Prior to 2014, Hyperdimension Neptunia was a “day one purchase” series for me. The original PS3 trilogy were undoubtedly flawed games, but they had such a powerful charm to them that not only drew me in, but formed a powerful attachment with me as a closeted trans woman. I owe a lot to this series, and I expected to have every installment in the series be an instant purchase for me. And then 2014 happened, and I played Hyperdimension Neptunia PP and Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1.
In retrospect, I was a lot nicer on Neptunia PP than a lot of people were, and I was pretty harsh on the game to begin with. Let’s just say there’s a reason that Idea Factory hasn’t ported this game to PC yet. Neptunia Re;Birth1, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. I don’t think Re;Birth1 is a bad game by any means, but I was disappointed with it. Gameplay wise, it was basically a poor man’s Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. It used the same battle system and most of the same most mechanics, but it did them worse and made the game less interesting. It didn’t help that it mostly re-used music and images from Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 and Victory. It also lacked most of the unique features and charm that the original Hyperdimension Neptunia had, which is kinda shitty considering that it’s supposed to be a remake of that game.
I did beat both of those games, and did play a little bit of Re;Birth2 at the time, but I didn’t get far. For context, it’s important to understand that there was a year between each of the first three Neptunia games. In 2014, Neptunia PP and Re;Birth1 were released within less than three months of each other (In the US at least). Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sister’s Generation, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, and Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation were all released within a six month span of each other in 2015. And then Megadimension Neptunia VII was released at the start of 2016.
I have not played Hyperdevotion Noire, Action Unleashed, or Re;Birth3 at the time of writing, but given the quality of the games I HAVE played from this time, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Truthfully though, I may be fine as long as they have different music, because those recycled Mk2 themes have become a personal brown note. It’s enough so that I knew Megadimension Neptunia VII was going to be good the moment I heard new cutscene music. I hope to Goddess they didn’t wait until then to add new tracks. I know from having played Megadimension Neptunia VII that the series did recover, but I’m hoping for my sake that the next three games aren’t as uninspired as Neptunia Re;Birth2.
I suppose that I have to address the elephant in the room before I go on though. Yes, I admit it, my original review of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 was a bit on the fan-girlish side. There was a lot of shit that I probably should have been more critical of in retrospect. Most of the main points In the review, I still agree with. I just may have oversold them a bit. There are some people who are automatically turned off by anything involving copious amounts of anime tropes, moe, or fanservice, and none of the Neptunia games will change their mind.
Perhaps the most telling sign of Re;Birth2’s failure is the fact that the same story and characters that felt so endearing in Mk2, don’t grab me quite as strongly as they used to. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are still likable and most of the gags are amusing, but I wasn’t as invested in the story this time around. I’ve been trying to think of what was changed that made the experience less interesting, and there are two factors.
The first of these is the simple fact that NIS America had the better script. So much of Re;Birth2 feels off in comparison to NISA’s original localization. I was unable to stop myself from cringing every time that a character pronounces each individual letter in ASIC separately, as opposed to just saying the acronym itself. In the past, weebs have had an absurd hatred for NIS America. While they have had some atrocious fuckups in the past (*cough* Ar Tonelico II *cough* Rhapsody DS), bitching at them because they removed a mini-game that lets you perv on little girls, or adding a silly joke or reference to a game based around silly jokes and references just tells me you need to touch ass.
And Re;Birth2 feels like a downgrade even in regards to changes not made as a result of localization. Replacing NISA (the character, not the company) and her kickass theme music with Red and her no interesting qualities (no, being gay doesn’t count, and if you disagree, you can give my gay ass $10 for being so interesting). And also to whoever thought it was a good idea to add a fanservice pic during a scene where Rom and Ram are being molested by a pedophile, you are not only disgusting, but also stupid! That shit almost got the original game an AO rating. But somehow, this version gets off with a T rating? What the bloody hell?
And yes, I am aware that the dialogue was changed in Neptunia Re;Birth2 to make this scene sound less gross, but I kinda preferred the original. If you’re going to have a villain be a pedophile, you shouldn’t try to downplay it. Also that whole scene works so much better with the Japanese dub. It makes so much more sense for Underling to be afraid of a sick bastard like trick instead of having her mock the person who is basically her superior and is more powerful than her. Granted this scene is awkward, creepy, and cringeworthy no matter what version your playing, but Re;Birth2 just makes it all the worse.
Oh, but I guess it’s an improvement that they gave the player a way to opt out of the Conquest ending. Unfortunately it’s such a half-assed and anti-climactic idea that adds nothing new to the game. But if you were traumatized by it the first time around, seeing a way out may just be enough for you. Also they better have a way to opt out now that they’ve made the event prompts that trigger the conquest route much harder to miss. Also as an aside, I miss the chirper, and it was more interesting than the Re;Birth series equivalent.
