While the original Hyperdimension Neptunia did draw a lot of interest from those that knew of its existence and sold generally well despite being a niche title, it is hard to ignore the many glaring issues it had. At the same time, however, it was a game that was quite unusual in both its premise and execution, so it would only make sense that the sequel would make some changes. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 can be seen as more of a complete overhaul of the first game’s premise. Despite the fact that they may look similar to some, there is a vast difference in how Neptunia Mk2 is executed and it is much more noticeable. In fact I was actually disappointed with Neptunia Mk2 at first. It originally felt like the game ditched any attempt to try and make a meaningful artistic statement and instead gave us something that more resembled that of a typical action show for kids and had less of the humor that made the original great.
Once I got further into this game I realized that I was incorrect about my assumptions. While the plot was ultimately much more simplistic, that is actually for the better because it simply lends itself more to this type of game. As for the lack of humor, as I said in my review of the first game, what made its humor stand out more was the contrast to the serious tone. While it did make the game funnier it also made it harder to get attached to the game’s characters or world. For a game like Neptunia Mk2, it only makes sense for it to have a more light-hearted approach. Granted there are still some surprisingly grim moments in this game, mostly of the black comedy variety, but it is still a game with a story that is much more entertaining and is easier to follow.
Despite there being some elements of the first game that I would have liked to see expanded upon, taking the series in this direction is easily the best decision that Idea Factory has made for this series and possibly for the company in general. Despite the minimalistic approach this game has towards content, it is probably one of the more interesting RPGs to come out this generation and is one that I can easily recommend to anyone looking for a simple traditional JRPG.
The first major change that one will notice when transitioning from the first Neptunia to Mk2 is that, chronologically, Mk2 is not a sequel to the original. Instead it takes place in an alternate universe where similar events have happened but the main storyline is only loosely based on the original. There have also been some certain specific changes to reflect the game’s tone. Mainly this occurs in that there are characters and terminology that were never in the first game but are presented as if they always were part of the game’s universe. This means that you can go into Mk2 without any previous experience with the first game and still be able to fully understand everything.
Perhaps the biggest change is that the goddesses are no longer bitter enemies as they were in the first game. Instead they are friendly rivals and are all on the same side. The goddesses from the first game are actually MIA for the first half in the game because they are held prisoner by the villains; a cult that is dedicated to trying to revive Arfoire. The game establishes this right away when our new main character Nepgear, Neptune’s younger sister and a reference to the Sega Gamegear console, witnesses the goddesses captured and held prisoner in the Gamindustri Graveyard, which is clearly meant to represent a graveyard for all the abandoned and dead remnants of gaming that everyone has left to rot in the abyss. So basically it is where every Sega system aside from the Genesis would be if this game were accurate (Scha-Zing, Burn on Sega!). From then on the story continues following Nepgear and the remaining cast of the first game trying to form together a resistance party to rescue them.
Despite having a pretty strong introduction sequence, Neptunia Mk2’s plot unfortunately takes a nose dive afterwards but is thankfully still paced much better than the first game’s plot. The main problem with the first three chapters of the game is that they have this incredibly cliched Saturday morning cartoon vibe to them. While there is villain presence and a decent pace kept up, it is hard to take it seriously because the only villains you see for a big chunk of the game are the typical Team Rocket-esque incompetent underlings with no personality and the most obnoxiously predictable dialogue. The game itself even references how predictable and repetitive the plot starts out, which is certainly a bad sign when the game itself is admitting that its pacing is terrible.
Unlike the first game, the main plot actually does pick up at some point when you are introduced to the four felons, AKA the real villains. Technically there is not much personality to them and they all are somewhat stereotypical, with the exception of CFW Trick who is still rather two dimensional but the idea of his character alone is sickening to say the least, but the main difference is that actual progress feels like is being made with the plot and these guys are simply more interesting. Yeah there is not a lot of depth to the main storyline but it is entertaining, and that is all that is really necessary..
While I personally thought that the first game did have an advantage in terms of humor due to the sheer contrast with the tone, Neptunia Mk2 still does an excellent job with its own humor and in some ways it feels like it adds more to the game overall. At the same time however it does feel like there is less of it. Part of what makes the humor of Neptunia Mk2 so great is that it is easier to enjoy character driven humor when the characters themselves are better developed. Simply seeing the characters in action is enough to put a smile on your face even when there is not as much of it. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is the kind of game that you can tell the developers clearly had a lot of fun making and was made purely for the purpose of being a fun title in both gameplay and story.
