To say that I am a fan of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series would be an understatement. My very first review was of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, and in that review, I stated that it was one of the greatest JRPGs released this generation despite it possessing only a fraction of the budget of most of its competition. Since then the only regret I have is that I have not praised it enough. Otherwise I still stand by every word of that review and I probably will until my dying breath. So to alleviate anyone’s concerns, I am not one in the same boat as the various critics who slammed the previous games based solely on the fact that they were low budget, had scantily clad female characters, and were JRPGs that did not have Final Fantasy in the title. In fact, it should come as no surprise that I despise most of the “professional” reviewers so much that one of my key reasons to start writing reviews was to put my money where my mouth is and review things the way I think they should be done.
So naturally, the Neptunia series is probably one of my favorite series in gaming, and it is because of this that it pains me to say how much I did not care for Hyperdimension Neptunia Producing Perfection. Everything about Producing Perfection, or PP as I will abbreviate it as from now on, just screams that this was intended as nothing more than a lackluster spinoff and that there was no major intentions with this title. It is almost as if Compile Heart may have put most of their time towards some of their other titles and considered PP as an afterthought. One may say that it should be expected for a spinoff to not be as strong an entry as the main games, but if that is the case then why bother making one? It is not that I never liked the idea of an idol game featuring the Neptunia cast; it is simply that Compile Heart did not have any other ideas other than to create an idol game. When I played Neptunia PP, I continuously thought of how much better the game could have been if it added whatever I was thinking of at the time. The further I played, the more that list grew and the more I realized just how bland the game I was currently playing was. Naturally it is quite ironic that Idea Factory of all companies, just so happened to not have any good ideas for this game.
There is barely any type of conflict to drive the story forward and it feels like almost nothing happens while playing this game. Technically the story you are given is still decent on its own but you are really not given much. For those who are not aware of the Neptunia series main premise, the world of the game is basically an allegorical representation of the video game industry. The four main protagonists are called CPUs, which stands for Console Patron Units, and they are each a goddess that is in charge of their own nation, each of which represents one of the four major companies in the console war. These CPUs are Neptune, the goddess of Planetune which represents Sega, Noire, the goddess of Lastation which represents Sony, Vert, the goddess of Leanbox which represents Microsoft, and Blanc, the Goddess of Lowee which represents Nintendo. Certain aspects that may not initially make sense, such as why Sega has a representative despite them not being a part of the console war in years, are addressed in previous games and can be excused by this being a spinoff that is not pertaining to the main story. It is not necessary to have played the previous games to understand the plot of PP however.
PP’s plot is naturally a lot less serious than the plot of the previous games due to it being a non canon spinoff in which the CPU’s need to become pop idols and are involved in a romantic subplot with a player self insert Mary sue character from another dimension. More specifically, the CPUs have had their attention taken away from them by a pop idol group called MOB48, and because their power is based on the people’s faith, that means they will end up losing their power. To combat this, they attempt to summon a producer from another dimension, but they end up summoning the player character by mistake. I am not going to bother comparing the story of this game to the previous games seeing as how it was never this game’s intention to be as serious as those ones, but I will just say that it is significantly weaker. It does retain some of the positive elements of the previous games. First of all, the humor is still present despite not being quite as funny as previous games. The humor is generally present through clever references to other games or through humorous situations. However, there are certain aspects that are rather annoying.
First of all, there are way too many jokes where the only punch line is that the player character is mistaken for a pervert, or actually is a pervert. This is a rather annoying and overused trope that was never funny to begin with yet Japanese media insist on shoehorning it into every work of fiction they create. The main problem with this trope is that humor is largely based on a subversion of expectations, yet these scenarios always happen exactly how you expect them to. These scenes all follow the formula of “something happens that ends up causing the player character to either see or touch the naughty bits of one of the CPUs, the CPU gets mad at him and scolds him and/or beats him up. I basically just summed up half of the jokes in PP right there.
This leads to another aspect of PP that needs to be addressed; fanservice. Naturally it would not be a Neptunia game without fanservice so it is obviously expected that there would be some, but the way it is handled in this game is incredibly dull. In the previous games, the excuses for which the game tried to use to put the girls in a compromising position were at least relevant to the plot and were funny when the context was taken into consideration. In this game, the fanservice only occurs when one of the previously mentioned perverted jokes occurs. Types of sexual fanservice can naturally serve as a form of humor in their own right due to it popping up at random times or it being a result of inconvenient circumstances, these being techniques that were heavily utilized in the previous games, but the fanservice moments in PP tend to occur in some of the most annoying and unpleasant scenes in the game which causes them to not aid the game in any way. One of the gripes I have with the game treating perversion is that it paints the action of accidentally stumbling into a sexually awkward situation as negative, yet this event occurs in a series that is driven by sexual fanservice. As a result, PP tends to send some really mixed messages about this particular subject.
