Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher (Developer): NIS America (Compile Heart)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
Hyperdimension Neptunia has gone mobile! Compile Heart and Idea Factory’s Hyperdimension Neptunia JRPGs have been around for a while on the PS3, and Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a Vita remake of the first game in the series. It features a rather complete overhaul of the combat system, and other enhancements.
I will admit, I have never actually played a proper Hyperdimension Neptunia title before. My only brush with the series was the surprisingly good Idolmaster copycat, Producing Perfection. As such, I can’t really speak to how RE;Birth 1 compares to its progenitor.
Through the fourth wall, and beyond
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 takes place in the world of Gameindustri, a land consisting of four nations. Each one is controlled by a different “CPU Goddess,” a metaphor for a different gaming console. Noire presides over the nation of Lastation, and represents the PlayStation, Blanc rules over Lowee, standing in for the Wii, and Vert watches over Leanbox, inspired by the Xbox. Finally, there is the titular fallen Goddess Neptune, who is the Goddess for Planeptune, serving as a proxy for the never released Sega Neptune. The 4 Goddesses are locked in an eternal struggle for dominance in the “Console War”, and we come into this world just as Neptune has been cast down from the heavens by the other goddesses. What follows is a plot filled with adventure, intrigue, and satire.
Neptune is suffering from amnesia, and with the help of a mysterious voice named Histoire and a few friends she picks up along the way, she goes on a journey to regain her memories. This also gets caught up in a quest to save the world from evil. Yes, it’s a cliche. That’s the entire point.
Hyperdimension Neptunia RE;Birth 1 serves as a parody of the gaming industry, often taking jabs not only at the RPG genre, but at gaming tropes in general. The game appears on the surface to be a sexist, fan service riddled, cliche, vapid romp through a ridiculous, conceptual world. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, there is a bunch of fan service, especially in the character design, but it is done in such an over-the-top, ironic fashion that you could never feel embarrassed or offended by it. In fact, the characters even go out of their way to point out how hilariously “fan-service-y” it is. This game doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it flat out refuses to accept that such a thing even exists.
The satire doesn’t end with fan service. Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 goes after pretty much every convention in gaming. The results are often downright hysterical. It’s not even the overt jabs that the game takes at, well everything really; it’s all the little jokes and references. Things like Neptune humming the Final Fantasy victory fanfare when she gains a level, or how the first enemies you encounter are the Slimes from Dragon Quest, only with puppy-dog ears. The game is simply rife with humor and references that border on being easter eggs.
Alright, so Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a satirical parody of the video game industry, but how does it actually play? Wonderfully. A good chunk of the game is spent reading through conversations in a very visual novel fashion, but the real core of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is the combat. I love the battle system. Fights take place in a circular field, where party members are able to move about as players will. Each character has a given range they are able to move at the beginning of their turn, and positioning is extremely critical. Each spell or ability has a limited range, and physical attacks have a box where they will hit whatever falls within that area. Furthermore, attacks are done using combos, with different moves assigned to different buttons. Neptune and her fellow Goddesses have the ability to transform into a stronger state during battle, offering another layer of strategy. The whole affair feels like Parasite Eve meets Xenogears.
Combat offers a ton of depth mechanically. Not only is positioning and choosing the right attacks critical, but there is a whole host of other systems at play. First of all, there is the aforementioned ability for certain characters to use their “HDD” transformation into a stronger form. Then there is the confoundedly named “Lily System”. This is where you place a character “behind” one of your 3 on-screen party members. This character will not be visible on screen, but will instead provide some sort of bonus to the party member they are paired with, as well as allowing for combo attacks to be performed. The effectiveness of the pairing depends on the relationship the characters have with one-another. Then, there are the special “EXE Drive” abilities, managing SP for magic attacks, etc., etc. It can actually get a bit overwhelming at first.
Outside of combat, the game is equally deep, mostly in the form of customization. I don’t just mean customizing gear or abilities – I mean customizing the entire game. Hyperdimension Neptunia RE;Birth 1 has something called the “Remake System”, whereby you can use plans obtained throughout the journey that allow you to change the game at a fundamental level. Some plans unlock new items at the shop, others add new dungeons, still more change what items drop in that dungeon, how difficult the enemies are, special bonus abilities, and so on. There is a limit to active plans, so players must mess with the game wisely. It adds a lot of depth and re-playability, considering how extremely small and boring dungeons to explore.
Slave to the grind
The dungeons are tiny, dull, and don’t even offer much to look at. They also have little variety, as players will see the same themes repeated repeatedly, only with tweaked layouts. None of them take more than a few minutes to fully explore. This could be considered a good thing, seeing as players will be repeating them. Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is not an easy game, an a fair bit of time will be spent grinding. Players can very realistically get wiped out by just about any random enemy in the game.
Combat is very fast and fun, but that speed can work against it. Most battles are only a few seconds long, so when things go south, they go south in a hurry. Getting ambushed, so the enemy gets to attack first, can end your game right then and there. Especially if the enemy has a “virus”, which is a state that makes them substantially more powerful than normal. This means a lot of grinding for levels and gear to be able to proceed. Even then, you could find yourself traipsing through a dungeon one-shotting every enemy in the place, then encounter a boss who is 5 levels stronger and slaughters the party.
Another point of contention is the enemy design. For the most part it isn’t bad, but it’s never good either. It’s very bland, uninspired, and weird. Here’s one of the worst examples.
Yes, I am fighting a Super Mario Bros. warp tube and a screenshot. That is a freaking screenshot. Most of the enemy design is much better, but still boring.
There are couple of minor notes that don’t really detract from Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, but bear mentioning. The voice acting overall is quite good, but hearing the terrible combat lines is like nails on a chalk-board. “I’m gonna hitcha!” Ugh. Another issue is the text size. I don’t have the best eye-sight on the planet, and the menus were an absolute nightmare. There was no consideration taken to the size of the Vita’s screen when they were designing them, and if you suffer from poor vision, well, good luck. I actually had to play the game with my Vita under a magnifying lamp to avoid severe eye-strain. It’s all something to be aware of.
Much more than the sum of its parts
I know it sounds like I just ragged on Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, but none of these things are a big deal in relation to the game as a whole. The grinding is actually a lot of fun, and this is from someone who loathes grinding. The combat is so fast-paced and fun, and the Remake system allows you to tweak things enough that it never feels like a chore. The difficulty and learning curve may sound a bit steep, but really, once you get going and play around with all the systems for a bit, it all flows together quite smoothly. As you learn to properly exploit all the tools the game gives you, most of that difficulty melts away. The dungeons may look a bit bland in terms of design, but the graphics themselves are generally quite pretty. The characters and various artwork are very well drawn, which makes the inclusion of an art gallery a welcome touch. The voice-acting is generally well done, and the music is extremely unique and befitting of the game.
Most importantly, Hyperdimension Neptunia RE;Birth 1 is just fun. The crazy, nonsensical story is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny throughout, the super-fast, but strategic combat is a blast, and the whole game is just such a breath of fresh air from the RPG norm. Honestly, this is one of the best RPG’s on the Vita, right up there along-side Persona 4 Golden. In terms of sheer amusement factor, very little else exists that can match the charm, humor, and uniqueness that this game provides. Look past all the superficial, and Hyperdimension Neptunia RE;Birth 1 suddenly becomes a true gem of a game that sincerely deserves to be more than a niche title.