Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, or just Neptunia U, is the next installment of the Hyperdimension series to receive a PC port. For those who are unfamiliar with the Neptunia series, the general concept can be summarized as a JRPG based on “the personification of video game systems/companies fighting against piracy”. While the standard form of the Neptunia series has been traditional JRPG style gameplay, Neptunia U takes the opportunity as a spin-off to explore the territory of a more Dynasty Warriors or Musou style gameplay.
For those unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warrior style gameplay, you take control of a character and bludgeon or slice your way through massive hordes of enemies in third person. Neptunia U takes this basic gameplay stance and adds its own unique elements to the style, including three different game modes to choose from. Two of the game modes are unlocked after clearing the first mode, so you start off with the standard “Story” mode. Normally this is where I would give a brief description of some sort of overarching plot line, but its not very easy to do so; not because of spoilers or really heavy plot devices, but because there really isn’t a whole lot of plot going around. Basically, two Gamindustri journalists, Dengekiko and Famitsu (based off Dengeki Magazine and Famitsu respectively), visit the patron goddesses (Console Patron Units) and goddess candidates in order to write articles about them.
Those new to the series will almost immediately wonder what a Console Patron Unit, or CPU, is. Simply put, a CPU is like a personification of a console and the people’s faith in the associated company. The journalists want to write articles about the strength of their guardian deities, so they have them partake in quests (read as monster subjugation) in order to get enough info for their articles. There also happen to be more violent and stronger monsters around lately, so this is a perfect opportunity to both investigate and reduce the monster population. That’s about it, really. There is some optional banter between characters, but it’s not integral to the actual “plot” of the game. Those new to the series may have some difficulty adjusting to characters and world lore, but thankfully the lack of plot actually helps out in this case, allowing players to jump right into the action without much worry.
In story mode, you’re given control of the CPUs and CPU candidates, as well Dengekiko and Famitsu after a few quests. Quests are fairly simple in nature, usually dropping you in a stage with the goal of “beat this large enemy” or “kill everything that moves”. Combat consists of third-person hack-and-slash style combat, where you can hit combinations of the light and heavy attack buttons to make combos and blow away your opponents, and there will be a lot of opponents. Light attacks tend to be weaker and faster while normally hitting a small area. The heavy attacks can be more punishing, but will leave you open to attack during or after use. In addition to the light and heavy hits, you also have skills, a dash, and a double jump. The dash gives you short-range movement and also doubles as an evasion skill, making you invulnerable while dashing, whereas the double jump allows you to remove yourself from a horde of enemies if they get too close for comfort. Skills are powerful attacks that use between 1-3 bars of SP, hitting wide areas and clearing out those pesky monsters. SP can be gained through two methods: picking up a Nep-Bull which restores some health and SP, or by hitting enemies with standard attacks. As you kill enemies you build up an EXE gauge. When the gauge becomes at least half full, you can transform for a short period of time, granting boosts to your stats.
What I especially enjoyed from Neptunia U was that all the characters had different move sets, even when transformed. It’s nice to see a variety, giving a fresh feeling to a mission even if cleared by different characters. While its very easy to settle in to specific characters that you enjoy playing as, none of the characters really feel as if they have combos that are all contrary to how you want to play. At the start of the game I wasn’t a huge fan of Dengekiko, despite the fact her character scheme is somewhat based on the main character of my favorite anime. After doing some of the preset character missions with her, I found a series of combos that fit my play style, and she soon became a top roster pick for me.
Neptunia U adds a unique aspect to the standard combat by allowing you to bring two characters along to a battle instead of the standard one character per fight. You can swap characters mid battle, and the reserve character will regenerate health, even if knocked out. As you beat up enemies, they will occasionally drop medals. After acquiring set amounts of medals, you can acquire stat boosts and equipment. The stat boosts are permanent and apply to all characters, and redeeming medals is the only way to acquire better gear. Each character can equip one weapon and three accessories, allowing you to customize character stats to fit your personal play style. Neptunia U also features a “costume break” feature, where accumulated damage will shatter your clothing. The first time I saw this my only thought was “what the hell Idea Factory?” which was very promptly said by one of the playable characters with a penchant for shattering the fourth wall.
