Recently, I’ve decided to try something new with my reviews, a little thing called “playing and reviewing games within the year they are released.” Of course, I can’t review every game I’m interested in within a specific year, so I decided I’d focus on my picks for most anticipated games of 2023. And yes, Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters was number 1 on that list, even though it was already out when the piece was posted… Also Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles was announced shortly after, and that would have ranked higher than Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters if I knew about it in advance.
Regardless, I had high hopes for Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters, and now that I’ve completed it, my thoughts are complicated. I must regrettably say that Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters is the first mainline Neptunia installment to not exceed the quality of its predecessor. This is not to say that I didn’t immensely enjoy my time with Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters, but rather, it’s a concern that Compile Heart may never make something as great as Megadimension Neptunia VII ever again, at least in the same series.
Now don’t get me wrong, as it stands, Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters is one of the best games in the series, and It’s the second best out of the ten games in the series I’ve played. The caveat is that I had to genuinely ponder whether or not I found this better than Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, a game with a much lower budget that’s also over a decade old by now. And that’s not to say that Neptunia Victory was bad either, rather, it’s just the expectation that sequels meet or exceed the quality of their predecessors.
It’s difficult to really compare Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters to its predecessors precisely because it deviates from the series norms in so many significant ways. The story, for instance, is significantly darker and more serious than previous entries. Neptunia has not been this dark since Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2‘s conquest ending, and yes, some of the lore introduced from that route is brought back, and now plays a major role in the story.
Everything about Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters story signifies that it’s meant to be bleak. The first few hours of the game opens with Nepgear, who is the main character for the first time since the aforementioned Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, being cryogenically frozen for two years. She wakes up to see that Gamindustri is decimated by a virus called trendi, and that the people have lost faith in the Goddesses. Neptune has also disappeared and is presumed dead.
While there are some hints of darkness at this point, it’s really not any darker than previous entries. It’s really not until you get close to the ending where everything is revealed, and it re-contextualizes everything you’ve seen up to that point. Until then, the only real hint that this game will be different from the previous installments is the lack of the usual fanservice cgs and the fact that there’s less of the series traditional humor.
While the fanservice isn’t especially important to the game’s overall qualities, I do think that the lower presence of humor is to this game’s detriment. Neptunia was never particularly good at “deep” storytelling. It can do compelling and intense, and it can even do emotional story telling, but the only game in the series that even tried to go for deep on a thematic level was the original… to mixed results. The reason the series resonates so well with so many people is because it’s humor serves as a way of making us lower our defenses.
On top of that, Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sister’s plot doesn’t start to REALLY get going until near the end, and tone wise, it just feels like another Neptunia game, but with less humor until that point. This is one of many areas where Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters feels like a step down from Megadimension Neptunia VII. Megadimension Neptunia VII had excellent pacing, and everything felt exciting. Sisters Vs Sisters on the other hand, dumps all the major plot twists on you in the last quarter of the game.
For all that’s unique about Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters, there are a few areas where it’s obviously not original. The first of all, the end game twist about Maho, and generally a lot of late game plot elements, were taken straight from the Future Trunks saga of Dragon Ball Super, and also a bit of Madoka Magica thrown in. By no means is this meant to fault Sisters Vs Sisters. If anything, I believe that Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters handles some of these plot elements better than Dragon Ball Super did. It’s just, not very original.
The other part that’s unoriginal is how the story structure revolves around an original character who becomes best friends with the MC, who is the subject of a major twist, and who [REDACTED] in the normal ending but [REDACTED] in the true ending… Oh, spoiler warning a few words ago. In Megadimension Neptunia VII, that character was Uzume, who was the best character this series will ever have. Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters has Maho, who I have more mixed feelings towards.
On one hand, I love Maho’s backstory, which I found especially intriguing. Unfortunately, said backstory is a spoiler so I can’t explain why I like it, but I’ll just say that it’s something that meant a lot to me given my own history with the series, which you’ve probably heard me talk about dozens of times if you read my previous reviews of Neptunia games. The problem is Maho’s personality, which just isn’t all that interesting. The only unique character trait that Maho has that Neptune doesn’t is that she is addicted to mobile games, or at least I can’t remember any.
