anime. Fans, however, would likely appreciate the enhancements made to the visuals and the ability to design their own combo attacks during battle—a mechanic that is probably the best thing this game has to offer. I like the depth of combat and the thrill of waiting out several turns to build up enough AP points to trigger power formation and cooperative attacks in and out of the character’s HDD forms. There’s also a lot of character development options, like how new weapons bought in the store come with new combo options in battle, that keep things nice and dynamic. I will say that combat has a tendency to feel rather easy, especially since your party’s health and SP points automatically refill at the start of each encounter. This game has its issues–chief among them is the poor, bolted-on VR–but I found that the longer I stuck with it, the more I grew to appreciate some of its systems (though I do find the VO, both English and Japanese, and the cheesy script to be quite grating). As a Megadimension Neptunia VII player, the new changes might be worth a return trip, though $60 for an update of a two-year-old game that adds VR “gameplay” sounds like a lot to ask. As a newcomer or passerby, if you can get past the blatant anime tropes and sexualization of video game consoles, well, it’s not a bad option if you’re in the market for a JRPG.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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