Friday, January 29, 2016

Megadimension Neptunia VII - "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z" (PS4)

Over the years, and through different Playstation consoles the series that is "Hyperdimension Neptunia" has evolved, and improved in various ways. The gameplay, the visuals, and even the soundtrack have been tweaked over time to bring to the gamer the most inviting experience possible. While the mechanics, and gameplay constantly hold strong to the game's root theme the underlying plot that accompanies each narrative heavy tale only changes to fit in with the goings on of the current real world gaming industry. For those of you who have never played a 'Hyperdimension Neptunia" game the series is basically a parody of real world gaming industry topics, and concerns. The fantasy driven tales encompass everything from the console wars to journalist and community based opinions, and even the state of the industry. Often times the characters, which were created specifically for the game's lore are tied in with various consoles, and even operate as nation rulers in their own alternate game industry (Gameindustri). Like the console makers of our industry these characters, or 'CPUs' battle it out with each other for shares, and favor among their fans. Even with this mirrored storytelling logic set firmly in place as Neptunia's foundation the games in the series remain as their own unique experience, and keep things both lighthearted, and fun while doing so. For me, it's the one video game series that has always brought a smile to my face, and laughter to my stressed out life. Having also played Idea Factory's and Compile Heart's latest release of 'Megadimension Neptunia VII' I still find myself pleasantly surprised, and happy with what the developer has produced.

For those of you who are unaware like I was "Megadimension Neptunia VII" isn't just one game. It is actually a collection of three entirely different games with their own unique story, and gameplay features in place. Among the games in the trilogy you'll find "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z", "Hyperdimension Neptunia G", and "Heart Dimension Neptunia Game H". With each new adventure comes new threats to the CPU's Gameindustri, and their nations within. Each of which coincide with a real world gaming industry event. In this review I'll be focusing only on the first game due to my inability to finish all three games before embargo. Games within "Megadimension Neptunia VII" play out in order, and currently I've only been able to play through most of "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z". I do promise to come back though, and review the last two games in their own respective posts along with details on any extra features I may have missed prior to posting this review.

In "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z" CPU Neptune (Nep-Nep), and CPU Candidate Nepgear find themselves in yet another otherworldly predicament. After stumbling across a gaming console (that looks awfully a lot like a Dreamcast) in an alleyway Neptune, and her sister are ultimately sucked into a post-apocalyptic dimension without any clues as to how to get back out. It is in this dimension that they meet up with CPU Uzume Tennohboshi (Orange Heart) who happens to be battling a giant, and an army of monsters by herself. Coming to the rescue, and forgetting about their own predicament the purple haired duo that is Neptune, and Nepgear join forces to save Uzume from her plight. Through this initially unwelcome act the trio of strangers become friends, and end up fighting a force that is much greater than they have ever faced before. Along the way the CPUs run into their own fair share of issues including that of the ominous city leveling giant which is destroying Uzume's world.

As a return entry into the base series the graphics, soundtrack, and gameplay presentation in "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z" has been streamlined, and nearly perfected for the PS4 console. Everything from the animated dialogue panels which house characters and backgrounds to the in-game combat animations all come together to make the story being told a truly bold one. As before most of the gameplay remains the same as it always has. You will be engaging the various main characters in conversation via animated dialogue panels, and intermissions. You will also be following up said interactions via combat centered outings in the Gameindustri. The more dialogue moments you encounter the more the story, and the world of the Gameindustri will open up to you.

Key differences in this new adventure include two separate Gameindustri locations. In one you'll be facing the threats of Uzume's world, and in the other you'll be traveling to familiar places within Neptune's Gameindustri nations. The characters, and creatures you'll meet this time around look more visually polished than before though similar in some ways. The enemies in particular look more foreboding, and more realistic than their previous series counterparts. In the dungeon areas the main characters, or CPUs also look more realistic than they have in the past, and carry with them a sort of 3D cell-shaded anime appearance. Even the dungeon environments have taken on a visual overhaul fitting of a new-gen console like the PS4. The terrain is vastly more detailed, and the environmental objects less repetitive. Artistic detail was definitely a focus of the developers this time around.

When it comes to combat in "Zero Dimension Neptunia Z" the combat system is basically the same in that it is combo oriented, and that it is turn based. The party members in your party will move around as you control them within a limited space among enemies once you trigger a fight with an enemy avatar. Triggering said fight can be done by swinging your characters weapon at the enemy avatar within the dungeon environment (Symbol Attack), or your character can be attacked by said enemy in the same environment which will in turn trigger a (Back Attack) where your party will be attacked first. There is also a neutral battle trigger which happens when you run into an enemy avatar without them being alerted to your presence. This has no affect on the players' party. When it comes to your turn in the battle you'll find a handful of options available to you. You can "Attack" and follow up with stringed combos of the 'RUSH', 'POWER', or 'STANDARD' type, you can use powerful special attacks called "Skills" which use up SP, you can 'DEFEND', you can use an 'ITEM', or you can activate the CPU's "HDD" transformation in which she'll turn into her CPU Goddess form. Choosing what to do, and when to do it will mean the difference between victory, and a "Game Over".