The rest of the new characters aren’t particularly memorable either. Anri is your standard stoic lady, and I can’t even remember any standout traits that Shanghai Alice had. The only new character I really liked was Higurashi, and even she didn’t have much of a role in the plot aside from going mad and attacking Maho at one point. This once again feels like a step down compared to Megadimension Neptunia VII that managed to find interesting ways to keep developing the main four despite being several games into the franchise.
I really want to emphasize that the later half of the game is amazing in its storytelling, it’s just that i can’t go into detail without spoiling it, and I’d rather not do that within the year a game is released. I also want to emphasize that much of this review is going to be me saying “I liked this game BUUUUUUT” considering the fact that it’s an obvious step down from its predecessor in almost every way. The one exception to this is presentation, but even then I think it could have gone farther.
I recall when I unlocked the ability to explore Planeptune as an actual location instead of just selecting a dot on a map, I was quite impressed with how far the series had come. It was especially fascinating to explore Planeuptune Tower. I naively thought “oh boy, are we going to get to explore the other three nations as well?” Nope, it’s just Planeptune, and there isn’t even much to do there. You would think that for a series focused on humor, that NPCs would be given a lot of hilarious and interesting dialogue that would incentivize the player to seek them out. Unfortunately, the NPCs are not only uninteresting, they are so bland and ill-fitting that they sound like they could have been randomly generated.
The only incentive to explore anything is to find treasures, and after that, you’re done. Oh, and there’s also optional cutscenes that you’d normally be able to access with the click of a button, but now require you to backtrack all over the town to find them, which only serves to artificially extend playtime. The only thing that’s really going for the explorable Planeuptune is the beautiful visuals, and the new music that plays in Planeptune Tower… which was apparently an unused track from Mk2 but whatever.
I really do have to give credit to the visuals in that this may have been the first time in the series I actually stopped to admire the gorgeous backgrounds and scenery, though I may have done the same with Megadimension Neptunia VII. Unfortunately, that’s where my praise regarding the visuals end. I’m sure most of you have heard of the frequent performance issues and graphical glitches, but that’s not my real issue with Sisters Vs Sisters.
The biggest problem, from a visual perspective, is the lack of variety in dungeon backdrops. First of all, there’s a low number of dungeons compared to previous games in general. There are a total of fifteen dungeons in Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters, which is a lot less than in Hyderdimension Neptunia Victory or Megadimension Neptunia VII. The most likely reason for this was so that Compile Heart could make longer dungeons that involved more exploration and even puzzle solving in a few of them. Unfortunately, this just resulted in dungeons like Planeptune City being overly maze like and easy to get stuck in.
That being said, my REAL issue is that more than 2/3s of the dungeons are your generic plains, forest, or cave dungeon, with the same dull ass music playing each time. You know, I might have liked Between Earth and Sky the first time I’ve heard it back in Neptunia Victory, but holy shit has this song become a brown note now! Being used in Rebirth1, Megadimension Neptunia VII (I think), and now about 1/3rd of the dungeons in this game, it sounds like fucking ass. Give it a fucking rest! Why not bring back Breeze Time from Mk2 if you really can’t create another song? It’s a better track anyway!
This is especially egregious in the Neptral Tower bonus dungeon, where they don’t even use a fitting backdrop. It’s just the creepy Gamindustri Graveyard music from Mk2 played over ill-fitting scenery that you’ve already traversed a number of times. And there is 100 floors of this shit. We went from Megadimension Neptunia VII, which had the least amount of reused dungeons in the series, to this game, which actually made me miss some of the rehashed dungeons from previous games!
Also since I brought up music, the vast majority of the OST is rehashed from previous games. While the previous games have always re-used some music, Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters only added ten new songs, and two of those songs were unused Neptunia Mk2 tracks. Now don’t get me wrong, the new music that was added was up to the quality that the series is known for. Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters has one of the best opening AND best ending themes in the entire series, and the normal boss theme “Break Break Break!” is one of the best JRPG boss themes I’ve ever heard.
