Megadimension Neptunia VII Review

20160723113855_1My thoughts on the Neptunia games should be well documented by now.  From Re;Birth 1, 2, and 3 to U and Hyperdevotion, every game in this series has loads of potential, and could easily be a zany and lighthearted adventure overloaded with adoration for the medium of video games.  Unfortunately, the lack of polish present in these games, and the lack of quality of their content has prevented any game in this series from being greater than being okay.  For over a year, I’ve looked at Neptunia VII as the point where the series would ideally start getting good, where it would ascend to new plains and become a genuinely great series of fun lighthearted RPGs… it almost does.

Megadimension Neptunia VII Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4
Developer: Idea Factory and Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International

For those unaware, the Neptunia franchise is set in the world of Gamindustri, and revolves around the adventures of the CPUs, a pair of four goddesses who represent Nintendo (Blanc), Microsoft (Vert), and Sony (Noire) consoles, with a representation of the unreleased Sega Neptune thrown in for… reasons.  However, despite featuring a variety of characters based off of game companies, and nods to other franchises and series, the link is tangential, and could be removed quite easily.  It’s closer to being its own thing than a loving tribute to all things video games, but with more waifus.  20160709193530_1

Anyhow, the story of Megadimension Neptunia VII is split between three scenarios. Zerodimension Neptunia Z: Twilight of the Desperate CPU, Hyperdimension Neptunia G: The Golden Leaders, Reconstructors of Gamindustri, and Heartdimension Neptunia H – Trilogy Finale: Into Legend.  

Z is a fairly brief adventure that follows the exploits of Neptune, her younger sister Nepgear (as in GameGear), the newcomer and Dreamcast analog Uzume, and another Neptune as they go through a fairly standard ‘save the world’ sort of affair in an alternate post-apocalyptic dimension.  A novel premise that condenses the standard plot and structure of the series within an 8-10 our experience that doubles as an introduction to a larger story.20160705195600_1

G is a five part adventure where every CPU is given her own story as they must fight against a rising series of all-stars, the four pillars of third party Japanese developers with Capcom, Square Enix, Bandai Namco, and, um, Konami… the game originally came out in February 2015.  An adventure that recounts the same basic plot four times, but allows for every CPU to shine in her own story, and offer a more focused introduction to each character.

While H is the culmination of everything and resounding conclusion the story, where the proceedings parts are connected, stakes are raised, and the story proceed… in what’s actually an alarmingly unsurprising manner.  Every note of the conclusion is familiar, and feels greatly unsatisfying to see how exactly the developers chose to combine all of these elements together.  The story is unable to make proper use of its large cast, the antagonist is tropey and generally disinteresting.  Heck, even the humor that goes with this series is more understated, and by extension, boring.  It’a also worth noting how none of the mainstays characters have much to do with the culmination of the story, and everything is fixated on the newcomer Uzume, instead of the self declared “protagonist of protagonists” or even the new third party company characters.20160708222758_1

Gripes aside, Megadimension Neptunia VII is still very capable of delivering a series of funny and lighthearted scenes that serve as a joyful romp, amplified by a cast of talent voice actors and writing that, while not brilliant, was able to induce genuine laughter from me regularly.  Unfortunately, budgetary constraints results in roughly 50% of all dialog scenes being devoid of English voice acting, which I understand for budgetary reasons, and was fully understandable in the handheld remakes.  

However, the two spin-offs that preceded this title, Neptunia U and Hyperdevotion Noire both featured full English voice acting, which makes the lack of a full English dub a little disappointing.  As I really do love the voice acting in these games, just not when the voice acting is tied to doing things in the menu.  That’s a very Japanese sensibility, and it makes me feel a little creepy.20160714205912_1

Moving on, the core gameplay is that of a turn based JRPG, with its first key feature being the ability to maneuver around a small area, allowing characters to position their own attacks to hit multiple enemies simultaneously, while distancing themselves in order to prevent enemies from doing the same.  The second is the customizable combo system, which allows character to string together three move types in order to deal as much damage and hits as possible in each turn, although this time it’s dramatically different.  