At first I was under he impression it would just be a fan service gimmick, but the more I played the more I tried to keep the outfits from breaking. Simply put, your outfits actually do give you an ample amount of defense, and when broken it’s about the equivalent of challenging an army in your underpants, quite literally. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t notice this until I was getting my butt thoroughly beat by some of the tougher enemies. As you progress through the game, you can earn “easily torn duds”, “pre-torn duds”, and “unbreakable outfits” based on mission performance. One nice facet of the game is that there are color variations unlocked right from the get-go, so you can choose your preferred palate swap without the need to unlock alternate outfits.
The other two game modes, Gamindustri Gauntlet and Neptral Tower, can be unlocked rather easily, and consist of tournament style fighting challenge and 50 floor gauntlet, respectively. Bonus accessories are unlocked from clearing Gamindustri Gauntlet with different characters, and the Neptral Tower allows you to leave and resume on any floor cleared by the characters you select. A nice bonus for clearing different challenges is unlockable cheats, which have effects such as one hit kills or infinite SP.
There were few features of the gameplay that I wasn’t content with, the biggest issue being the default control scheme. Since Neptunia U is a port from the Vita to the PC, it feels a lot more comfortable using a controller rather than a keyboard. In the Vita version, skills are used by holding a shoulder button and hitting one of the character buttons. While its not too hard to change the button inputs to reflect a more apt play style, the game still feels more at home with a controller supported function. Other than that, the dash and character movement speeds can feel slow at times, especially when given larger maps, and some of the final weapon tiers require an arbitrarily large amount of minion farming in order to obtain (Famitsu, I’m looking at your final weapon), but are more so a matter of getting used to or perseverance.
The soundtrack and art style are both what I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Idea Factory games. The cutscenes are done through dynamic anime style character “cut-outs”, that will move and change with the scene they’re involved in. The in-battle graphics are surprisingly smooth considering that it’s a port from the Vita, and clothing actually becomes more tattered as the durability goes down, giving you visual cues as to when your outfit is about to break. The soundtrack mostly takes themes from the previous games in the series and either outright reuses them or remixes them for stage themes. One thing I noticed rather fast is that some of the fight themes seemed more apt to active fights as opposed to the turn-based style from the original series. Most of the enemies takes scripts from Pokemon and will only yell out their names, which actually taught me that I was pronouncing some of them wrong. During battle, characters will give quips based on current status, number of enemies killed, and if a boss appears. Character call outs are also tailored to individual partners too, my favorite of which is one of Rams shout outs to Rom when you beat a lot of enemies in a short amount of time. I have to give regards to Erin Fitzgerald as well, for having a scream that didn’t sound like someone reading from a script, which I find many of these style games tend to have.
The game is fairly short in the main story aspect, but has three game modes to play through to keep you from getting bored, especially if you want to play more. Individual stages can be completed fast, allowing players to pick it up for a while and then put it down if they are looking for something short and easy to start and stop. While the lack of any real substantive plot can be seen as rather disappointing from a series fan perspective, it allows new players to hop in rather fast and easy, giving the game a more fast-paced enjoyable feel. The game has a bit of a sporadic difficulty curve, offering choices from both lower and higher level quests starting early on, but leaves it up to the player whether they want to take the normal quest progression route or give themselves a challenge. Overall, I’d call it a solid spin-off for the series that long time fans and newcomers would both get enjoyment out of. It is fast-paced and easy to start or stop, and while the gameplay may become repetitive as Musou style games tend to do, the ease of switching characters adds a fun and refreshing feel to the gameplay.
Idea Factory International
Article by Rich