I have been more than a little excited about this one. It has been a while since I played a solid strategy-RPG title (I was not all that fond of Natural Doctrine, despite the hopes I had been harboring for it). In fact, the last awesome handheld strategy game I played was Fire Emblem Awakening - which was amazing. While Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart does not quite reach those lofty standards, it is still an excellent strategy title that should appeal to fans of the Hyper series.
It is awesome to see the Hyper series stretching its wings a bit more and venturing outside of its well-established comfort zone. The last few games have ranged from good to great from the RPG branch, but Hyperdimension Neptunia PP: Producing Perfection left me a bit underwhelmed when the team strayed from their normal formula.
Hyperdevotion Noire follows my favorite of the CPUs as she finds herself duped by a mysterious figure that throws the world as Noire knows it for a loop. Like the other Hyper games, Hyperdevotion is very heavy on text. It is probably a good twenty to thirty minutes from the start of the game to your first battle. In some titles this might make things somewhat of a chore, but thankfully the voice acting is excellent as always in this series, and the dialogue is often very funny in its satirical approach.
Visually Hyperdevotion moves between the usual style of anime art for the dialogue scenes, while character controlled scenes such as combat use a more chibi-like style where the characters have enormously disproportionate heads. For those worried that there will be no fan service to be found due to this change in style, rest assured that skimpy clothing and acts of ridiculousness abound in both the conversation scenes and the character controlled portions.
As much as I love all of the above aspects to the game, they are really just dressing. Important dressing that certainly appeals to a specific audience, but still superfluous should the combat fail to hold up. I am quite happy to report that the combat, while not the deepest SRPG out there, acquits itself quite nicely on several different fronts. Combat plays out on a grid in turn-based fashion. Already, that is a good start for me as someone who cut his teeth on strategy games like Heroes of Might & Magic, Warsong, Shining Force and Fire Emblem.
The grid structure works for keeping movement and combat easy to identify and plan for. This was one of my biggest issues with Natural Doctrine - in that adopting a three dimensional world they had traded in tactics for frustrating lines of sight. Not the case here as moving about and targeting foes is quick and easy to do. The terrain is also important, which is something that the Agarest series always lacked, but how the terrain here is leveraged is what is unique. Older SRPs simply made terrain about two factors - how much movement was required to pass through it, and what kind of defense bonuses standing in said terrain provided. Here the terrain is an obstacle that needs to be monitored due to things like electrified fences, lasers, moving platforms and more.
Other aspects to the strategy, such as which direction the girl is facing, or if she has a compatible ally nearby (leveraging the Lily system as it is called) that might create joint attacks and potentially deadly bosses help to add variety to the combat. If anything, my biggest complaint about the levels is that there were not more of them. Hyperdevotion Noire is not a terribly short game, but it does pad its time through an interesting item upgrade system that unfortunately requires grinding to make the most out of it. I do not mind grinding - in fact it tends to have an almost soothing quality on me when I am playing RPGs, but more levels would have helped to offset the eventual feeling of repetition that settled in. The good news is that there were several side quests, but Hyperdevotion would have benefited from even more.
For all of the various systems that interject variety into the combat itself, what works best for Hyperdevotion are the characters that you recruit and use along the way. Being a big fan of Noire, I am glad her time here was not wasted, but other characters make suitable showings as well. However, SRPG titles often run the risk of units becoming cookie cutters of one another. A knight is a knight in many of these titles over the years, but here the women have distinctive personalities that come through in their attacks and abilities as well. I had a good deal of fun experimenting with different combinations of characters throughout the adventure.
On top of all the solid presentation and the combat system, Hyperdevotion also has a handful of options that are fun to play with. The jukebox music, ability to change spoken language to either English or Japanese and the ability to skip the various attacks and combat cut scenes (that can admittedly bog down the proceedings) so the game can speed along a bit faster. I admit that I finally did that during the last third of so of the game. I enjoyed the combat animations as they had a tendency too lend some of the unique Hyper flavor to the proceedings, but I was ready to just plow through enemies in a time efficient fashion by the end of the game.
SRPG fans will be happy to know that there is a solid strategy game at the core of Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. Fans of the Hyper series will also be grateful to know that the characters are done justice and the banter is as good as ever. Those of us who fall into both categories? Well, there is a lot to like here and should find plenty to do along the way through Noire's first (and hopefully not last) featured game.
Review by Nick
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart - PS Vita Review
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart , Idea Factory International , PS Vita Review , Sony PlayStation Vita , Sting