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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: Idea Factory, Compile Heart PUBLISHER: NIS America
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 28, 2012 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

The year is 20XX. Keiji Inafune is a sword of justice. ...Really?

Years ago, I played and reviewed Hyperdimension Neptunia, a game that, by most accounts, was not well-done in any notable respect. The battle system was flawed, healing was an incredibly complex chore, and the game was a bit too heavily focused on comparing everyone's breast sizes. Now, after a lengthy absence from the series, I have returned to see if things have improved in the sequel, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. The answer: Y——es?

Though all seemed to be well at the end of the first game, such is not the case here. From the beginning, there is immediate trouble: though the original villain, Arfoire, has fallen, a new syndicate called ASIC has risen in her stead, with their ultimate goal to raise havoc within the game industry and potentially raise Arfoire from the dead. When the main CPUs of each land in Gamindustri (plus Neptunia's little sister, Nepgear) go to the Gamindustri Graveyard to try and defeat ASIC, they are instead overwhelmed and forcefully held there... for years. Only after a few years do former heroes Compa and IF return to the graveyard to try and save the CPUs. Only Nepgear is able to escape with them. With ASIC being too powerful to handle, the three begin their quest to enlist the aid of all four nations to combine their powers and rescue the frozen CPUs.

Unlike the previous game where most of the clever references to gaming and the real-life console wars were injected into the characters' conversations, the parodical nature of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 makes itself known more visually. Many of the game's monsters directly resemble others from various games. In the land of Lowee (clearly a parody of the Wii console), for example, it's not uncommon to battle giant wacky Tetris-like blocks, feisty Mushroom Kingdom pipes, and even the head of Ryuta Kawashima, best known as Dr. Kawashima in the popular Brain Training and Brain Age series — possibly all in one fight. Things get wackier even beyond that. The first thing you see when you start the game is a live-action introduction by Takahashi Meijin, the inspiration for the hero of Adventure Island and the infamous "16 shots per second" PR man for Hudson Soft. Later on, Nepgear can also summon a very special sword that's LITERALLY made of Keiji Inafune, co-creator of Mega Man and producer of Dead Rising and Lost Planet. And of course, the character names themselves are references to companies who had a hand in the game's development, such as Compa (for Compile Heart), IF (Idea Factory), Gust, Nisa (NIS America), and 5pb.

The game also spoofs beyond the game world. In each of the major cities, you can hop on Twitter—er, I mean, CHIRPER— and see what thoughts various citizens have, including Master Higgins from Adventure Island; "Michelloom", who looks very much like a member of a certain fungus-based kingdom we all know about; and, yes, Keiji Inafune again. That guy's everywhere... except in good favour with gamers right now. But I digress. Talking to certain people in Chirper can trigger events that bring your characters closer together, increasing their "Lily Rank". Awww.

Perhaps the most important shift is in the game's battle system, which has seen a complete overhaul and for the better. Random encounters no longer exist, as you can clearly see the enemies wandering around in the various dungeons. Engaging in battle plants you and up to three allies against a troupe of baddies. Each character's turn sequence is shown at the top of the screen, and instead of simply choosing an enemy and letting the game do the work, you get to move around within a circle of space, and you'll have to walk up to the enemy before fighting. Your party members can perform a few different normal attacks or chain them together in specific ways for extra damage. In addition, characters learn special moves over time that require SP ("Skilll Points") to activate. (This includes changing certain CPU or CPU Candidates into HDD form, which improves their abilities for a while and also plants them into leather suits for some reason.) Characters also gain SP over time by either hacking away at enemies or simply ending your turn. Some of it transfers over between fights, which helps. Naturally, winning battles earns you experience points to level up, as well as earn money to buy weapons and items at the local shops.

Nice on the eyes. The colours, I mean.

Cities also feature guilds, which can provide you, the budding adventurer, with quests to earn not only some extra spending money and items but also shares. "Shares", you say? Am I investing in the stock market, you say? In a sense. In those three years where nobody did a darn thing, Arfoire and ASIC managed to gain a majority of shares in Gamindustri. By completing quests, you can gradually claw back those shares to the various CPUs and gain more control over the land. This has a greater effect on the endings than any in-game events or gameplay.

Though it's without question a sharp improvement, that's not to say Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 has reached a plateau of greatness, though it's without question a sharp improvement. There are still flaws that hold it back. Dungeon crawling still suffers from a strange framerate affliction pretty much all the time. I get the unfortunate feeling that mk2 was not optimized for the ONE console it was designed for. And despite there being many locations and dungeons to explore, many of them are carbon copies on one another, down to both the visual design and the exact layout. That's just lazy.

The cutscenes continue to consist of stationary characters while we read or listen on, but at least there's far more animation in their portraits, alongside new 3D renderings instead of 2D drawings. (They occasionally even turn around. Man, that sounds uninteresting.) But conversations falter when either the person talking isn't even the one showing in the portraits, or there are individuals speaking that have no visual representation whatsoever. There are some significant characters when you will have multiple conversations with them but never know what they ever look like. There's clearly room for improvement still. It's also a shame that this is pretty much the only style of cutscene we ever see. Even a few CG inserts would be welcome showing, y'know, some action. Instead, we're treated to trope sound effects and white screen flashes to indicate off-screen action.

Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is also the only game in the Neptunia series to receive an "M" rating from the ESRB. Though NIS America themselves have partially chalked this up to an overly emotional possible ending (something I highly doubt pushes any game into mature territory), we can easily chalk this up to one character: CFW Trick. A thug of ASIC, he'd be quite alright, if he wasn't constantly acting like a braggadocio about wanting to, among other things, lick little girls. No, seriously, that's what he does in every scene he's in. He just can't resist himself. Uh, yeah.

Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is significantly better than its predecessor. There's no doubt about this. The presentation, the visual appearance, and its battle gameplay have been revisited and buffed from scratch. Still, there's a certain emptiness to it, perhaps caused by repetitive dungeons, framerate concerns, and even a good chunk of stale dialogue. Despite this, I can still recommend this game to RPG fans, provided you have no issues with sparring with a giant yellow tankbot sporting a waggling tongue whose penchant for licking youth is shoved down your throat.

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