Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: August 26, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Some things are not meant to be taken seriously. This goes for pretty much any medium. Sure you have films like Citizen Kane, but then you also have stuff like Disney“s The Three Amigos. Then there“s basically anything with Channing Tatum in it. My point is you don“t have to be making a statement about the social or economic climate of a chippendales strip club in order to sell tickets. Sometimes a wafer thin plot and well oiled chests are enough. Not that there are any oiled chests in Hyperdimension Neptunia Re:Birth1 (though there are some close calls), a remake of the PlayStation 3 title Hyperdimension Neptunia, but the previous metaphor still applies. This isn“t the grand narrative usually synonymous with RPGs, but that doesn“t mean there isn“t something enjoyable about this hilarious take on the video game industry.
So if you“re new here let me explain that last statement. The world within Neptunia is a literal representation of the world of video games. The world of Gameindustri houses four nations, each representing a heavy hitter in our own world. Leanbox (Xbox), Lastation (PlayStation), Lowee (Wii), and Planeptune (a take on a seventh generation Sega console, as if the company had survived the Dreamcast) are all locked in a struggle known to all as The Console Wars. Yep, it“s about as campy as you can imagine with references to not only each console“s individual quirks, but the world of Gameindustri seems to be populated with folk that represent a bunch of different developers.
For instance, Falcom is a character in the game that sports a mop of Adol-like red hair and is obsessed with adventuring. Anyone who is invested as much in the world behind video games as much as they are in the games themselves will be chuckling ridiculously at the sight of enemies such as "Tokimeki Sister", a monster that is literally a floating screencap of a visual novel game that is an homage to Tokimeki Memorial, a Konami dating sim that came out in 1994. The references are literally everywhere, especially in Neptune's fourth-wall breaking antics.
Though I absolutely adore the game's about-as-serious-as-a-hula-dancing-meerkat plot, that isn't the only thing I liked. Since the original's release, the game's combat and other in-game systems have been overhauled to resemble Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Basic combat takes place in a small three-dimensional space, allowing you to move your characters to meet the enemy head on, retreat to a safe distance, or anything in between. This is further enhanced by the variety of combat options such as the EXE Drive, SP attacks, Lily Partner combination attacks and shared skills, and Hard Drive Divinity, a powerful transportation move available to certain characters.
Even regular attacks are broken up into several categories that you can customize, swap, and use to exploit certain advantages in battle. It's anything but simple but by spacing out the introduction of some of these mechanics (some even up to the halfway point in the game!), it keeps from being too confusing while also ensuring combat remains fresh throughout the game. MAGES., a party member you recruit about halfway into the game, even has a completely different method of attack.
Outside of battle there is still plenty of additions to this game. The "Remake System" allows you to craft new experiences within the game. Anything from unlocking optional dungeons to new weapons can be created using it. The Remake system even allows you to tune the difficulty a bit, a nice addition considering there is otherwise no difficulty options. Other options include a variety of repeatable side quests that raise and lower the "shares" between Gameindustri's major players, burning "discs" that allow you to further customize characters, and even events with bit characters that will usually yield more plans for the Remake System or useful tips. Basically there is really too much to this game to talk about it all at length, which is exactly why I haven't even tried!
But all is not well in the land of Gameindustri. While there are plenty of things well worth praising, there are a few hang ups that keep the game from being even better. For one, level designs tend to repeat themselves often, especially when you partake in the optional dungeons as well. I'm not just talking about textures and objects that tend to populate multiple dungeons; I'm talking even the exact layouts and item/monster spawn placement of these dungeons are complete copy and pastes from other dungeons. It doesn't happen too often, but enough that it'll make you wonder if you clicked on the wrong dungeon from the overworld map, with only the difference in enemies to tip you off otherwise.
Another bummer, at least to yours truly, is the overall lack of voice over. I certainly don't expect any game to be fully voiced, but this one is odd with less than half of the game's main story featuring voice overs for the characters. You can literally move from a voiced scene to a non-voiced scene without any real transition by the player. Frankly, it's a little jarring. Now, this is really only disappointing because I think the voice cast is pretty spot on. Players will definitely recognize most of the voice actors for the English dub, and players who don't care for English dubs can switch to the Japanese language track at any time from the menu too. Also, I'm not going to speculate on your personal line of decency, but yes, there is some fan service in this game. Thankfully it isn't overwhelming and occurs half as often as you'd expect, but you were warned.
Personally, also had a hard time taking full advantage of the Lily system. This mechanic allows you to pair party members up, providing passive bonuses as well as exclusive attack options, provided their affection level is high enough. Sounds great right? Well, unfortunately I couldn't seem to figure out how to raise affection levels for my characters. Keeping certain members paired should do it from what I understand, but all through my time with the game the rank never seemed to go up. Not to mention there isn't any sort of visual indicator for when they might level up their affection. It's like tying these girls up at the ankle for a three-legged race, only they are blind and in the middle of some long-forgotten African mine field. You are very welcome for that visual, by the way.
So what have we got so far? Funny, never serious story? Yep. Deep and involved combat that rewards strategic use of its features? Got that too! Well, there are a few more things to add to the pile. The music is equal parts kitschy and catchy... but in the best ways possible. These aren't "Journey" level songs by any means (Austin Wintory; not the "Loving, Touching, Squeezing" guys), but I will say every song suits Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 perfectly. The art is quite adorable too. Even without ties to real life references, each character's design stands out just like their respective personalities. There are even a few all new characters to replace those removed in this version of the game.
All of Hyperdimension Neptunia's features made my time in Gameindustri an irreverent romp through a highly idealized world populated by wacky characters and campy dialogue. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. The flashy designs, immersive combat and pure hilarity made this game a joy to play. Even the lack of consistent voice-acting and other flaws couldn't ruin the experience for me. Heck, there's even enough changes to make Re;Birth1 seem like more of a reboot than a remake; something I think Acquire was aiming for from the start. So if you have a Vita and love you some RPG goodness, this comes as definitely recommended. I mean, most gamers are more than willing to wage the console wars on the eternal battlefield that is the internet, so why not do it where you can actually see results?!
+ Vibrant graphics look great on the Vita
+ Hilarious dialogue and premise
+ Combat stays fresh and interesting
+ Heaps of mechanics to play with
- Repetitive dungeons designs
- Not as many voiced scenes as I'd like
- Lily system isn't quite user friendly
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
It's far from typical, but Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is an energetic reboot that is sure to please with both its humor and overhauled mechanics.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.