I’ve spent a lot of time defending my enthusiasm for the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, even though most people will quickly label me a “weeb perv” and immediately go about their day. And while I will readily admit that the franchise delves a little too heavily into the mildly uncomfortable world of unchecked fan service, it does so with its tongue planted firmly in cheek (please, no jokes). For me, a little self-awareness goes a very long way, and even when the game’s ability to make me cringe threatens to overwhelm the experience as a whole, I can always fall back on the gameplay. I honestly enjoy playing the Neptunia games, jiggly bits be damned. As such, I don’t have a problem jumping to the franchise’s defense when someone feels the need to dismiss them as lesser forms of entertainment.
But damn it, Super Neptunia RPG makes it really, really difficult to take a righteous stand against the naysayers. Although it desperately wants to shake up the formula and provide a different sort of experience than its predecessors (which one of the NPCs seems to hint at during an interesting exchange early in the game), you can’t help but feel that sticking to the same ol’ thing would have worked in Neptunia’s favor. What we have here is a poorly executed paper doll simulator with an inexcusably poor frame rate and unresponsive controls. I’ve admittedly had very little luck with the Hyperdimension spin-offs, and this one suggests that I should violently adhere to the core games and avoid anything else going forward. And unless you simply have an unquenchable thirst to spend time in Neptunia’s video game-inspired universe, I can’t think of many reasons you should bother. And I’m pretty disappointed about that fact.
If you’ve played any of the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, you’ll pretty much know from the jump what type of story you’re getting here. And if you guessed “let’s start things off with some amnesia,” then you’re well on your way to figuring out the extent of the narrative before spending a single moment with the game itself. Yes, our adorable heroine Neptune has trouble with her memory — again — and she’s trying to make her way around a very strange world. And while Neptune may have taken the leap from 3D to 2D, she’s still messing around in Gamindustri, one that just so happens to take place on a two-dimensional plane. After fluttering around and randomly meeting up with some of her long-time pals — who also, by the way, have a bit of an amnesia issue — Neptune and company decide they’ll help out the residents of this colorful world escape the tyranny of a government that forces its subjects to create very bland, very repetitive games.
I don’t necessarily hate Super Neptunia RPG on a conceptual level; in fact, I love developer Artisan Studios’ decision to shift the action from 3D to 2D. Even as a long-time fan of the series, I have to admit that things have become more than a bit stale over the last few entries, so I foolishly believed this change of scenery would inject some life into the poor girl. Sadly, Artisan’s shift feels half-baked and poorly implemented, from the Metroidvania-style exploration mechanics to the flat, uninspired turn-based combat. The whole lurid affair feels as though it needed a few more months in the oven, and perhaps Artisan will employ a few patches that bring the game — the Nintendo Switch version, at least — to a state that doesn’t feel half-finished and, bluntly, more than a little incomplete.
Again, we have all the ingredients for a tasty recipe, but nothing ever comes together in the way that it should. Super Neptunia RPG desperately attempts to provide players with a sense of wonder and exploration, but its clunky controls hinder your progress on a number of fundamental levels. For example, in the very first town, you’ll encounter a split in the road leading to a destination that you need to visit to advance the story. Instead of simply pressing up to access said path, you often have to jump to get your character to recognize this area as being accessible. Occasionally, you can get Neptune to recognize path by pressing up on the control stick, but most of the time, jumping is the only way you can make it happen. To make matters worse, you’ll encounter a number of forks and crossroads during your adventure, and it’s difficult to determine which allow you to journey to new areas and which act as nothing more than window dressing.
Speaking of controls, let’s take a moment to address their sluggishness and seeming inability to register your inputs in a timely fashion. Normally, I can forgive a little bit of lag — as long as it doesn’t come at the direct expense of gameplay. Sadly, Neptunia forces you to partake in a few platforming segments, which means that timing is essential when attempting to take a big leap from one rocky crag to the next. Oftentimes, pressing the jump button would result in absolutely nothing, causing poor Neptune to plummet a few levels below or, worse, into a bottomless chasm. At first, I chalked it up to my aging reflexes, though my recent excursion through My Friend Pedro suggested I hadn’t completely crossed over that particular hill just yet. Even some of the menus are inexcusably laggy; pressing a button to access, say, your equipment or skills causes the next menu to load at a snail’s pace. Super Neptunia RPG might work well on other systems, but, as mentioned earlier, it definitely still needs a little attention before it’s worthy of a purchase on the Switch.
As it stands, I can’t recommend Super Neptunia RPG to anyone other than hardcore Hyperdimension fans who desperately need something to play until the next mainline installment comes jiggling downline the assembly line. I didn’t have very high expectations for this one, given the track record I’ve had with the spin-offs, but the colorful art style and the promise of slightly different gameplay made me hopeful that Artisan and Compile Heart would give fans a different experience. Unfortunately, Super Neptunia RPG causes more frustrations and headaches than it provides boundless enjoyment, which is a damn shame. As goofy and mildly inappropriate as the games can be at times, Hyperdimenion Neptunia — not to mention Neptune, Noir, Blanc, and the rest of the gang — deserve better. By this point, they’ve earned it.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Idea Factory.
Unresponsive and loaded with framerate issues, Super Neptunia RPG isn't for anyone other than hardcore Hyperdimension fans who desperately need something to play until the next mainline installment comes jiggling downline the assembly line.