Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is actually the third in a series, and though I didn’t play the first two, I doubt the game would feel a lot less bizarre if I had. The basic premise of the series, which imagines the CPUs of various gaming consoles as women who can transform into alternate forms that look like something out of a cyberpunk anime, is straight-up nutty. The way the game actually plays is a bit less so, however. A basic dungeon-crawling RPG with a heavy emphasis on quests, flashy special moves, and level grinding, Victory is average to a fault, and hardcore JRPG fans are probably the only ones who will completely get their money’s worth out of it.
Taking place in the world of Gamindustri, Victory once again tells the story of series protagonist Neptune, who has been relaxing with her fellow CPU friends after vanquishing evil in the last game. A wrench is thrown into her plans for relaxation, however, when a mysterious force transports her to an alternate dimension that is similar in appearance to the Gamindustri of the 1980s. Once there, she finds out about an evil group known as the Seven Sages who envision a world without CPU leaders, and Neptune must save the day while also attempting to find a way back to her home world.
The basic plot is fairly simplistic, but there’s a lot of dialog and character interaction. The downside is that almost none of it is delivered through animated cinema scenes, instead opting for mostly static character portraits and a huge amout of dialog, only some of which is actually voiced. To be fair, the translation team did a pretty good job of making the dialog seem natural and even funny at times. I just wish the actual presentation was a bit better.
On the other hand, while the voice acting within cutscenes got the job done, I ultimately found myself turning the sound down when going into dungeons. The clips of dialog used here are both repetitive and annoying. It was cute the first time I tried jumping and heard Neptune exclaim, “I’m a kangaroo!”, but not so much the next dozen times.
The actual gameplay is also quite straightforward. Players will split their time between fully 3D dungeon environments and more peaceful towns, which have a very odd layout. Each town, instead of an explorable layout, is distilled to a series of menu screens. You can, among other things, go to the local Guild to take on side quests, buy items and equipment, and talk with a bunch of mostly pointless side characters represented by small, static icons. It gets the job done, but lacks personality as a result. The dungeons and character models for your main party members, on the other hand, are more lively and expressive, if not extremely detailed.
Battles are an interesting mix of turn-based elements and full 3D movement. Similar to many classic JRPGs, players take alternating turns with the enemy AI to plan their moves. When it’s your turn, however, you aren’t limited to menus for deciding your attack. You can also move your character around on the battlefield to get within attack range, even hitting more than one enemy at a time if you move to the right spot. From there, you can chain together different types of attacks to lower your enemy’s defenses and eventually take them out. Additionally, players can build up a meter to eventually transform into their special HDD mode, which provides an all-around stat boost.
This battle system is perfectly functional, and even fun when you pull off some of the flashier special moves, but the game relies a bit too much on repetitive level grinding. Even when I found myself battling most of the enemies I saw while going through a dungeon the first time, I would sometimes hit a boss that brought with them a large difficulty spike, requiring me to go back and spend some time mindlessly battling smaller enemies to level up some more. This feels more like a way to artifically extend the game’s length than actually providing some substance, and I can’t say I was a fan of it.
Another odd gameplay choice is the heavy reliance on the sidequest system. While other recent JRPGS like Xenoblade Chronicles and Ni no Kuni also had plenty of sidequests to partake in, they were generally much more optional. Here, there are points where the story won’t progress until you’ve completed a certain amount of them. It doesn’t help that most of the sidequests boil down to killing a specific type of enemy multiple times or collecting a certain amount of items.
A more interesting feature comes in the form of optional goals for each individual party member. Akin to achievements and trophies, you’ll be alerted via pop-up text when you accomplish each goal, which varies from striking a victory pose a certain amount of times, walking a certain amount, or even standing still for a certain period of time. You’ll be rewarded with stat boosts for each of these, as well, providing a nice incentive to spend some extra time on them.
When all is said and done, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory isn’t bad, but it is unremarkable. When I reviewed other JRPGs this year, such as Atelier Ayesha and Ni no Kuni, I complained that they didn’t bring enough in the way of fresh ideas to the genre. Despite that, they were more competent in their structure and more appealing in their presentation. There are some neat ideas here, such as the individual character goals mentioned above, but not enough to make for a truly substantial game.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of the game that we were provided with.