At the same time, it is also hard to tell if these scenes actually occur by accident or if they are intentional because the player character is a pervert. The game never outright confirms anything but the main problem is that either explanation ends up derailing the player character further. If he did it by accident, then he would have to be very stupid to make some of the obvious mistakes he made and it would be very difficult to suspend one’s disbelief enough to see it being possible. If he did it on purpose, then why does the game treat it as if it was an accident? Not only is it hard to believe he does these things on purpose but there also is in game dialogue that hints at this being the case.
One other aspect that weakens the characterization in comparison to previous entries is the fact that the interaction among them is severely cut down. A large part of what made the characters likable and enjoyable in the previous games was how they managed to play off each other and kept each other in check. In PP however, all four of the CPUs are separate throughout most of the game and the only interaction is with the player character. While the characters are still decently well written in their own right and manage to differentiate their own storylines between each other, there are still a lot of problems with having them paired up this way.
Neptune’s storyline is probably the best one because her character is likable and is the most fun of the four. Her own storyline also just happens to make a bit more sense than the other ones. It is natural that Neptune would be the one in need of the most assistance because she is admittedly very lazy and not the brightest bulb in the box while the other three are generally much more competent. Also considering that an important element of the story is the interaction between the player character and the CPUs, and considering that Neptune is the friendliest and most social of the four, this type of approach works a lot better for her.
Also what is of note is that it is easy to tell that Neptune’s storyline was written first while the other three storylines had certain events that occurred that seemed forced to mirror Neptune’s Storyline. One specific part where this really shows is when the player character needs to inevitably return home and how the CPU you choose reacts to you leaving. All of them have some excuse to keep the player character from leaving. Neptune is the only one who refused to let him leave based solely on him not wanting to go and it actually felt genuine coming from her. With the other three however, they tried to find some other excuse to make it seem like they weren’t making a decision on emotion and had very petty reasoning, which not only kills the mood but also damages their character.
Vert’s story is the second best of the four due to Vert being the most mature and level headed of the four and not treating the player character like crap. The same cannot be said for Noire and Blanc. Admittedly this was more of a problem with Noire, but it does still apply to Blanc to some extent. With Noire, not only does the game basically say at the beginning that Noire is “already perfect at every aspect of being an idol” but she also knows this from the beginning and keeps bringing up how she does not need the player character and instead has him do things like cleaning despite that not being what he was summoned for. The main characteristic of Noire was always that she was an overly exaggerated tsundere, that being a character that is mean on the outside but soft on the inside, and this does still lead to some funny moments with her transparent attempts at trying to hide interest in things like cosplay.
However, the problem is that the writers forgot that people do not like dealing with someone who treats them like crap. If I were in the player character’s position, I would have told Noire to go fuck herself and left to work with one of the other goddesses seeing as how she insists on saying she does not need you. Yes she does get better later on but that does not justify her earlier actions. In fact, saying that you should just accept someone else making things worse for you because you think they will change is a downright reprehensible belief. I may kind of biased because I outright despise the tsundere archetype due to its main concept of trying to pass off someone’s reckless, antisocial, dysfunctional, and in some cases even violent behavior as a personality quirk and that they should be accepted for it, but one should also keep in mind that Noire was actually likable in the previous games. Yes Noire was always a typical tsundere, but what made her likable in the previous games and not this one is that Noire’s behavior was actually appropriate and comical in the first three games and she was seen as an equal to the other characters, while in PP you are basically trying to suck up to her. Blanc’s scenario was not nearly as unpleasant as a whole, but there were sometimes where I started to question her character as well.
One last major complaint that applies to all four paths is the lack of a significant conflict. Despite the main goal of the game being to beat MOB48, you never see them once throughout the game and there is no showdown against them. It would have been pretty coal if the climax was a music battle between the goddesses and MOB48 but nothing happens. At one point you just eventually gain enough shares and are told you surpassed them. Hell the game makes a joke about passing that point being “like toppling the last boss” which pretty much outright acknowledges that the writers were well aware of there being no climax and having to actually tell the player that they beat MOB48. There is also an emphasis on the goddess’s competition with each other in order to gain the most shares from their idol career. This itself was a missed opportunity because it could have returned the series to its roots of being about the console war instead of being like in Mk2 and Victory where they are all friends with each other. Instead of taking that approach, you see no sense of competition at all and the only story advancement are the forced romance segments between the player character and the CPUs.
One may or may not have noticed a recurring pattern with a lot of complaints about the story, and that pattern is that the player character’s involvement is a root cause of nearly every major flaw in the storyline. It was because of this direction that the story took that there was only a focus on the goddesses individually and why there was a forced romantic subplot instead of an actual conflict. It also probably has to do with why there was very little attention given to any characters other than the CPUs and the player character. The CPU candidates ended up only making occasional appearances when they could have ended up trying to become idols as well. Hell the CPU candidates have actually participated in this type of event in Neptunia Mk2. What is probably the most baffling of all is that 5PB, the one character who already is a pop idol, was nowhere to be seen. One would think that the goddesses would try and ask her for advice before summoning a producer from another dimension but apparently not.
I am well aware that Compile Heart games typically do not have high production values, but high production values are not completely necessary to make a good game. This was something that was shown with the previous three Neptunia games. In PP however, there is a significant lack of features available to really make an interesting game in this genre. The graphics themselves are decent enough in terms of artistic style but there is really not that much other than that. The voice acting is also fairly well done, but that is about it for the positives.
