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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: NIS America
Developed By: Compile Heart
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Rated: T For Teen (Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes)
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Anthony Cara

March 12, 2011 - Adorable anthropomorphized console heroines fight piracy and save Gamindustri in the latest localization endeavor from NIS America, Hyperdimension Neptunia.

With its somewhat weak gameplay and lack of current generation graphics, it seems this game is actually more of a sophisticated bishoujo visual novel with a little bit of RPG thrown into the mix. The game’s strengths definitely lie in its stylized anime infused graphics (especially the 2D bustups) and silly-cute-dirty-yet-somehow-clever writing.

Neptunia’s adventure takes place in the magical floating landmasses of Gamindustri. Each landmass has its own presiding deity and the 4 goddesses regularly compete with one another for supremacy. As the story begins, the goddesses decide to gang up on one unfortunate goddess, Neptune, and violently dethrone her. They beat her so savagely she is hurled out of the Goddesses’ realm (Celestia) and she crashes down to earth an amnesiac heap. It is there that she hears the voice of Histoire, something of a guardian keeper of Gamindustri who has been kidnapped by an evil unknown witch. Together with her new friends Compa and IF, Neptunia sets out to rescue Histoire but soon realizes she needs to reunite with her fellow goddesses (and a couple of other random cute little anime girls) to defeat the denizens of evil. Can eons-old rivalries be put aside for the greater good of Gamindustri? I suppose you will have to find out!

As you no doubt are aware, the entire game is actually a not-so-thinly veiled allegory for the game industry with each goddess and heroine symbolizing console, game company, or both. In most cases it is humorously obvious (IF is Idea Factory! and NISA… I dunno- Atlas?). The villain of course, is piracy in the form of the wicked Arefoire (which may or may not be a reference to the R4 flash cart for the DS which I know nothing about because I’m a good boy!) Throughout the course of the adventure, players are treated to a typical niche JRPG plot full of ridiculous events and plenty of opportunity for zany character interactions with common anime circumstances and a bevy of classic video game references.

The localization really shines through in the silly fun dialogue with such memorable lines as “Aw snappy snap” and the expression “Candy Wrappers” being shouted as some kind of expletive. Games like Neptunia and Recettear continue to prove that truly good localizations focus more on the spirit and intent of the original lines rather than dull, literal translations that lack the cultural context necessary to let the humor shine through. Unfortunately skilled translations and cute anime girls do not a solid RPG make…

Neptunia’s biggest weakness is sort of an important one: its gameplay. If you are familiar with the IF! dungeon crawling engine from Trinity Universe, this game is almost exactly the same. In terms of engine evolution it’s actually a few steps forward but a few steps back. It’s clear they have come a long way since Cross Edge, but they still have some overly complicated, wholly unnecessary features while leaving other gameplay mechanics only half realized.

The game is a pretty simple, standard, dungeon crawling affair. You have 1 centralized “town” location (the same for each landmass) and you are dispatched to various simple dungeons to complete boss conquests, item gatherings, or kill count quests. There is virtually no variety to this gameplay. After you have completed all possible dungeons, you go back to the Explore feature of the world map menu and watch a few more events. These events unlock more dungeons and the cycle continues. There are event/scenario dungeons that are crucial to completing the story, and then there are basic quest dungeons which just get you items, experience, Goddess bonding time, trophies, and the sheer joy of crawling a dungeon! The events are cute and feature eerily life-like breathing anime bust-ups (models of the character from waste to head). Nearly every NPC is just a tiny black shadow in a small window to the side. Lazy or stylized? – you be the judge!

Like the dungeon crawling, the combat engine is virtually the same as Trinity Universe with some minor alterations. You enter a battle and there are no context menus. Each of the PS buttons corresponds to a different attack command. In the main menu you can setup the names of each possible button combination as well as which skill is used at what time. Triangle is weapon, Circle is physical, X is your shoot command (which can be infused with different elements as the story progresses) and square either ends the combo or places your character in a defensive stance. You are given all this customization and yet with the somewhat weak special skill selection and the fact that the combat timer is always ticking, you will find yourself just mashing the crap out of those buttons (while hitting L2 to skip combat animations) or you will never get that “S” rank!

If you are one of the console goddesses in human form, you can setup a combo to end in your Hard Drive Deification which places you into Goddess mode. If you have ever played Xenogears, you may have some idea of how this works. To put it simply, every non-goddess character is completely worthless and obsolete when compared to the supercharged goddesses which can transform in one turn after a quick 4 hit combo. There is really no reason to use anyone else once you have all three.

The main problem with the combat system is the complete lack control and strategy. Rather than just being able to select a special skill that would consume some kind of MP, you have to work “skills” into the 4 hit combos and still find a way to get the combo link bonus at the end to restore some AP and let you keep attacking. It feels like there is just a “kill” button and it doesn’t really matter what you do! Worst of all is the somewhat ridiculous healing system. Instead of using items or skills, you “rely on your innate healing abilities” as the game puts it. As you gain levels you get these percentage points to place into various healing skills that are used automatically under certain conditions. You set the likelihood the skill will be used, but you cannot set the condition. Once you have enough points to make it “100 percent chance upon 50 percent HP or less” healing becomes less terrifying. The problem is you can’t heal yourself outside of battle (aside from leaving the dungeon) so when you really want to heal yourself, you just have to get hit (but not too hard!). Later on you activate healing abilities that are used “upon defense” but this is also somewhat unreliable. I setup one such skill at a hundred percent and defended… no healing happened. I was sad.

