Under Your Radar: Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1


Miracle! Portable☆Mission by nao

Watch out! You’ll be flooded with miracles
Make up! Grade up!
Entrust everything to me, the goddess!!

How mysterious
The heroine has lost her memory
Playing for the sake of the world!
Huh? What sort of mistake is this?

The hectic new generation is born
The sparkling future on a portable
Created when dimensions meet
It’s time to completely jump over this fantasy

Watch out! You’ll be flooded with miracles
Make up! Grade up! Taking all of your focus!

You’ll be put into a daze by how great all of this is
Glazy! Spicy! I, the goddess, will grant your wish!!!

Neptunia Re;Birth1 CoverIt’s time for another Under Your Radar! Today, we’ll be covering Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1, released in Japan as Chō Ji Jigen Game Neptune Re;Birth1. It’s a 2013 Vita remake/port of Compile Heart’s Hyperdimension Neptunia that was localized for the West in August. Felistella did the port, and, as of this entry in the series, Idea Factory International has taken over international releases of the series. A PC port is under consideration.

Those who know me will realize that I’m pissed off about how this game’s limited edition was handled, but I’ll just put that aside and review the game itself. The game started out as a straight port of the frankly piss-poor original game before Felistella offered to update it to current mechanics. Since I never gave the original Hyperdimension Neptunia a separate review, instead mixing it with mk2, I’m gonna need to discuss it as much as its remake to get across just how much was changed. So, without further ado:


Ryuusei no Bifrost (Shooting Star Bifrost) by nao

(Limiter. Disc. Save. System Error.)

The reason why we were born into this world
Was not so we could be manipulated by fate
Hold me tightly so I can protect your irreplaceable heart

I want to reform this dazzling Earth
My wish is to run into the dawn with my noble ideals
I hear a faint voice calling me from far away
I’ve burnt it into my memory

My eyes filled with a secret devotion
Pulled the light out of the darkness
Like a hand reaching into the future
I was hurt, but now I have nothing to fear,
Because you’re always there with me, my darling

Neptunia CoverThe original Hyperdimension Neptunia is a PS3 JRPG was released in Japan in 2010 as Chōjigen Game Neptune. It was developed by Compile Heart with the help of their parent company Idea Factory on a shoestring budget, involving some sort of collaboration with Sega. In 2011, it was localized by NIS America. This review will cover the contents of this game in order to compare it with its remake, and no other reason. The game is panned by fans and critics alike, with fans sticking with it for the story’s sense of humour.

Since we’re comparing two games here, I’ll discuss the stuff that’s the same between the two first, and then save the stuff that’s changed the most for later in the review.

Story

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Let’s talk story first. As much as Neptune points out how different the story is in the remake (yes, it’s that kind of storytelling), the basics are the same. There is an eternal war going on in Celestia, where the goddesses (or CPUs) of Gamindustri live. The battle is stagnating, so they decide to shake things up by ganging up on one of them to kick them out of the fight. They pick Neptune, and she goes flying off of Celestia, losing her memory and being planted firmly in the ground over the nation she rules, Planeptune, “like a spear”.

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On her way down, she receives a call for help from the book of the world, Histoire. She asks Neptune to collect the key fragments that are scattered across the four nations to free her before the evil Arfoire can destroy the world. When Neptune awakens, a nursing school student named Compa has taken her to her apartment and treated her injuries. The two quickly meet guild member IF and decide to go search for the key fragments. As such, Neptune gets permission from the basilicom (basically a church/government headquarters building) to be able to travel to the other three floating landmasses that hold the other three nations, Lastation, Leanbox and Lowee.

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From this point, while the outline of the story is the same, everything else is different. In both the original and the remake, you fight Arfoire the whole way while destroying her enemy-spawning discs. At the same time, Arfoire spreads the word of the imaginary evil overlord Momus. Also in both games, the main trio of Neptune, Compa and IF help the nations with major problems they’re having, be it Avenir undermining Noire in Lastation or Conversation attempting a coup in Lowee. The focus of the time in Leanbox changes slightly, however, keeping the plot regarding Neptune being poisoned, but also adding in Vert’s troubles with her powers being stolen.

