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Another day, another review and another video game sequel. With the current console generation dwindling to a close it really feels like developers are playing things safe by releasing follow-ups to established intellectual properties. This time round I am checking out Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, the third game in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. I'm surprised the franchise has persevered this long after the generally poor reception the first game got, but Compile Hearts' tenacity seems to have borne fruit as Neptunia has become a hit back in its native Japan. At the time of writing spin-off handheld games are planned, as is an anime series.
For those of you not acquainted with the older games, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series takes place in the fictional world of Gamindustri, which is divided up into four nations each led by a goddess (also known as a CPU.) What distinguishes Hyperdimension Neptunia from other JRPGs, with similar plots, is that real world consoles serve as inspiration for the goddesses in question. The title character Neptune for example is based on a Sega machine that was sadly cancelled before ever seeing the light of day. Her fellow CPUs include Blanc the leader of Lowee (Wii), Vert the goddess of Leanbox (Xbox) and Noire who heads Lastation (Playstation.)
This particular adventure sees Neptune get transported to a parallel world populated by alternate versions of her friends. The aim of the game is to get Neptune back home, but in order to do so she will have to cross swords with a group known as the Seven Sages, who are opposed to Gamindustri's present hierarchy were the populace is led by CPUs. As per the formula established in prior installments, Victory's story is peppered with comedic video game references whilst at the same time using the friendly rivalry between Gamindustri's nations as an allegory for the real life console wars that have Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft vying to be the world's top video game company.
In terms of visuals the Hyperdimension Neptunia games have never pushed the graphical envelope of what the Playstation 3 is capable of. The original game wouldn't have looked out of place on the PS2 to be frankly honest, but thankfully the aesthetics have since been beefed up. Victory is the best looking Neptunia game to date with smoothed out character models that resemble a 3D cartoon as opposed to an amalgam of polygons. The highlight for animation fans, such as myself, would however have to be the anime style character portraits and still pictures used to convey the plot during the visual novel-esque story segments.
One area that hasn't significantly improved from its predecessors would have to be the sound, specifically the English language dub. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with the performances of the voice actors (although I wish Blanc's actress would speak up as I sometimes struggle to understand what she is mumbling) but it is disappointing to see how sparse the voiced segments are. Only during key story moments do we get to hear the characters speak forcing the player to read oodles of text most of the time. It's a shame as listening to the delectable tones of the vocal cast adds to the gameplay experience as well as preventing players from skimming through the narrative during the wordier exchanges.
Much like in the older games Victory has players partaking in dungeon crawling were the aim is to complete quest objectives obtained from the capital's guild. There are main quests that advance the story as well as optional tasks that will reward explorers with money/loot that can be used to purchase/craft new weapons, stat boosting accessories or clothing for those unsatisfied with their party's default costumes. Quests range from beating up a boss, defeating a certain number of enemies or picking up an allotted number of items (obtainable from harvest nodes or dropped from vanquished monsters.)
Although the levels are fairly straightforward to navigate they are at least a little more involved than the earlier games. There are now transporters on certain stages than can beam you over to inaccessible areas and the ability to jump is utilized to reach elevated platforms. For those not wanting to get their hands dirty there is now a scout system that permits players to hire underlings to explore dungeons on their behalf. After a few days the scout will return from their expedition with any swag they collected or news of new enemies/dungeons they may have unlocked. The results of a scouting survey are completely random, but paying scouts a better wage increases the odds of them finding something worthwhile.
Those familiar with the last game will note that the combat system hasn't changed much. Battles are triggered whenever you bump into an enemy and are pretty much a turn-based affair were players and the enemy move their combatants one at a time. You can attack, defend, use items or cast magic (including buffs, heals and offensive moves.) As you level up your team learn new attacks that can be mapped to the controller's face buttons. These offensive moves can be broken down to regular attacks, weaker rush moves that hit multiple times (handy for building up the combo meter used to activate special moves) and break attacks that reduce an opponent's guard.
Over the course of the story a plethora of characters will join your cause, but only four can be used in combat at any one time. Unused characters aren't wasted though as they can be placed in the reserve team and paired up with active party members. Gradually over time the relationship between a pair grows unlocking useful support bonuses. During tricky encounters your team can be beefed up even further by transforming them from their regular underage jailbait form to a more mature super-powered HD guise - sporting skin tight plug suits that reveal a lot of flesh (hmmmm I can suddenly see why this game is so popular in Japan.)
By now most gamers should know were they stand with respect to the Neptunia series. The vast majority will probably not care for it citing a combat system that gets repetitive (you pretty much fight through a level building up your combo meter and then use it to kill off a boss with special moves once you break their guard.) If you are in that camp you can pretty much disregard this review, as Victory doesn't break the established mold. Those who enjoy Compile Heart JRPGs will however eat this up, as mechanically speaking this is the best Neptunia game to date.
In terms of content it took me 82 hours to get the best of the three endings on offer, which is a marked improvement over HDN2's short-lived story. This installment also trumps its predecessor in terms of challenge, proving to be no cakewalk. If you neglect the optional side quests be prepared for difficulty spikes were one moment you are cruising through a level only to then get decimated by a boss. Victory also delivers in the comedic department with lashings of quirky gags that the franchise is known for.
Players who have grown up playing consoles will have a hoot spotting all the gaming references packed into the game, but be forewarned that the comedy is hit and miss. Although it's a riot seeing the cast's fourth wall breaking antics, players will also be subjected to numerous boob jokes that fall flat (no pun intended.) The writers are also guilty of running jokes to the ground. One example is Plutia, a sheepish character who transforms into a dominatrix that everyone is fearful of. The first couple of times she morphs into her evil persona are a blast, but by the twentieth time it happens it gets tiresome. No wait mistress! I didn't mean that! Ouch stop whipping me! Crap what's the secret word to make her stop? Aaaaarrrh!!!!