Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hyperdimension Neptunia: PP (PS VITA)

The Loli girls of Hyperdimension Neptunia are up to their generations old shenanigans once again. This time around though they are trying to thwart an otherworldly threat that comes in the form of Pop Idol sensations 'MOB48". It seems that other gaming CPUs (Goddesses) are no longer the only threat to the shares (fans) that Noire, Vert, Blanc, and Neptune are facing. With MOB48's popularity far surpassing that of the CPUs, and their respective lands they are forced to come up with a plan to combat the escalating situation. In the midst of some girly brainstorming the four CPUs ultimately come to the conclusion that it's best to beat MOB48 at there own game, so-to-speak. Instead of turning  into their dominatrix style HDD forms, and whooping a whole lot of !@#$% these Loli gaming Goddesses aim to become Pop Idol sensations themselves. Unfortunately for them they have no producer to train under, and must find one if they hope to become successful enough to defeat the opposition. To solve this issue they all combine their powers in HDD form, and summon a producer from the outside world. This of course ends up being you, a gamer with no real Pop Idol training experience whatsoever. Luckily for you though you do have some skills in playing Pop Idol video games.

Hyperdimension Neptunia: PP (Producing Perfection) is more, or less an Idol simulation game meant to mimic the management side of the Pop Idol industry, as well as what goes into each, and every onstage performance. It takes in account everything from the lessons that make Pop Idols sound, and dance professionally to the publicity events involved in getting them recognized as well as the relationships between the producer, and performers themselves. In the case of this particular game you'll find the CPUs (Gaming Goddesses) from previous "HyperDimension Neptunia" installments trying their best to succeed in the Pop Idol market with the aid of the summoned producer (that's you!). Each of the CPUs, whether it's Noire of Lastation, Vert of Leanbox, Blanc of Lowee, or Neptune of Planeptune will find that they are each competing amongst themselves, and their new rival (MOB48) for shares (popularity). Like in the real world talent, popularity, and publicity matters. As such getting the CPU's acknowledged, and globally recognized is what you'll be tasked with doing during the 180 day progression of your production management period. There's no doubt there will be a lot to take in, and organize as you try to get your CPU favorite to that #1 spot on the charts, but it is possible if you spend your Pop Idol's time wisely.

Gameplay in HNPP (HyperDimension Neptunia: PP) is divided up into four different modes. When you first start up the game (past the copyright notice, and developer credits) you will notice a a series of pop-up intro messages detailing what each mode of play entails. You have the option to either go with "Producer", "Unlimited Concert", "Viewer", or "Config" modes right off the bat. While "Producer" is the mode you will be pointed towards first since it is the main mode of play, and unlocks other things within the game it's probably best to setup your setting preferences via "Config" from the get go. In "Config" you'll find the usual volume settings, as well as controls settings for the actual Pop Idol performances you'll be instructing. For those of you Japanophiles like me who love that purely Japanese experience you'll be glad to know that vocals can be changed to the native Japanese within the "Config" settings menu. After you've gone, and done all the tweaking that you desire to do you can then follow the CPU's onscreen advice, and take your odd journey into the rabbit hole via the "Producer" mode.

From the start of "Producer" you will be gifted a glimpse into the CPUs' current predicament as well as their summoning of the producer into their gaming kingdom (Game Industri). Once you get past this introductory phase filled with plenty of onscreen dialogue boxes, animated character representations, and lavish HyperDimension Neptunia backdrops you will be bombarded by pop-up after pop-up explaining what it is that is expected of you. As a producer of a rising Pop Idol/Pop Idol group there are a lot of time management oriented tasks that you must undertake for the betterment of your performer/s. Among these tasks, which will be organized at your chosen CPU's home office via "Work", "Lesson", "Relax", "Move", and "Concert" menus are interactions meant to improve upon Idol attributes, relationships, and overall confidence. Discerning which tasks to take on first greatly effects the outcome of your 180 day schedule, and the added fact that each task takes from 1 -10 days respectively will really test your mettle as a proper Pop Idol producer.

