Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory ReviewJason Venter
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is the third PlayStation 3 installment in a series of RPGs that are jointly developed by Idea Factory and Compile Heart. Those particular two companies don't produce a lot of games that appeal to North American audiences in the traditional way that a Squaresoft or an Enix once did (you know, before the merger that changed nearly everything), but they're responsible for enough niche RPGs that they've become a favorite resource for localization factories like NIS America. Combine that with the fact that the stars of this particular franchise are anime girls with big busts and bubbly personalities and you have the recipe for a breakout success... or you might if only the titles were a bit more accessible.
Games in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series task you with saving the magical world of Gamindustri (pronounced as game industry). In general, you control deities known as CPUs who are associated with one of four established regions loosely based on SEGA, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Essentially, you're living out the console wars but in fantasy form. Instead of handling the business side of things, you increase your customer base by exploring dungeons, completing guild quests and advancing the story.
The story this time around makes the most sense if you've at least played the previous game. Neptune, the series mascot (and the CPU in charge of Planeptune) has been relaxing and playing video games ever since her younger sister Nepgear rescued her in the second half of the previous game, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk 2. Her relaxation comes to an end, though, when she is sucked through a portal that takes her to a version of Gamindustri where she is an unknown entity and the CPU in charge of Planeptune is a ditzy girl named Plutia. In order to return home, Neptune must make friends all over again with different versions of the people she knew in her own dimension, while also meeting a host of new characters (among them, a group of villains known as the Seven Sages).
If you're the sort who likes to skip or mostly ignore the plot when you play an RPG, this is probably not your game. Though you can press the Square button to flash through text, there's enough of it that even that particular concession still leaves you spending a lot of time in cutscenes. The effort required to localize this newest installment must have been substantial. There's so, so much talking, and a lot of what people are saying is lighthearted to a tedious fault. There are a bunch of jokes that break the fourth wall, and there are even jokes about the jokes. How's that for meta? Music and media references also abound, making this the only JRPG in recent memory to reference lyrics from both Tim McGraw and A Flock of Seagulls. Some of the dialogue is voiced (mostly when new characters are introduced, or during moments where the stakes are unusually high), but a lot of it is only written. Speeches are always accompanied by character models that mostly just stand still, except that when they breathe you can see their bosoms rise and fall.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory divides its story and content into chapters, and those chunks of the adventure tend to follow a predictable pattern. As a chapter begins, there's a bunch of discussion about some new issue, while everyone in your growing group decides what should be done. Then a new dungeon becomes available and everyone will wander off to that dungeon, where a boss fight occurs. Once the boss is defeated, it's time to return to one of the friendly cities to buy supplies and to check with the guild, where new quests are probably available. Completing quests for the guild is the only way to force new story elements to appear, and it's also the best way to level up your characters so that they'll be powerful enough to face off against the current main villain. Then you beat that villain (perhaps for the third or fourth time) and there's a bunch more discussion as the chapter ends and a new one begins.
What's unfortunate about the many guild quests you'll need to complete is that they so frequently fall into one of two categories. Most of the time, you're either hunting down a specific breed of monster or you're looking for a particular item. The former isn't so bad because you can find a list of enemies encountered in a dungeon before you select it from a regional map. The item hunts are a pain in the butt, though, because there's no obvious in-game resource to let you know where to find the stuff you're supposed to obtain. You can find your progress stalled simply because you don't know which dungeon to search for a particular item, or what similarly-named enemy might drop it. In some cases, the dungeon might not even be available to you, though that's more frequently something that happens with the optional guild quests.
The bulk of the time you spend with Victory is spent in the dungeons, in case that wasn't apparent. That by itself is no big deal, except a lot of the dungeons look overly similar (and not especially good at that) and many even reuse the same floor plans. You're exploring a fantasy world, but so much of it looks nearly identical that some of the magic is lost. Enemies can be seen and avoided if you're in a hurry, but grinding is often required and you'll probably spend a lot of time running around and fighting foes either so you can gather items or easy experience points or money for weapons. Tougher monsters are also available and will yield heftier rewards, but fighting them repeatedly gets to be a pain and some of them will only drop loot once every five or six times you defeat them. The game sometimes seems to have been built to confound the player... or at least to require additional time investment.
Most of the above review could easily apply to a review of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk 2, except in this case a lot of the more negative aspects feel slightly more pronounced. There's more of the tedious dialogue than usual, and more dungeons that ultimately seem to serve no real purpose except to present you with a wider world. The bulk of the enemies are recycled from past titles, and character artwork rarely seems any different. There are, however, a few minor differences throughout.
Perhaps the most obvious change is the addition of the Scouts system. If you've played a lot of recent JRPGs, you might have seen something similar pop up in another game. While you're busy exploring a bunch of dungeons, you can send scouts to look for items in places you've already explored. They'll sometimes return with money or items, or they might point you toward the existence of new locations, but they can only do that if you're checking in with them from time to time. You can set things up so that they automatically come and go, but you still have to remember to visit them often to see what they've found... which may be nothing at all. They so rarely come back with anything interesting that you might be tempted to ignore them altogether, but it's not quite safe to do so because there's always a slight chance that you'll need something they find (and because end-of-chapter bonuses are only awarded if you spend time on a lot of such busy work).
Newcomers to the series are likely to find some of the game's elements more charming, even the ones that grate, because they haven't had time to grow accustomed to everything while playing through the previous adventure. However, they're also likely to be turned off by the many tutorials for various aspects of the game, which are too numerous and involved to helpfully list here. Some important play mechanics are also glossed over or summarized for the sake of brevity, and you might not even realize they exist unless you dig through menus. For instance, you can assign combo moves to your characters and they will learn new moves as you rank up, but figuring out how to use that to your greatest advantage can be a monster of a task if you're new to everything (and there doesn't even seem to be a tutorial to help you with that particular aspect, this time around).
With all of the above in mind, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is still a game that will appeal to a particular hardcore RPG fanatic, as it very much should. Though sometimes the whole experience can feel a bit more like work than is strictly ideal, there are ample opportunities for entertainment along the way. Some of the jokes are definitely funny, and the characters are likeable enough to carry you through at least a number of chapters before the pacing eventually falters in the home stretch. Combat is actually quite deep, and there's content enough to keep you playing for many dozens of hours you've seen everything.
If you've been playing the games in the series up to this point and you welcome the thought of another journey through Gamindustri, there's not really any new reason not to take the plunge. You'll get a lot for your money, just like always. Newcomers might have a better time if they start at the beginning, though, and work their way forward from there. And of course, those who are offended by scantily clad warrior girls and sexual themes should probably steer clear altogether.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.