Note: This was the first review I ever wrote and was put up on GameFAQs on March 21st 2013. It has been edited and enhanced in presentation.
TW: Mentions of sexual assault.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory does not have nearly as high of a budget as most of the best JRPGs of this generation, nor does it have the best design. It does not have the best presentation or universal appeal of such games. Yet despite this, I found myself enjoying this game just as much as said games, and in some ways even more.
I did play and enjoy the first two games in the series. The first game, Hyperdimension Neptunia, was a game that had some really unique ideas going for it, and established what the series would become known for. Unfortunately it was executed in a way that has only a very specific appeal, and suffered from a story that was poorly paced and saved only by its hilarious script. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 was a lot more accessible than the first game. It had the distinction of being one of the few console JRPGs to focus on simple mechanics, as opposed to nearly every other console JRPG that tried to be as complex as possible. That same simplicity was also its disadvantage as it made the game a bit too easy, and pretty much every non boss battle in the game could be beaten in seconds. Also the plot, while much better told than the first, suffered from pacing issues of its own.
Neither of the first two games were perfect by any means, but they were good enough to be worth a look. Victory, on the other hand, is on a whole different level. Not only does Neptunia Victory improve on just about every aspect of Mk2, but it also clearly had the ambition to be something a lot bigger. By the time I finished this game I had put nearly eighty hours into it, and I do not think I have even come close to seeing everything this game has to offer. So yeah, the game has a lot of complexity to it, which might sound hypocritical of me to say when I just praised Mk2 for its simplicity, but I will get to that later.
If you know about this series then you likely know of its premise. To keep it short, the series is supposed to be a parody of the console wars with four goddesses each representing a major console developer, those being Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Sega. One thing that I should make clear is that the series stopped trying to be a legitimate satire of the game industry after the first game. Really a better way to describe it is a JRPG with a gaming theme. That does not mean it isn’t comedic though. Plenty of the game’s humor comes from poking fun at common RPG tropes and video game tropes in general. You might be thinking “well so what plenty of games have parodied RPG tropes.” The difference is in the presentation here. These jokes are well timed and are executed in the funniest ways possible. That is not to say Neptunia Victory relies only on game based humor. In fact, a lot of its funniest moments are based simply on the situation they are in. The only real complaint I have regarding its humor is that it feels like Victory sometimes tries too hard to parallel the real world and lacks subtlety with these comparisons, but Victory is very cleverly written and witty a large majority of the time.
Let’s not forget though the game does have a plot, and unlike the previous games that had poor pacing issues, this one is interesting right from the start. While I will not go into what the story is, I will say that pacing is much better than the first two games. Within the first two hours the main conflict is introduced and the villains show up. Unlike Mk2 which resembled a Saturday morning Cartoon for the entire first half of the game, there is an actual threat and sense of urgency. While the game does not have the lightning fast pacing of games like Final Fantasy IV and Xenoblade Chronicles, Neptunia Victory still does not have any portion that feels too entirely out of place, with the exception of scenes that are only there to be funny of course. The game uses a chapter system where everything starts out fine, until an issue starts up, and you are introduced to another one of the games sub villains, whom are another noteworthy aspect of the game. The villains themselves get a lot of screen time, which is always a good thing considering they are the main source of conflict. What is even better is that the villains are all really well developed characters. While there are some aspects that do seem a bit Saturday Morning cartoonish to them, you do see them develop over the course of the game and it is nice to see that there is more to them than being evil only for the sake of being evil. The main characters from previous games, unfortunately, don’t have as much development, but such a thing is to be expected when those characters have already had two games to develop.
On the other hand the game’s new characters are definitely interesting. Of particular note is the character of Iris Heart. Iris Heart is the Goddess form of Plutia, a friendly yet ditzy girl who tends to have her head in the clouds too much. However when Plutia transforms she, unlike the other goddesses, turns into a sadistic dominatrix type person who literally almost scared me away from playing the rest of the game in her first appearance. Yet, due to the games clever writing, they actually managed to make her likeable. Her lines in game at points are really messed up and shocking to hear, yet at the same time they are delivered in such a way that you will end up laughing anyway. The fact that they manage to accomplish this with a character that is actually more evil than most of the villains is nothing short of impressive.
In a gameplay standpoint, Neptunia Victory also excels. The battle system is similar to Mk2’s except with some much needed improvements. First of all Victory did away with the abusive way you gained SP in Mk2. The problem in Mk2 was that it was so easy to get SP that you could spam SP skills and just about every enemy in the game ends up as cannon fodder. Thankfully, this game now has a more typical form of SP, the same way that most JRPGs use SP or whatever the equivalent is (usually MP), so that you can no longer be as liberal with your SP. However, the unique way of gaining SP from the previous game makes its return in the form of the EXE bar, which is basically a Limit break style attack with the exception that all characters share one bar, and characters can combine their attacks, ala Chrono Trigger, to use an attack that is stronger than a normal EXE attack.
Another important element of battles in the game is the guard break. In addition to an HP gauge, all enemies also have a GP gauge. Once this gauge is depleted, a guard break is inflicted and the enemy’s defense is lowered, meaning you can unload your attacks. This is an important element to most boss battles due to the fact that they usually regenerate a large amount of HP each turn, which keeps you from simply brute forcing them to death. In addition to that, they also restore GP each turn so you have to keep your eye on both the HP and GP bar in order in take them down as well as keeping yourself alive. To add to that even further, you also need to concentrate on buffs, debuffs, turn order, as well as your place on the battlefield due to the range that not only attacks but healing spells and debuffs have as well.