When you first begin you will have to choose one of the four Game Industri CPUs as the Pop Idol you will take under your wing. Your choices in this particular game are limited to Neptune, Blanc, Noire, and Vert. Once you have made your choice, and properly understood the instructions laid out before you you will have to start micro-managing your daily schedule as you try to get your chosen CPU, and their song/s to the top spot of the Pop Idol charts. When it comes to scheduling "Work" you will find several sub-options under the menu listing that will afford your CPU Pop Idol the publicity they need to get themselves noticed on a global scale. Things like "Ad Campaigns", "Events", "Recordings", "Form Group", and "Publicity" are among the things you can have your CPU Idol do to promote themselves. Of course each "Work" task will vary in result, and will take up a certain amount of days respectfully. Ad Campaigns for example are a good way to gain "Trust", and increase your fanbase percentage. Not only that, but choosing "Ad Campaign" will only cost you a days time, and little stress. Events, Recording, and Publicity will take progressively longer time lengths from your 180 day deadline, but will afford you, and your chosen Idol different in-game experiences as well as greater fanbase increases.

Before I move on with my explanation of daily Pop Idol activities I should probably explain Idol attributes, percentages, and gauges. No matter what CPU you choose as your designated Idol they will carry with them a list of RPG-like attributes that pertain to the Pop Idol culture/genre. Things like "Trust", "Vocals", "Rhythym", "Expression", and "Knowledge" all factor into a CPU's success in the Pop Idol scene. These attributes are each upgradeable through "Work" tasks as well as "Lesson" oriented tasks. Along with these upgradeable Idol attributes also comes "Guts", and "Stress". By continuously putting your Idol out their in the public, and having them do the daily tasks assigned to them they will either grow in confidence (Guts), or lose said inspiration (Guts). Not only do daily activity decisions weigh heavily on their "Guts" meter, but it also wears heavily on their "Stress" level. Stress, as you know it can be a huge buzzkill, and can greatly affect your work output in the real world. In the case of this game getting too stressed out will ultimately result in a "Game Over" effectively ending your career as a Pop Idol producer, and ultimately ruining the CPU's chance at regaining their Game Industri shares. As with the attributes/stats, and the Guts/Stress meters you can check out all of this info within the CPU's home office menu, and keep a check on how good, or bad things are going for your chosen Pop Idol sensation. Another thing to note is that the stats menu carries with it a heart-shaped "Affection Gauge (also appears during dialogue)" that fills up during the "Affection (Heart)" "Relax" events. How well your CPU Idol likes you at the end of your 180 day management will affect the ending that you receive.

Back to my time management explanations ... Aside from "Work" you will also need to train your CPU Pop Idol wannabe in the ways of the Pop Idols. Things like "Vocal Training", "Dance", "Rehearsal", "Practice", and "Study" are necessary tasks to take on if you hope for your CPU Pop Idol to become the number one share holder. Vocal training, and "Dance" are fairly straightforward daily tasks that will enhance the "Vocal", "Rhythym", and "Expression" attributes that go along with being a proper Pop Idol. Rehearsal, Practice, and Study on the other hand will increase all stats significantly, and respectively. Rehearsal, and Practice will each take a few days of your 180 day schedule while "Study" which becomes available ever so often will take 10 full days, and greatly increase all stats. As I said before properly managing your tasks, and picking which task matters more at the current time will greatly influence the CPU's Pop Idol attributes/stats.

