Friday, August 22, 2014

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 (PS VITA)

This time around co-developers Idea Factory, and Compile Heart take the reigns of the previously published "Hyperdimension Neptunia" PS3 series of the same name, and revamp it in a more gamer friendly manner for all those anxious PS Vita owners who are looking to get their hands on this niche JRPG series for the first time. While the story theme is basically the same as the the original PS3 releases you will find that there is a completely new story included which is geared more towards the newly provided in-game mechanics. The battle system which was a slight bother before due to it's stiff, and somewhat dull nature has taken on an overhaul as have certain aspects of the equipment setup, the way difficulty settings are managed, and the way you navigate the Game Industri map. There's even newly introduces characters from games like "Mages", and "Tekken" thrown into the fray for your gaming enjoyment.

You'll also find in the story portion of the game that Neptune (aka, Purple Heart) returns in all her former glory amidst the new tweaks as Planeptune's reigning Game Industri Goddess, savior, and main in-game protagonist. The game itself starts off with an epic intro cinematic sequence that takes in account the "War of the Guardians" which was meant to determine which Goddess is to rule all in the Game Industri. In it Purple Heart (aka, Neptune) ends up falling from Celestia during her fray with the other Game Industri Godesses, losing all of her memory in the process. With the aid of new found friends Histoire (Game Industri's tome of knowledge), Compa, and IF, Neptune (or Nep-Nep, as her friends call her) aims to regain her memory, and save the world from the grips of a dominating evil corporation known as Avenir ...

If you have never before played a "Hyperdimension Neptunia" game there are a few things you are going need to know before getting into the series. The first, and most important thing to note is that despite the game's cutesy appearance the girls, or Game Industri Goddesses contained within the game's story are somewhat on the perverted side. You'll see plenty of cutscenes, and imagery that are borderline mature. Even the onscreen dialogue is filled with naughty nonsense meant for guy gamers, or girls who are into that sort of mature content. You will find sometimes half-naked girls, and bouncing boobs as well as upskirt shots as you playthrough the game's unusual yet somewhat realistically grounded plot. It is definitely a game not meant to fall into underage hands, or less than mature individuals.

The second thing that you'll need to understand is that the Game Industri Goddesses, and their goings on within the "Hyperdimension Neptunia" universe are meant to reflect various consoles, and their places within the never ending console wars. As with real life console wars the lovely young ladies involved in the ever-escalating conflict aim to claim that their console, or portion of the Game Industri is the best of them all. Often times the Goddesses, and their human counterparts (Purple Heart = Neptune, Black Heart = Noire, Green Heart = Vert, White Heart = Lowee) are at odds with each other in some way, or another, and are ultimately fighting over Game Industri shares. Shares of course mirror real life marketplace standings, and in the game reflect the Goddesses' Game Industri popularity amongst the respective Game Industri nations. The stories that were featured in the former PS3 games often times mirrored current real life console war standings as well as the current consoles that were involved in fanboy/fangirl disputes. Of course everything included in the original PS3 Neptunia console war tales is also a major part of co-developer "Idea Factory's" applied ideals in the reboot of the franchise, specifically made for the PS Vita audience.

In past reviews of the "Hyperdimension Neptunia" games you will find that my complaints about the former combat system, and the unfair gameplay which carried with it NISA's traditional requirement of level grinding (repeat battles for experience points) in order to even get past the game's earlier levels were based on my personal fact based opinions. I found that the former combat system which involved turn based RPG mechanics centered within a circle's radius to be bland, and overall not entertaining. The fact that the former PS3 games' battle worlds were of the simplest nature, and offered little in the way of different enemy types really made the battle portions of the game seemingly less important than the dialogue, and image driven story. While I do love Neptunia's stories, and humorous sexually suggestive scenarios I sadly cannot say the same for the PS3 games' battle system. In my personal opinion I believe a JRPG, SRPG, or just plain RPG should be an equally balanced collection of proper storytelling, and applied combat. The former Neptunia games just did not do that for me.