Along with the basics of combat come the basics of party management. Managing your party of CPUs, and CPU candidates in this latest misadventure is done in a similar way as before. Through 'Coupling' you can pair up CPUs for boosted attack, and defense stats as well as for special skills. You can also enhance these perks through the 'Lily Rank' system. The 'Lily Rank' feature is basically in place to form a mutually beneficial bond between the characters in a leveling fashion. The higher the paired characters become in 'Lily Rank' the more compatible they become on the battlefield. Also in place for the party's benefit is the 'Formation' menu grid which allows you to place the players strategically for better battlefield performance. This along with the front, and back positioning option in the "Party" menu will help you to make characters either aggressive, or defensive when in battle. Thus taking, or receiving less or more damage when in a fight. As usual you'll find all info regarding the battle system in the map menu's "HELP" section. Features are introduced in order via the "Teach Me Histy!" tutorials, and explained through the text boxes therein. The game does an excellent job about reintroducing fans of the series to the features as well as teaching the newcomers the ropes in regards to gameplay.

Other key changes to the "Hyperdimension Neptunia" formula include an altered map system in which you will travel from area to area via a dotted pathway. At first the dotted pathway is free to travel, and offers along with it random battles in a FFVII (Final Fantasy VII) type of fashion. Later on you'll have to pay to build the route with the credits that you earn. By traveling along the dotted pathways you'll sometimes be drawn into a battle that you can either potentially win, or run away from. As with any battles in the game you'll be rewarded with EXP (Experience) points, credits (In-game currency), and materials which can be used to craft items from plans if you come out victorious. Along with the dotted pathways comes dungeons which house a certain amount of hidden treasures, and enemies of certain kinds. Some dungeons even include plot advancing events which can be triggered once inside the dungeon, and once you reach the floating "Event" avatar. Along with the dungeons you'll find Uzume's hideout, and the CPU nations on their respective maps. These main points of interest are where you'll be doing your in-game shopping, item crafting, and conversing with the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters). It's also where you can access the game's "Gallery". The "Gallery", as one might expect contains the usual art displays, and soundtrack songs for your viewing, and listening pleasure. All of which is unlocked as you encounter it in-game.

Both the combat, and story portions of "Zero Dimension Neptuina Z" will alternate as the plot dictates. There is no deviating from the plot driven path, and the only thing you can really do outside of moving the plot forward is grinding until you can advance in level in previous dungeons. There will be points in the game where grinding is necessary for your party members to become strong enough to face the stronger, and harder to beat enemies. This doesn't happen right off the bat, but you will face these moments along the way.

As far as enemies go there is a decent variety of lesser, and greater enemy types. These enemies are each contained in the game's 'Encyclopedia (map menu)', and can be viewed in their animated 3D model forms from that menu listing. The same goes for the main characters, and their models. Along with the lesser types of enemies also come bosses which must be defeated to complete story episodes, and the game itself. Bosses are approached much like the lesser enemy types within a dungeon area, but usually come into focus after you trigger an event sequence towards the end of the dungeon. Some bosses are your basic run of the mill boss types with multiple bars of health, and hard hitting attacks, but others like the giant in Uzume's world are screen filling, and must be approached in a more strategic manner. The giant boss fight, in particular has Neptune, Nepgear, and Uzume jumping to floating platforms in order to avoid the boss's attacks as well as to apply "formation skills' which can only be activated when the characters in your party have surrounded the enemy. The formation skills like the basic character specific skills can be used in any battle scenario, and are character specific. You'll find skills for boosting stats/attributes as well as healing skills, and attack skills within the combat and menu portion of the game. The skills in the game (attack & formation) are all animated, and show the character/s involved as they dish out the more damaging attacks. How you approach the fight is up to you, but whether or not you come out on top will be decided by how well your strategy works out. Rest assured you'll be battling many battles as you progress the story, and traverse the dungeons.

Now for the Verdict ...

I know it might seem like I'm jumping the gun on this verdict, but from what I've witnessed I can safely, and assuredly say that this game is worth your hard earned money, especially if you like JRPGs. Aside from being the visual masterpiece that it has become "Megadimension Neptunia VII" is definitely more content heavy, and more modernized than previous entries in the series. It looks, and plays like it belongs on the PS4. It feels like what a "Triple A" game should be. The fact that the developers added in things like the extra sound options (surround sound FTW!!!) points to the fact that Idea Factory, and Compile Heart went all out with this release. That, and the fact that it's a full blown trilogy with three full games that include unique content tied to each makes it all the more worthy of your money. As far as faults, and issues go I found nothing wrong with the game, and I'm still enjoying it as I continue with my playthrough. 

While my review perspective is limited to the first game at this point in time I have no doubt that the rest of the game is just as good if not better than what I've already shared. Idea Factory gave me the go ahead to preview, and review this game from the day I got it. That alone speaks for how confident they are in the product. Not only was their rightfully placed pride shown through that action, but the game has definitely lived up to such a boastful outlook. Just as Idea Factory stands behind "Megadimension Neptunia VII", so too do I. All I've gotta say in closing is do not miss out on this one! JRPGS are the rarer, and often times harder to find games of the new-gen, especially after launch. Keep in mind there is a limited edition available with the same pre-order poster you'll get by reserving the basic game in a store.

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