The problem is, all of the best new tracks, save for the aforementioned “Break Break Break!”, are used sparingly. The only other two normal gameplay tracks that are of this same caliber, are the final dungeon theme, and the final boss theme. Up to that point, it’s almost entirely reused tracks. What makes this even worse is that Compile Heart seems to have genuinely forgot where some of these track were originally played.
Take for instance, the track “Magmatic Magnetics,” which was originally used in a volcanic fire dungeon. In Sisters Vs Sisters, it’s used in your generic cave dungeon, while the music used for cave dungeons is used for the volcanic dungeon. This is in addition to often having the adventurous wide open plains dungeon music playing during dungeons where it’s visibly night time, and the aforementioned Between Earth and Sky playing while you’re fleeing a hoard of deadly monsters. You sure you don’t just want to have someone sing “The Prayer” while you’re at it? Oh, and to bring it full circle, towards the end, you have “Magmatic Magnetics” play in a daytime plains area as well. For fucks sake, the song literally has the word “Magmatic” in the name? How do you fuck that up?
Anyway, this takes us to the gameplay which, like the rest of this game, is all over the place. It’s probably best to start with the new battle system, which now takes place in real time, has more action based elements, and has two of the three characters in battle AI controlled. There are turn based elements involved, such as a character needing to regain AP in order to use attacks, but Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters feels more like a Tales game than previous entries have. While this isn’t innately a bad thing, it makes a lot of the battles much more simplistic than previous entries. The previous Neptunia installments were always on the easy side, but when two of your three characters are AI controlled, it makes things even more simplistic than they were before.
While there are some boss fights, and even a few normal enemies that require genuine effort and strategy to beat them, the vast majority of normal battles and even a decent chunk of bosses end up being disappointingly easy and over quickly. It got to the point where a number of the optional bosses fought in the Neptral Tower were beaten in less than a minute, including the final super boss. There was some fun had with this battle system and I would love to see it used in a game with better balancing, but Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters has a habit of leaving you wanting more.
This is especially true when you look at the amount of content this game has compared to Megadimension Neptunia VII. It took me about 40 hours to complete Sisters Vs Sisters 100%, and that included a second New Game Plus playthrough to see the true ending, because you get locked out of it if you complete all the sidequests for some dumbfuck reason. Meanwhile, I put close to 150 hours into Megadimension Neptunia VII, which I also did a New game plus playthrough of. Despite the much longer campaign it had, Megadimension Neptunia VII felt like infinitely less of a slog than Sisters Vs Sisters did on that repeat playthrough.
I feel I should stress, I DID have fun with Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters, and I would recommend it to fans of the series. But I also can’t help but notice how many step backs it took from the previous games. To list off the ones I didn’t mention, there’s no more scout system or options tough foes, the voice clips that the enemies had the previous game are gone, the only parts of dungeons you can interact with are boxes that stop appearing in dungeons halfway through the game, the NEXT forms introduced in the previous games are absent, you can no longer gain alternate outfits outside of DLC, that dialogue during fights is often unvoiced and scrolls by took quickly, and in general, there’s little attempt to build on the foundation set by Megadimension Neptunia VII.
That is not to say that it doesn’t introduce some unique and interesting features that I want to see fleshed out in future installments, it just feels Compile Heart hasn’t even tried to go beyond the standard set by their previous game. There are some individual parts that have exceeded Megadimension Neptunia VII, but those moments are few and far between. There’s certainly enough to be a fulfilling experience overall, and it was certainly satisfy existing fans, but putting it at number one on my most anticipated games of 2023 list was a bit premature.
That being said, it DID give me what I was looking for, and I’m glad I played it. If anything, the key problem with Neptunia: Sisters Vs Sisters is that it left me wanting more, which is did in both a good and a bad way. It was good in that there were a lot of interesting concepts that I wanted to see fleshed out, and the the game was heavily engrossing. However, it’s also bad because it feels like a lot is missing from it, and that it wasn’t as good as it could have been. That being said, it’s only $50 on a console where full retail titles go for $70, so I’d consider that a good deal in the end.
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