Sunday, October 9, 2016

Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls (PS VITA)

Idea Factory's Neptunia series has taken on a rather odd, and seemingly non-canon plot twist this time around in which IF is the protagonist, and a Segami (an amnesiac on a mission) is trying desperately to stop the post-apocalyptic end of the world which was brought on by inner conflict among the Sega Hard Girls. When the game opens up IF is shown scouring a desolate wasteland on her motorcycle in a search for an ancient library. She eventually finds said library, and in doing so meets up with a predicament tied to the disappearance of history itself. It seems the grand library is the storehouse for all historical knowledge, and is run by the series' motherly figure, Histoire. While browsing the volumes of information IF falls victim to a surprise attack, and later realizes through Histy's inquiry about her whereabouts, and the lost tomes of knowledge that there is a history thief among them. Of course during the visit, and perhaps before that Segami is found roaming aimlessly about, and insists on tagging along with IF. Together IF, Histy, and Segami work out a deal to travel back in time from era to era to figure out what exactly happened to the missing data. Histy actually turns IF's motorcycle into a time traveling vehicle, and it is with that motorcycle that IF, Segami, and the select characters she encounters travel back and forth from library to era doing their detective work as they attempt to fix the future.

At base level "Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls" looks oddly reminiscent of older Neptunia misadventures. The ring based combat returns as does the dungeons with their accompanying mission completion objectives. Only at root level though. The game, for the lack of a better word has been revamped. Things have been tweaked, and improved upon in a way not seen before in the series. When it comes to combat, for example your attacks are somewhat more freely applied, but are still governed by their own respective meters or gauges. Those meters this time involve an over/guard gauge which fills up from green to red when you perform a certain amount of actions (Skills, Item Usage, Combos, Charge Attack, Guard ...) as well as a Fever gauge that gives you free reign over lesser enemies with a trio of additional perks. When the over/guard meter reaches the red (Green - Yellow - Red) the current character's turn will be forfeit, and passed onto the next character in your party (up to four members). This keeps you from over-extending your turn, and allows for the turn-based mechanics to work on the enemy's behalf as well.

The really interesting thing about combat outside of these new gauges, or meters is the inclusion of the charge attack which is basically an auto-combo, or more powerful attack depending on which character activates it. To perform this charged attack you simply hold down "X" until yellow fills the rest of the over/guard gauge. This will hit the enemy that's within range with more damage. The catch is that once you do this that character's turn is over. It's done. In most cases you can clear out two lesser enemies using spammed singular attacks though, so it's best that you weigh your options when it comes to attacking. Also returning are skills, but skills themselves also see a change later into your playthrough. IFI (the dev) basically added in a 'class change' option within the grand library with which you can change a character's class in the RPG sense. This allows the character in question to acquire a different class based skill set, with it's own unique skills. Along with that your base stats also change accordingly.

Another thing that has changed with combat is the gem system. In any given battle gems of varying shapes (Hearts, Stars, Teardrops ...) and effects can, and will appear floating in the air at different heights. By jumping, and using other obtained in-game skills you can get these gems, and do things like regain health, or even gain fever time which ties in with the previously mentioned Fever gauge. Speaking of that you will find that as you do battle, and perform certain actions the fever gauge will fill up. Once it does a prism colored star gem will appear floating somewhere just above head's reach within the combat ring. If you collect it while there are still enemies you'll gain a 10% boost in damage, the use of your EXE attack, and non-interrupted turns until the fight is over. It's a perk that can happen quite often if you choose to battle the enemies more frequently.

Also new to the traditional formula is the tweaked formation system. Unlike older Neptunia games formation no longer happens on a squared grid. Instead you can obtain pre-constructed formations with added boosts or perks that will not only assist with the returning Lily Rank and Lily Assist functions, but that will also boost specific stats and earnings. Some of said stat boosts includes the acquisition of more HP or SP, and even the appearance of more gems during battle. As far as the Lily Rank, and Lily Assist mechanics go any characters that are side-by-side in the formation diagram will rank up their Lily Rank, and benefit on the battlefield from that compatible characters' Lily Assist. Lily Assists, as they were are achieved by applying the charge attack to an enemy. More times than not the Lily Assist is a random occurrence, and will let itself be known through an in-your-face character image, and voice-over.

