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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: Idea Factory / Compile Heart PUBLISHER: NIS America
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 15, 2011 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Chestal humour, I choose you!

Time for a riddle! What is bubbly, bounces, and is broken? If you said a malfunctioning mechanical rubber ball, you'd be wrong. Dead wrong. DECEASED wrong. Expiry date passed wrong. But if you happened to guess "Hyperdimension Neptunia", then give yourself a pat on the back because you are correct! Hyperdimension Neptunia for the PlayStation 3 is all of those things. Now I hear you in the back with the stained bootleg T-shirt that reads "Metallico" being extremely skeptical. How can a single video game possess all of these qualities? Video games aren't bubbly, unless you place it in the microwave. They don't bounce, unless you toss one onto the encrusted backyard trampoline. And if it's broken — disc snapped in half, among other possibilities — then I couldn't even begin to review it! Please, dear sir in the back, give me the benefit of the doubt, and all will be illuminated in due time.

Let's start with the bubbly part.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is set in Gamindustri, a transparent representation of the everlasting console war. Within Gamindustri, there are four landmasses, each governed by a CPU. Lastation is based on PlayStation, Lowee is named after the Wii, Leanbox is the greenest and named for the Xbox, and then there's Planeptune, a play on the failed Sega Neptune, which would have been a combination Genesis and 32X but was never released. During a vicious battle between all four CPUs, they opt to gang up on one and defeat her once and for all. Neptune is the one removed from the war (a take on Sega's retreat from the console market), she falls unconscious, only to awaken on Planeptune suffering from amnesia. She hears the voice of Histoire, an all-knowing tome that is being held captive. Histoire requests that Neptune seek out four Key Fragments, the only way she can be unlocked from her proverbial cage and saved. Neptune teams up with nurse-in-training Compa (named after one of the developers, Compile Heart) and IF (representing Idea Factory) to hunt for these fragments across the landmasses. And, of course, monsters are causing trouble, as per usual.

What does all this have to do with bubbliness? Well, let me tell you one thing, though I may say more things afterward: this game is filled with cutscenes. Half your time will likely be spent looking at cutscenes. And not animated cutscenes. No, that would be too advanced for the PlayStation 3, oh yes. We're basically shown slightly animated images for each character; their mouths move, and they sway a little bit, but there isn't much movement to speak of. Your focus will be reading/listening to the conversations and little else. The drawn portraits are absolutely gorgeous, but this could easily have been achieved a generation or two ago and does not utilize much of the current generation's capabilities. But you still need to watch them, as they help push the story along and also unlock future scenes and dungeons.

...huh? Oh, right. Bubbliness. Compa and Neptune, who appear in pretty much every scene and are your primary characters, are the most downright bubbly individuals you'll find in a video game. Ever. Now and in the future. They're so peppy, so upbeat, so downright chipper. If you're used to gritty, dramatic games, these two will probably grate on your nerves. Other characters at least provide a balance and will even go as far as directly swearing at Neptune. It's somewhat uncalled for, but it helps to bring me back from Bubble Gum Land. The only other saving grace are the thinly veiled references to video game lore. I'm still not sure just how the girls managed to stumble upon a giant turtle named Wowser in the Shroom Kingdom...

It would be wise to avoid these ladies in an alley, yes?

Now, as I mentioned earlier, this game is not only bubbly but also bouncy. How so, you ask? Because this game is so breast-oriented, it is almost beyond the point of reason. For some reason, the characters in the game equate breast size, or lack thereof, to be a representation of their overall strength. Characters such as Neptuna and IF are denigrated for their lack of a large chest and, as such, not taken seriously by some.

It gets even worse when you meet up with Nisa, a warrior of justice dressed in a very open tight leather suit (named after NIS America/Nippon Ichi Software). Nisa gets constantly picked on for being, and I quote directly from the game, "raisin-chested". She is an excellent fighter, but due to her lack of... shall we say, frontal expansion packs, no one, aside from the girls in your party, can take her seriously. Thank goodness she gets her revenge.

But the game is also bouncy because of the animated portraits, which do their very best to emphasize the range of motion capable by the mammaries in question. They flutter about under their own influence, not manically, but enough to be noticed. Idea Factory and Compile Heart couldn't be bothered to have any animated cutscenes, but they sure had the time to work on 2D breast physics. It really shows where their priorities were.

That brings us to the last characteristic: Hyperdimension Neptunia is broken. And boy, is it ever. Where do I begin?