The only real strategy you are allowed comes from poor design and bad choices. The most exciting boss fight happened when I started the encounter at diminished health (something I would NEVER do in any other RPG) and in my first turn I accidentally mashed too violently and missed the chance to turn little Nep Nep into her badass mode. The boss wiped out everyone but Compa, so thinking fast I went into the menu during combat and adjusted my percentages on the fly (admittedly a cool feature that would not be necessary if the healing mechanic weren’t so stupid to begin with). After that she defended and within a turn she resurrected her pals with just barely enough health. I switched back their healing abilities and performed careful combinations of attacks being sure to always end with DEFEND. It was a very close fight and quite amusing, but to say this game provides an exciting challenge is like saying “Hey you can make Kirby a lot more challenging if you play the entire game with your feet and keeping your eyes shut!” Challenge should result from design rather than stupidity.

The graphics are another big issue I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining about. I typically place a very low importance on graphics, but I too believe the dungeon and world designs to be lacking. The dungeons just seem flat and stale with pretty colors- many of them exact replicas of Trinity Universe dungeons. The worlds and backgrounds are just subtly shifting 2D environments and there are no real cutscenes to speak of, just talking heads. Still, I do believe those talking heads are probably one of the best things in this game. I think this style should become the standard for all anime-based RPGs whenever there is non-cinematic dialogue to be had! Idea Factory!’s bustups breathe, shift, blink, and speak with perfect lip sync regardless of the language selected. This is definitely the next generation of RPG dating-sim technology (and has actually already been used in one such game available only in Japan). I also believe that their 3D character models are a vast improvement from Trinity Universe. The anime style girls turned 3D are still adorable rather than horrifically malformed and misshapen. This is a tricky thing to pull off when trying to make a 2D character come to life in 3 dimensions but maintain their original charm.

The sound could be better. One dungeon has this sweet 8-but music, but the rest just have the regular old “Dungeon Song.” The events have either “What is this mysterious happening” or “Oh boy HERE COMES SOMETHING WACKY!!!!” As forgettable as the music is, the voices are not so bad. This is one case where I actually had a tough time choosing between dub and sub. Both versions of the game have at least 2 characters with ridiculous whiney, piercing, and just plain awful sounding voices. You also get sick of hearing them in combat after a while. On the positive side, Japanese Compa is SOOOOOOO cute, but English Neptune is sooooo….much more tolerable than her ridiculous original Japanese self. I suppose it just comes down to taste, but I will say once again that NISA did a fine job of localizing this game with some delightfully irreverent dialogue- which brings me to my final point.

Regarding all this controversy:

It seems that some reviewers see fit to lambast this game solely based on what they view as horrifically offensive anti-female content. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a fantastic game, but I think it should be judged as a mediocre RPG, not as this subversive culture clashing offensive digital time bomb designed to put uppity women back in their place as objects of lust for dirty old men. These reviewers attack this game from a strictly western view of neo-feminism that borders on a blatantly Eurocentric attack on Japanese culture. Is there blatant fan service? Sure, but at the core, what I see is a game about an all female team saving the world. When was the last time that western audiences saw something like this? Mass Effect gives you the chance to slap some long hair and breasts on Commander Shepherd, but in EVERY piece of key art I’ve seen, Commander Shephard is 100 percent MALE. If the best strong female lead in video games is Laura Croft… well I believe the argument ends itself right there.

As for the accusation that the game over sexualizes “young girls.” My first question is what kind of special preferential treatment was given to your media outlet given- because our website didn’t receive the pamphlet with all the characters and their corresponding ages. In playing the game you learn that these Goddesses are ancient. Compa is at least old enough to be in medical school, and Gust…ok you got me there. Sure drawing a character like a kid and saying they are a billion years old is an easy copout, but the point is anime characters just look like that! It doesn’t matter if they are 20-200, artists will still see fit to draw them as these perfect porcelain dolls, free of the age defining lines that our Heavy Rain and Half Life 2 heroines sport so proudly. Perhaps the reviewers brought along a bit of their own mental hang-ups and had a purely Fruedian moment when “enjoying” this game a little too much.

It seems these media outlets should take a lesson in double standards while they continue to give rave reviews to great feminist epics like the Grand Theft Auto and God of War series. Honestly though, if they find this game so terrible, I shudder to think what these prude, judgmental, ethnocentric blowhards would think if they saw a truly offensive Japanese game like Criminal Girls or Rape Figther 2. It would be like introducing Marilyn Manson to the same people who thought Elvis was a threat to our nation’s conservative ideals.

With my rant over and done with, here’s just a tiny bit more info you may want know if you are still considering this game. Like most games NISA localizes, you are looking at a standard 20-30 hour RPG if you just want to beat it, or investing the rest of your life if you want to master it. If you are looking for a quick n’ cheap JRPG to tide you over until something else comes along, you may want to give it a try. This is certainly not the epic masterpiece you have been waiting for.


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