Other things to note tie-in with the character Segami herself. It seems Segami has a transformation unique compared to those most Gamindustri CPUs can pull off. As she encounters certain Sega Hard Girls through story interactions she can learn to transform into them, and use their skills in battle. Kind of like MegaMan. Along with this Histy will also clone the CPUs, and allow IF, and Segami to use them as contributing party members in battle. The catch being that it requires 20% of their SP gauge to transform into their CPU Goddess form.

When it comes to traversing the maps between the world view, and the grand library you will have to use your time warp motorcycle to switch between locales while in the library, and simply press "CIRCLE" to exit the world map back to the library when done. The focus of said travel is to enter different Gamindustri eras to find the culprit or reasoning behind the history disappearance. This is done through both story centered interactions, and dungeon playthroughs in which the usual points of interest, and enemies of interest are encountered through avatars, and event beacons. What's different though is the fact that the missions you take on at the grand library have a historical effect rating. A rating that ultimately effects the ending you will get when you complete your playthrough of the game. This is based on a five star system where a single star effects history the least, and five star the most. All missions whether they be enemy clearing centered, or objectively focused they are all time oriented. Meaning some will be retired if you do not complete them on time. You can of course retire the missions yourself, but will not earn the extra items you could have had you completed it. Some missions, the higher rated ones, are not timed however, and must be completed to progress the main plot. Early on in your playthrough as you advance the plot you will also encounter some "Teach Me Histy" tutorials which come complete with diagrams, details, and explanations to help you better understand all that I've told you here.

Lastly the newly arranged 3D dungeons have taken on a new form. By that I mean IF (or the current set leader) can dash, dash jump, crawl through spaces, swing along ropes, and even climb surfaces. The way the developer implemented these more platforming centered mechanics is genius in that it will at times turn the environments topsy-turvy as you climb about. I should also mention that you can find coins in the dungeons which when collected will reveal a baseball that can also be collected for added in-game bonuses. It adds something new to do besides the usual 'Point A" to "Point B" traveling.

Visually, this new Neptunia adventure is a lot like others when it comes to the animations, and story panel art. Even the cast of characters stay true to their older forms in both appearance and voice. The only thing that has really changed in regards to character design are the new CPU Goddesses which each take on the guise of older Sega consoles. Hence the name, "Sega Hard Girls". Not all Sega Hard Girls interact deeply though. Some of them are clickable NPC (Non-Player Characters) sprites that show up on the Grand Library, or Era map displays with flavor text meant to embellish the lore. IF also gets her own enhanced transformation this time around, and is able to basically perform as if she were in CPU goddess form. She basically turns into a fiery red haired version of herself, and is able to dish out even more damage with her new skills while taking less damage from enemies.

While there is a lot to take in mechanics-wise you can reference the game's finer details through the 'Archives', and 'Gallery' Sega Hard Girls stations within the Grand Library. Either that, or pay close attention to what Histy teaches you as she gives her tutorial lessons. When it comes to the more indexed out-of-play content things like an enemy bestiary, character bios, gameplay info, and the likes can be found in the archives. There's also unlocked extras in the form of storyboard images, videos, and the soundtrack that can be accessed in the gallery. The usual assortment of goodies reserved for those gamers who are faithful to the franchise. I think it's safe to say even those who aren't seasoned Neptunia players can also enjoy this game as it seems to be a standalone experience without any real ties outside of suggestive character references, and return characters.

The Verdict ...

Visually, functionally, and audibly "Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls" lives up to the series standards of innovation, fun, and gaming industry relativity. The plot seems a bit more serious this time, but still has it's lighthearted, and quirky moments among the characters. The combat system, though similar to older iterations of Neptunia games stands out as it's own unique experience. It's a little more hands-on in management, and you definitely have more options when it comes to dealing with the Gamindustri baddies. The only fault I found with it is that you sometimes have to double back twice between the Grand Library and the Era map to trigger the Grand Library's latest mission offerings. This definitely needs to be patched. I have faith that IFI can do it though. As far as my verdict goes I can easily get behind this game. It had me hooked from the start. Fans of the series will no doubt like it as well, and for all you Japanophiles out there, there is an option for the original Japanese voice-overs. The game is slated for an October 18th release, so don't miss out!

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