Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 Review

Hyperdimension_Neptunia_Re_Birth1_startI don’t think I ever watched any proper gameplay footage of the original Hyperdimension Neptunia.  In preparation for writing this review, and curiosity, I gave it a glance, and it is amazing that the game was A, released, B, localized, and C, given not only two sequels, but spawned a franchise so large that, between June 2014 and Winter 2015 should be home to seven releases in North America, and two or more ports.  The original honestly looks like the worst, slowest, most boring JRPG to ever have an even remotely creative idea in its head.  It actually makes it hard to call Re;Birth 1 a remake, as it is largely unrecognizable as the same game in regards to anything beyond its base storyline and characters.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 Review
Platforms: PS Vita, PC(Reviewed)
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, and Felistella
Publisher: Idea Factory International

On that note, I always assumed that Hyperdimension Neptunia was something of a parody of the idea of a console war that somehow involved the personification of the Sega Neptune as its main protagonist.  While one could still claim that the premise still exists in the game itself, as the parallels are clear and the silly term “console war” is used openly, beyond what I could assume to be an original idea, the connections between the final product and such a premise are thin at best.  Instead, Neptunia Re;Birth 1 focuses more around a world maintained by four eternally warring goddesses, only for one of the goddesses, Neptune, to fall out from the heavens complete with a case of amnesia.  Only for her to stumble into the personifications of Compile Heart and Idea Factory, wherein she begins an adventure that naturally escalates to saving the world from a witch.2015-02-05_00092

If I am to be critical, which is kinda the point here, the actual story is presented pretty messily.  Yes, the objective was always clear, but the details about how certain things happen, how events are triggered, or answers to questions one could easily have about the world Neptunia creates are all absent from the title.  It ultimately does work, but this is the sort of story wherein new characters will appear from nowhere and suddenly become a mix of advertisement for other game companies and Neptune’s new pals before they are arbitrarily removed from the story for a couple hours.  Only to then come back near the end of the story, where they are made party members2015-02-14_00005

Though, if you look back at my first paragraph, or look at the Steam store page for the title, it is clear that the focus is more on the comedic side of the story, and I do need to give the game props in that regards.  The title is very silly, lighthearted, stupid, and ultimately cute game about anime girls saving the world while making gaming references, pudding praising, and hitting the fourth wall until the characters are directly talking to the player.  Most of which is enjoyable, endearing, and gives the game a distinct personality, but it is also hindered by something that I cannot help but view as a surprise given that it is a remake, and that is its localization.2015-02-21_00004

Now, I know that this is the first release by Idea Factory International, but the final script is very much an awkward one when it comes to the wording of sentences, with grammatical errors aplenty.  It’s almost as if the person who translated this title had the ability to converse in English, but lacked knowledge of the subtleties that the language possesses, or perhaps was not paid enough to give it a once over before it was sent over to the recording studio.  The voice acting very much does highlight this problem as the cast, who are talented voice actors for the most part, try their best with what is given to them, but hearing certain lines just made my head tilt in regards to why anybody thought they were ready to dub half the script.  Well, the actual in-game text went outside of the text box about twenty times by my count, so perhaps it was a rushed job in general, hence why the final product’s localization strikes me as so devoid of polish.  Its quite a shame as I truly did take a liking to the cast of characters, but I would gladly mark up the errors I found in the script if I thought there was even a slight chance that it would be retranslated.2015-02-08_00060

Moving along, Neptunia‘s turn based combat, it is fairly simple, fast, and does offer a nice bit of strategy while being more or less lifted in its entirety from the third game in the series.  Unfortunately, while I ultimately do enjoy it, I could not help but question almost every part of it.  You move around a circular area with each character and select an enemy, or enemies given your weapon’s range.  It sounds simple enough, but very early on I figured that you could manage to just barely squeeze in two enemy hitboxes if they are properly positioned.  Unfortunately, characters do not move delicately enough to easily encompass enemies, meaning this can take quite some time.2015-02-03_00041

Once you do finally get ready to attack enemies, you then have a customizable three, or potentially four part combo where you mix in guard breaking, heavy, and special bar building moves to take down the enemy.  The problem is that you are given so many of these moves over time, and it is not always easy to figure out which one is superior, as the game does not give you especially clear information.  It gives you numbers, but I could not reliably determine the net damage of multi-hit or single-hit moves well enough to be confident about them, so I went with my most recently unlocked move in most cases.2015-02-14_00040

