Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (PS VITA)
Having had the privilege to play through, and review most of the recent Neptunia releases I've noticed a sort of gaming evolution within the series. It's a subtle yet noticeable evolution that seems to be aimed towards finding that perfect presentation for the attraction of a much wider audience. From the 'Re;Birth" re-releases to the Noire spin-offs 'Compile Heart', and their co-developers have re-imagined, and brought to life Gamindustri's CPU Goddesses in a variety of different ways. Some of these newer renditions of the fan favorite niche adventures stayed true to the original formula while others strayed from said path, and introduced entirely new gameplay mechanics. I watched as the Lily Rank system took on different meanings within each new release, and watched as the games' micro-management options took on different approaches that benefited each game in a uniquely complimentary fashion. In the case of this latest misadventure we find both the CPU Goddesses, and their sister candidates at an intersection of peaceful times within the Gamindustri. After being approached by a couple of competing journalists offering some article exposure opportunities based around quests, and monster battles the CPU Goddesses, and their younger siblings decide to take on a rivalry of their own in an attempt to impress their fanbase even further. Of course with this newly introduced plot comes some mechanics that are entirely different from the normal Neptunia adventures, and thankfully so ...
In "Neptunia U" (I'm going to refer to it as that for the sake of saving text space) you'll find that it is definitely more action oriented, as the title suggests. Taking obvious hints from games like 'Dynasty Warriors' this latest CPU Goddess, and sibling based misadventure will have the gamer battling out hordes of monsters, and boss-like creatures on quest driven outings that tie-in with the newly introduced journalistic plot. The quests themselves are managed a lot like they were in previous Neptunia installments with a map for traveling to each quest location, and a simple menu system for managing your party members, and their equipment. Unlike the previous Neptunia games though this one starts out on a different note with "You (the gamer)" choosing either to go along with the CPU Goddesses, or the Sister Candidates. This effects the story for a short while during the intro, and tutorial events, but soon becomes a thing of no consequence when the game officially begins.
Utilizing pairs of two CPUs, or Candidates in a straightforward, or mismatched grouping you will confront the various objective oriented quests given to you by GameIndustri journalists 'Dengekiko', and 'Famitsu'. It goes without saying that Dengekiko, and Famitsu aren't working entirely on there own, and as one might expect there is a shady corporation, and boss giving them orders behind-the-scenes. The really cool thing about the situation, and the pairing system amongst said characters is that not only do you get to play as your favorite Neptunia gals, but that Dengekiko, and Famitsu are also playable on a similar level as the CPUs in a human CPU hybrid form. As you pair off, and take on quests your Lily Rank with each pairing of characters will grow stronger gifting that particular pair of CPU's, and/or Candidates a boost specifically tied to them. Lily Rank boosts, this time around come in the form of such things as energy meter increases, and damage output increases amongst other status/battle affecting bonuses.
In regards to the quests, and battles you, and your chosen CPU pairs will be hacking, and slashing your way through re-populating groups of lesser, and greater monsters. This combat which follows closely the 'Dynasty Warriors' approach will have you dishing out weapon combos in a normal, and higher damage rate that are tied to two face buttons respectively (SQUARE & TRIANGLE). With the normal combo attacks also comes the traditional Neptunia skills which burn up refillable skill meter as well as an all out energy based attack that can be used when the CPU, Candidate, or Journalist character is in their HDD form. Everything you need to know in regards to combat is explained along the way in a user friendly way that keeps things easily understandable. As far as the control functions go everything in combat is easy to utilize, and keeps the game going forward on a more casual gaming level.
As far as quests go you'll find that some quests are straightforward kill sessions in which your chosen, or designated pair will have to kill off a certain amount of baddies, or kill off said baddies near larger boss creatures. In other quests you'll even face off against the bosses themselves. To keep things interesting beyond the standard quests Compile Heart has also included a sort of mystery quest in each named location listing that is highlighted by a red bar on the map area menu (opposed to the blue for standard quests), and will have you trying to figure out what conditions must be met in order for said quest to be considered "Cleared". Your reward for clearing quests comes in the form of RPG leveling, Lily Rank improvement between pairs, and coins which can be spent on character boosts, and equipment/weapon upgrades. Each enemy you defeat has the chance of dropping, a coin/token that reflects that monster type. By going into the main menu's "Setup" you can cash in these tokens for rewards that will either offer attachable boosts, or equipment/weapons that will help your team become more effective on the battlefield.
In an actual quest battle you can switch between your two chosen characters on the go using the appropriate DPad direction. This can get you out of a pinch if one of your character's health is low, and can give you the opportunity to use each character's HDD form to their maximum potential. As with most Neptunia games going into the HDD form is a limited advantage ordeal, and in the case of 'Neptunia U' it is no different. The good thing about going HDD though is that your EXE skill bar which it runs off of does refill as you perform combos in human form, and while a character is recovering while not being used. You can use your HDD'd character do dish out enhanced damage via combos, and skills, or you can use the HDD all powerful attack, and spend your EXE completely. I find it's better to get as much combo, and skill damage in as possible before doing the major attack when there's a tiny bit of EXE meter left.
The battle scenarios take in account the usual end tally, and will reward each participating character with RPG stat level increases based on various performance stats (combo count, ...). Having each character in your two girl team fight is a very important aspect of quest completion as they will gain more experience points if they are used equally in battle. The end tally also rates you according to your performance with a titled gamer rank that ranges from the best rating, "Godly CPU" to a lesser rating which I've personally never seen. The game, as I said before is more casual, and as such it's very easy to get the Godly gamer rank every time if you don't get careless, and receive a lot of damage. I should also mention the fact that keeping up your combo count matters as it will help you to achieve the best gamer rank. Unfortunately there is a cap on the combo count, and combo damage though, and it is set at 999 for combos, and 9,999,999 for damage. I have personally reached that point on a regular basis in the more action heavy quest battles.
When it comes to character management in this particular spin-off you'll find it is more, or less a three fold ordeal. You'll be dressing and equipping your CPU's human form along with their coupled HDD form as well as increasing their Lily Ranks, and earning them new outfits from their supporting Gameindustri fans. As usual some equipment will change the CPU's/Candidate's/Journalist's appearance while other accessories will add boost, or reduction modifiers which will change the way you approach the battle driven quests. One important thing I forgot to mention is that 'Neptunia U' is also like 'Senran Kagura' in a way in that the girls will be losing clothes as they receive damage. This feature is definitely a nod to what was included in the recent PS4 game, 'Omega Quintet'. While damaged clothing does offer up some naughty eye candy it doesn't really change things outside of the increased damage dealt to your chosen characters. As you play, and unlock things via the new town gossip/news hub that is located on the main map menu (by performing feats of notoriety on your quest outings) you will be gifted new clothing attire from your fans that can totally nullify the clothing damage, or make your characters' clothes easier to tear apart. As such clothing comes in "Soft", or "Hard" varieties as well as the normally named attire that sports neither preceding adjective. In theory beating the game with either a "Soft", or "Hard" clothing setup will possibly unlock new modes of play via the title screen menu that has two additional gameplay options outside of "Story" mode, marked by the mysterious "??????" listing.
About the Graphics & Soundtrack ...
Neptunia U is visually a vast improvement over the previous Neptunia game offerings. The character models look slightly more realistic, and mature than ever before. In fact there's a sort of new sexiness about them, dare I say it. Even the various enemies have had a visual overhaul that has made them look worlds better than they ever were. The characters, and enemies both have a sort of glowing cell shaded appearance that really makes the game look amazing. That coupled with the anime inspired backgrounds makes this game the best looking of all Neptunia releases. I did notice that Compile Heart had paired up with a co-developer, and that they used a new graphics engine which was not used in the previous Neptunia installments. This definitely served them well, and made this game the best Neptunia spin-off yet, in my personal opinion. If they were looking for graphic perfection this is definitely the route they should take from hence forth.
When it comes to the soundtrack you'll get to enjoy the usual fun-loving tribute tracks as well as some new songs that are tied to this specific adventure. The vocals come in the usual English, or Japanese options, and the sound effects that were applied in-game, and in-battle were truly complimentary in every way. For those of you wanting to enjoy the music outside of the gameplay you can do so as you encounter, and unlock each song, via the appropriate main menu option.
The Verdict ...
This is hands down the best Neptunia game to date. Why there wasn't a PS4 release alongside it baffles me. I absolutely loved this game. Everything about it was polished, and perfected. I liked the new battle system, and features. I liked that it incorporated two of my all time favorite games in it's build (Dynasty Warriors & Senran Kagura), and I loved the Journalist involved story which once again tied in game industry reality. My hope is that Idea Factory, and Compile Heart continues to offer up Neptunia games in this style. I think it will attract a wider audience, and will definitely be more attractive to the casual gamer. If you have found the earlier Neptunia games to not be your type of JRPG fret not, because "Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed" lives up to it's name as a proper action RPG. It is definitely a good entry point into the series, and is it's own standalone game in most respects. Of course it does help to have a little background info on the CPU Goddesses, and their Sister Candidates to better understand the deeper conversational pokes embedded within the game's story though. As far as my verdict goes this game most definitely gets my seal of approval, and is a "Must Have!!!" for all PS Vita owners!!! Do not miss out!!! The game is slated for release on the 19th of this month, and will set you back an affordable $39.99!!!