In regards to "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" I honestly found more of the same during my playthrough, but to a significantly varying degree. The story in Re;Birth1 is still the main focal point of the game while the actual battles remain somewhat simplistic, and second place in nature. The only real in-depth battle content offered this time around ties-in with the menu based combat mechanics management. Idea Factory, and Compile Heart really just want you to grow close to the various characters through the storytelling phases, and take in the ideals behind the characters' console war based predicaments. The game, both in the story, and outside of it looks visually stunning on the Vita though, but still follows a similar path to the previous titles with the only real differences being the story that is being told, and the applied "Remake/Plan" system that allows you to add new dungeons, add new enemies, make your characters do things differently, and even make enemies as weak or strong as you desire amongst other things. Combat still really feels about the same as it was before despite the new changes, and additions. In fact level grinding early on, and throughout your full playthrough is still a must if you hope to make it through the entire game. I actually found myself having to start completely over after encountering a boss fight that I just was not capable of winning, because of my neglect of the level grinding requirements.

For those of you who love a good story though, and find that combat deserves a close second place seat in a JRPG you will find that "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" is a pleasant game in those regards. The characters are fun-loving, and enjoyable to watch in their various states of animation. You'll find plenty of gorgeous 2D, and 3D renditions of the characters throughout your playthrough as well as vivid anime sculpted landscapes, and locales. The map system which was tweaked for newcomers to the series is also beautifully rendered in an oldschool RPG fashion, and is designed for easier access than what you'd have encountered if you had chosen to play the former PS3 releases. The rest of the in-game menu systems are also very easy to access, and are explained early on via the in-game tutorials. Before each first encounter in the game Re;Birth1 will guide you on what you must do via an onscreen tutorial that explains all of the games new additions, mechanics, and menu navigation functions. For reference purposes you will find that the main menu (Press "TRIANGLE" on the map & go to "Nepedia") holds all newly introduced mechanics, and tutorials for refreshing your memory on what it is you can do in the battle portions of the game as well as outside of battle scenarios. Everything within the game is covered as needed through tutorials, and is done in a fashion that is non-intrusive to the gameplay at hand.

For those of you looking to enjoy the game's offerings beyond the core experience you will find that "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" offers access to unlockable soundtrack songs, cutscenes, and viewable game art that can be found in the "MUSEUM" portion of the "TRIANGLE" menu. As with all of the game's content you will find an in-game tutorial explaining how to access the provided extras. In Re;Birth1 you will definitely find plenty to do, even if it is repeating dungeon playthroughs for needed items, experience, and guild mission completion.

The Battle System ...

While I claim the battles in "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" to be second place to the plot you will find that the applied battle mechanics, and equipment options that go along with battle the experience are greatly detailed. Combat within Re;Birth1, in general is a turn based ordeal that takes place within a circular movement radius. As one would likely guess both the enemy, and the main characters in your party will take turns about attacking each other once engaged in a fight while performing skill based attacks, and the support skills necessary for coming out victorious at the end of it all. As you traverse the various dungeons in the game which are unlocked through events, and plans (via the Remake System) that require the gathering of certain materials you will happen upon enemy avatars representing group battles. Like the Neptune avatar (which represents you) the onscreen enemies will move about the 3D terrain, and try to attack your Neptune avatar as you are guiding her from start to finish.

One thing to keep in mind is that enemy fights in any dungeon are optional, but will provide you with the experience points for character growth as well as the items needed to build plans, and complete Guild missions (rewarding side quests based on material gathering & the killing of enemies). When nearing an enemy avatar in the dungeons of the game you can gain a battle advantage known as a "Symbol Attack" assuming you strike the enemy avatar before it strikes your Neptune avatar. This of course is known as a "Pre-emptive Strike" for all you RPG enthusiasts out there. By successfully landing a 'Symbol Attack" with a pressing of the (X) button your party will be able to attack the enemy first. Should you fail to connect with the 'Symbol Attack', and the enemy attacks your Neptune avatar first you will be subjected to a "Surprise Attack" which is completely opposite of the "Symbol Attack". This means that the enemy will attack your party first dealing significant damage from the start. It is after the 'Symbol Attack', or the 'Surprise Attack' that the previously mentioned party based battle will ensue.

