Friday, January 23, 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation (PS VITA)

Over the years, and through several different releases the game development staff at 'Compile Heart' have taken us on a lighthearted journey with some of Game Industri's most quirky, foul-mouthed, and sometimes pervy gals. These goddesses known as CPUs fought against each other many times over for company shares while making friends with the odd few individuals. They fought for their right to be number one in the console wars while fighting off the minions of Arfoire who were also out to make themselves known. In this latest follow-up release of the newly introduced "Re;Birth" series things take an unexpected darker turn that even I did not see coming. From the opening cinematic to the events that follow it becomes apparent that Idea Factory has a message for the gamers in real life. Instead of the usual plot about console wars within the Game Industri we find the older CPU goddesses defeated outright at the hands of a threat greater than themselves. This threat which mirrors the current goings on of the real world gaming industry reveals itself in the form of global entity known as ASIC. ASIC, as it were is all that is bad with gaming. Whether it be hacking, modding, or piracy ASIC deals in it all. Their goal, like the real threats in the real world is the destruction of the Game Industri, and the introduction of gaming anarchy.

After Planeptune's, Lowee's, Leanbox's, and Lastation's CPU goddesses are defeated, and cast into what is known as the Game Industri graveyard at the beginning of the game the return characters IF, and Compa seek them out in hopes of saving the Game Industri from total ruin. In a half-baked attempt at a rescue the two girls find the bound CPU goddesses, but only manage to free Nepgear. Nepgear of course lets them in on what took place, and together the three girls set off on a mission to right the wrongs of the Game Industri. This is where your part in the plot comes in.

As Nepgear you will lead your team of CPU faithfuls through the usual guild oriented dungeon hunts, and quests as you try to seek out those who could help in this dire situation. Seeing as the grown CPUs are still bound though the only hope lies with the CPU sister candidates who were left behind to tend to their respective Game Industri lands. Hence the title "Sisters Generation". At first the rag tag trio led by Nepgear will be on their lonesome in their hunt for a fix, but as they progress others will also join their cause upon realizing what has taken place. It is up to you to level up your team of characters, equip them with the best equipment, pair them up, and grind away "Idea Factory/Compile Heart" style against the many minions of ASIC.

As far as the UI (User Interface), and in-game management in 'Re;Birth 2' goes you'll find that it is basically a mirror copy of what "Re;Birth (Neptunia Re;Birth1)" offered, with a few exceptions. These exceptions include a brand new story, a new side mode called 'Stella's Dungeon', and some new characters that have yet to be seen in a Neptunia game. The menu system which I spoke of just moments ago is once again accessed via an overhead map of the Game Industri, and includes character/party management, guild quest access, a museum menu with extras, a store for buying items, an information hub for engaging with random NPC characters as well as a "plans" menu for tweaking what each dungeon provides . You'll find that the characters themselves have multiple management options as usual which includes everything from the usual equipment setups to combo customization, and even a Lily Rank coupling in which paired party members can perform special in-battle attacks if their 'Lily Rank (compatibility)' is good.

As far as guild quests go they are picked up at each Game Industry locale via the "Guild" menu, and can be taken on multiple times each (with the exception of some). As with 'Re;Birth", 'Re;Birth 2' is wholly geared towards guild quest completion. To advance the plot you will have to enter the dungeon areas tied to the specific quests, and defeat the enemies within using the usual circle oriented movement, and turn-based attack, and defend options. The dungeons can each be accessed on the Game Industri map via the cursor. Once you enter you can stay as long as you like killing off the respawning enemies while completing accepted requests in doing so. Dungeons are basically 3D landscapes like they've always been with spawning enemies of varying types that are shown as moving avatars in their likeness. Once attacked by an enemy avatar (Surprise Attack) or engaged in a fight via a preemptive attack against said enemy avatar (Symbol Attack) you will be drawn into battle, and will be able to move within the highlighted circular area while choosing which actions to take when your character/s turn comes around. In some dungeon areas you'll encounter an event that is followed by character dialogue, or a boss fight which once completed will advance the story further.

When it comes to characters, and character options you'll find that each party member serves a specific battle function as they would in any turn-based RPG. Nepgear, for example is the leader type that is geared more towards powerful attacks, and is the only playable character in the party that can transform into a CPU goddess form (HDD). Compa on the other hand takes on the role of the nurse, and can heal party members who are within range with her healing skills. IF, or Iffy is more, or less an aggressive type of character that also deals damage in powerful attacks. Each character in the game can dish out three different kinds of basic, upgradable/customizable combo attacks (Rush, Power, Break) when attacking enemies. Each of which are tied to the 'SQUARE', 'X', and 'CIRCLE' buttons respectively. Like the rest of the character customization options the combos can also be tweaked via the 'party' menu, and respective sub-menus.  Later on you'll even find EXE attacks that tie-in with an EXE meter that builds up energy with each basic combo attack. When it comes to skills, these special attacks are character specific, and can only be used so long as you have enough 'SP' meter to spend on the skill. Skills are useful for dealing serious damage as well as for use for other support functions including stat boosts, and healing.