However, I did learn, based on the general damage output and damage received, that the cast of characters in the game is not really all that balanced.  With the goddesses often being the most powerful, while every character based on a game company is either lacking in damage output, or their ability to take hits.  Oh, and things did not get more balanced when the Goddesses obtained the skill that would effectively let them attack twice as often during every turn.  I have to wonder why exactly the decision was made to not bring every character up to the same level, especially when you consider how poor Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s personifications are among the worst.  The general designs are appealing, as are the personalities on display, but I always ended up needing to babysit them when going into a harder fight and throwing healing items their way before switching them out for a better character.2015-02-12_00078

Now, looking over that last sentence, I’m sure that some could not help but ask why exactly did I not use spells to heal?  Well, they consume a turn in the normal battles that I tried to get through as quickly as possible, cannot be used outside of battle, and often did not seem to be worth the SP they required.  Even the offensive stuff did not seem that better than the regular moves, and were far less impressive than the limit break-esc moves you build up over the course of a several battles, and is important to the point where one third of the basic attacks are dedicated to building it up.  It really is the only way to get through most boss fights, as they often regain stupid amounts of HP each turn, and can represent some pretty major difficulty spikes.  Especially when you have back to back boss battles.2015-02-10_00052

I would not say that Neptunia is particularly hard, but the numbers can often seem to have been placed against you, and one random encounter that just so happens to involve a mechanic I honestly forgot about until it reared its ugly head can easily result in a dead party, and a kick back to the last save.  You are given a series of plans for items, extra dungeons, equipment, and so forth to make the title easier for you, but there is one pretty major problem I have with it, and that is how you are limited to 3328 points to create these plans, and there are just over 9000 points worth.  Also, there are three, technically four, bonus party members you can unlock using these points, and they cost a total of 3072.  You can get more of these points, but only through another playthrough in the form of a New Game+ feature that I honestly prefered far less than a more developed endgame, as there is little gained from going through the first few dungeons when you are overleveled by 70 levels.2015-02-19_00010

I would have also appreciated a few more assets, as Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is completely and pretty shameless when it comes to recycling enemy models and its fairly tiny dungeons in their entirety.  Not even just for side dungeons, which I could understand, as there were several times wherein you go through the same dungeon layout two times in a row with no differences aside from the enemies and maybe some item locations.  I cannot help but view it as lazy when flipping the dungeon map by 90 degrees and throwing in a couple more recolors would essentially fix this problem by a pretty significant amount.  Although, looking on the bright side, at least the areas look good as a whole, and the often weirdly designed enemies do add to the game’s silly nature.2015-02-10_00014

Also, it looks about 20 times better than the original in regards to animation, models, and overall aesthetics, even the character portraits in the game’s visual novel-esc story scenes follow this trend, despite being reduced to a single pose.  It is a little distressing, especially when one considers that they do keep the pose for what I believe to be at least six games at this point, and beyond cosmetic shifts, the pose remains the same.  It simply makes the game look cheap, not unlike how the lip syncing, which is very clearly not manually done, does not match the English voice acting, at all, mouth sprites often fumbled on for a few seconds after the voice clip ends.  These are both minor nitpicks, but given how much dialog is in the game, these things become incredibly apparent.  Heck, fixing both of these problems should have not cost more than… I have no idea, maybe $100,00 if you want at least three poses for every character.

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Yes, I have no true understanding of monetary value in regards to game development, although when porting a game to PC, that seems to be rather irrelevant.  Neptunia Re;Birth 1 was actually something of a mess during its launch week when I first played it, as it really did like crashing after battles, and at one point I had to alt-tab out of the game in order to prevent the game from crashing after a boss battle.  These issues were thankfully fixed, aside from the resolution options, which is still capped by 900p, and there are no PC specific settings.  This means that the title does very much still look like a Vita game, which is okay, but when I spied the blurry shadow texture of a character clip through some low resolution environmental textures, I could not help but wonder if a bit more effort could have been placed in the port, especially when you consider how this title’s two sequels will likely hit Steam before too long.2015-02-07_00106

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is a game that I ultimately felt could use a remake, despite being one.  Yes, it is a phenomenal improvement over the original, but it still feels very disjointed and as if it could have used a few more months in development to improve upon a number of gripes I had with the game.  That said, I ultimately found the characters to be very endearing, the gameplay to be fast and enjoyable, and the fact I was doing a second playthrough while writing this review certainly shows that the game is doing something right.

Alright (6.5/10)
A title whose quality does get a bit muffled by a couple of prominent blemishes, but does end up being an enjoyable experience in spite of them.  It’s certainly not bad, a recommendation from me would come with an asterisk.2015-02-17_00011

I should dive into its sequel shortly after the PC release, assuming it also has a very generous discount at launch.

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