So there is certainly a lot of depth to the games battle mechanics, but what makes them as great as they are is the fact that they are based on your battle setup and strategies, and not some overly convoluted form of character growth that some RPGs seem to be obsessed with. Every character you can play as in the game has unique abilities and different reasons to use them. The only problem with this is that you will likely stick with one party throughout the game because you will get too used to their strategies, and the switch function is really inconvenient to use. The main problem is that you can only replace the character you switched out with the one assigned in that specific character’s back row, and they don’t even get their turn immediately afterwards. This basically means that switching a character out is wasting a turn. A more appropriate way to do this would have been to use Final Fantasy X’s system where you can choose any character to switch in and get their turn right away. There is one advantage to the characters you won’t be using in battle though. Based on the character in the back row, the front row character will receive certain bonuses, but it would have been better if they could have been accessed through means other than the enormously inconvenient Lily system, which requires you to fight a large amount of battles in order to increase their lily rank.
Dungeons in this game are rather short compared to most RPGs. The enemies are easy to avoid and you can just walk right past them if you are just trying to collect items or just are not in the mood to fight random encounters. Navigating the dungeons is pretty straight forward with the exception of a few teleporter puzzles here and there. You can also get a preemptive strike by attacking them from behind which is easy to do. The game gives you the option to instantly kill weak enemies with these attacks, but they are automatically turned off because you get no experience for doing so which kind of defeats the point of this including this system. I seriously wonder why more RPGs don’t use Earthbound’s system of instantly killing weak enemies and getting the experience, money, and items they drop.
Despite the small size of the dungeons, there is also a lot of depth to them as well. By making use of the game’s scout system, you can alter each dungeon in a variety of ways. If you do not feel like doing the side quests and need to grind or farm money, you can simply send scouts to explore until you get an effect that increases the amount of experience or money earned from battle. Trying to get a specific item drop from an enemy, than just get them to increase the item drop rate. Sending scouts is also a lot easier than it sounds. Using the system takes up very little time and is very effective in making things easier. There are other effects that depend on the position of the flag in each dungeon, those two being the harvest points, and the dangerous foes. With the harvest points, the scouts will change the harvest points to contain either rare items, or chips which are used to develop CDs. This leads into the other use of the flags. If you get the scouts to change the position of the flag, you can spawn either a risky foe that drops the aforementioned chips, or tough foes that will drop medals which can be exchanged for CDs, the chips are burned on to discs to create equipment with special effects. The drops aside, combining the risky and tough foes, with the dangerous foes already found in each dungeon normally, means that every dungeon in the game has at least 3 bosses to fight. Notice how I said at least, as there are some that might have more than one spawn. Did I mention that there are nearly forty dungeons in the game?
There is one major flaw with the scouting system however. This flaw is not one that causes any major annoyance or hindrance to the player. In fact, I say it is one of the best features of the game. The problem is that you would not have known about these effects had I not told you. If there are two things that Idea Factory games are infamous for, they are the copious amounts of otaku fan service that infests their games, (there I said it, happy now?) and being incredibly cryptic and not explaining important details. The way that the flags work is never explained in game, and the scouting system is not explained nearly enough to understand it. In addition to that, the locations where certain bosses spawn are never mentioned in game, which will leave you on a wild goose chase trying to complete a quest that requires you to kill them. It is even worse if the quest requires an item that one of these monsters drops.
However, the worst offenses this game has when it comes to its cryptic nonsense are the games multiple endings. In this game, there is a normal, good, and true ending, or at least that is what the game calls them. In reality, the normal ending is probably better than the good ending considering it offers closure on at least one plot point but still leaves you hanging on a lot. The “good” ending however, well let’s just say it is up there with Final Fantasy X’s laughing scene and Persona 3’s hot spring scene as one of the most annoying moments I have seen in a video game. The worst part is that if you get one of these endings, you cannot continue on with the game to get the true ending unless you have a save file back before you missed the events that trigger which ending you get. So the most important thing I can say is that if you play this game, USE A GUIDE, and make sure that you don’t get stuck with one of those two endings.
The game’s biggest weakness is its presentation, but before I explain this, I will talk about what it did well in terms of presentation. The music first of all was done by Nobuo Uematsu and his band The Earthbound Papas. Yes you read correct, that Uematsu, the same person who composed the scores for the Final Fantasy series and is often praised as one of the best video game composers of all time. Needless to say he did an outstanding job on Neptunia Victory’s score and I cannot think of a single song that I did not like. Also in the category of sound, the voice acting is top notch as well. The voice actors did a very good job at conveying the characters emotions and I cannot think of a bad thing to say about them either.
The graphics, while certainly not amazing in the technical sense, do manage to get the job done in the artistic sense. The character portraits are drawn really well and actually move while on screen. The way it is handled here looks significantly less awkward than they did in the first game, and is a better decision than using the character models like in Mk2. However, here is where the issue with Neptunia Victory comes. There is always going to be something in the game that reminds you of how low its budget is. Just about every dungeon in the game is recycled and passed off as a new dungeon just with different enemies. Also a ton of enemy models are reused from previous Idea Factory games like Mk2 or Mugen Souls, although you would not know that unless you were one of the twelve people that played those games.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a game that, while held back by its small budget, accomplishes an impressive amount. In terms of story this game constantly kept me interested, and managed to successfully balance its humor with a somewhat serious plot, and I got connected to the characters all over again like with Mk2. On the gameplay side of things, this game gives a lot of content in terms of quests, coliseum battles, risky and tough foes, optional dungeons, and a crafting system for those who love games with a lot of content, and yet has a main plot that is still very easy to follow even if you ignore these things. If you can look past the obvious low budget aspects of this game than this game comes highly recommended. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is easily one of the best JRPGs to be released this generation.
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