Title: Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk.2
Alternate Title: Chou Jigen Game: Neptune Mk2
Developed By: Compile Heart
Published By: Nippon Ichi Software America
Console: Playstation 3
Classification: The ESRB has classified this game as Mature for Fantasy Violence, Language, Sexual Themes
Review Conditions: European Playstation 3 Version. The only potential difference between regions might be DLC content being released at separate times.
Special Thanks: Nippon Ichi Software America for providing me with a copy of this game for the purpose of this review.
Shops are boarded up, creators are overworked and starving, and death looms over all Gameindustri. However, humanity perseveres on! In the years past, the deserted lands of Gamindustri were known as the ‘realm of chaos’. Since the advent of ASIC – the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime – morality has all but vanished. As much as 80 percent of all students are rumored to worship the being known as Arfoire.
Parents, knowing this is a poor object to worship went ahead and taught their children to do so. The government turned a blind eye instead of crushing this crisis in its infancy. Thus, Gameindustri fell into complete and utter disarray. The citizens have come to accept all of the corruption as normal. They take no issue with acquiring items illegally. Those who were victims of this mentality became exhaused and were sent to wander the Gameindustri Graveyard forever.
You may recall that last year I ran a review of the game Hyperdimension Neptunia, the first game in the series which attempted to merge the ever ongoing console wars and the RPG genre. The game overall received a B- from me, citing a very creative idea and some interesting gameplay elements, however being very average in the storyline and music departments, accompanied by a very interesting healing system that I quite liked, but many found was implemented questionably. Developers Compile Heart have since then reworked the game and released Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, a game with improvements made across the board. The question is…. do these actually work for the better? Read on to find out in my review of the game!
While the first game focused on the four CPU goddesses (Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert) who each represented one of the three major consoles and the Sega Neptune, this game puts them on the sideline and instead focuses more on the CPU candidates (Nepgear, Uni, Ram and Rom) who represent the Gamegear, Playstation Portable and Nintendo DS. Mk2 follows an alternate storyline from the original where members of the ASIC (Under the intention of resurrecting main antagonist Arfoire) manage to capture the CPU’s and Nepgear – trapping them in the Gamindustri Graveyard for three years. IF and Compa, main characters from the original game manage to free Nepgear from her confines and escape with their lives. From there, the game is split into a number of chapters, where Nepgear and her team seek out mascots and CPU Candidates from each of the worlds in order to free their sisters and prevent the resurrection of Arfoire. This was an instant improvement over the more unstructured plot of the first – with chapters dedicated to each of the main plot elements, with a final truth end chapter for those who want an added grind.
Along with the game increasing the number of party members in battle to four, you will be even more ecstatic to know that you are no longer limited to Nepgear, Compa and IF for a majority of the storyline, instead with every world you visit you will usually unlock at least one “Maker” character with their own unique personality – so Nisa has a heroine of justice attitude to her while Gust, based on the company who develops the Atelier games is an alchemist who is all about trying to work out the best way to make money and 5pb who is a well known pop star on LeanBox and is based on the company of the same name with strong music and game roots. The cast list overall is sizable by the end of the game, with the four CPU candidates, four CPU goddesses and a number of makers at your disposal which can be increased by two if you are willing to fork out the DLC. Upon unlocking them, the characters have at least some weight in the storyline due to them not being optional.
The previous game was filled with game references and with Neptunia Mk2 it is not exception. While it is of no fault to NIS America as I doubt it would have been possible to do a localization with other games available in the English market, unless you have at least a moderate knowledge of the games available exclusively to the Japanese gaming market a fair few references might not entirely make sense or lose their comical intention. But otherwise there is a healthy flow of “game-derived” plot-line that does not cause deviations from the main plot, but are included throughout the games event scenes…. and if you are lucky to venture into the Truth End plot…. the ultimate war between the goddesses as they discuss which console is better *Gasp*.