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Additionally, although the plots are mostly the same on all the landmasses, including Lastation being the first and last of the three that you go to, their presentation is significantly shifted to push Noire, Vert and Blanc to the forefront, as they were borderline extras that took grinding to unlock at the end of the game in the original. This time around, all of them join the party early and often, though Noire and Vert lack the ability to transform for a while for various reasons.

Arfoire in particular is changed up significantly, with her gaining copycat abilities that make her feel somewhat like Kirby. Fitting for a representation of piracy, though the piracy plot was completely removed from the game. Also, Neptune is presented as more heroic. She also learns about her being a goddess much earlier (after the first visit to Lastation instead of right before the end of the game), and also takes the revelation very differently (going rogue for a while in the original and just not giving a fuck in the remake, which is more in line with her character).

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Some of the characters have been significantly altered or cut. Gust and Nisa have been removed from all Neptunia remakes. Gust’s removal makes sense, but Nisa’s is surprising. The original’s DLC character 5pb. is also no longer available, and RED, also a DLC character in the original, continues to be missing in action (both return for Re;Birth2). In exchange, all of the DLC characters from Victory except for the Hyperdimension version of Falcom are added into the story, though, aside from a handful, they only have token appearances until the end of the game, where they’re all unceremoniously dumped onto you. The CPU candidates Nepgear, Uni, Rom and Ram are available at the end of the game if you grind, but have almost no role at all due to that. Plutia and Peashy from Victory are playable with DLC, but, unlike previous entries in the series, there are no little scenes sprinkled about the game with them to make them feel like part of the game. Histoire is also a DLC playable character, but she has a major story role as it is.

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Speaking of the lack of little scenes for Plutia and Peashy, this is also a major change. There are far fewer little non-sequitur slice of life scenes than in the original game, with the scene count being far more in line with later entries in the series, which is a shame. On the other hand, there are far more verbal references to various games, which was toned down after the original in favour of making visual gags with the enemies. But those enemies are in this game too, so there’s the best of both worlds. Also, instead of most NPCs just being a silhouette, they have actual artwork now.

Additionally, the story is much more linear, being presented in chapter format instead of the original’s decently open take to the plot, where it would let you do things in whatever order as long as you did certain things before attempting to do so (so you have to go to Lastation first, but you can jump around the landmasses in whatever order after a while). This, in addition to returning to Compa’s place at the start of every chapter and the removal of the mini-dungeon that acted as a tunnel between the nations, makes the adventure feel far smaller in scale. However, I can’t truly dock them for cutting the flawed gameplay system that was the tunnel. They could’ve thought of something to improve it, though.

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The original featured three endings, most of which felt similar to one another aside from the end of the true ending. There are two endings in the remake, which are very different and have bonus content in the true ending if you have all of the CPU candidates (Uni, for example, outright breaks the fourth wall and gets flustered as you’re holding “her”, since she represents Sony handhelds). While the original pushed you back to the end of the game, letting you go into new game plus if you wish or letting you unlock the other endings without replaying the game, the remake decides to force you into new game plus. This is somewhat annoying, though the series seems to jump across the different ways of handling that sort of thing, so I was left unsurprised. (The original had endgame plus with a new game plus option, mk2 had forced new game plus, Victory had proper post-game with a new game plus option.)

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One final point is that the English voice track is significantly smaller for the remake.

Overall, both approaches have their notable downsides. The plot definitely felt more coherent in the remake, but the sense of adventure was also lessened.

Soundtrack

Let’s not mince words: most of the songs in the original are pretty bad. They’re slow and dull, and just don’t fit in, with the exceptions of the theme songs for the nations, which were okay. The battle themes were just terrible. However, there was exactly one good battle song in the bunch. The tutorial theme.

So, which song did they pick for Uematsu to touch up to match the rest of the soundtrack (which was mostly ripped straight from Victory)? Did you really need to ask?

Overall, the soundtrack is significantly improved, though, as stated, most of the songs in the game are reused.

Gameplay (Except Combat)

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Much of the out-of-combat gameplay, while presented differently, is exactly the same. Everything is boiled down to menus instead of walking around outside of dungeons. Everything. In the remake, even picking an NPC to talk to is just a menu.