Going down the list ... While "Work", and "Lesson" is the major focal point of the game the experience would not be complete without producer, and performer relations, otherwise known as "Relax". The "Relax" menu in this game takes in account the CPU's need to take a break every once in a while. It also factors in the need to have a proper relationship with the producer, and other CPUs outside of the business aspect of the Pop Idol publicity, training, and performances. In the "Relax" menu you'll find several options including "Nice Vacation", "Refresh", "Interaction", and "<3". Nice Vacation will afford your chosen CPU some time off to greatly reduce the stress levels, they have amassed during their daily routine, and even increase their Guts somewhat. A "Nice Vacation" will cost you three days worth of time, but is a good option when your CPU Pop Idol starts saying that they are feeling "Heavy", and are showing signs of fatigue on their virtual faces. The "Refresh" option is a quicker type of vacation that takes away less days, and clears up only a minor amount of gained stress. It's best used when your CPU only requires a small amount of stress relief.  Lastly "Interactions", and "<3" will enable you, as a producer to gain more affection from the CPUs. This includes your chosen CPU (<3), and the other CPUs (Interactions) whom you might be interested in recruiting to your Idol group.

Next up we have a menu option titled "Move". The "Move" options (Planeptune, Lowee, Leanbox, Lastation) come into play later in the game when you are trying to spread your influence amongst the Game Industri (the world in which CPUs reign), or in the world which MOB48 has gained ultimate popularity. Each of the "Move" options coincides with a Game Industri office that is similar to the one of your chosen CPU's. The only differences lie with the backdrop/background, and Game Industri location. Choosing to "Move" to one of these offices will help your ranking within the Pop Idol charts supposing that your stats, and concert performances are greater than those of your rivals.

Speaking of the devil, the last menu option you'll happen upon is that of the "Concert". Concerts, which obviously play a huge role in your success or downfall as an Idol producer takes in account several different things that go along with a CPU's performance. The concerts which are made available, few and far between factor in your gained attributes, and "Work" promotions ultimately resulting in the entertainment of an audience of a certain number. This audience number will start off in the lowly 1,000's but quickly grow to the millions assuming you have what it takes to get your Idol the recognition they deserve. When it comes to the actual performances you will be setting things up in various stages menus. In the first menu you will choose things like the song choice, the performance stage on which the Idol will play, and the stage effects.

The songs you can choose from will be unlocked as you go, and will play out without any effort on your behalf once the Pop Idol starts doing her thing. The Idol will even dance on their own needless of your controller support. The only things you will be managing in this game are the Idol's appearance, stage effects, and camera angles. As far as the stages, and added stage effects go they too will become available the more you have your chosen CPU Idol perform the office tasks during your 180 day deadline. The song, stage, and added effects will all factor into the points earnings, percentage completion, and ultimately upon your rank as a rising Pop Idol. Songs in particular will rise on the game's in-game Pop Idol song charts as you make the said song/s popular. Performance influence is the key to success in this case.

After setting up your song choice, your stage preference, and your added stage effects (which affect the Audience's Glee percentage & have cooldown periods) you will need to position the Idol/s on a mock stage, and arrange them as you see fit. You can move the Idol/s within the provided circle that is marked by a red dotted outline, and can position them within a certain distance of each other using a hand grab tool assuming you have more than one Idol in your group. You can also have them stand normally, or in a mirrored way effectively switching which arm faces which direction. After positioning your Idol you will need to doll them up, and change their various clothing articles, hair color, and/or accessories. Each Idol, and HDD Idol transformation carries with it appearance options that are unlockable in the "Producer" playthrough. Once this task is done you will be ready to put on a show, and help your CPU become the Idol stars that they are aiming to be.

As you continue to play "Hyperdimension Neptunia: PP" you will likely find as I did that actual performances included in the experience are more complicated than they should be. With the control scheme setup the way it is multi-tasking can be an exhausting task which will have you scrambling to figure out what you should be doing next. The added fact that there's no real guided tutorial example to view in-game further complicates the situation at hand. As your chosen CPU/s does their thing (Sing & Dance) onstage you will have to effectively apply stage effects, move the camera, and change the camera angles within the timing of the performance without proper knowledge of how to do so. Your applied choices will greatly affect the Audience's Glee, and the potential points that are earned as you do your own producer thing.