Character, and party setups in Re;Birth1 also play a huge role in how a gamer will fair in battle. During your playthrough you will encounter enemies of varying difficulties/types that will test your skills accordingly. This of course includes boss battles which will require the use of the characters' Goddess forms (HDD) to defeat. At first the enemies you will encounter will be of the weaker type, but through completed plans (gathered during dungeon exploration, map access, and guild missions), and event progress you will unlock more powerful creatures that will afford you even more item collecting opportunities. In the end the trick to coming out on top in battle is to always have your characters equipped with the best equipment as well as have their skills, combos, EXE Finishers, EXE Drives, formation, and team setup in check.

Equipment which is vital to a victorious fight outcome can be obtained in a variety of different in-game places, and events including dungeons, and dungeon battles as well as through the Game Industri nations' shops. Equipment includes character specific weapons, accessories, discs/cassettes (which can be created via the "Disc Dev" menu), CPUs, and processors. The basic clothing oriented equipment items will boost the characters' multiple RPG-like stats as one might expect while things such as a Disc/Cassette, CPUs, and Processors will add special skills, and abilities to the characters they are equipped to.

In the way of basic combat options you will find that each character has in place three different types of attacks which can be combo'd into. The attack options are categorized according to title, and function making the use of them an important thing to know. Among these attacks you'll find "Hit", "Power", and "Break". When it comes down to attacking enemies with these function based attack combos there are a few things you'll need to understand. The first thing is that enemies, like Neptune, and her Game Industri friends have two meters that pertain to their life, and death status. One meter is health oriented while the other meter relates to the characters' enemy's "Guard Break" threshold. In order to KO an enemy easily you'll first need to apply some "Break" combos until you see "Guard Break" flash on the screen. Once this happens any additional damage dealt afterwards will be more damaging than it would have been when their Guard Break meter was full, or partially full. Of course applying a follow-up "Hit", or "Power" attack/combo from any party member upon the same enemy will deplete a guard broken enemy's health even more quickly.

As far as combo customization goes you will find that each characters' "Hit", "Power", and "Break" attacks carry with them a 3-string combo that can be altered three times respectively as you unlock more character specific attacks through combat, and gained experience points. You can mix, and match combo attack settings as you see fit, but only so long as the attack lies within the same combo category. Mixing combos up for max damage is a must for taking down the more formidable foes you'll encounter later on in your playthrough. EXE finishers, and Drives will also come in handy, but will require the filling of the EXE meter which is filled up as you take battle damage, and dish out battle damage. EXE finishers ultimately add an extra combo attack to the basic combos they have already been dealt, supposing the EXE meter is filled at the time. One thing to note in regards to the EXE meter is that once it is filled within a dungeon area it will not deplete until you have exited thus making it a useful tool in the fight against Avenir, and it's minions.

Aside from basic attacks, EXE finishers, and EXE Drives you'll find that each character in your party can learn, and use different types of skills during battle. These skills which are character specific, and are known as SP skills will enable characters to perform special attacks, and support actions that will aid you in ending a battle scenario more quickly, or surviving it long enough to come out a winner. As the title of the skills suggests you will be using refillable "SP" points to perform the "SP Skills". SP Skill point values for "SP Skills" in the game range according to the skills' powerfulness, or effectiveness. As such SP Skills will need to be used sparingly. Although SP will refill every time a character levels up through experience points you will have to rely on SP refills from the shop in order to keep your party members up to par in the more difficult battles.

