On the surface, Hyperdimension Neptunia looks like a fairly average JRPG. It is the story of an amnesiac young girl named Neptune, who fell from the sky and landed on her head. Afterward, she was completely unable to remember who or what she is. All she knows is that she is named Neptune and she has the ability to transform into a different, more powerful form. The world she landed in is under constant attack from terrible monsters and, with the help of her newfound friend Compa, she sets out to find the source of the monsters and save the world.
What sets this game apart? Neptune landed in a world called Gameindustri, and she is a reference to the never-released Sega Neptune video game system. Her friend Compa is actually the personification of Compile Heart, the Japanese publisher of the game. Along the way, you'll meet other characters like IF (Idea Factory, the developer), Nisa (or Nippon Ichi Software of America), and Gust (the developers of the popular Atelier game franchise). The goddesses rule the lands of Leanbox, Lastation and Lowee. To top it off, the archvillain is named Arfoire, after the infamous Nintendo DS storage device.
The entire game is about video game developers and their consoles battling the evil forces of piracy. It's certainly not very subtle about it, and you can expect to see a ton of cameos from various characters throughout the course of the game. During battle, you even get the ability to summon famous Sega characters like those from Altered Beast or Space Harrier to do a special attack on your opponent. The game has no concept of a fourth wall, and your characters cheerfully talk about grinding enemies for experience points or how important they are as the main characters. It's a very silly game, and it has no shame about having a strange and bizarre concept.
Hyperdimension Neptunia's combat system is very straightforward. You have a group of three characters, although your party can eventually contain more. Your characters don't have any healing spells or special magic, so you attack by customizing combo strings in the menu before battle starts. Combo strings are long combinations of various attacks that can have special effects. Each attack uses up some of your character's AP, and his turn ends when he runs out of AP.
The attacks' various effects can be used to alter the outcome of attacks or make them last longer. The Combo Link effect, for example, instantly moves the attack to another combo string and restores some of your AP. To use combos most effectively, you have to design combo strings to use Combo Link as often as possible. You can also hit enemies for elemental damage or switch with characters in the back row by using certain combo attacks. You even get special bullets that alter your character's ranged attacks to automatically have another element. You can also transform certain characters into their goddess form, which dramatically increases the damage they deal.
The combat system in Hyperdimension Neptunia is built around speed, far more so than that you would see in a game like Final Fantasy XIII, with which Neptunia shares similar ideas. To facilitate this, there are no healing items or spells, as mentioned above, and healing is completely automated, like the "auto-potion" ability in another game. When your characters are damaged enough, they automatically use one of your stored materials to mix and use a potion. The only thing you can alter is the activation rate for these healing abilities.
On top of that, you're rewarded for attacking enemies as quickly as possible. An enemy who is damaged enough enters a Guard Break status where, for a short time, they take increased damage from all attacks. At this point, you have to figure out how to deal damage as quickly as possible. Many bosses only take miniscule damage until their guard is broken, so you want to take advantage of this window. Figuring out the most effective way to Guard Break is the key to winning fights.
Hyperdimension Neptunia offers some challenges for players who enjoy earning high scores. Although the game's main missions are straightforward, a large number of optional side-missions are available. Some side-missions want you to defeat a dungeon boss, and others ask you to collect a certain number of items from chests or enemy drops. Regardless, you're tasked with completing them as quickly as possible. Upon finishing the mission, you're given a score based on how quickly you got through it. Higher scores tend to equal higher rewards, and the difference in prizes can be fairly substantial, especially later in the game. On top of that, your ranking is also uploaded to an online leaderboard.
There are numerous customization options available for Neptunia players as well. Aside from the aforementioned customizable combos, players can customize their character's appearance to some degree. You can equip various accessories, such as glasses and bows, which have no stat-related purpose but simply alter how your character looks. You can also find costumes that more dramatically alter how the characters look for greater customization. The most noteworthy bit of customization is for a Console Patron Unit. When Neptune transforms into her CPU form, you can completely customize the appearance of her armor and equipment. There are various processor units scattered around the game world, and they are each applied to a different body part to change Neptune's Neptune look. However, unlike the other bits of customization, these CPU pieces alter your stats, so you must balance neat-looking equipment with more powerful upgrades.
Hyperdimension Neptunia is a game with a very unusual concept. It's tempting to be curious about it based on the idea alone. Seeing the personifications of video game consoles battling the forces of piracy is incredibly atypical, and hardcore fans are certain to see plenty of jokes and references that would fly over others' heads. The combat system is extremely straightforward, but the focus on speed and earning high scores may make it stand out more. Hyperdimension Neptunia is shaping up to be a game that you play for the concept more than the gameplay. Seeing Idea Factory summon Alex Kid to defeat an 8-bit space invader is so bizarre that one can't help but be intrigued by the idea.
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