This is accomplished simply because there is not a single main character in this game that is not likable in some way and it is incredibly easy to get attached to them; and it maye even make you feel as though you are right there with them. There is a certain quote from the director Mizuno Naoko that sums this up perfectly;
“On forums, fans have been posting about their fantasies involving their favorite characters’ intimate interactions and extended dialogues of their activities. You probably already know why there are no male main characters in this series. I say this because I know; I’m a woman myself. It’s so much fun to have private girl talks and have some girl time without boys around.”
It is this that shows that Neptunia is intended as much more than a perverted anime trope intended to appeal to male otakus. The game is ultimately based on the simple concept of forming a bond with your own fellow human beings. Yes there are some perverted moments in the game that do jut out, and they are obviously intended that way simply for the sake of humor, but let us be honest here; how many people would honestly spend $50.00 on something just because they like the character art when you can easily find something else to fulfill that purpose online for free?
While it is simply due to the feel good nature of the game’s plot and the fact that it is nigh impossible to dislike these characters, it still does not undermine the cleverly written and outright brilliant humor this series is known for. As with the first game, the humor has a huge base on timing and delivery and simply describing it does not do it justice. It is clever, witty, sharp, and I am convinced that the writers of this game could write something brilliant out of any scenario they are given. Yes there are a few instances where it is not funny, but the writing of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is best compared to a professional baseball player; every joke either strikes out or hits a home run.
Despite the graphical standards still not being quite up to par with what is expected from a PS3 game, it is still safe to say that Neptunia Mk2 has a much better presentational value to it. While there is still a lack of an overworld or exploration in towns, the game at least has something that could fill the place of them. Taking the place of towns and NPCs is something called “the chirper,” an obvious Twitter reference.” It is a still background that displays an image of each character you can talk to which is a serious step up from the first game that had nothing even close to NPCs to interact with. Despite this, the game still does have the tendency to represent a lot of non major characters with black silhouettes but thankfully there are a lot less in this game.
Dungeons in Neptunia Mk2 are also a huge improvement. There is now a wide variety of different types of settings and colors introduced which is a serious improvement from the first game’s brown and gray caves. Also the attack animations are a lot more fluid and take up a lot less time, but even if they did not you still have the option to skip animations which is always a welcome addition. The art style is also much more vibrant and the character art is just as well drawn as ever. One major difference though, is that, during cutscenes, characters are represented by their in game models as opposed to their artwork with the exception of a few optional scenes.
While the presentation is effective in its own right and is an improvement over Mk2, it should be know that there are still some issues with presentation. First of all dungeon layouts tend to be reused a lot, which is not too big of an issue in terms of gameplay seeing a show most dungeons are really short, but it does kind of take you out of the game a bit when you realize you have already been through this dungeon before. The game also has a bad habit of reusing a lot of enemy models as well, some being from previous games while others just being from this game used multiple times. Overall though, Neptunia Mk2 may not be good looking in a technical sense but it is well done in an artistic sense which is good enough for me.
Yet another improvement over the original game is Mk2’s soundtrack. Unlike the first game, every song has its own distinct feeling and fits its own situation well in addition to being memorable as well. Despite having a small number of tracks in the game, Neptunia Mk2’s soundtrack is still superb even with about only 30 or so total songs. What is especially impressive about the music in Neptunia Mk2 is just the sheer number of different battle themes it has. While the first game did have a lot of battle themes itself, most of them were rather bland and unmemorable with a few exceptions. In Mk2, every battle theme is spectacular and makes the boss battles feel much more intense. The songs in cutscenes all help contribute to the atmosphere and give off much more of an emotional vibe than in the first game, and the town, dungeon, and overworld map themes are all catchy as well. Particularly I loved the ending credits music, along with the ending credits themselves, and seeing that for the first time made me realize just how much I liked this game and it is what made me fall even more deeply in love with this series than I already was. The only real complaint I had with the music was that you heard the battle theme for the four felons a bit too much in comparison to the rest of the battle themes, and it meant you got less of a chance to hear the other ones.
