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Hyperdimension Neptunia
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Idea Factory
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
By J.R. Nip's (Chris) estimate, Hyperdimension Neptunia's concept -- the absurdity of the "Console Wars" -- is something you would expect from an IGF entry. But, it's an idea that's just quirky enough to fit a JRPG. The concept is ripe for biting satire, and although the game manages to get in a few good ribs, it trips into yet another JRPG.

When it comes to JRPGs, the chief question for fans always involves the voice dub. Rest assured, the original Japanese is available, but I actually preferred the English to the Japanese. The voices seemed to fit the characters better in the English track. Although the game revolves around personifying the game industry, characters show little personality. They're overly expressive during cutscenes, which is nice and one of the game's standout features. Yet, at the same time, characters cling to typical JRPG roles rather than trying to expand out into new territory. Ultimately, this isn't important to the plot - the war is the driving force here - though I wouldn't mind a more character-driven JRPG in the future.

Visuals are okay. Dungeons look bland and character models lose some of the creative touches seen in the 2D artwork that accompanies cutscenes. Character designs, however, are a bit unsettling. For the first time in, well, ever, I felt uncomfortable playing a JRPG. The cast is made up of scantily- clad females and filled to the brim with innuendo and other suggestive themes. I'm a big fan of the Ar tonelico series, so I'm not particularly opposed to the presentation. Yet, here it gets a bit out of hand - especially when younger characters enter the fold. It's nothing to get up in arms about -- it's only enough to earn a Teen rating -- but might make a few players feel, for the lack of a better word, "icky."

The premise behind Hyperdimension Neptunia is really clever. Four goddesses rule the world of Gameindustri, each representing a major console. Three represent the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii while a fourth, Neptunia, embodies a never-released Sega console, the Neptune.

The four goddesses hate each other, leading to an era-long "Console War." The war sets up the game's main point of parody, the almost religious zealotry surrounding fans of each console. The residents of Gameindustri have taken sides in the war, setting up churches and branding followers of the other goddesses as heretics. It's not exactly a day on a message board, but comes pretty close.

As fascinating as the concept and setup are, the punch line falls flat. The game has its moments; there are numerous inside references scattered throughout the game. The goddesses routinely slip into "gamer-speak" and you'll even see a few parody characters mulling around areas. The references are fun, but don't quite match the overarching concept's creative spark.

After the initial setup, the three goddesses decide to team up and beat Neptunia, sending her plummeting to the human world. Predictably, she loses her memory of being a goddess, but ends up meeting a cast of characters who help her find her way back to power. Eventually, the story turns its attention towards the villain Arfoire (a play on the R4 DS flashcard), building to Gameindustri banning together to fight "piracy."

Hyperdimension Neptunia is a plot-driven game. After setting up a scenario, you're presented with a series of dungeons, which you must venture through in order to move the story along. Sometimes completing one dungeon is enough, though other times you might need to complete a series of events posted on an in-game events checklist. Hitting all the points can be annoying, but at least dungeons are short.

You'll also come across hidden dungeons reminiscent of Trinity Universe. You still need to complete a specific goal, but you're also timed and ranked. Better rankings mean better prizes. There's even a leaderboard for those who might be interested in seeing how they stack up against other players. It's a cool feature, but the underlying gameplay doesn't exactly deliver a replay-friendly experience.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is full of small annoyances, resulting in a much harder game. For one, there's a massive gap between the amount of XP earned from enemies and level spans. Grinding isn't a necessity; high-level enemies aren't incredibly hard. Yet, enemies don't give enough experience, so you're forced to grind anyway. The same goes for money. You never seem to have enough, though you need a lot if you want to buy good gear, enabling you to take on harder enemies for a shot at better XP. It's faulty design and sets up a meaningless cycle of dull actions.

Healing adds another problem. You can only heal during combat, but only under specific conditions. There's no way to select an item or ability and heal. Instead, you set a condition that, once triggered, allows the character to use the item or ability. There's another value attached to the process, but I couldn't figure out what was happening most of the time. It's a lot of work for such a simple mechanic and will put you in a tight spot.

Game Mechanics:
Compared to the Healing mechanic, Hyperdimension Neptunia's remaining play mechanics are rather tame. Dungeon crawling is straightforward. You travel through linear mazes and fight monsters en route to your big goal, usually a big boss. One of the few differences between Hyperdimension Neptunia and other dungeon crawls is the summoning bell. At any time you can ring the bell, leading to a marathon battle where you take on every monster in the room in one long battle.

The main concept behind the summoning bell is the opportunity to venture through the dungeon without interference. The idea sounds great, but dungeon designs don't support the uninterrupted journey. You actually want to fight enemies every few minutes just to have something to do.

In retrospect, the Healing system seems to support your using the summon bell. The concepts behind each mesh really well and, at least in theory, should work well together. However, the smaller issues associated with each break up whatever dynamic the design is trying to foster.

Combat isn't fully explained. What, on the surface, looks like a constantly moving and deep system ends up devolving into a series of button presses as you burn through your character's Action Point allotment. The working idea is to create combos between your party member's attacks, gaining bonuses in the process. The idea is cool, though there's little reward for stringing together ultra-complex combos. You can get just as much, if not more, mileage out of a series of basic attacks. The system becomes even more trivial once you unlock super attacks, which are capable of generating massive damage every turn.

Hyperdimension Neptunia will appeal to the same slice of the gaming community that typically goes for JRPGs. If you're in that number, you won't be disappointed. But, even if the story has your attention, the underlying mechanics may not support your expectations.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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