Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is nothing if not high-concept. A thinly veiled allegory for the console wars, this is the third entry in a series of JRPGs which casts anthropomorphic caricatures of Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Sega as goddesses vying with one another for supremacy over the world of Gamindustri.
The premise is as exciting as it's ever been, but that's never really been Hyperdimension Neptunia's problem. Decidedly mediocre affairs, the games have never quite lived up to the intrigue, hamstrung by a failure to deliver an engrossing experience beyond the clever conceit. Victory is definitely a step forward for the series; however, Compile Heart seems all too keen to shoot itself in the foot on the road to progress.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory (PlayStation 3) Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory Publisher: NIS America Release: March 21, 2013 MSRP: $49.99
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory once again follows the eponymous Neptune. Taking place a few years after the second entry in the series, Neptune's grown complacent in the interim, shirking her duties to the point of reverting back to level one. Some things happen and she winds up being transported to an alternate dimension where the console wars are just beginning.
The story has its moments, but, like most everything in Victory, every success seems to be undermined by a corresponding failure. It's quite apparent a lot of work went into the localization, and the script is rife with clever idioms, innuendo, and various cultural references, many of which will likely glean an occasional smirk or chuckle from players. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. Witty punchlines are juxtaposed with and buried under heaps of vapid, cloying, puerile dialogue. Despite boasting a provocative concept, the narrative is plodding and generally quite dull. It's regrettable that such a character-driven story is so devoid of actual characterization.
Sadly, the developers seem cognizant of the game's issues. Characters frequently break the fourth wall and sometimes in doing so will acknowledge the title's less than stellar qualities. It's funny the first time or two, but any humor evoked from these moments is quickly drowned out by a mounting sense of aggravation. This is a videogame about videogames. Something so self-aware really shouldn't be so blatantly flawed.
Combat is where Victory really shines. Battles are not mandatory, as opposed to random encounters players are free to engage or avoid enemies as they please. While not particularly aggressive, critters will give chase within a certain radius. It's best to strike them before they can return the favor, as doing so determines initiative in battle. Combat itself is a fairly traditional turn-based affair, albeit with a bit of tactical flare. Positioning is extremely important as players can strike multiple enemies if they're bunched closely together. Similarly, it's best to space out party members as enemies can do the same. It's a subtle mechanic but it goes a long way to make the gameplay that much more engaging.
Standard combat entails a sequence of rush, power, and break attacks. There are also a variety of more exciting special moves such as healing spells, hilarious deluges of stuffed toys, and an onslaught of Keiji Inafune torso rockets. Yes, it can get quite bizarre. There's also "HDD," which when activated transforms the young ladies into their stronger goddess forms. Finally, the "EXE Drive" unleashes a devastating attack powerful enough to fell even monstrous foes. Sadly, it's tied to a slow-filling gauge and is best saved for only the most dangerous of opponents. Everything aside from the standard set of attacks is accompanied by a unique animation which, along with some great tunes, really helps to ratchet up the excitement.
Being the spice of life and all, it's nice to have a variety of ways to dispatch a similarly diverse melange of enemies. Some of my favorite adversaries were parodies from classic games such as ghosts reminiscent of those in Pac-Man, Super Mario-esque pipes, and Tetris block creatures. Unfortunately, Victory's multiplicity doesn't extend to the game's environments. Dull, drab, and repetitive, before long players will find themselves wandering through portions of dungeons blatantly ripped from other areas in the game.
It reeks of laziness, but that pales in comparison to what is easily the worst part of the entire experience. The quest system. Ugh! Poorly implemented and only there to waste your time, a seemingly endless number of errands awaits just to artificially lengthen the game. Rarely challenging, never interesting, these fetch quests exist only as arbitrary roadblocks that will need to be surmounted before the story is allowed to advance.
Dwelling somewhere between mediocrity and greatness, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It just isn't a very good one either. A nuanced, rhythmic, and generally entertaining combat system awaits alongside a nascent story for those that can endure more than their fair share of suffering.