The sound effects are really well done, are placed appropriately and add that extra flare to the battles. The voice acting is also very good as well and each cast member puts on a great performance; and the game also features the option for the Japanese voices as well. The game does still have the issue of some repeated voice clips, although this time it seems to come more from enemies who have a pre-set line that they will utter at random when attack. This is especially obnoxious with the battle against CFW Judge, who will loudly scream out “DAMN IT” upon being attacked and you will hear it up to three times consecutively when using multi-hit special attacks. Aside from that Neptunia Mk2 is very well executed in the sound department.
In terms of gameplay, Neptunia Mk2 is a much more streamlined game than the original. You no longer need to backtrack through dungeons to reach another landmass, you can now heal outside of battle and have direct control over it, and you can sell your weapons and items. Dungeons no longer have random encounters and you can see enemies on the overworld and shares are much easier to handle. Basically, Neptunia Mk2 trimmed most of fat from the original game’s combat system, but at the same time it also removed most of the bulk. The complex nature of the first game’s battle system was a huge part of what made it a fun game, and Neptunia Mk2’s battle system barely has a fraction of that complexity.
This can be seen as either a good or a bad thing by potential players. If you have not played many JRPGs then you should not have any problem hopping into Neptunia Mk2 because the game is much easier to pick up and play than its predecessor. At the same time however, the battle mechanics have a lot less to offer for more experienced players and can be seen as too simplistic. Probably one of the main reasons for this is that every normal enemy in the game can be beaten in one or two turns due to the games abusive SP system. Instead of SP, or MP in most cases, being like every other RPG where your max SP is increased with every level and you start the dungeon with max SP and need to conserve it; Neptunia Mk2 instead makes it so that SP is not a stat to begin with and you build up SP based on the amount of times you hit an enemy. In dungeon, you start out with no SP, but you gain it by using multi-hit regular attack on enemies. The problem with this system is that you can build up enough SP from one or two battles at the beginning of each dungeon that you have enough to spam multi –targeting attacks that are enough to kill nearly every normal enemy in one turn. This means that you will fight every normal enemy the same way and that enemies pose no threat.
Similarly to the first game, the bulk of the strategy in Neptunia Mk2’s battles will be present in boss battles. There are unfortunately not nearly as many boss battles in Mk2 as there were in the original, but they are at least more unique. The difficulty of these battles range from giant, weak, HP sponges to actually pretty tricky and requiring you to take advantage of any moves, items, or equipment at your disposal. Positioning is also a key element in battle seeing as how you need to stay close enough together that you have enough range to heal multiple characters yet you need to be far enough to minimize the amount of people caught in the boss’s area of effect.
Sidequests are a step down from the original. Instead of being like the original where each sidequest offered new dungeons, treasures, and boss battles, the sidequest in Mk2 are the same typical fetch and kill quests that you see in most JRPGs. Thankfully though they are at least placed well enough so that you will find most enemies you need to kill when you first encounter them as opposed to needing to backtrack.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 may have the disadvantage of being a more simplistic game than not only its predecessor, but this same sense of simplicity also gives it an advantage. There are very few console JRPGs that have a focus on simplicity and most try to go right for complexity. This means that Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 may just be the ideal game to look to if you want something that is not overwhelming. However it is mainly the story and characters that makes Neptunia Mk2 special. It never tries too hard to tell an epic story yet ends up accomplishing this to a greater degree than most JRPGs. This is simply because the characters are so well written and likable that you care what happens to them. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is a game that accomplishes an oddly specific goal. It proves that you can have a game with artistic depth and value… without being artistic or deep in the slightest. It is a journey that may be short lived but it is one that you will want to revisit several times. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 may not be awarded with a higher score than an 8, but this is a game that is very easy to get attached to, and once you get attached to it it will not let you go easily and you will be hooked.
There is a lot left out about this game that I never really went into on for various reasons. Given that I thought I was a straight man at the time and thus was notably insecure about my adoration for this series, I made and active attempt to appear as impartial as possible and to distance myself from the imaginary perverted otakus who only like this game because it has anime tiddies. In general, that attitude has permeated a lot of my older writing while more recently I have decided to embrace my more contrarian nature. I specifically tried to minimize the focus on moe and fanservice so I can prove that there are other merits.
CW: Pedophilia, Murder, Rape, Child Abuse, for the rest of the review.
Since I didn’t do it back then, I feel I should say that there WERE two moments in the game where the game went a little too far. The first I am referring to CFW Trick. In the review I did not mention what was sickening about him so I will tell you now. CFW Trick is a character who would get along very well with John Kricfalusi, and by that I mean he’s a pedophile. Even worse is that’s his ENTIRE personality.
