I’ve always felt quite strongly about the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. I always felt there was something to it that a lot of its detractor ship just didn’t get; or rather chose not to get. If people wish to believe that there is nothing to this series but a bunch of moe girls doing cute things and getting into sexy shenanigans with no depth or intelligence, they are going to do so. Of course I have always said from the beginning that this is not the case with this series.
The reason why is not because the previous description is untrue, but because it IS true, and the series plays to that strength. Most games nowadays are very pretentious and take themselves overly seriously and present themselves as if they are these cinematic masterpieces, while the Neptunia series is just trying to be fun in whatever way it can be, which is what games SHOULD aim for.
That being said, my opinion on Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is kind of mixed compared to the rest of the series. When viewed on its own, it is undoubtedly a solid title. However, it also lacks a lot of the more subtle aspects of previous titles that made me passionate about the series in the first place. Furthermore this game is intended as a re imagining of the first Hyperdimension Neptunia, yet it completely deviates from its source material that it does not feel the least bit similar.
The storyline for Neptunia Re;Birth1 is pretty much lifted straight from the original Neptunia. The entire world’s existence is an allegory for the video game industry with four goddesses representing one of the main console developers. You have Noire of Lastation, representing Sony, Vert of LeanBox, representing Microsoft, Blanc of Lowee, representing Nintendo, and Neptune of Planeptune, representing Sega. In the middle of a fierce battle, the goddesses all decide to turn on Neptune and attack her, causing her to fall from the land of Celestia into the human world below where she loses her memories, save for her name of course. Afterwards, Neptune joins two girls named Compa and IF on a quest to find the key fragments that a mysterious girl named Histoire is telling Neptune to find.
One of my major complaints in regards to how the first game was how slow paced the plot was combined with its complexity. It had the habit of throwing around a bunch of jargon at the player and having plot events be prolonged by contrived coincidence. This is only partially fixed in Neptunia Re;Birth1. The part that was fixed was the slow pacing of the game and that the storyline is easier to follow this time around. However, there are certain issues with the plot that occurred as a result of trying to handle a mostly serious main plot (I’m talking about the base storyline here, NOT the dialogue) in the light hearted style of the later games.
Firstly, a lot of the characters are derailed from their personalities in the previous games. IF, for instance, was responsible for some of the funniest moments in the entire series by playing straight woman to Neptune’s stupidity. In Re;birth1, she just kind of goes along with it and half her personality is removed. In fact, the same can be said of half the game’s cast considering that the console war aspect of the game is downplayed.
The CPUs were supposed to be at war with each other for literal millennia, yet somehow are so quick to be all buddy-buddy with Neptune as soon as the main plot sets in. In the original game, one had to work to unlock the other goddesses to play as, and they were only really used for post game stuff. In Re;Birth1, they just naturally join you as the plot goes on with little reference to their previous conflicts. Furthermore, Blanc does not swear as much, Noire tsundere tendencies are turned down a bit, and Neptune’s stupidity is played up less. A lot of these portrayals can be summed up as “for better or worse” seeing as how the original game was not exactly perfect in its approach to its plot.
The second problem with the game’s storyline is that it just is not all that interesting. The plot of the first Neptunia may have been kind of slow, but the amount of detail shown through dialogue gave off a more intricate feeling to it than the bare bones approach of rebirth1. At the same time, however, the storyline does not possess as much of a charm to it as Neptunia Mk2 or Victory since it is attempting to replicate a story line with a completely separate tone.
It does not help that our main villain, Arfoire, is very bland and uninteresting. If the very unsubtle piracy allegory was not enough, all that she does throughout the game is boast, laugh, and monologue. She is as stereotypical a JRPG villain as you can get. Every other sub villain introduced is also very boring.
Despite the failing of the base plot, the storyline is saved by the series’ trademark humor and character interactions. As usual, the characters, despite having changed a bit from their portrayal in the original game, are still fun to watch and cause a lot of funny moments. The game very clearly has a style of humor where one can tell the writers were just having a blast writing the game and came up with the jokes the same way one would joke with their friends in private.
The production values are a major issue that I have with Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1. It should be noted that games from Compile Heart or Idea Factory generally have pretty low production values. Almost all of them have low frame rates, last gen graphics, and a ton of reused dungeon and enemy models. However, Neptunia Re;Birth1 takes this a step further.
Despite the fact that Neptunia Re;Birth1 is supposed to be a re imagining of the first game, and thus have a unique identity from its sequels, a majority of Re;Birth1’s resources are reused from Mk2 and Victory; Enemy models, music, dungeons, EVERYTHING! This is especially egregious in regards to the music since they rearranged one of the songs from the first game to serve as the main battle theme, but they didn’t do that for any other songs aside from the continent themes. Why on earth they would decide to do nothing with some of the amazing boss battle themes from the first game such as Tough Guard, Sacred Time, and The Soul of Fight I will never know.
The key problem that I have with the production values, however, is that they make Re;Birth2 and 3 seem repetitive if one were to play this as their first Neptunia game. Considering that the gameplay is basically the same as Victory’s with only a few tweaks, people will get the impression that the Neptunia games are all the same soundtrack, graphics, and gameplay wise due to how this game is set up. On a more positive note, the stuff that it does reuse is still very solid and gets its job done. The art style is still nice to look at, the sound effects are all well placed, and the music is still as great as always.
As previously stated, the gameplay is mostly the same as Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory except with a few tweaks. The battle system is turn based with three characters and the ability to move them around on the battlefield. Normal enemies in the game are typically interchangeable and are only difficult if you are under leveled. As a result, most of the strategy comes from the game’s boss battles, and this works considering that the game has a crap ton of boss battles.