Last, but not least you'll find that there are a few different teamwork oriented settings in place for your advantage. In the party setup menu you will be able to pair up, and divide party members as you see fit. By keeping party members separate you will have full control of all party members in battle, and by grouping them together in pairs of two according to "Lily Rank (character compatibility)" you will be able to use extra support skills which will enhance certain things within a battle scenario. Lily Rank based support skills generally boost things such as attacks, EXP (experience) earnings, and character stats. Support skills like 'SP skills' are unlocked through character usage, and experience gained in battle. When it comes to the "Lily Rank" feature you'll find that each characters' 'Lily Rank' ties-in mainly with their friendship/usage standings in the game, and that Lily Ranks are numerically based, and displayed within a heart on the character's Lily Rank profile. A smiley/frowny emoticon also marks the status of your character-to-character friendship statuses. A party member with a high Lily Rank will have more unlocked support skills for use within battle, and will be a more effective partner if the emoticon is a more positive smiley face. Deciding when to divide up each member of your party, and when to group them according to their Lily Ranks will greatly influence the outcome of some of the game's battles.

Before I close there's also some other important details I should go over. As I briefly mentioned before some characters in your party will be able to activate their HDD mode which will transform them into a more powerful Goddess form. Along with the HDD transformation, which can only be activated through specific battle conditions, you will be granted an entirely new set of SP skills that can only be used in HDD mode. While the HDD transformation is good for getting rid of enemies quicker the best use for a characters' HDD is during the boss battles. Using HDD in battles against lesser enemy types is overkill, and will not give you the combo tally which will reward you the most. At the end of any battle, assuming you've won, things such as your combo total, movement, and time completion will be tallied up to reward your party with even more experience points. Experience points, like every other aspect of Re;Birth battle, are a vital part of combat that is necessary for surviving, leveling up, and defeating the more powerful enemies within the game.

In the way of "Guild" missions you will be able to take on these side quest oriented tasks by accepting the request from the Game Industri Basillicom's (Headquarters) "Guild" menu which is included through map access. Guild missions range in type like a lot of other Re;Birth1 features. Some Guild missions can be repeated indefinitely while others are chapter specific, and objective specific. As I briefly mentioned before you'll usually be tasked with collect certain materials, or the killing off of a certain amount of a specific type of monster. Guild missions that are completed will earn you in-game currency as well as Game Industri share percentages, and even items. While Guild missions are usually not mandatory you will find that they are necessary if you hope to get the most out of your "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" playthrough.

The Verdict ...

Despite my nagging complaints about the story coming first, and the combat taking a close second place in "Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1" I found my playthrough on the Vita to be mostly enjoyable. I've come to the realization that some JRPGs tend to involve level grinding of some sort, and that some aspects of gameplay are going to be repetitive in the genre. Over time, and through many different JRPG playthroughs though I've become alright with such an inclusion of level grinding as it enriches gameplay to a certain extent. As far as the combat goes this time around I have to stick to my guns, and say that it still feels a lot like the same old Neptunia experience, only with significant changes that relate to combat management outside of actual combat. I will admit that map navigation is better, and that the new content does add to the overall experience though. Even the new story is more engaging. On the graphic side of things you'll find that the game's various anime inspired animations are gorgeous as usual, and that the soundtrack is equally as impressive. The game looks stunning on the PS Vita screen. The fact that there's an option for the original Japanese voice setting makes me super happy. When it comes to a recommendation I think this is a good buy on the Vita, especially if you enjoy lighthearted JRPG experiences that revolve around real-life console wars. It's a video game series that's definitely in a class of it's own, story-wise.

For those of you interested in purchasing this bad boy ... er, girl you will find that it comes in a collector's edition (I think???), and a standard edition. The official release date is slated for the 26th of this month, and will set you back the usual $39.99 plus tax for the standard edition. It is rated "T" for teen, so you should be good to go so long as you are not in elementary school.

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