By timing everything right you will fill in a halo shaped gauge at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and hear cheers/chants from the crowd as you impress them with your production skills. The controls that tie-in with such a task will try your patience as a gamer, and ultimately test your mettle as a multi-tasker. Both the Dpad, and the Thumbsticks will be what you're manning in these instances. In order to change the camera angles you will have to press the DPad button that ties in with what it is you want to capture visually. Up on the DPad will afford you an overhead view, Down will gain you a view from down under, pressing 'Left' will afford you a close-up of the Idol's face, and pressing 'Right' will return the view to normal.

In addition to the standard DPad camera angle options you can double press each DPad input to score a "Complex Angle" option. These complex shots include a "Bird's Eye View", "Zoom-In", and "Zoom-Out" options. Aside from the DPad you can also manipulate the camera angles ever so slightly with the "Left Thumbstick", and "Right Thumbstick. Camera angle management definitely plays a vital role in a concert performance's success, as does another aspect of performance management gameplay. Such an aspect comes into play if you have multiple Idols in your group. If you do you can switch focus between said Idols by pressing the "RT & LT" trigger buttons giving each Idol in your group time in the lime light. In doing so you will shuffle through Idols, and focus on them once you set the DPad camera angle, and follow up by pressing the "CIRCLE" button". It should be noted that to activate any camera angle option via the DPad you will have to immediately press the "CIRCLE" button afterwards otherwise nothing will happen, and the Idol will continue singing, and dancing in a normal view.

As I mentioned earlier camera work is not the only duty assigned to a producer. As a proper Pop Idol producer you will also have to manage the special stage effects in a timely appropriate manner. In the game you can assign three different stage effects (spotlight, cyber butterflies, throbbing hearts ...) per concert. Each stage effect will affect the Audience's Glee percentage while improving upon your performance gauge percentage completion in the process. Wowing the audience with the glitz, and glamor of special effects will also result in more gained points at the end of your concert performance. In the end both your Audience Glee percentage completion, and your earned points will be factored in to give you a grade/ranking (Bad - Great).

Another huge thing that I forgot to mention is that in some stages, specifically the ones in which your chosen CPU are related to can allow for an onstage HDD transformation. The purpose of the HDD transformation is to further impress the audience so that you can gain more points, and ultimately gain a better Pop Idol chart ranking when your song gets noticed. In order to transform you will have to do an outward pinch on the rear touchpad of your PS Vita. While this is definitely a good way to rack up the points, it is easier said than done. I personally was unable to perform an HDD transformation at all. It's required control usage is so awkward, and out of place that it makes the already difficult to manage tasks at hand even harder to deal with. One thing to note is that if you can actually activate the CPU's HDD transformation the transformation time onstage will be a timed event. Onstage HDD time limit, as it were is based off of your CPU's "Vocal" attribute/stat. Boosting that stat with "Vocal Training", "Rehearsal", or "Study" will improve your time with the HDD function.

Unlimited Concert ...

The "Unlimited Concert" mode in the main menu of "HyperDimension Neptunia: PP" is basically there for extended gameplay. It mirrors all that you experienced in the "Producer" playthrough with the exception of a couple of unique gameplay additions. In "Unlimited Concert" you can play either a "Solo", "Duo", or Trio" via the added "Group" settings. Choosing to go with a "Duo", or a "Trio" will increase the number of onstage Idols making the performance management at hand an even more daunting task. It should also be noted that in "Unlimited Concert" you can place stage items that you've unlocked in "Producer" so long as you have the stage points to do so. Items can only be placed outside of the performance circle, and can only be added if you have enough points. Item points will increase the more you play the game. Other than those things the "Unlimited Concert" mode is basically the same experience as the previously explained "Producer" mode. You can opt to play a single concert, or continue one once prompted to do so. Hence the "Unlimited" nature of the mode.

Viewer ...