In addition to the several story based battles, there are 2 optional boss fights per dungeon, one found normally and another encountered when you change the enemy spawns via the game’s remake system, similarly to Final Fantasy 12’s Rare games or Xenoblade’s Unique spawns. There are also close to forty dungeons in the game which would mean that there are eighty optional boss battles in the forms of dangerous/risky/tough foes alone.
So it goes without saying that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 offers a lot of content in the form of boss battles alone. However, it needs to be mentioned that it is also a step down from the way Victory handled things. In Victory, there were 3 optional bosses available in each dungeon. One dangerous foe that can be encountered while normally exploring, and the stronger “Risky or Tough foes” that show up depending on the positioning of the flag when using the scout system. There were over forty dungeons in the game, albeit dungeons that were mostly reused from earlier in the game just with different enemies, but dungeons nonetheless.
Re;Birth1 on the other hand, reduces it to just 2. However, they certainly make getting access to these boss fights more difficult. In Victory, you just needed to use the scout system to summon them and change the flag. In Re;Birth1, you need to have all the right fetch quest items in order to create the plan needed to summon it to the dungeon. Of course these items are often drops from earlier minibosses or are loot so you won’t be able to access some of the later ones unless you’ve been farming for items the entire time in earlier dungeons; and in order to explore dungeons at your current level, you need to go through ones with weaker enemies as well.
That’s not all you need them for though, you also need them to unlock new weapons and items to purchase, you need them to unlock the Colosseum, and to unlock new dungeons. There is just an absurd amount of busy work that goes into completing everything here. What happened to just fighting the enemies instead of scrolling through the bestiary to find what dungeon has which enemies and which enemies drop which items?
And this ends up being even more irritating when it involves trying to get an item drop from a boss. For some moronic reason, non storyline bosses do not have a 100% drop rate for items. For normal enemies this is not a problem, but I hope I should not need to explain the problem with needing to re fight lengthy boss battles multiple time in order to get that drop from them. Granted, it should never be too many tries as the drop rate seems to at least be a 50/50 shot, and one could simply come back later in the game when they can massacre them in a few turns. Regardless, I can imagine not many would like this unless they like grinding.
Victory had the same problem in terms of drop rates, but in that game, it was a lot easier to use the scout system to increase item drop rates to lessen the amount of times you needed to retry a battle. One could also use it to increase the amount of experience or money you get. In Re;birth1, however, you can only do so by equipping a disk drive with that effect, and wasting a valuable card slot when creating one. And you also have to use this character in the battle in order for it to take effect. In short, the main problem with Neptunia Re;Birth1 is that it over complicates way too many things. I understand that RPGs are naturally complex games, but complicated does not always equal good.
One other nitpick to add is the fact that you can only use 3 characters in battle despite having 14 unlockable characters not counting DLC. 14 characters that have their own unique functions and abilities and are useful in different ways. The problem is that I don’t know if they are good because Ive mostly been using the same party most of the game. I would experiment, but Neptunia Re;Birth1 is a pretty challenging game and it’s a lot less stress to go with what you know. Not to mention one spot will always be held up by Compa since she is going to be your designated healer. I suppose it could add replay value, but it’s a pretty cheap way of adding it.
As for the good things about the gameplay, the battle mechanics are very well balanced and crafted. Boss battles will require a lot more thought put in than the usual “attack and heal” strategy. A lot of things could factor into the way the battles unfold. It’s not like most RPGs where you just equip what gives you the strongest attack and defense boosts. Overtime, you will need to use equipment to boost your Tec stat so you aren’t missing every attack. Customizing the right disc drive is also important seeing as how effects that either protect against certain types of attacks or allow your SP to recover will become necessary later in the game, and there is also the added effect of whoever your active partner is paired with via the lily system.
All that and we haven’t even gone into the actual battles. Normally, boss battles in RPGs are just about out last them by whittling down their HP and surviving their attacks. While those elements are still involved, one will also need to contend with an enemy’s guard meter. Basically, the way it works is similar to Final Fantasy XIII’s chain gauge in that it needs to be depleted in order to weaken an enemy’s defenses so you can deal more damage to them. Against normal enemies, this will generally just be as simple as draining the guard meter and killing them the next turn, against bosses, it will often be necessary in order to have any sort of efficient damage output.
The reason for this is simple, some bosses will regenerate HP the further you wait, so that means if you sit around for too long, it’s HP will recover. It also means that if you don’t have an efficient damage output, then you can’t just slog your way through a fight.
There are a lot of other mechanics to go over such as attack combos, the EXE drive, the lily system, etc, but I figure it is better to just give a taste of what this game is about mechanically. There is quite a bit of complexity to its gameplay mechanics, and despite it being quite a step down from Victory’s system, there is still quite a bit of meat to this game, and it is well balanced from a gameplay standpoint.
So in the end, the question is if Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is a good game, to which i would say yes. It is currently $30.00 on Steam full price so just about anyone should have access to it, and it goes on sale pretty frequently. Given the large amount of content it has, I’d say that is a worthy price for it. The game should last about 40 hours playing through it normally, and I’d estimate about 80 if you are going for 100%.
The only concern I’d give regarding Neptunia Re;Birth1 has to do with its lack of a unique identity, and how it can make one’s experience with Re;Birth2 and 3 feel less unique given that it lifts most presentation elements from their original versions. However, they do seem to still be adding improvements such as Stella’s Dungeon and allowing four characters in battle, which unfortunately seems to be the opposite case of AAA titles that are going backwards in quality.
Really, that is what I like so much about the series. Yes, it has been milked dry between all the spinoffs, remakes, and ports. However, they manage to consider the important things that even professional studios forget. Sure, it is a bit much to release six games in one series within the span of a year, in addition to working on other games outside said series, but if they can do this much with such a small budget and a small development time, imagine what they could do if they had a stronger budget for their games.
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