There’s a notable selection of costumes and equipment, most of which was DLC in the original (~$100 worth), but all of the DLC costumes from Victory come standard in the remake, though they’re either unlockables or in stores for obscenely high prices, much like equipment for the CPU candidates and the DLC characters. There’s only a few dollars’ worth of DLC in the remake, only a few of which are for characters.

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Something that was in every console entry but gone in the remake, likely due to platform, is the ability to import a custom texture for the CPU forms. The original, unlike the other console entries, also expected you to import images for use in attack animations, otherwise most attacks didn’t have anything to show up and would instead put an image of a disc reading “no image”.

In the original, dungeon layouts were varied, albeit with very simple and reused tilesets and a hammer gimmick that was used on occasion. Random encounters were employed every few steps. There was also no healing except in battle (I’ll explain how dumb this is in the combat section). The remake has visible enemies that you can unlock the ability to insta-kill by attacking. Healing used actual items as well as skills (though skills were only in battle), and the dungeon layouts were, sadly, the same few repeated, like in Victory. This is strange, as both the original and mk2 didn’t have this sort of problem. Also, in the original, you could save anywhere. The remakes have fixed save points to match other series entries.

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There is also a “shares” system. Shares are the source of a goddess’ power, calculated in a percentage that’s split between the goddesses and the antagonist. Grinding them for any specific goddess unlocks things. In the original, this would affect the stats for the goddesses, and any of them dying would permanently erase some shares from the board (unless you reloaded your save – never use the retry option).

Neptunia Re;Birth1 Screenshot 22

In both, grinding shares right before the final boss unlocks characters. The original unlocked the other goddesses, the remake unlocks the CPU candidates. For the normal ending in the original, you needed 1 or 2 of the other goddesses, you needed all of them for the true ending, and you got the bad ending with none. In the remake, you normally get the normal ending and get the true ending if Arfoire’s shares are at 0% and all of the goddesses are above 20%. The addition of the coliseum, which was introduced in mk2, makes grinding shares much easier.

As a side-note, the original hid shares from you completely until you added Nisa to your party, which is entirely optional. For such a pivotal mechanic to be hidden like that is stupid.

Neptunia Re;Birth1 Screenshot 21

The original had some optional timed missions and online leaderboards. The remake uses more standard quests instead, through all of them are the same sort of guild quest introduced in mk2, where you provide certain items or kill certain monsters. The remake also added the remake system, which lets you unlock mechanics and dungeons. Basically, if you meet certain requirements at certain points in the game, you get recipes from NPCs to unlock new items in the store, new mechanics, the CPU candidates, new dungeons, alterations for dungeons, etc. You can then make these recipes at any time. If you missed any, you need to play through the game again and meet the requirements this time.

Combat

These are like night and day, with the overlapping mechanics being used completely differently, so I’ll split these descriptions.

Original

Neptunia Screenshot 1

Oh God, where to begin. There isn’t really much to this one. There’s no MP, and healing is done by setting sliders for the chance of the character performing a healing move by using up material items if certain conditions are met (and you get more to add to the sliders by levelling up – you won’t be able to set everything to 100% right away). This is your only in-dungeon healing.

As for the combat itself, you can set up different combinations of attacks for every possible combination of the four face buttons possible. Some attacks have additional effects if placed at the end. Using attacks uses up a gauge, and your turn ends when the gauge is too low to use any possible move in the combo or when the combo ends. If you use a combo link (to start the combo over) or switch (to switch with your partner in the back row), you can extend your attack count. Every character also has a gun, and you can set the element the gun shoots. CPUs have transformation effects, which yield higher stats.

Neptunia Screenshot 3

What’s amusing is, unless you have DLC characters, switch effects are useless. Gust and Nisa, though they join your party, can’t take part in battle without DLC, and both 5pb. and RED don’t even exist in the game unless you have the DLC. If you don’t have them, your party is just IF, Compa and Neptune, enough to just fill the front row, until the last chapter of the game, if you grind for the other goddesses.

You can also break an enemy’s guard by whittling down their guard gauge. If you do this, they will take extra damage until their gauge refills to full over time. This time is real time, so you’ll find yourself skipping all of the animations to get as many hits in as possible while they’re recovering.