In terms of negatives, one of the first problems is the song selection. First of all, the in game soundtrack is full of reused songs from Neptunia Mk2 and Victory with maybe a few exceptions. This was not so much a problem in Victory seeing as how the only reused songs in Mk2 were cutscene tracks and it had its own fair share of additional tracks. In PP on the other hand, you only ever hear the cutscene tracks and they are constantly repeated throughout the game. The songs in general are not bad but there is just not enough variety when you are considering that these songs were already used throughout two games prior.
Then there are the idol songs. This is a major issue with PP in that there are only five songs that can be performed during gameplay. There is no excuse for having such limited song selection in a music game even if there is more emphasis on the sim elements. One may try and excuse Compile Heart by saying that they are a low budget company and cannot afford to hire people to create more songs for the game, but I do not consider that to be a valid excuse either. First of all, why not use some of the intro and ending themes from the first three games? Each of those games had two vocal tracks used as the main theme and credits theme for those games. Also why not have the main and ending themes for PP itself playable? There is also the option of using some of the tracks from the anime of Hyperdimension Neptunia. Hell maybe use some of the songs from some of Compile Hearts other games like Trinity Universe or Mugen Souls. People are not playing this game for it to be a consistent story telling experience with the previous games, and even if they were, that ship has sailed. People are playing it for the fanservice, and for once I am not referring to the sexual kind.
A proper example of how to make a game of this particular style would be Theatrhytm Final Fantasy. This game is also an example of a music game based off an RPG series. Despite it being a game that heavily relies on nostalgia for the Final Fantasy series and being a game that can never compete with the main Final Fantasy games in terms of quality, it was still an amazing experience in its own right. Despite it only being a spinoff, the developers put everything they had into making sure that this would be a game that fans of Final Fantasy would love. Neptunia PP is not the same case.
If one removed the main cast and setting and slightly altered the script, this game could have easily been a part of any other series. It boggles my mind that anyone would try to make a game in this genre yet not try and not focus on it being something that the fans specifically would really enjoy. The Neptunia series is already an incredibly niche series, so it would not make much sense to make a game in an even more niche genre in that same series yet not utilizing the facets of that genre to their advantage.
At its heart, Neptunia PP is a mostly a simulation game. Generally the sim aspects are applied to both a CPU’s popularity and abilities while others happen to do with character relations. I say this because I was originally under the impression that PP was supposed to be a music rhythm game. You do technically have some parts that resemble a music game but they are not only very shallow and dull, but they are also few and far between. During these segments, the only things you have control over are stage effects, the camera angle, and deciding whether the CPU should transform. This presents a problem in that you are not actually controlling the CPU during these segments and there is virtually no challenge. You follow the exact same strategy for all five songs and through every performance with absolutely no variation. There are options like selecting which outfit to wear and which stage to use, but these have no effect on the gameplay. Normally in these types of games, these could possibly contribute or add a bonus to the overall rating you get depending on various circumstances, but they only provide aesthetic changes. The same thing also applies to stage decorations except they cannot even be used during the main storyline.
The main goal of these segments is to get a high audience ranking by increasing the audience glee and satisfaction. The main way this accomplished is by activating a stage effect when you hear the audience cheering and the keep turning the camera at random angles. A majority of the time, you will achieve the max ranking little over halfway through the song and you will have this system mastered after a few performances. The performance segments in Neptunia PP completely lack the necessary semblance of depth required to compel one to play them, which pretty much leaves the main storyline as the only reason one would have to play the game.
There are still the simulation elements in that you can select which type of scene you wish to view and which activity to perform. Depending at where you are in the story there may or may not be an added scene. There are a surprisingly large amount of scenes to find and you likely will not find all of them on one play-through. This provides a good amount of replay value for those that enjoy the story, and seeing as how the story is this game’s main draw that is certainly not a bad thing.
Conclusion (Definitely Not Perfection)
Hyperdimension Neptunia PP is not a bad game. It does still technically offer the bare minimum of what a fan of the Neptunia series would want from a game, that being the well written characters and a decent story. However, the bare minimum is not enough to satisfy me and it should not be enough to satisfy you either. I am not saying that I dislike this game but I personally hope that future games in the Neptunia series do not follow this pattern. It thankfully looks like that will not be the case seeing as how many different ideas are being experimented with for future installments. Towards the end of August, Hyperdimension Neptunia ReBirth, a complete re-imagining of the first game with an all new script and an overhauled design, is being released for the Vita. Based on what I know of that game alone, I can guarantee that it will be a better game than Neptunia PP. If you own a Vita and have been interested in trying out the series for yourself, I would personally recommend waiting for Neptunia ReBirth to come out. If you have already played every game in the series and cannot stand to wait a month to play a new game in the series then PP should be enough to satisfy, but it certainly will not be enough to impress.
This review was originally put up on GameFAQs on June 3rd of 2014 and has been edited with enhanced presentation.
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