Aside form "Producer", "Viewer" mode is the only other wholly unique mode offered by the developer/s. In "Viewer" you will be able to view fullscreen images of the CPUs, and their respective HDD counterparts assuming you have unlocked them in-game. You can also doll up the 3D models of each with the hair colors, accessories, and clothing articles that you unlocked during you "Producer" playthrough. Changing the background image, as well as setting an alarm clock, and tinkering with the voices, and special sound effects are also an option in this extra mode. In the end though it's more, or less a glorified extra that has been labeled as a game mode.

Stuff I forgot to mention ...

Along with in-game stats, gauges, and meters you will find that "HyperDimension Neptunia: PP" also presents your progress as a producer in the form of ranking pie charts (Game Industri & The World) as well as Pop Idol Song Charts. The pie chart rankings take in account your chosen CPU's share percentage as a Pop Idol in Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, Leanbox, and the World. As you continue to aid the CPU's Pop Idol career you will improve upon your gained share percentages. You will however have to visit the in-game "Move" menu to promote yourself in each of the Game Industri's four nations. As far as the song charts go the better your management of the CPU's Idol performance goes the higher up your song will reach on the The Pop Idol's top chart. Your goal within "HyperDimension Neptunia: PP" is to help your chosen CPU regain their lost shares, and also become a better Pop Idol sensation than "MOB48".

It should also be noted that your formed Idol groups can be named as you see fit. After recruiting an additional Game Industri CPU to your Pop Idol group you will be prompted to either go along with the default group name, or choose one of your own. Sadly the space for naming your group is somewhat limited, and will have you picking a shorter name. I chose to name my Pop Idol group of Noire, and Vert, "Vector X". You can name yours how you see fit if you so desire.

For those of you looking for extended gameplay in the "Producer" mode "HyperDimension Neptunia: PP" does offer some replay value. Your first playthrough of "Producer" will likely not gain you all of the unlockables that the game has to offer. Fortunately for you you can start over with a "Clear Data" save once you've beaten the "Producer" mode. This will bring over the end stats/attributes along with all unlockables that you managed to unlock. It'll make for a quicker playthrough, and allow you to fully experience all that the game has in store. Keep in mind though you must save the game after the rolling retro credits in order to take advantage of the "Clear Data" save. Speaking of which be sure to watch the full ending credits as they give nods to several different video game genres with the lovely Loli cast of "Hyperdimension Neptunia".

Now on to the verdict ...

HyperDimension Neptunia: PP is an overly complicated game that is rushed to a point that it makes little sense at all. As you manage your daily activities in-game you'll begin to realize that the results, and responses from your chosen CPU never really reflect your applied daily schedule/activities. It also never really reflects the performance rankings, the pie chart percentages, share holdings, or song placement on the Pop Idol charts. Often times you will be scratching your head thinking WTF just happened!? Not only do the rankings not jive, but the gameplay functions, and controls were thrown out there in such a manner that it was hard for me to grasp a proper mastery of the game at all. I felt as if I was fumbling to do something that the game never clearly explained. I had more questions after reading through the pop-up instructions than I did when I first began my playthrough of the game. Questions like "How often should I switch camera angles?", and "When is it best to apply stage effects?" were never really answered in-game. The fact that the instructions were slapped onto the screen in no particular order really did the intended instructional facts a huge disservice.

I do congratulate Compile Heart on their efforts at trying to extend the "HyperDimension Neptunia" series beyond it's JRPG roots, but sadly the final product felt overly complicated, and extremely rushed. It's as if the development team didn't really think things through properly in the creation phase, or didn't apply a proper testing phase before releasing it to potential customers. The Pop Idol phenomenon may be a hit in Japan, and a Pop Idol game experience might have been a hit here, but unfortunately for NISA I think this latest Pop Idol experience fell short of achieving such a goal. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that is what I think. I just cannot recommend the game due to the issues that I had during my playthrough. If you've had prior experience with Pop Idol simulators though you might actually enjoy, understand, and see this game in an entirely different way. I'd suggest trying the demo first, and if you find you like it then buy it. If not then you've not lost anything.

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