Let's start with the dungeon crawling. The RPG part of this game typically takes place within very small dungeons, with the full map already made available right from the get-go. Every dungeon feels the same, with your goal either being to defeat the boss at the end, to kill a certain number of a specific enemy, or to gather a certain amount of a specific item. It's basically just walking around in a (usually) dingy, uneventful area while your character of choice shows off their strange run animation. For some reason, the framerate in these areas feels quite off; it's definitely not smooth. If you are dizzy, pregnant, or have a heart condition, don't look directly at the action. The draw distance in the dungeons is a joke sometimes; is this a game from 1995? To make matters a bit worse, most enemies in dungeons don't give much experience, so grinding is quite a chore. Some say that you don't need to grind at all; I disagree.

Each character also has a special ability in the dungeons. Neptune can break some walls that block your way with a giant hammer. Compa can use the Monster Call ability to... call monsters. That works especially well on the occasional monster portal you'll find. And IF can use Treasure Search to find hidden treasures. Once you use the ability, an arbitrary meter has to charge up before you can use it again. Huh.

Once in a while, you'll randomly encounter an enemy, and a battle will ensue. This is where things get a bit awkward. Your characters have three different kinds of attacks: use your weapon, use something physical (a kick will do nicely), or fire off a gun and an element-based bullet of your choosing, all of which consume AP; once you run out, your turn is over. You can pre-program combos and moves to each action button, but all the good attacks consume more AP than I want to give up. There's one attack that Neptune learned that she can't even use until she is around Level 25 because the amount of AP she has overall is lower than what this attack costs! And you can't even use it unless it's at the end of a combo consisting of other, weaker attacks first! So I had to wait much longer until I could unleash that behemoth! Weak attacks are all I have to work with most of the time anyhow because good weapons aren't made available for purchase until I reach specific levels... but... which levels?

Neptune has transformed... just to kill a bug. Great.

As bad as the fighting itself is, that's mere beans compared to the system's largest flaw: the healing system. This is, by far and wide, the worst healing system I have ever experienced, and it alone breaks this game. Some designer in a dank basement apartment awoke late one night with a vision. He ran to the phone (and I say it was a "he" because no woman in her right mind would make a game this sexist) and immediately called up his programmer pal. "Hey!" he said. He said this in Japanese, mind you. "How about we not allow the player to have any control over the characters' healing abilities? They'll love that!" The programmer then told the designer never to call again then hung up and went back to sleep. Yet the designer was ever so determined, and his vision become a reality.

You cannot heal yourself. You just can't. Outside of a battle, you can only get HP back if you leave the dungeon entirely and return to the main map (and I say "map" but I really mean "clunky menu serving as a map"). Otherwise, you have to allot points to your "Item Skills", abilities that allow each character to heal or resolve status problems. Each point equates to a percentage point possibility that they will actually perform that skill, up to 100 points. Early on, this is a problem because you don't have many points to use. So you'll have a low probability of healing yourself, potentially resulting in cheap deaths simply because you were unlucky. And because that late-night brainstorming designer was an oaf. I can't even begin to count the number of times my party members died simply because they did not heal themselves. Oh, and every healing uses up a certain number of items, provided you have them in the first place. You can buy them for high prices or collect them after each battle when they fly into the air for some reason. This is an unacceptable game flaw, and it makes Hyperdimension Neptunia far worse than it could have been.

There are other questionable design choices. The game has a tutorial system, but it's about as useful as a pair of tweezers in escaping from prison. Early on, you'll see that same screen that says, "Let's talk about..." whatever subject the tutorial is about. Then it gives one, maybe two sentences, and that's all. Thanks for the help! I'm quite confused!

After gaining Nisa as a member of your party, she'll be able to show you how many "shares" in each landmass you have. Acquiring a certain percentage of shares for a particular landmass unlocks additional scenes and dungeons. Just one problem: nobody told me this! Suddenly, a meter pops up every once in a while, and I'm left wondering what to do with this information. Other than nothing, which is what I did. I sure could have used a tutorial for this! Perhaps the answer is in the manual, which very few individuals actually read but should! Let me check... nope, not in there.

This game also has plenty of downloadable content. In fact, the total cost of all the DLC for Hyperdimension Neptunia costs more than the game itself. You can buy DLC to get yourself some stat boosts or give your characters new equipment they could not otherwise obtain. I don't feel like paying an extra dollar for some ridiculous hat or $2.49 for a costume. The worst DLC, however, comes from unlocking additional party members. Extra characters are a nice bonus, but they actually DO become members of my party, with or without the DLC. They're just marked as "guests". What a pain! I have to pay to use people I already have travelling with me! I feel used.

So there you have it. Hyperdimension Neptunia. We solved the riddle. It's a frustrating dungeon snoozer of an adventure filled with intermittent referential humour and jokes about the breast sizes of underaged girls. At least the voice acting is decent; that's one redeeming quality, but we need many more. If there's a niche market for terrible sexist games like this, please don't include me in it.

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