Anyway, now here’s the second thing that makes the story worse in Neptunia Re;Birth2. In my review of Mk2, I made note of the game’s simplicity, and I found that refreshing compared to so many console RPGs that try to pack themselves full of content and complexity. Said simplicity also meant the story was faster paced. Chapter 2 may have been boring in Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, but it was at least over with in a few hours. If you’re playing Neptunia Re;Birth2 however, then you’re likely going after all the sidequests. If you are like me, and feel compelled to tackle every quest as soon as they are available, then the already slow chapter 2 will take several hours and drag out the game.
Once again, I have to admit that I was soft on previous games when in came to side content. Most of it was basically MMO style fetch/kill quests with a serious “quantity over quality” vibe. I personally don’t think this content is too bad when used in moderation. It can be a decent way of making the player feel like they are making progress, without forcing them to clear a two hour dungeon. But the problem with a lot of RPGs, Neptunia included, is when they dump a fuckton of these quests on you, and they take up most of the game.
That being said, this wasn’t as much of a problem in previous Neptunia games. I still completed a lot of these quest in Neptunia Victory because there’s a part of me that enjoys tracking down optional boss fights and such. Unfortunately, Re;Birth1 needed to come along and over complicate the process. Instead of the easy to use (albeit poorly explained) scout system used in Victory, the Re;Birth series used the remake system, which meant that you needed to find the plans to construct new dungeons, items, locations, weapons, fucking everything! Once you found these plans, you needed to gather a bunch of items drops in order to either create or unlock whatever needs to be created. Most of this is just busy work for the sake of having busy work, and doesn’t really add anything to the game.
On top of this, the game has a list of dungeons you’ve traveled in, and a list of monsters you’ve encountered. The dungeons list will tell you which monsters can be encountered in said dungeon, and the monster list will tell you which items the monsters have dropped. What is missing, however, is a list of item drops, and which monsters drop them, or which dungeons you can pick them up in. Considering there are ways to change the item drops in specific dungeons, and the fact that you can get some items through the Stella Dungeon mini-game, this will often lead to you having one of a a particular item without you knowing how you got it.
Oh, and I should probably talk about the Stella Dungeon… it sucks. It’s comparable to the Norende restoration sidequest in Bravely Default in that it plays itself in the background, and is basically a skinner box tactic that tries to trick you into thinking it’s added content. The Stella Dungeon is a bit different from Norende in that you can give Stella certain items and equipment to increase her chances, and that said equipment can be lost if Stella doesn’t make it through a mission. All this means is that you will end up having her retread the same missions multiple times to get her equipment back, while you see which ones she can clear through trial and error. It adds nothing to the game, and is a waste of time.
My experience with Neptunia Re;Birth2 was me alternating between “hey, this is kinda fun” and “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO BORING!!!” And the weirdest part is, both these reactions were in response to the same content. There weren’t really any parts where the game was different in terms of gameplay either, and that’s why I can’t say Neptunia Re;Birth2 is a bad game. What I can say, however, is that it is a bad remake. Rather than thinking about how best to design Re;Birth2 in a way that enhances Mk2’s experience, they decided to pigeonhole it into the exact same model used for Victory and Re;Birth1. This results in three games that look the same, sound the same, and play the same, as opposed to three different games that have made significant improvements and changes between one another.
Re;Birth1 was still satisfactory since the original Neptunia was so different from Mk2 and Victory, that it still feels somewhat like a new game. Re;Birth2, however, fails to tell how different Mk2 and Victory are, and just kind of assumes that designing the former like the latter will work out well. But no, that does not work. Mk2 was a short and simplistic game, while Victory was a massive one with lots of content. While the base game is playable and can be enjoyable at times, I just cannot stop feeling that something isn’t right with it. And I suppose it’s only inevitably when you try to remake three games within less than two years.
The plus side is that I can almost guarantee that Neptunia Re;Birth3 will be a better game, simply because remaking Neptunia Victory will mean changing significantly less than the previous games. That being said, I’m still not ready to jump right into that one when I was not a fan of the previous two Re;Births. As for those looking to get into the series, just start with the PS3 trilogy (although the original is skipable). Both Mk2 and Victory are about $10 on PSN if you still have a PS3, which means that the only one you’d need to track down a physical copy of is the original.
If you don’t have a PS3 though, and you just need to play the games in chronological order, I guess the Re;Birth trilogy isn’t the worst thing ever. My own perspective is shaped by having played the PS3 games when they first came out, so I have no idea how things would go if I haven’t.
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