The story itself is simple and might not appeal to everyone’s tastes… but is one that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is rewarded with a comical plot, equally silly characters and is something that never really bored me. That being said the storyline is a lot more risque this time around aided by CG scenes with fanservice and bondage, a CFW boss who has it in for Ram, Rom and Gust and enough implied dialogue to go around. The main storyline progresses through the selection of different areas on the map of Gameindustri (That’s right, one world map instead of four separate areas) while the event scenes that are focused on building Nepgears relationships with the other characters can be accessed through the new Chirper system, a trending online communication system that allows you to interact with those who reside in the area – from the CPU’s to minor characters to Keiji Inafune (The original one that is). Unfortunately I found the number of Chirper events to be lacking in number, which later down the track makes it challenging to build relationships with characters through and provides the CPU goddesses with less subplot in comparison to their CPU candidate counterparts – even if what they do supply provides sufficient references to games and the whole gaming culture.
Overall, if you enjoyed the first one or were at least indifferent to it, you should find this games plot to be a vast improvement over the original. Stepping away from having the same three party members for the majority of the game aided in this, along with the multiple endings, a more linear and developed plotline and to put it simply, improving what needed to be improved.
When it comes to the visuals, it overall maintains its anime styled aesthetics, which given the target market is obviously a big tick for them. While the game once again suffers from small and limited world designs, these along with the character designs in all shapes and forms are bright and vivid making it pleasurable to view. The environment designs maintain a sample of generic “gaming” themed dungeons such as forest, volcano and beach worlds along with a rather interesting looking “technology” themed world. Unfortunately none of these held my interest for longer than a single run-through, especially when I began to notice similarities between zones of the same type in terms of layout but are a slight step up from the original which felt more claustrophobic with linear paced closed in environments. to roam.
Fortunately, with rather bland environmental designs comes some great improvements in the character design departments. Each of the characters have different designs with colour sets, appearances and clothing’s altered depending on the game console or company / game world they represent and worked well with the overall theme of the game. While the game still retains the character portraits during the visual novel dialogue scenes, which look well detailed – they have also opted to primarily use 3D character models for them – which is a bit of a two way street in my opinion. While the use of character models does allow them to deliver a greater sense of motion to the characters, it does not respect any costume or accessory changes you give the character – which given the variety of them, they would have at least respected the costume changes. The games monster designs also recieve a bit of a boost, and now while overused at points, have a greater diversity of vague character references…. after all haven’t we all wanted to let out our frustration on Dr Kawashima’s head when he tells us our brain age is 60?
The games freedom is character customization is much greater than its predecessor, with each of the CPU candidates having colour change costumes to represent each of the Gameindustri cities – so if you were to purchase the LeanBox costume set, all four girls will represent Vert with green attire and blonde hair, while the costumes for LaStation will give them all grey hair and black clothing. As well, each character has a number of hair and face accessories you can add to most of the characters which offer some variety provided your wallet is filled with credits. Most of the other characters besides the CPU candidates get some options for costumes by the end of the games, but IF and Compa are the only Makers that get a satisfactory collection of accessories.
In terms of battles, they have improved animations dramatically from the original with the battle system being a bit more open which I shall a little bit later on in the review. The real charm to the battle system are the battle animations, while while for the most case being nothing to rave about, brings in character cross-overs from games including Kurisu Makise from 5pb’s visual novel release Steins;Gate and Prinny / Flonne from the Disgaea series to name a few. Each character has their own set of “character reference” skills, however apart from the Makers – the CPU’s and CPU Candidates only have vague references for obvious reasons. As with the first game, CPU (Candidates) can transform into their CPU forms, a feature I actually hadn’t really checked out much as unlike the prior game… I used it a grand total of two or three times when forced during the entire game – but they offer costly costumes to spruce the girls up in upon transformation.
Overall, there is obviously no chance it would match the visual spectacle of Final Fantasy XIII or similar games, however it most certainly has a charm that will appeal to the games intended audience.
Music is perhaps the one area of the game I have never paid much attention to,. The soundtrack isn’t all too extensive but remains just as good as the first, with the added bonus of being less repetitive and perhaps a few more battle themes which made battles less dull. The game also includes a brand new opening song and animation which surpasses the original on both accounts by far but fails to attribute any of the “Makers” or the CPU Goddesses at all which surprised me.