Nepgear's CPU (HDD) transformation, which is crucial to overcoming the more difficult battles in the game will require that you spend a small fraction of SP meter to activate it, and keep it going. Activating the HDD transformation is as simple as switching the battle menu (Right Shoulder), and following up with a pressing of 'TRIANGLE'. The longer the HDD goddess form is active the more your SP meter will drain. This of course will limit the use of other skills that Nepgear might have. Keep in mind though that like all RPGs there are refill items that can be used in battle to heal your 'HP', or add to your 'SP' meter. Items such as health refills, various stat boosts, and SP chargers can be earned through turned in quest completion, from items picked up in dungeons, or through the store that is located in the main menu. The same goes for weapons, and accessories.  It should also be noted that the HDD's attributes can be tweaked, and physically transformed via the 'equipment' menu. By changing parts of Nepgear's HDD processor you can add various types of armor with elemental resistance, and elemental/stat boosts.

Aside from guild quests, and character options you'll find in place a new feature, or mode of play that slightly mirrors the goings on of the core game. The newly introduced side quest mode features a younger female character named Stella, and her feline companion named Felis. In their mode named, "Stella's Dungeon' you'll be able to send the duo out on virtual quest outings that are completed as you are doing your own thing with Nepgear, and her crew. The menu based game mode will have you equipping Stella, and Felis with weapons, accessories, and armor that you have collected via virtual treasure chests, and enemy battles within "Stella's Dungeon". You'll select the level, and dungeon which you intend for them to explore, and send them on their way. Each level outing will take progressively longer to complete, and will notify you through an onscreen message, and chime that Stella has either returned, or failed in her attempt at looting. The whole purpose, or point of 'Stella's Dungeon' is to get new equipment for them, so that they can fully complete the ten levels of each dungeon area. As you unlock dungeon areas in the main game they will become accessible in this mode.

Re;Birth 2 is filled with plenty of tasks to take on, and plenty of things to do. You'll be able to complete the story at your own pace, build the CPU shares through your quest grinding, and unlock all the extras that the game has in store for the gamer. The "Museum" menu in particular houses in-game art, and music tracks that can be viewed, and listened to once they are experienced in the game. Along with the extras also comes some hidden meanings tied with characters both inside, and outside of the current story. NPC (Non Playable Characters) in the various information menus/areas in particular will drop hints towards Compile Heart's understanding of the real world gaming industry issues. You'll see familiar yet not so familiar characters from each of the Game Industri lands (Lastation = Playstation, Planeptune = SEGA, Lowee = Nintendo, "Leanbox = Xbox) that each voice concerns about the many issues plaguing gaming. You'll even see bloggers, developers, streamers, event holders, hackers, modders, and cheaters pop-up from time to time putting their two cents worth into it all. This second installment of the 'Re;Birth' series is truly a love letter to the gaming industry, and is one that warns of dire times if things continue down the path they are headed. As I said earlier the Game Industri of Neptunia now mirrors that of our real world gaming industry.

The Verdict ...

While there's a lot of the same in the way of design here in 'Re;Birth 2' the story alone carries this game to heights of video game greatness. I personally loved the message that 'Compile Heart' was trying to relay in the new plot. It kept me playing, and interested in seeing what was going to happen next within the game. To me this sequel was definitely more relevant to what's going on in the gaming industry than any Neptunia game before it, and as such it struck a chord with me. As far as gameplay goes it's still your traditional Neptunia adventure, but with a couple of new additions including that of "Stella's Dungeon". It's tone is more dark, and foreboding, but does have that occasional lighthearted touch we've come to expect from the girls of the Game Industri. I do realize that some of you may not be fond of the infamous NISA (Yes, I said NISA) grinding, but the game does good to draw in the gamers' undivided attention anyways. Considering all that I experienced during my playthrough I cannot recommend this game enough. It is definitely worth a buy for any PS Vita owner. It fits, and plays perfectly on the console, and with it's new message in place I think the entire gaming community could learn a valuable lesson from it. It's a true love letter to the gaming industry. One that must not be missed!

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