Hyperdimension Neptunia was a turn-based RPG that released on PS3 in 2010. It has since had a variety of sequels and spin-offs over the years, the latest of which has a bit of a wordy title and takes a departure from the turn-based nature of the series in favour of a musuo-style real time action.
For the uninitiated, Hyperdimension Neptunia is set in a world called Gamindustri, which is an ever so subtle pun on “game industry”. Gamindustri is protected by the four Console Patron Units (CPUs) and the CPU candidates, who may as some point become fully fledged CPUs. The game’s writing continues this unsubtle yet undeniably charming tongue-in-cheek trend with characters who tend to react to the goings on around them not just as characters, but by demolishing the fourth wall and complaining about new mechanics.
One early example is the girls’ reaction to a new mechanic for this game, the costume break. Take too much damage too quickly or spam too many higher power attacks and you’ll experience a costume break, at which point your defense will drop sharply but your attack will increase. Considering that all the CPUs are typical anime women in already revealing clothes the cutscene for a costume break seems almost unnecessary, but if you want a close up look at barely clothed buttocks and boobs, complete with jiggle physics, while you’re on the bus then HDU has you covered.
The characters, upon discovering this new feature, complain about it in a cutscene. They also get confused upon completing missions that have ambiguous objectives, and wonder why good items are placed at the end of dungeons instead of handed to them. It’s a nice touch, enough for a chuckle and effectively lampshades the obvious game-y nature of the way the game is set up. The presentation of cutscenes leaves a little to be desired, as it’s just pictures of the characters on screen with text to read, though the voice acting is good.
Gameplay is both the game’s strongest and weakest point. Or, more accurately, the gameplay is excellent, but the way in which it is presented to you is lacking. Combat is superb, the ten CPUs have their own playing style and moves, and you can pick two most of the time, switching between them while fighting. They all handle fluidly and responsively, with attacks feeling quick and satisfying, from simple slashes all the way up to special attacks that involve explosions of lava and whatnot. It’s a spectacle and it’s at its best when surrounded by large groups of enemies, with you a whirlwind of death and fireworks in the middle.
As you fight, you’ll slowly generate your EXE gauge which, once charged, allows the character to change into their HDD form. In this form, you will deal more damage, move more quickly, and use more powerful attacks. How the character changes differs between them, some of the CPUs barely change appearance while others even change their personalities, but they are all significantly more powerful and provide lots more explosive candy for the eyes as well.
You can supplement the gameplay by customising your character – both normal and EXE forms separately – to customise their appearance and, more importantly, their items. These items can simply boost a couple of stats, or start your character off with a full EXE gauge, but they can also be used to custom fit them to your play style. One item in particular boosted a character’s attack greatly at the cost of defense, which I elected to stick on the EXE of a ranged character for some risky, yet rewarding combat.
Any time you’re fighting in HNU you’re going to be having fun, provided the musuo-style combat is something you enjoy. The main problem inherent with the genre is present, namely repetition, although the excellence of the combat in this particular case may help it last a little longer. An important contrast to other games in the genre, however, is the size of the environments. Whereas other games tend to feature large, sprawling battlefields full of forts and castles, HNU instead has small, arena-like stages, or smaller areas connected by paths that are usually blocked until you defeat all the enemies in an area.
The way the gameplay is presented does a disservice to the combat. First off, many of the enemies you’ll be fighting will be of the less threatening variety. Things like Pacman ghosts and teddy bear heads – not even bloody teddy bear heads, just actual adorable teddy bear heads. It doesn’t technically take away from the combat, but it does take from the impressiveness of it all. That famous “this is Sparta!” scene from 300 wouldn’t be as well known if Leonidas was kicking an emperor penguin into the hole, though it’d probably at least be a viral video. There are bigger enemies that look more threatening, but they take time to appear and most of them are bosses.
Worse than the pummel-me-Elmo bad guys, however, is the quest system. Each quest is just a relatively small area in which you have to complete an objective, which is usually kill this amount of enemies or kill a specific, larger enemy. It does occasionally branch out with picking up items dotted around the map or just not telling you the objective and having you figure it out yourself; an example being a level with two enemies that must be killed in one attack, or you get a game over. You end up doing incredibly similar missions in the same levels over and over, and this can quickly become tiresome.
Those levels themselves look nice, but there isn’t really anything that makes them stand out. They offer a variety of environments set in the regions of Gamindustri, which are aesthetically designed based on different consoles. From castles to forests, all the usual game environment suspects are present and rendered well enough. Enemies and characters are presented in a cel-shaded style, with plenty of the detail, particularly on the CPUs who need as much detail as possible for us to enjoy all those costume breaks.
HNU is a good game. It won’t bring anyone into the genre who doesn’t already enjoy the gameplay and it likely won’t sell anyone on an anime aesthetic that isn’t already there. If you’re a fan of musuo combat and witty humour, and you don’t mind some repetition when getting your fight on, you could do a lot worse on Vita than Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed.