Friday, February 27, 2015

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart (PS VITA)

Innovation, and a new direction is what this latest Neptunia spin-off is all about. While co-developers Complie Heart, and STING do good to stay true to the roots of the series, and the characters therein they take a gamble on an almost completely new combat system. One that really pays off. Of course it goes without saying that the story is entirely different this time around though. In fact you'll find that instead of Nep-Nep being the game's protagonist that the often times second place Noire gets her turn to shine as team leader. As far as the plot goes Noire, and her share dueling friends once again find themselves mixed up in a terrible mess regarding the Gamindustry. Having bumped into a shady character while sporting a new holier than though demeanor Noire lets down her guard only to be tricked into messing up the Gamindustry shares for all of the CPU goddesses including herself. To right her wrongs Noire soldiers up, and joins her former friends to figure things out, and restore their respective Gamindustry lands.

Past the plot you will find that Hyperdevotion Noire's menu navigation, Gamindustry handling, and combat have taken a near complete overhaul in presentation. When it comes to navigating through the basic menus everything pretty much stayed the same though. You will find in place the usual character customization options including that of equipment, and party management. Extras such as the gallery, options menu (language, dialogue speed ...), and save menu are still very much there. What's new in regards to menu based gameplay is the simplified version of the Gamindustry maps that include the shop, Mission HQ, Disc Dev, Basilicom, CPU Hotel, and Item Dev hubs. This usually more impressive Gamindustry map setup has been simplified to negate any redundancy with having to earn, and use said hub's functions. Everything within the respective Gamindustry lands (Lastation, Lowee, Leanbox, Neptune ...) are available from the start. This means you can create discs for CPUs once you've obtained them. You can even perform the 'Item Dev' function without having to unlock the feature through plot advanced gameplay.

What's truly different Gamindustry-wise is the Basilicom hub. Usually in a Neptunia game the Basilicom would be a church-like structure where your Gamindustry goddesses would go to consult the industry representatives in order to advance the plot. This time though it is being built from the ground up through earned points that you gain from mission outings. These points will be spent on Basilicom furniture upgrades, and building enhancements. At the Basilicom Noire will also be answer fan email questions with provided multiple choice answers. Answering correctly multiple times will also reward you accordingly. As far as the 'Mission HQ' missions go they are somewhat the same as in previous Neptunia games, and like other Hyperdevotion Noire offerings are fairly simplified in nature. The only difference being the fact that the focus is more on solving the mystery of what's going on, and is less about building shares. You will find that the mission process keeps in mind the usual ranking, and importance status of each mission. You'll have missions that progress the story (Marked with a star symbol), and missions that can be played, and replayed for items, and character experience (aka, grinding). Once a mission is chosen the game will completely bypass the need to choose the location on the usual world map, and will take you directly into the combat scenario where you will be immediately shown the victory, and losing requirements for said encounter via the kawaii Histoire.

As far as combat goes you will find that the developer has done away with the previous ring based combat system, and has replaced it with a tactical turn-based grid system in which party members must be strategically placed in order to engage in combat, or in order to form defensive groupings. The combat itself is more akin to a "Disgaea" combat system in that the stage is marked off with movement squares, and requires the player to move, perform actions, and then pass the turn over to the enemy/s. One important thing that you'll have to take in account that you didn't have to before is the direction in which your chibi-style (Nendoroid) CPU goddesses are facing before you set their movement. Unlike the usual straightforward gameplay the standard enemy, and boss encounters will require a more strategic approach due to the inclusion of trap tiles, and other hazards. Setting the direction in which your character is facing will make them travel a certain path which can help to avoid the traps, and said hazards.