I imagine that CFW Trick was supposed to lampoon lolicons… somehow considering that the first scene you see him in is one where he kidnaps Rom and Ram; the youngest playable characters in the game (well they are CPU candidates and thus could be a lot older but they look young). CFW’s plan is to brainwash the two of them into serving him. They never directly say that they’d make them sex slaves but it’s something that can certainly be implied. Even worse is that before the fight against him, he LICKS them to “heal their wounds.”
In the game’s defense, Trick is presented as a disgusting repulsive predator even by the other members of ASIC and the scene does occur realistically. It is also treated as serious character drama and the only way anyone can interpret this scene as promoting pedophilia is if it was taken out of context. Hell Blanc outright says she will rip Trick’s balls off before the fight (something I wholeheartedly support). Unfortunately the scene is rather poorly executed in that the game still tries too hard to use its humor to lighten the mood, which could come across as if it is downplaying the events occurring. Worse is that the Vita/PC version has a CG pic for it; something that is used for fanservice pics.
I have mostly refrained from talking about Re;Birth2 since it’s pretty much an entirely different game gameplay wise, but I do feel the need to mention it here. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 was originally given an AO rating by the ESRB before it was edited for its US release to lower the rating to an M. The first game and every subsequent entry in the series is T rated, including Re;Birth2. I have no clue how Re;Birth2 got off with a T rating when it only changed the dialogue slightly in the Trick scene to sound a bit less explicit yet kept the pic that was removed in the localization. It could be possible that it was because of dialogue changed in the conquest ending as well (more on that later), but the scene is still among the most disturbing scenes I have EVER seen in a non horror and non hentai video game.
The second of these is the game’s infamous conquest ending, which is obtained when NepGear kills all the other Goddesses to gain their power with a cursed sword to defeat revived Arfoire, only for her to reveal that the world is doomed anyway because a world with one ruler in absolute power will stagnate and decay. This ending is strongly similar to that of Undertale’s genocide route in that you have to fight each of your former allies in a boss fight where you murder them after you win.
In Undertale, the entire disturbance factor comes from the fact that you have no reason to do this and that the player just does so for their amusement despite the fact that it’s so traumatic. There is a strong theme of desensitization and awareness of one’s own morality and capacity to hurt others. The entire game become the equivalent to a creepypasta about itself precisely because you choose it to.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 on the other hand does not work because NepGear is her own character and there is no player avatar. The conquest ending also happens when the player sees three random events in the game that they may or may not notice, and once they say them the plot railroads them into this route where they can’t choose to not undergo it despite it all being very contrived and forced.
The only way this plot could work is if the player does not know that you can beat the final boss on their own both gameplay and storywise. The entire reason that NepGear starts killing the other CPUs is because Noire impales herself on the sword without warning, which would mean that Noire’s sacrifice would be in vein if she doesn’t. The problem is that the game never said that the sword only works if all but one goddess is killed with it, but rather that its power grows with each CPU it kills. Noire impaling herself on the sword would increase its power and thus make it more effective against Arfoire than it was at the start. There would be less of a chance of winning than if it was fully powered up but it would also mean that NepGear doesn’t have to MURDER ALL HER FRIENDS!!!
The worst part of this is how the game relentlessly hammers in depressing scene after scene of NepGear killing the other CPUs in frightening, cold, and realistic ways then having them tell their oracles who react with disgust and scorn despite the fact that NepGear HAD no other choice (at least by the plot’s logic) and is shown to be highly traumatized and grief stricken from doing so. The fact that this has NepGear murdering Rom and Ram, two characters that have the appearance and emotional maturity of 9 year olds, break down into tears about how they don’t want to die before she does, as well as NepGear’s own sister Neptune willingly sacrificing herself despite NepGear saying that the sword should be strong enough, makes one of the most depressing scenes in all of gaming.
I really like the conquest ending in concept given the kind of balls it takes to actually put this in the game and go through with it, as well as the fact that it does stir up some serious emotions. Unfortunately the whole thing feels way too tryhard and edgy with no purpose for existing other than pure shock value…….
… well now I know where Doki Doki Literature Club got the idea.
This review was originally posted as a GameFAQs user review on February 26th of 2014 and has been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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