The gaming industry has had its highs and lows, laughs and tears, and successes and failures. But what if all of those were wrapped up in a cute little package, making light of everything that happened in the past thirty years of gaming? Welcome to the genius of Hyperdimension Neptunia V, putting a kawaii ribbon on the usually dark and depressing console wars.
Neptunia V is the third game in the series that takes the video game console war and puts a hilarious spin on it. Every console is personified as a CPU, who are rulers of their country, so PlayStation nation really does exist in this game. All the major consoles are represented in some form, with Neptune the main character personifying the Sega Neptune, its cancelled Genesis/32X console. All the characters have traits and mannerisms taken from their console; for example, Noire being super serious and hardcore to represent the public perception of the PlayStation console. Dialogue between the main characters also delves into the public perceptions of each other, and what the system was supposed to be about. With the game taking place in the 80s, and the `I don`t know what we`re doing` attitude of Sega consoles, it is no wonder Neptune talks as if she is a California valley girl on acid.
The dialogue is where this game shines but it is a very subtle and non-serious spin of the entire gaming industry that a lot of people will not get or appreciate. It tries to make-light of everything from trolls and fan boys to creativity and market shares. In essence this entire game is one giant in-joke that if you don't understand then it'll sound juvenile, but if you do understand it you will be laughing like watching a Kevin Smith movie. Lots of gaming icons make parody appearances, from Mario to Snake, and even Keiji Inafune makes a special appearance if you can find him.
Combat is really quick for an RPG, especially a Compile Heart RPG for those who remember previous games made by them like Cross Edge. Every character is on a battlefield and they must be moved around, with a target box used for attacking enemies. Each button has a different attack, allowing for easy combos or easy mashing depending on your play style and situation. Compile Heart also has solved the biggest problem almost every RPG has which is what to do with unused characters. Thanks to their 'Lily System,' players can put characters into ranks with the back rank supporting the front in battle. They don't participate but they do provide buffs, and get better buffs once their rank levels up. It allows those unwanted or unliked characters to have a purpose other than take up space on the menu screen.
Graphically this is not a giant, and except for some beautiful anime-style character models during talking, this game could be played on a PS2 without a hitch. The environments are small and sparse of any background or characters, and while there is a nice array of enemies they eventually get re-used with new names and better stats. All the character models, ally or enemy, are all very unique and it is obvious that a lot of work was put into giving the main protagonists and antagonists their own style.
One problem gamers will have with this game is it is unabashedly an RPG. There is a lot of text, and a lot of it is not voice acted. Thankfully they allow for a skip button, one which it joked about during a dramatic scene. As stated earlier, there are also a lot of in-jokes and references making it a very hard game to just enjoy unless a lot of the jokes are understood and appreciated. If Mass Effect style, super serious and gritty dialogue is what you like then don't even bother looking for it here, and those that cannot appreciate or understand layers of subtlety need not apply as well. To really appreciate the story of the game, the player needs to search for the deeper meanings the creator wants to get across. It is not going to slap you in the face and make it easy.
RPGs are a great genre for music and soundtrack buffs won’t be disappointed here. Constantly I am thinking Phantasy Star as I am listening to the soundtrack, wanting to get into battle after battle just to hear the tunes constantly. The creators also added in extra little features like lyrical songs that can found during certain cutscenes, going above and beyond the call of duty to immerse the gamer into this unique world. It is a nice contrast as 95% of the game plays it for laughs, so when something suitably serious and boss-like does crop up, it definitely hits home.
The strength and weakness of Neptunia V is its anime style. Some western gamers can appreciate this, and enjoy it. Others hate that style with a passion. If you are a part of the former then you will enjoy this game with all its Sailor Moon style, super morphing character cast. If you don't appreciate the female form, or don't believe the cast is empowering to women, you have been warned. Somehow this game received a T rating in North America which is a surprise considering the amount of BDSM, sexual references and innuendo used in the dialogue, let alone one character`s transformation form being that of a dominatrix. Again, those that find this offensive will not enjoy the game as it happens all the time.
So, why is this review so harsh for the reader? Why is it such an either/or kind of game? Compile Heart is a company that embraces its style and doesn't care if the player likes it or not. It is not a company that tries to sellout the core basis of its series just to get more mainstream appeal and sell a few more copies, ala all the complaints heard about the latest Resident Evil and Dead Space. It stays true to what kind of games it makes, and what its audience is. Simply put, you are only going to play this game if you're a fan of the kind of games they make, and you are not going to play it because you hate the kind of games they make.
Hyperdimension Neptunia V is a solid, deep, and well written RPG that shows what the genre is all about -- namely, the story. It is a great, subtle and layered commentary of the video game industry that doesn't take itself seriously and is constantly making sure the gamer knows that it doesn't care it is not being serious. Deadpool can only wish to break the fourth wall as much as this game does. Due to the hardcore reputation of the company, this is a game for fans and is full of fan service. Fans will love it, haters will hate it, and those undecided will be thrown in head first and made to decide quickly if they will board the ship or swim home.
-The Final Word-
An hilarious RPG that tries to be light-hearted, yet deep at the same time. Those who love Compile Heart style RPGs will fall in love with this sequel, but detractors will turn their nose up at it. Great for the fans but not a gateway game to bring non-fans into the fold.