Another year, another installment. Well, at least that’s the ideology that pervades most of the gaming industry these days. We’ve all seen it before and we’ve all played it. This franchise or that one releases a new game with a higher number and slightly ruffles it’s own gameplay feathers. The end result is a familiar experience with some new bells and whistles. From time to time the game works even better because of the adjustments. Often, though, the final product feels like more of the same. Still, as long as the game is fun, more of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing, right?
Following this cycle of yearly releases, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is now on its third installment, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Despite their bizarre plots, somewhat polarizing gameplay and visuals along with a niche charm, the Neptunia series has a loyal following that has welcomed the improvements of each yearly release. Does Victory tread new ground and deliver the most refined experience for the series, or does it fall into that “been there, played that” trap?
Victory’s main plot is easy enough for newcomers to follow. There are references to previous games but nothing will make the uninitiated feel lost. Taking place a few years after the second game, Neptune has been slacking off from many of her duties as CPU and has consequently lost her experience and gone back to level 1. While on a routine task to level up and do her job, Neptune is hit by a blast from villain Rei Ryghts of the Seven Sages and knocked into a time rift. Unbeknownst to her, Neptune is transported back in time to the infant stages of Gamindustri. War is brewing and Neptune must find a way to get back to her time while also sorting out the past.
Occasionally, Victory’s plot borders on poignant because it attempts to tackle some of the issues going on in the current gaming industry. More often than not, however, the story serves as a jumping off point for a lot of fourth-wall breaking, tongue-in-cheek humor and general silliness. Fans of the series have come to expect as much and that is truly where the strength of the narrative lies. Another thing that is to be expected out of the title is how all this information is delivered to the player. Cutscenes are few and far between because most of the story unfolds through long dialogue exchanges with characters. It’s fair to say that Victory borders on visual novel territory at times because conversations can go on for a very long time. Whether or not this becomes a serious problem boils down to player expectations. The audience who is familiar with the series and other comparable titles will be used to these drawn out scenes. Someone who doesn’t know what they are getting into will probably be bored to tears. Regardless of which camp the player falls in, there’s little denying that Victory does lean on the text-heavy side and could use a bit of editing. Humorous quips are there but can fall flat if the player is exhausted after spening so much time reading.
Graphics and Sound
As a fan of these niche, small budget titles, it’s a bit difficult to see the flood of criticisms attacking their productions values. Victory, like those before it, is likely to suffer the same fate. In a world of Uncharteds and Call of Dutys, a game with simpler visuals will look cheap by comparison. Keeping that in mind, it is fair to criticize some parts of Victory’s visual presentation. Characters and enemies, like always, are full of creativity and go through palette swaps over the course of the game. The world of Gamindustri is brightly colored and the cel-shaded look works. Clever uses of two-dimensional gaming references in a 3D space drive home the retro console vibe. The largest blight on the visuals are with the environments. To be fair, some areas in the game are weird and crafted well enough that they are fun to explore. Unfortunately, a lot of locales just feel too big and full of empty space. Flat lines of sight give way to yet another enemy or item to interact with and cause the world to feel less alive.
Yet again, the localization team delivers on writing and voice acting. Not only is the original Japanese voice acting present but the English work captures the humor and oddball nature of the dialogue. Having most of the scenes be fully voiced makes the long lines of text more manageable. As with many JRPGs, though, some repetition is going to happen. Repeatedly fighting and attacking enemies will cue the same lines over and over again especially as a result of grinding. It’s also less tolerable to hear the same one liners delivered when the player character jumps on the map (which is even more a nuisance when an optional challenge rewards stat bonuses for jumping thousands of times). Special recognition should be given to the music in the game which is done by famous composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s impressive resume serves the game well filling Gamindustri with an enjoyable soundtrack.
Over the course of three games, the developers have managed to streamline combat and just about everything else so it is much easier to grasp. The original Neptunia game tried throwing too many things at the player at once and it felt like most of the systems weren’t even required to beat the game. Anyone familiar with Compile Heart’s Mugen Souls knows that the developer is capable of some extremely complex battle systems. Aside from a few supplementary mechanics, combat is much easier to grasp. Each party member can move around the target area to effectively line up attacks on one or more enemies; a press of one of the face buttons will deliver either a quick series of strikes, a hit that is used to lower an enemy’s guard or one meant to shave off health. Certain enemies are receptive to each attack and juggling combos in the right sequence can cause massive damage. Spells can be used for offense and defense and the EXE drive transforms the characters into their overpowered selves. Something called Lily Ranks -based on how often characters battle with each other – provide bonuses like increased experience gain or more health. It’s a fun system that adds variety and strategy into how team members are paired up.
Victory also uses a quest system for story progression and side missions but it is very lackluster. Quests often boil down to going to a specified area to kill the specified amount of enemies or collecting the specified amount of items (which are normally obtained through killing enemies). That’s really it. Completing quests rewards the players with money and items that can be used in crafting but other than that, it feels very hollow. An odd but appreciated choice made is that towns and NPCs are all found on one screen and can be accessed almost like a menu. The “towns” are where shops, quest guilds and more are found; they are also filled with some of Victory’s more obvious game homages. Look out for the not so subtle Solid Snake, Mario Brothers, Famitsu, King of all Cosmos and more.
Aside from the quest system, combat is extremely satisfying. Leveling up a character through silly challenges (like the aforementioned jumping one) is time consuming but worth it. Sometimes players might hit a difficulty spike but experimentation always gives way to victory. And nothing beats pulling off flashy combos that deal thousands of points of damage.
Without a doubt, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a game with a certain audience in mind. Fans of NIS America‘s localization, die-hard JRPG fanatics and those with an undying love for anything Japanese have more than likely already purchased the past two games and will relish the chance at another go. While people unfamiliar with the quirks of similar titles might be turned off at what Victory has to offer and instead flock to the big-budget and familiar stuff, they will miss out on a fun game. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory isn’t without it’s flaws but it is a game full of character with a funny take on the industry and a unique voice unlike any other experience.