Another new feature comes into play when other CPU goddesses join your party. By placing the CPUs next to each other on the battlefield, and performing a "Skill" attack you will get what is known as a "peck". This sexy little anime themed kiss will boost the attacking characters' damage output after showing a 2D anime filled screen of the supporting character kissing the attacking CPU. It builds upon the former "Lily Rank" system, and in doing so changes the way Lily Ranks (Friendship Compatibility) affect the combat. Aside from those two major differences you will also find that the CPUs have a new "Lift" option that will come in handy when having to reach higher areas. Much like 'Disgaea' you will be lifting crates, and tossing them in front of higher platforms to reach the treasure chests, and enemies up there. Speaking of treasure chests you will also find that certain battle stages have treasure chests with extra items. These chests come in a mixed variety, and must be opened in a specific manner according to type. Some can simply be attacked to open while others will require an elemental skill attack. Elemental attacks, as one might guess are definitely a new thing in Hyperdevotion Noire, and they take the game to even more unique heights than any Neptuina game before it.

When it comes to elemental stats, and effectiveness you will find that you can now purchase, and equip your CPU goddesses with one of four different elements that will change their attack, and resistance in battle. The four elements which include Fire, Wind, Electricity, and Ice will deal damage accordingly to enemies who wield similar elemental stat boosts. To make things simple Compile Heart, and STING have put into place a visual element wheel that will clue the player as to which elements are weak, and strong against the others. Most of you will be able to figure it out on your own, but in case you can't there is a point of reference in-game.

In combat, aside from the movements you will be able to select from a decent variety of actions. This includes a standard attack, a 'Skill' attack which uses SP, and a 'S.Skill' attack that feeds off of your Lily Rank points. Some CPU goddesses can even go into their HDD (Hyper Devotion Divinity) state in which they become an all powerful version of themselves for a limited time. After selecting the character's movement you can choose one of these actions, or pass the turn over to another party member. Keep in mind that you can also use items during a character's turn in place of an attack action via the 'Item' menu option. Choosing which action to take when will greatly affect your party's survival, and outcome of the battle. Should you find your party in a dire situation you can also choose the 'Retreat' action in order to keep from seeing that dreaded 'Game Over' screen. Unfortunately retreating during a boss fight will only get you to the 'Game Over' screen all the more quickly. Should you see the 'Game Over' screen you do have a new set of options to choose from though. You can accept your fate, and continue later from a previously saved data, lower the difficulty, or even retry the battle at hand. In the end the choice is yours.

The graphics, and sound in Hyperdevotion Noire definitely present a new, and enhanced version of what Neptunia players are used to. While the animated character dialogue presentations stay basically the same with more movement applied you will find that gameplay-wise the girls of the Gamindustry look completely different. As I mentioned earlier Compile Heart, and STING have chosen to go with a cutesy Chibi-style of character animation that makes the CPU goddesses look like living Nendoroid anime figures. I particularly like this new style of character animation as it fits properly with the scaled down combat system, and looks gorgeous in the CG cutscenes. The fact that the intermediate character images, and displays stay true to older Neptunia art styles does nothing in the way of making the game seem like a mixed up mess. It's actually the opposite, and in the end the gameplay, and all of it's visual components come together to make the Hyperdevotion Noire a truly enjoyable experience. Even the music in the game's soundtrack is a pleasantry not to be missed.

The Verdict ...

I know it's been a long time coming, and that I've said it once before, but I seriously think Compile Heart, and STING's gamble on a new style of gameplay really paid off. I did not expect this game to be so vastly different from that of the Neptunia series, or as enjoyable as it was. I was like "WTF!?" when I saw the opening cutscene, but quickly warmed up to the game the more I played it. If you are looking for a starting point entry into the Neptunia series I think this would be a great place to begin. While it does contain some story elements that hint towards previous game happenings it can easily be played, and viewed as a standalone game. The fact that there is a new combat system in place that is ten times as involved as previous Neptunia encounters will definitely do good to attract more diehard JRPG fanatics. Fans of the 'Disgaea' series will definitely want to pick this one up. Do not miss out PS Vita Gamers! Hyper Devotion Noire is on my list of "Must Haves!!!".

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