Under Your Radar: Neptunia

Up, Up, Down, Down… whatever. Secret code entered.

You may be wondering why I’m late with this week’s Under Your Radar entry. That’s because I legitimately forgot. Seriously.

In any case, this week’s entry is on Neptunia, a PS3 series about moeified game consoles and companies fighting in console wars. The games in the series are known in English as Hyperdimension Neptunia and Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. In Japan, they’re known as Chōjigen Game Neptune (Super Dimension Game Neptune), Chōjigen Game Neptune mk2 (Super Dimension Game Neptune mk2) and a third game came out there recently named Kami Jigen Game Neptune V (God Dimension Game Neptune V – the “V” stands for “Victory”). An anime was announced on the day of said third game’s release, and a manga has been running for a while now (though only two chapters were scanlated – I’d do it myself if I could find the RAWs). The protagonist is based off of the Sega Neptune, a system that never came to be.

Neptunia is a strange beast, in that the first one is only enjoyable if you take its classification as a game as being in name only. While I’m on the subject, the first Neptunia game is more like a manga one-shot. It was popular, so it became a series that used parts of its plot, characters and setting, but not all of it by any stretch. At the same time, one-shots generally have very different stories than their series counterparts, typically fixing what was wrong with the one-shot, but sometimes is just being a longer re-tread of it with the occasional nod to the one-shot’s continuity.

If you don’t understand what I mean, and you’ve read a manga that had any one-shot version made before it became a series, I recommend checking some of them to get what I mean. Some off the top of my head are One Piece (whose one-shot got revised at least 4 times), Koisome MomijiNisekoi and Medaka Box.

But, so as to not make this post have hours of mostly unrelated required reading, I will explain what I mean. As I said, the first Neptunia game is best thought of as a visual novel with JRPG elements instead of a JRPG with visual novel-styled cutscenes. Why is this? Simply put, the writing is the first game’s selling point. So much so that I actually recommend shelling out for the DLC to make your characters stronger, so the relatively tedious gameplay doesn’t get in your way.

The gameplay is turn-based with points that you can allocate to how well you can defend, or what sort of string of attacks you can use. You can set many, many custom combos, and even name them, but you don’t really have enough different techniques to make them different enough from each-other until late in the game, and for reasons unknown, the game doesn’t let you put spaces in the names.

Nonetheless, you play practically the entire game with just Compa (Compile Heart), Neptune/Purple Heart  and IF (Idea Factory) unless you bought the DLC characters. While two other characters join you without DLC, you can’t use them in combat without paying up for their DLC anyway. Without the DLC, your only backup characters (as well as the only chance to use a certain mechanic without weakening yourself) is by grinding shares (which are never explained unless you have a guide) right before the final boss, and beating Noire/Black Heart (Sony consoles), Blanc/White Heart (Nintendo consoles) and Vert/Green Heart (Microsoft consoles) one-on-one with just Neptune.

The story of said game involves Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert, who are the “goddesses” in every game in the series, fighting each other and deciding that it’s getting them nowhere when it’s such an even match. So the other three kick Neptune out of Celestia and have her memories wiped, leaving her falling from the sky in her human form and landing head-first into the ground “like a spear”. At this point, the book of the world, named Histoire, contacts Neptune and tells her that she must find her and save the world.

The main villain of the series is a character known as Arfoire (Magiquone in Japan). I’d explain who she is, but you’re better off just reading her English name out loud and figuring the rest out yourself.

Practically everything in the story is gaming in-jokes. Aside from that, it’s a primarily slice of life story with some religion and politics mixed in, when comedy isn’t front and center. And even when comedy is front and center, actually. I mean, one of the jokes used is that the team healer couldn’t heal a dying character because she couldn’t remove his death flag, even if she healed his injuries.

Thought I was joking?

Wait, I just said “he”, didn’t I? I’m perfectly serious when I say that anyone who isn’t a playable character or Arfoire is represented in the first game’s cutscenes by a silhouette. This includes every male character in the entire game. The second game has male characters, but one’s a robot, and the other is… I don’t even know what he is, but he’s also a pedo (and single-handedly got that game’s rating bumped to M). The third game has a non-silhouetted male human, but he’s a villainous old guy.

The game had practically no budget, and re-used a lot of assets from other games (which it outsold, funnily enough), yet they managed to amuse enough people to get a properly budgeted second game.

And wow was the gameplay fixed up. It changed to more along the lines of an action RPG, except turn-based, if that makes sense. The problem here being that they threw away the first game’s more interesting religious setting and the floating islands for a single, big landmass and replaced the main character with her younger sister, based off the Sega Game Gear, since the story called for the original protagonist to be trapped until near the end.

Nepgear/Purple Sister was significantly less interesting a character than Neptune, and the other handheld representatives, Ram, Rom (the White Sisters, both of which represent Nintendo) and Uni/Black Sister (Sony handhelds) all felt rather flat as well. It was practically a rehash of the first game, with a handful of changes scattered around, mostly for the worse. This included swapping out the sprites for 3D models, which was reversed for the next game (thank God). Aside from the gameplay, one thing I can praise it for, however, was changing most of the jokes from verbal to visual. The enemies just have to be seen to be believed, as does a certain summon, and the next game only expanded on this.

Yes, that’s Keiji Inafune, the guy credited with creating MegaMan.

People were genuinely happy when the third game was announced and made Neptune the main character again. Not only that, but fighting piracy was no longer shoehorned in (and, believe me, their use of it in the second game was rather heavy-handed). No, the story this time around involved going back to the 80s, where things were rather hectic. Still, basing the story on the 80s allowed for several more goddesses to enter the fray, such as a TurboGrafx-16 representative named PC (because the console was called the PC Engine in Japan).

I sh!t you not. Meet Yellow Heart, everyone.

While I’ll refrain from talking too much about the third game, which I have not gotten the chance to play (no English release announced yet), the series is one that’s definitely worth looking into, though I recommend starting with the third – it has Nepgear give a convenient recap of the second and apparently has better writing, improved graphics, better music (the original Final Fantasy musician, who handled the first ~10 games on his own, was called in) and more polished gameplay than the second game. If you just want to try it out, though, the second game isn’t too bad. Kinda fun, actually, it just has too heavy-handed a story.

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2 thoughts on “Under Your Radar: Neptunia

  1. Hmmm…I’ve actually been wondering about this series for a while. Reviews from the sites I follow haven’t exactly been kind — especially to the second game — but the fact that there’s now a THIRD game means that they’re doing something right. And in all fairness, the concept itself sounds pretty cool; maybe I’ll go watch some YouTube footage or something, if only to see the Inafune action.

    Also, Yellow Heart sure is…confident. ಠ_ಠ

    • The series has been generally panned by critics, and I don’t blame them for most of the complaints. In fact, I’ve echoed most of the legitimate complaints myself.

      The fanbase was more forgiving, and was patient enough to support it until they improved things.

      BTW, there are several Inafune attacks. The sword I showed there, his face can pop out of the sky and fire a laser, the third game has his face on a battleship summon, etc.

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