As with the first game, the game includes both English and Japanese dubs for your listening pleasure and for the purpose of this review I chose the English dubs to score. Unfortunately as the game only mentions the Japanese voice cast in the credits, some of the cast members are debatable even if most of them are distinguishable by their voice alone. Christine Marie Cabanos voices newcomer main character Nepgear and does a satisfactory job of her character – while the old cast from Hyperdimension Neptunia also returns and does as good a performance as the original. The other characters, Uni, Ram and Rom also have well suited voices to their character personalities however I am not 100% sure on their actual voice actresses.
While there were some things to like with Neptunia’s original battle system, I for one am glad to see that they had chosen to ditch the system and implement one that welcomed a bit more user interactivity while retaining the same core attack system. As with the previous game, you navigate through a number of dungeons placed on the Gameindustri world map which are littered with enemies and can be attacked for a preemptive strike or run into to battle normally. The game makes use of the usual turn-based combo system with the chance to build combos, however instead of limiting the battling to just the triangle, X and square button you can freely navigate within a circle around you and attack enemies freely within this area.
From there you can use the same button controls to do normal attacks or perform skills or use items without having to map it to a button combination. The characters each have three gauges – HP which is self-explanatory, AP which refills after every turn and is what determines how many times you attack and SP which slowly refills by itself, by attacking others or being attacked yourself and is what is used to use skills. Finally, you are given the ability for those with the ability to activate HDD mode and transform into goddesses which consumes 100SP and then drains it every turn – with some (in my opinion) pretty useless stat boosts which would be better spent on skills. In the end you do find yourself following the same system of attacking with a mixture of Rush, Heavy and Break attacks to build up your SP gauge and then letting loose with the skills, but unlike the original there is never any point where the game is actually overly easy – often requiring more strategy in the later chapters where enemies can kill you in a single turn. Overall, the battle system is a welcome improvement and while perhaps not requiring as much strategy as most RPG’s or each individual character having much other than attack weapon and skill designs to set them apart, it required more strategy than other Compile Heart RPG’s to stay alive….. yes I am looking at you Trinity Universe.
How you navigate outside of the game has also been vastly changed. In the first you had four separate worlds which sort of flew around and could only be jumped between when close by each other. As this is an alternate storyline they have also moved the game to a single island which you can navigate more freely as you progress through the game and dungeons / areas are unlocked through either the storyline or DLC content. In each of the major districts as well, two new game systems other than the Chirper system has been unlocked. The first of these is the Guild where you can obtain quests which usually involve collecting X or defeating Y. These quests for the most part can be done as many times as you like but also have an affect on what ending you get. The game ranks each of the four major areas as well as Arfoire in a share market system, so doing a quest might gain 5% shares for Lowee from Arfoire, but if you are going for a particular ending – allowing 15% of Lowee’s shares (for Lowee) to go to LaStation could result in a shift from Lowee’s Ending to Normal Ending, or even Normal Ending to Truth Ending. Therefore, it keeps the quests from getting repetitive due to their vast number and affect on the worlds share system. The second system of note is Synthesis, which depending on your play style might not be your cup of tea, but allows you to create items from enemy droppings as with almost every other Compile Heart RPG.
As I mentioned above, this game is a bit more mature than probably any other Compile Heart RPG that NIS America has released to date, but in only a few scenes as the rest is what I would deem regular fanservice. Especially in the introduction there are a few risky trophy titles and imagery of the CPU’s bound (Alongside a handful of other sequences such as those involving CFW Trick which may have been the deciding factor). Overall, while I doubt this would convert many people over to the game series, those who do pick it up will get to enjoy a game that far surpasses its predecessor with a classic battle system with a few tweaks to set itself apart, a sizable character cast, solid design and plenty of game references to go around.
Storyline/Character Development: B
Music/Voice Acting: B
Personal Opinion: B+
Overall Score: B+