Neptunia Screenshot 2

This battle system is obnoxiously bad and has no depth. It’s even worse if you remember that Neptune can’t die or shares permanently disappear, which will make adjusting shares to unlock stuff more difficult.

Also, elemental resistances are bugged. They do nothing.

Remake

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The combat system in the remake is the battle system from Victory, but with 3 characters in the front instead of 4. As I have never adequately explained this system, I will now.

Healing is more standard, with healing skills and healing items. There are also other skills for each character with their own ranges, as well as EXE Drives, powerful moves that can be used by spending the gauge of the same name. The size of the gauge increases as one progresses through the story, and it is filled by attacking and being attacked. Also, CPUs can still transform unless the plot says otherwise. There’s a small cost to doing so, and the game auto-transforms you for free at the start of boss fights, but you go back to your base form if you die.

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The arena is basically a large circle, though the border is invisible unless you run into it, which can get annoying. Your character has a range they can move in for their turn, and each character has a separate attack range, which can even vary by weapon. Within this range, you can attack with the combo skills that you set, and they will hit every character in said range. This is a more streamlined take on what the original had to offer with customized attack combos, with the characters getting points to spend to add moves of three types to be used as a certain hit in a combo, and the player can pick whichever they want for each hit (or end the combo prematurely).

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Rush attacks fill the EXE Drive Gauge faster, Power attacks do more raw damage, Break attacks lower the enemy’s guard faster. Each character can also get EX Finish moves, 4 of which can be equipped, which can be used right after a combo for additional attacks if you have enough of the gauge filled, but these don’t spend the gauge. Returning from the original after being absent from other entries is the combo link for the CPUs if you raise their levels high enough, a nice nod. This takes an EX Finish slot.

Unlike the original, the guard gauge restores itself on the enemy’s turns until they’re hit again. When they’re hit again after the gauge has refilled a bit, the first hit will do extra damage, but other hits won’t until the gauge empties again.

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As everything has a limited range, you generally want to position your characters so the healer takes the enemy from the front while the other characters flank from the sides. This gives the healer equal distance between everyone for healing purposes. Usually, though, you won’t want a dedicated healer. Instead, you’ll want two heavy hitters and a character focused on filling up the EXE Drive Gauge.

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During the first run through the game, enemy difficulty skews a bit high, but you can make it fair using the remake system to weaken all enemies.

This gives the player access to multiple legitimate strategies, though it’s certainly not the deepest game in the world.

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If two characters are paired together enough, they gain friendship via the Lily System. If their rank in said system is high enough, then the characters can get special paired up EX Finish and EXE Drives. These are more powerful than usual. A high enough rank will also grant effects based on the character in the back. Nepgear, for example, lets her partner break the damage limit if their relationship is at a certain level.

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The party starts off just being Neptune, Compa and IF, Peashy and Plutia join if you have their DLC, but Noire temporarily joins, then Vert joins and Blanc joins at the same time as them. Then you get MAGES. and MarvelousAQL before the remaining characters (Broccoli, Tekken, CyberConnect2 and Falcom) all join in quick succession in the penultimate chapter, along with Histoire if you have her DLC.

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The game clearly intends to limit your party and dictate who you have access to, though DLC (and the CPU candidates on a new game plus) can mess with this, also leading to going against the script. For example, Neptune references your party size early game, but the count is wrong if you have DLC. The final battle in the true ending is also messed up slightly by the game forgetting to remove the DLC characters and CPU candidates from your party (you’re only supposed to have Neptune, according to the plot). They really should have spread these characters out more so that the player has more time to try them out. As it stands, though, they join so late you may never use them. It’s really too bad.

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Still, even with these shortcomings, this is far superior to what the original offered. My only real complaint is that you win too fast on a new game plus to hear the battle theme for more than a few seconds.

Verdict

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 beats the original hands-down, but it doesn’t do everything better. Overall, however, there is no longer an excuse to play the PS3 original.

On its own, as the game is separated in an alternate continuity from the rest of the series (as the original was), this is a good starting point, and the story of this particular incarnation of Gamindustri is over once you’re done if you don’t want to try any more.

Unjust

This game gives Victory a nice run for its money for the best game in the series.

ATUU

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