Hyperdimension Neptunia ReviewGreg Knoll
And the award to strangest game played this year? Hyperdimension Neptunia by a landslide. I say that with all due respect. Though the game is bizarre on many levels, it's in a good way. It represent all that is well and glimmering about games from independent publishers-a perfect example of why big budgets and advertising don't always produce a superior product and sometimes the best gems are often hidden.
Seriously, though. It's weird. Well, quirky would be a better way to describe it. Have you ever played a game, and the tutorial minces words, trying to explain how to do something but phrases it in such a way as not to make it actually seem like instructions-like you're in a game? Hyperdimension is the furthest thing from. Anytime they explain actions, they are straightforward, the characters talking directly to you...knowing that you're playing. Oddly, immersing you even further and being somewhat satirical with it. In fact, the whole game comes across as a witty, charming play on video games. They use terms associated with the medium like CPU and Game Industry, but twist it so it's not directly related. CPU stands for Console Patrol Unit and the world surrounding is known as Gamindustri. They use magic and summons, but the creatures you can beckon are characters from other Sega games like Fantasy Zone, Alex Kidd and Altered Beast. The game does revolve like most RPGs around a magical and enthralling world and story-that of four goddesses, vying for power where they eliminate one, send her to earth and she most heal the world as a human-but if often uses strange terms, or powers to reiterate that it's just a game.
In many ways...it leaves me speechless. To almost anyone who hasn't played it, I imagine that idea sounds either jarring or even foolish. I would have thought the same thing, but the further I got into the game, saw how intricately they had woven fantasy with technical specs it became enthralling, and unique. I've not played anything like this before and it may be a long time until I do again. It puts a brand new spin on the tired, old Save the world/girl/God that is present in almost every RPG. It pushes the story fervently, as you're always wondering what you're going to see next and how far out of the box they're truly going to tread.
And-restating what I mentioned earlier-it speaks volumes about how hard Compile Hearts worked to be original. For not only is the story brand new, a battle system claims the same feat and follows the same style. It starts out like all RPGs, with random encounters but once you're in the actual battle it plays more like an action game. On the filed, your team and the enemy are on opposite sides, taking turns depending on agility. When it's your turn, a menu pops up corresponding to each of the four face buttons on the controller. Triangle will prompt you to use your weapon, X your gun, Circle is melee and Square is defend. Pushing any one of these will initiate the sequence and instantaneously your character springs into action, taking only one attack. But it leaves it open for three more, allowing you to build a combo then and there, each action unleashed the moment the button is pressed. You can mix, pressing triangle four times, or triangle and circle, start with circle...the list is immense. It's all based on AP, so the higher the number the more you can unleash.
Hyperdimension allows you to customize each combo specifically. As the game progresses, you open up more options, more powerful attacks, the summons I mentioned and even a destructive transformation ability known as a console (see? Video game reference).
But shifting back to the quirky, all you can choose is to battle or defend. You don't use items-either in a fight or on the world map. Are you thinking? How do you heal? Yeah, I was too. The game does that for you. You find items, but it's up to the characters to use them. As it was with the combos, you can customize the frequency of when they'll use items, from 10% all the way to 100%. Anytime a certain situation arises, HP drops below 30%, you're poisoned, etc. your character will automatically respond with the solution. If two or more occur, it will first pick the one with the highest percentage. It's strange, and takes a little getting used to, but it puts the focus solely on fighting and you not having to worry about taking care of yourself or your time. It does it for you, so the battles are paced faster than most action games, but still maintain that RPG feel.
The quests are varied and straightforward. Rather than search a map or speak to countless town members in a tavern, everything is given to you directly on the world map via a list of available story and side-ventures. It's updated automatically once you fulfill certain requirements and they can be replayed as many times as you want in order to get a higher score. Again, cementing the fact that Hyperdimension Neptunia is straight-forward and quick.
And charming. I like anime, I'll admit it and the fact they use so many nubile, oddly hair-colored girls, sometimes placing them in precarious positions, is a win in my book. Compile did a wonderful job with the structure and aesthetics of the game, as they always do and such was a welcome sight...a really welcome sight.
Alas, though, it is not perfect. While Hyperdimension has all the qualities that make an outstanding independent game, it suffers the downfalls of it as well. Looks good, sounds horrible. They certainly don't break a title but wretched voice-overs just kill me. Mostly because it's frustrating. So much effort is put into everything else, only to have them flub it there. I wonder if the voices are the last thing to do, and they suddenly realize how under budget they are and scrounge together at the last minute. No emotion or too much, campy acting and high-pitched annoyance. Sadly, it's typical. I wish for once they would bring in someone with a stellar voice... maybe from Colorado who knows the ins and outs of what good voice work is. Maybe a fan of independent games...like say... me.
I'm kidding. (I'll leave my number at the bottom for you Compile. I'll do good, promise)
All that aside, Hyperdimension Neptunia represents everything I love in a game, and why I'm an avid supporter of independent companies. They think outside the box, but they don't stray too far so that they lose you along they way. They are bold, fearless and care more about the product than the do making it big budget. I appreciate and commend that, and Neptunia is the shinning example. It's fun, quirky, original and entertaining every second.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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