A character’s combo options, what type of attacks they can deal and how many are dictated by their weapons, while their combo moves all possess traits that determine whether or not a move does more damage if certain conditions are met.  A power attack can be more powerful if it is the first one you’ve used, while a standard attack can do more if preceded by move that builds your special EXE meter, stuff like that.  I like it in theory, but some characters have lackluster combo pools, and the reliance on weapons based on their combo options does mean that you may stick with them for tens of hours, as a more powerful sword that let’s you deal three attacks is not anywhere as good as one that let’s you deal five.  20160718223950_1

This all might sound complicated, but every encounter in Neptunia VII is actually quite speedy, with the ability to skip animations being appreciated as always, the the motions becoming so routine that I went through most encounters without really registering them.  Heck, most of my encounters were completed in ten to twenty seconds.  Based on that, it’s easy to assume that this game is easy, and it is at certain points, while it is needlessly difficult in others.  With some bosses who bring with them an unexpected difficulty spike and encounters where the difficulty ranging from a walk in the park to a difficult ordeal at a moment’s notice both being fairly common in the early game.

What else is common in the early game, if by early game I mean the first 30 hours, are parties made up of less than four characters.  While this works for Neptunia Z as the inaugural chapter, yet it gets positively annoying in Neptunia G, where you need to follow four different parties of two or three characters as they start their stories underleveled for the challenges ahead, and need to gradually obtain their other party members.  To exacerbate the problem, the Neptunia games are designed around an eight character party, with four members who switch back and forth with their partner.20160710143113_1

It’s also worth noting that the ability to have every party member share in the EXP gained from every battle, even those they do not participate in, has been upheaved for reasons I cannot understand.  I do understand the desire to have the player use every character in battle, but the revised Lily Rank system already incentivises the player to have a character serve with three others.  Have two characters fight together so they can transfer passive abilities and defensive or offensive stat buffs to their buddy.

There are also a few new features in the form of Scouts, who both scavenge the various dungeons for materials and offer a variety of buffs and debuffs regarding your item drop rate, the EXP or credits you earn, and what enemies you find in a given dungeon.  In theory, I really like the idea behind them, but the process of transferring Scouts from one dungeon to another is needlessly cumbersome, and time consuming as each it takes scouts a set amount of time to explore a given area.  Then there are scouts that do nothing but hinder your findings, and amount of things you obtain.  They’re really dumb and I hate them.20160716104233_1

There’s also Route Building, which is just a moronic mechanic to include.  Instead of being able to hover a world map and select your location, you now need to direct your party from one location to another along a linear and sprawling pathway that is filled with easy random encounters that interrupt your travels and require you to select your destination once more.  That’s right, a world map you can’t even move on, and need to instead select your destination to watch the character run there…

The Remake system from the Re;Birth games returns as the Development system, but without the use of MB to limit what a player can create in a given playthrough.  Instead, you need to gather new materials to create items to add into shops and earn yourself new weapons, outfits, and accessories.  Which can be tiresome due to the quantity of materials in the game surpassing 200, the finicky drop rates that most enemies possess, and the task of needing to steal items from enemies with two designated character, but at least everything here is totally optional and no additional content is hidden away.  20160716092743_1

On that note, I have historically been very harsh towards the Neptunia games for their shameless asset recycling practices, with unaltered enemy models and unaltered dungeon maps both being incredibly common in the Re;Birth games.  In VII… they still recycle enemies wholesale with no alterations, but at least they never copy a dungeon in its entirety.  Yes, they are largely the same dungeons from the Vita games, but at least this is a discernable improvement.  Same with the new event scene assets for all characters, which is beyond refreshing after seeing the same poses for five consecutive titles.

Asset recycling aside, Neptunia VII looks pretty good.  Its graphical fidelity is at a point where everything manages to look smooth and slick, the silly character designs are justly brought to life, and its anime art style means it should continue looking good for years to come.  All of which I can say about the Vita games, as aside from everything looking crisper, the game doesn’t look substantially better.20160719145312_1

It’s also worth noting that I encountered a series of graphical defects when playing this game, which I could not find any other record of.  The 2D assets and UI elements of the game would periodically flicker on the screen once every few frames.  The game also began displaying other 2D assets, namely status icons in the corner during these times, which happened during some fights and not others, and some dungeons and not others.  

I have no idea what exactly caused this, as I could find no record of this elsewhere, and updating my video card drivers failed to change anything.  The game would still periodically freak out and become the most seizure inducing thing I’ve ever seen in a video game.  Especially in the obnoxious Neplunker bonus dungeons, where the screen flicked to black after every few frames.  
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While I’m not necessarily pleased with where the story went and the level of humor in some sections, or some of the stupider mechanics that were thrown in for seemingly no reason, Neptunia VII is the best game in the series thus far.  Simply because it is so much more polished and knowingly constructed than the games that came before it, and has the most valuable content of all of them with regards to gameplay.  It is a good starting point for the series to continue growing from, just not quite at a level when I can call the game anything more than good, and just good at that.

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