The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is built on a foundation of pure fan-service. It focuses on personifications of video game consoles who are essentially magical girls, and all of the goddess form costumes barely cover their naughty bits. You’ll never meet a real woman who looks like Vert, though Coco Austin probably comes close. The dialogue is littered with innuendo, you probably don’t want to be around Plutia when she’s Iris Heart, and Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory features a group bathing scene within the first three hours of game-play. Someone would be crazy to think this is actually a girl-power situation, but after a bit of thinking I’ve come to the conclusion that Hyperdimension Neptunia has multiple redeeming characteristics, once players get past characters occasionally flirting with one another and being one jump away from a wardrobe malfunction.
I first realized it after playing about an hour and a half of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory for GamerTell’s preview. I was with friends, talking about film theories, and the Bechdel Test came up. For those who don’t know, this is a film theory designed to root out gender bias by heralding media that features two women talking to each other about something other than a man. If two women talk about something else, the movie passes the test. It’s then that I realized that not only Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory passes, but so do its predecessors Hyperdimension Neptunia and Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2. Granted, this is due in part to a dire lack of male characters, but regardless. Neptune, her sister Nepgear and her friends engage in all kinds of fanservice adventures, but they do so without obsessing about men.
Finding it passed the Bechdel test was only the start. Hyperdimension Neptunia games offer a pretty positive view of women, once you get past the innuendo and outrageous costumes. It does something that’s practically unthinkable in the world of games, for starters. It features an all-female cast. Neptune and her sister, Nepgear, are always the stars. Their friends and rivals are all women. The only time men show up are as an occasional villain or ancillary character. Male characters often don’t even merit character portraits.
In addition, Hyperdimension Neptunia characters may fall into popular tropes that were designed to appeal to male fans, but all of the heroines are unquestionable Action Girls who are powerful, have healthy self images and are more often than not emotionally balanced. Neptune is clearly a ditz, but she’s also one of the physically strongest characters in the game, is undaunted by all situations and is the leader of the land of Planeptune. Vert, despite being one of the primary “fanservice” characters in terms of appearance, falls into the Lady of War trope due to her strength physical strength and maturity. Noire is one of the strongest characters, as she’s incredibly intelligent, a hard worker and again a physically strong party member. Even the “weakest” character, Compa, could be an ancillary healer. She’s annoying, wishy-washy and bordering on useless, but she’s also one of the game’s few healers in a series where you definitely need someone tending warriors wounds.
Then there are the character’s roles within the game. The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is a classic example of a matriarchy, with women occupying the highest positions of power in religious and governmental institutions. The religious leaders of each nations are female oracles who serve goddesses. Said goddesses are also the heads of government in Gameindustri. They’re also the characters players are controlling throughout the game.
Even side-characters who aren’t goddesses pursue worthwhile endeavors when they aren’t giving massages, bathing together or seeing if they can get away with wearing a bra as a top. IF is a Basilicom Guild member, taking on quests and exploring the world. Compa is a nurse. Falcom is a warrior who also is an author and musician. Cave is a special operative who belongs to Leanbox’s Security and Defense Organization. Gust, despite her youth, is a successful alchemist. All five of them had to work to earn their positions and exhibit special skills and talents become useful members of society.
Also important are the motivations for antagonism between the heroines and villains in Hyperdimension Neptunia. The initial rivalry between the heroines isn’t personal, it’s business. Each is trying to make things better for her own people and become the leading force in Gameindustri. Once they get to know the other goddesses and goddess candidates, they’re able to come together against a common force that threatens them all, building friendships as a result and making the rivalry friendly.
The disagreements between the heroines and villains aren’t petty or personal either. Arfoire wants to be the one True Goddess of Gameindustri in the original Hyperdimension Neptunia. The only way to do that is to eliminate the existing goddesses. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory introduces Rei as an antagonist. She starts out with good intentions, wanting to start a movement to provide framework for people in the event the CPU goddesses disappear, but things go awry.
While Arfoire does eventually develop hostile feelings towards the CPU goddesses, everything is initially about her goals. She isn’t trying to bring them down because she dislikes them or she feels threatened. She truly thinks she’s stronger and has a better future for citizens of Gameindustri. There is no animosity between Rei or the goddesses either, though she does misunderstand Neptune’s behavior as antagonistic early in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Had it been successful, Rei’s campaign could have benefited all residents of Gameindustri.
It’s true, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series panders to fans. The women are all pretty, scantily clad and possess unnatural proportions. They engage in innuendo and participate in CGs where half-naked massages or communal baths are involved. If I had kids, I wouldn’t want them playing any of the games until they were mature enough to understand that most women don’t wear outfits like Vert or Plutia or engage in certain behaviors exhibited by some of the characters during select in-game events. However, if people are able to look past the series’ occasional, hypersexual tendencies, they’ll find the world of Gameindustri is a successful matriarchy filled with powerful leaders who work together and care about making their world better. There’s more to this series than innuendo and if people go into it with an open mind, they may realize how strong characters like Neptune, Nepgear and Noire really are.