Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: NIS America
ESRB: M for Mature
Release Date: Out now
NIS America seems to rarely shy away from localizing titles. When they brought over Hyperdimension Neptunia in 2011 it was a gutsy move. Sure, there's lots of anime fans in America but would they clamor around the title? Would general JRPG fans embrace it or shrug it off? As it turned out, the game was a moderate success but still not favorably looked upon. Still, NIS decided to bring the sequel overseas. Is it a good game though or is it just cutesy anime fluff? Somehow it manages to be a bit of both.
First, let's go over the story as it sets itself apart from standard RPGs. The year is 20XX and things aren't well in the world of Gamindustri. The Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime (ASIC) has practically taken over the land. Because of them, the younger generation is all but hooked on downloading games illegally. While the government could step in, they instead simply ignore the problem. Nobody is willing to face the nefarious ASIC, that is, except a young CPU Candidate named Nepgear and the CPUs she meets along the way.
The game is very much a jab at the state of affairs in the real game industry. Things certainly aren't as dire as they are in Gamindustri's world, but they could become so if things remain unchecked. Either way, in case you couldn't tell from the setup this is a title that focuses on levity. Because it is a game about games, there's a ton of gaming-related humor and take offs of well known properties/characters. For one, ASIC, or Arfoire, is a rather obvious jab at the R4 - a device quite often used for DS piracy. Then of course there are the CPU Candidates themselves, which are personifications of handheld systems.
Despite all the jokes and references to the game industry being in peril the story itself is pretty bubbly. With such adorable lead characters it'd be hard to expect much else. It all plays out a bit like a cartoon, where bumbling enemies try time and time again to be victorious only to fail. However, if you simply look at the game box for Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 it's easy to tell this isn't going to be Citizen Kane. Still, the story manages to be entertaining and doesn't overstay its welcome.
The story manages itself well enough but the game shines most when it comes to combat. When exploring dungeons you meander around and charge at enemies on the field. Once you've smacked into them a battle is engaged and you switch to that mode. Battles are turn-based however they take place within a free roaming environment. This means you can place your characters strategically to get the best jump on enemies. When it comes to attacking there is quite a variety of what you can do. There are three main attack types which each lower various gauges of opponents. For example, initiating a breaker hit will cause an enemy's Guard Points to go down which makes them weaker against other attacks. Then there are of course combos and specials that can be unleashed when your characters have enough points.
It's strange that there is a good deal of strategy involved at all. It isn't readily apparent for the first few hours, but as you continue on bosses will become strangely difficult if you've not got your mind completely wrapped around the battle system. While it is possible to simply bludgeon enemies to death with basic attacks, using combos and specials are integral to doing well. Unfortunately the game only gives very brief tutorials to explain what gauges like AP, SP, and GP mean, so it's best to soak that information up fast or you'll be at a disadvantage.
Characters are also able to be partnered in battle. The reason to do this is because specific pairings turn out to be useful and have special movesets between them. This part of the strategy is not clearly defined though, so you might be stuck testing out various pairs to see what works best. Again, it is possible to get through most battles by simply leveling up a lot and applying brute force tactics, but that's not nearly as rewarding. Being aware of the intricacies of the system helps make fights much more rewarding.
Fighting isn't the only thing to do in the world, although it is obviously a big part. Players may take quests from Guilds which are focused around killing specific enemies or simply gathering items. Items can also be gathered to synthesize into new weapons, armor, and more. One particularly goofball part of the game is Chirper. Although you aren't forced to access it, visiting Chirper provides a virtual Twitter environment basically where characters whine and boast about their lives. Sometimes characters will advertise the location of special weapons though so take a look every so often.
While the story isn't the most enthralling thing in the universe, the game world itself is cute. It's fun because as gamers we will all get many of the references. One of the first enemies you come across is a strange winged horse standing on two legs. The reference to chocobos is pretty clear but made ridiculous by how funny this creature looks. There are also many creatures based off famous arcade characters like Pac-Man or items from the Nintendo world. Beyond that, the CPUs themselves are all personifications of famous Japanese companies like Gust, 5pb, and even NIS.
With all this going for it does Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 falter in any way? Unfortunately it does and in a way which may turn a great deal of gamers off. While gameplay is fun the game itself does not appear to have very high production values. The dungeons designs repeat multiple times, don't look graphically impressive, and are pretty confined. Characters are nicely designed but anyone against anime styling will avoid it like the plague. Finally, the English voice acting cast is all okay but nobody really stands out. The English version even lacks some voiced segments whereas in the Japanese version there were vocal tracks. This is due to budget restraints rather than laziness but still might rub gamers the wrong way. If you're interested in playing the game fully voiced then the Japanese language is on disc to select instead.
Returning to the point that some may be turned off by the anime styling... It may be normal in Japan to produce games/worlds full of young-looking women in revealing clothing but that doesn't fly quite as free here. Anime fans have come to expect it but others may raise an eyebrow, and rightly so. At least the game offers the ability to customize outfits to your liking or even create your own from scratch for Nepgear.
Judging solely by its gameplay, the title deserves some respect. The story too is also quite amusing and more creative than your typical JRPG when it comes to the topic. Still, the game will probably look like a budget release to a lot of people. If the unusual plot or gameplay appeals to you though then go for it. Unlike shooters which often have a similar focus, this title is certainly something you're not likely to find anywhere else. How many games really make fun of their own industry? The experience is a fun one and succinct in comparison to other games of the genre. Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is the kind of game that splits opinions. Either you like it or you don't, but hopefully you'll like it.
+ Entertaining gaming references
+ Strategizing for battle proves very rewarding
+ Still not difficult to progress if you're slow to learn the game's intricacies
- Tutorials aren't nearly involved enough
- Easily apparent this isn't a triple A title
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
While Hyperdimenson Neptunia mk2 isn't everyone's cup of tea it is definitely worth a look for those hungry for a comedic JRPG.