Hyperdimension Neptunia Review (PS3)

For what should ostensibly be an extremely fun premise, Hyperdimension Neptunia is remarkably dull in its stale RPG execution. Taking the form of a tongue-in-cheek stab at lampooning the rise and fall of each of the power players in the videogame industry, it filters each of its inspirations through tragically self-referential videogame-inspired battles, all the while merrily dancing its way to becoming one of the worst RPGs of this year. The neon-tinged hyper-sexualised anime goddesses that represent faux versions of each of the four console giants (Nintendo, Sony, Sega and Microsoft) even fail to steal the show, becoming instantly overburdened with reams of terrible dialogue and insipid characterisation.

The opening sequence alone may well see players switching off before they even reach a battle. Our four goddesses - each involved in a war for the fiction land of 'Gameindustri' - decide to drop their weaponry after decades of battle and talk things out for a while, resulting in the Goddess Neptune (representing Sega of course) being banished to the mortal realm due to having the least prominent 'assets' (I kid you not). From here the plot takes on a tried-and-tested sequence of events that see Neptune (or Nep-Nep, as she becomes annoyingly known) attempting to re-assemble the pieces of her memory, stake her claim as a goddess once more and put a stop to the wave of violent monster attacks sweeping each territory.

Can you guess what the only animated part of this screen is?

Of course none of the above are particularly horrific concepts. As an entertainment medium videogames are uniquely suited to inward-looking humour, and the frequent nature with which titles like Bayonetta, Super Meat Boy and even Resident Evil 4 displayed their inspired homages proves the concept can work in the right hands. The problem with Hyperdimension Neptunia though, is that it's terminably dull. Every poorly-written conversation drags on for what seems like hours, and the in-jokes and references are executed with such a thinly-veiled blundering lack of finesse that you'll soon wish it was based on a topic that you cared less about. Industry-focussed observational humour can be a tricky subject to pull off for even the best developers and writers, so it's no surprise to see things fall down spectacularly given the evident rush here.

Whilst the narrative structure is mostly appalling then, it's down to the random-encounter RPG mechanics to save the day. Based around clearing dungeons on each of Gameindustri's floating territories, the questing and battle systems are - unfortunately - at best functional. Story dungeons are clearly marked out and available whenever you feel confident enough to progress through their challenges, and a variety of optional side missions can be accessed at any time for grinding and loot runs. The overworld map contains some pretty graphics depicting the land itself, but there is no exploration to be found. Text menus are used throughout the entirety of the game, and the almost-static anime cutscenes are the only other aesthetic decoration that threaten enhance the experience.

If it looks like a PS2 game, that would be an accurate depiction

Once you've navigated the menus and dropped into a dungeon, the quest objectives are culled from one of three outcomes: defeating a monster, finding an item or finding an exit. Identikit drab corridors form each of the separate instances that you'll encounter, and I'm still not entirely sure if these are randomly-generated for each game; the base level of quality is such to suggest that may well be the case. Traversing even the most basic of hallways brings an incredibly choppy framerate to light, and the quality of character animation mostly matches those efforts. The comedy sledgehammer swing used for knocking down dungeon walls is almost into so-bad-it's-good territory, but still ends up as a depressing reminder for the quality control in evidence here.

Battles take the form of random encounters with various classic videogame themed monsters, save for a few boss encounters that up the scale considerably. The combat system itself is fairly novel, but lacking in polish and balance overall. The classic turn-based AP system makes a return, with the twist coming in the form of fully controllable four-step combos. The action pauses between each of your attack commands that make up a set, so there is a certain leeway for building your own unique sequence of moves from the basic kicks, swings and ranged shots on offer. These can be further tweaked, renamed and saved with the use of HDD's, and another layer of complexity is introduced fairly early on with elemental ammunition. Switching up your attacks when presented with difficult foes soon becomes a necessity.

Attack effects are lacklustre

With those basics in place then, the battles are often tepid, straightforward and nondescript affairs almost entirely lacking in tactics. Once you have a favourite set of combo attacks in place there is little need to deviate from the formula, and the visual flourishes that accompany your best efforts are distinctly lacking in cinematic quality and production value. It helps that almost all of the encounters you'll experience are incredibly easy, but even a commendable lack of grinding can't hide the fact that Hyperdimension Neptunia's strategy-action core is entirely bland.

So with all that said, there's precious little to recommend here outside of the occasionally cutesy over-sexed anime visuals and comedy wobbling breasts. The storyline could have been an opportunity for some clever dialogue and plot machinations, but too often dissolves into laborious text conversation drudgery; the battle mechanics are functional at best; the graphical engine is mostly awful. Three pillars, three failures, and scant reason to give Hyperdimension Neptunia a second glance.

Best Game Moment: Witnessing the first ridiculous 'jiggle' on an otherwise static 2D cutscene.

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