A little over a year ago, NIS America published a quirky little RPG, Hyperdimension Neptunia. It gained notoriety for having an unusual plot where game consoles portrayed as anime girls came together to fight against Arfoire in an allegory for the industry fighting against piracy. The plot was also the only redeeming factor, as the technical aspects weren't up to snuff and the mechanics were overly complicated without being rewarding. Despite critics generally dismissing the title, it seems to have gained some popularity, mostly due to its scarcity, and the result is a sequel that not many people expected. The good news is that Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 seems to have actually improved over its predecessor. The bad news is that the improvements aren't enough to make this game stand out.
The plot is fairly similar to the first game. After the defeat of Arfoire, a group known as the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime (ASIC) has decided to resurrect Arfoire. To do so, they sell bootleg cartridges and discs to get the people to stop believing in the power of the CPUs. To stop their power from being drained away, the CPUs and Neptunia's sister, Nepgear, travel to the heart of ASIC in the Gamindustri Graveyard. Due to their weakened state and the power of ASIC's leader, CFW Magic, all of them are captured and held hostage. Three years later, IF and Compa go to the Gamindustri Graveyard and manage to escape with Nepgear. With hope all but lost, the trio has to find the mascots for each of the lands as well as the sisters of the CPUs, known as the CPU Candidates, to rescue the CPUs and stop Arfoire's return.
It's surprising that mk2 doesn't have the same sense of humor as the first game. On the one hand, this is good because the original game did a poor job with some of the jokes by hammering the punch lines so often that they failed to be funny. On the other hand, the various parodies and wacky moments are either toned down greatly or simply don't exist anymore, replaced instead with a semi-serious RPG story that seems a bit heavy-handed and slightly perverse. That doesn't mean that there aren't oddball moments. Having Master Higgins give you the standard warning about always playing the game in a brightly lit room is as amusing as seeing Keiji Inafune appear in a TV screen, but don't expect too many humorous game references this time around.
At first glance, the game plays out like the original. There's no real overworld map to worry about, and all of your town visits are reduced to menus. The towns give you shopping opportunities and quests, which can be played for either story progression or to level up your party members. Item synthesis has returned and becomes accessible once you get Gust back into the party, but there's also a Chirper system, which replaces the town citizens from more traditional RPGs. Every town inhabitant is on Chirper, and most of them give you the opportunity to go through all of their dialogue. While most are fluff, a few give you special items or new quests, making it worth checking out every time you reach a new town.
All of your traditional gameplay elements take place in dungeons, but they're a little more interactive in mk2. You actively seek out hidden treasures with a tracking device that can be sent out an infinite number of times. Also, with the exception of some scripted encounters, random enemy battles have been scrapped in favor of visible enemies that chase you down. In these dungeons, you also have a basic attack that gives you the advantage in a fight or, if the enemy is weak enough, simply kills it outright but leaves behind no bonuses. This approach actually benefits the game greatly, especially if you take on quests that only want you to collect a certain number of elements rather than kill a certain number of foes.
One complaint people had about the first game was that it felt needlessly complicated. Every action you did in battle beyond basic attacks felt like it was simply tacking on a new mechanic, and the random battles occurred at an alarming rate. This game tries to alleviate those issues by simplifying and streamlining the battle process. Battles are still turn-based, but now, you can move around the battlefield, albeit limited to a movement circle that surrounds your character, giving it something of a strategy RPG feel. Everything but movement is governed by action points, though your attack tree doesn't open up until you initiate a normal hit on an enemy. Once you do, your attacks can vary from normal ones to heavy hits to guard breaks that reduce an enemy's guard meter, letting you inflict more damaging hits.
As the game progresses, the battle mechanics are also expanded, but not to an overwhelming degree. The SP meter for special abilities, such as devastating attacks and healing, is used by the CPU and CPU candidates for their transformation into more powerful HDD beings. Other party members can be used as support characters, giving out passive bonuses to their partners and gaining XP in the process. That is a godsend since you'll have up to 13 characters in your party by the end of the game. Each of these new processes is simple to execute, unlike the prior title's complicated systems.
The game also throws in a few new non-combat mechanics. There's an affection system in place that lets you gauge how other party members feel about you. Depending on the mood they're in, your bonuses will either increase or the story will change in terms of path and ending. There's also a shares system that determines who has the hearts of the people in towns and the world. Your quests give shares to one deity but take away from others, and while the ones on the losing end usually belong to ASIC, don't be surprised if a few get transferred from one console deity to another. It's a nice system that keeps you involved by showing your progress in the game.
From what was mentioned thus far, mk2 is quite decent. The only problem is that it doesn't do anything to make itself different from other games of this type. The story hits upon the familiar points of betrayal, mistrust and small triumphs that just about any anime — and this game's predecessor — does. As stated before, the humor has dropped significantly, and that's a real shame since the game-specific humor was the title's trademark. The quests also feel generic, and it can be numbing that they don't vary much in the 20- to 30-hour span it takes to complete this title. The game also confuses people in that you'll see various towns and locations open up almost all of the time. However, since you haven't completed some quests before, you're prevented from entering them. It makes the game look bigger than it is, but it's frustrating that it doesn't let people access these spots.
Graphically, mk2 is a little better than its predecessor but still doesn't show off the console's power. The character models are a little more detailed, and that includes both the heroes and the enemies. Their moves aren't as fluid as one would expect, but they're more than serviceable. The environments seem more vibrant than before, mostly due to the presence of more than one character on the field, though some textures could use some work. Cut scenes mix up things between the slightly animated stills of the company's previous RPG outings and use of in-game character models. It all looks fine, but you can't shake the feeling that this seems like a PS2 game ported over to the PS3 since no element really stands out. Even the frame rate still hovers below 30fps, making you wonder what makes the system or game engine struggle to reach 60fps.
The sound is just as plain and forgettable as before. While not as annoying as some of the tunes heard in the first game, the music is generic enough to not be very memorable. Even the title screen music, as good as it is, doesn't stand out enough to avoid being lost among other J-Pop songs. The option for dual language tracks is still there, and while the voices for either language aren't exactly great, they're decent enough that you won't cringe too much upon hearing them. Like most other RPGs from Compile Heart and Idea Factory, though, not all of the scenes you see get voiced, creating a huge discrepancy when you get to a scene and the rather chatty characters are suddenly silenced.
There's no doubt that Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is a better game than its predecessor. The refined dungeon and battle system make for a more accessible game, and the overall length ensures that the grinding needed to beat the game doesn't feel excessive. The move away from the parodying of games and the industry robs the game of the previous title's initial hook, and what we're left with just isn't as interesting. Combined with technical aspects that feel like it doesn't use its resources well enough, and you have a title that'll only reach RPG fans who want a little fan service on the side. Still, for those people, it's at least worth a rental if you want something other than the big RPG releases from the last few months.
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