Hyperdimension Neptunia is to Idea Factory as Dynasty Warriors is to Tecmo Koei. Both are flagships of their respective fleet, and both stick to a rigid formula that has brought them much success. But in Action Unleashed we see a crossing of the two, and where no Hyperdimension has gone before. Will this be the best of both worlds, or become a fourth wall breaking comedy gag in a later sequel?
With the exception of Producing Perfection, Hyperdimension has stuck to its RPG roots. Action Unleashed attempts to turn the loveable cast of otakus into action heroes by setting them up in a Dynasty Warriors-style game. Out go menu button prompts and managing discs to power-up yourself, instead replaced by button mashing and an interesting take on currency.
The switch to a beat-em up makes sense considering the cast growing increasingly larger and larger. But as the expression goes “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” AU has some basic flaws that a straight-up clone of Dynasty Warriors should not have made. One in particular is the level design. Most stages are based in one area, and by area I mean a single patch of ground. There is nothing to explore or see, and much like every Neptunia game, the graphics are pretty much identical. While the developer did not reuse level designs like in previous games, but the lack of graphical progress means they have a specific design niche and are putting their budget more into the anime artwork than the environments themselves. So, if you are new to the series, this is par for the course.
Since the environments are so small that reduces the amount of enemies on the screen. Half the fun of a DW-style game is the smashing of thousands of enemies. While there are plenty of foes to vanquish, they come in smaller waves that can be defeated very easily. I put all the attack buffing items on Noire, thus reducing her defence to 1, and beating levels was academic. Spam her volcano attack, pick up dropped potions to restore SP, volcano attack, lather, rinse, and repeat. Pick a different character and it will be the same.
This creates the bane and boon of the game, and essentially how you will gravitate towards it. Due to the low difficulty of the victory conditions, ranging from kill 250 enemies to beat X specific boss characters to get the item the boss character drops, the stages are not time consuming. They are plentiful, but not time consuming. With the game being the opposite of every other Hyperdimension game in terms of story—that is to say, there is hardly anything to speak of—this becomes a bedtime game. In other words, play a few missions as you lay in bed as you try and fall asleep, and repeat throughout the week.
One positive that fell short was the addition of a limited jukebox. It was great that I can change up the songs at will to something I enjoyed from previous titles but it was done in the most unimportant position: the city menu. The game is all about button-mashing combat and you can’t change the soundtrack while in combat. This is a bigger issue than normal because songs are randomized from battle tracks to city tracks. Needless to say, hacking and slashing isn’t much fun listening to conversation music. There are some new songs added to the soundtrack, but with the overabundance of reused songs, of which many are menu tracks, it is like playing roulette if you hear them or not.
Instead of a money system to buy new gear and items, enemies drop coins linked to themselves. For example, kill a mech and you get mech coin. Each enemy has a reward ladder depending on the number of coins you have, which can go up to 999. You don’t spend them, you just need to reach that amount. This type of economy is enjoyable but due to the unbalanced stat system, it ruins the effectiveness for gamers not looking to be a completionist. As mentioned, I was smashing through the game easily thanks to one specific piece of equipment. Defence and status effects are of no consequence for your character, and with that piece of equipment it also reduces the need to get better weapons to nothingness.
So far it sounds like a lot of negativity but the game still shines best at what it always has—fun and exciting characters and banter. Again, the story is like an episode of Seinfeld. It is about nothing. Yet, they manage to add in fresh jokes and witty repartee to their fourth wall breaking humor. However, as alluded to earlier, the game’s story length is severely shortened. This actually helps the pacing of the game because the length between story to gameplay is thus shortened in turn. It is also spread out across the missions, meaning it comes in bite-sized chunks that are easy to enjoy, rather than one big chunk that takes significant time to read through.
The voice acting is once again beautifully done, which is enchanting enough to make you want to sit through the going nowhere story only to listen to their chemistry. Personally, I don’t like voice acting nine times out of ten because I can read faster, and the sound of voice skipping ruins the experience. But here I can’t help but want to listen as the comedy delivery is spot on, and would not make the humor as good if it was silent.
If you want a game that does the bare fundamentals, and can pass by 20 minutes without consequence, then this is a great game for you. If you’re looking for the polish of a DW game, or something of consequence, then this won’t be your bedtime lullaby. The cast and humor is as great as it always has been, but the lack of basic fundamentals like a rocking soundtrack and hordes of enemies keep it from being as fun as the game should be. Without any meaningful replay value, there won’t be much to keep coming back to.