It’s pronounced Vee-Two
Last summer, Destructoid promoted a blog by the magnificent OverlordZetta that asked what the deal was with Compile Heart. The question was a rhetorical one. OverlordZetta is a fan of the Japanese developer and used the premise to figure out why the company has such a vocal army of detractors. It’s a good read, but the short of it is not every game has to appeal to every gamer, and you shouldn’t fervently hate something just because it’s not for you.
That’s a concept I wholeheartedly agree with and one I kept in mind as I made my way through Megadimension Neptunia VII.
Megadimension Neptunia VII (PS4)
Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Released: February 2, 2016 (US), February 12, 2016 (EU)
If you’re wondering if this game may be right for you, allow me to list off a few things you’ll experience:
- Characters with unnaturally high-pitched voices
- A character with amnesia
- A fully voice-acted, five-minute conversation about pudding
- A character getting naked and taking a shower
- That character trying to convince another girl to take a shower with her
- Two naked characters taking a shower
- Both characters trying to convince a third girl to take a shower with them
- Three naked characters taking a shower
That’s the first 90 minutes.
Megadimension Neptunia VII is the fourth main entry in the Neptunia series. The combination RPG/visual novel divides its story into three parts. The first has series protagonist Neptune and her sister (and my new waifu) Nepgear traveling via a “Dreamcast” to the Zero Dimension. It’s here they meet Orange Heart Uzume Tennohboshi, the CPU for this world that faces the threat of a Dark CPU. As this universe is modeled after the Dreamcast, there are many references to the system and its games to be found. While I’m sure I didn’t catch all of them, I did notice shout-outs to Seaman, the VMU, SegaNet, and having to plug your console in to connect to the Internet. Plus the entire area is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is what I image Sega’s console design facilities looked like after the Dreamcast failed.
The story is as light and fluffy as a bowl of Cool Whip. People with an extensive knowledge of the video game industry, as well as those who are up to speed with prior games in the series, will get the most enjoyment out it. Everything is presented to the player with glossy talking portraits that are animated in a way where their breasts are constantly heaving. Up and down, up and down, up… and down. Oh god, I think my nose is starting to bleed.
Combat is just as light. You control up to four characters in turned-based battles where you use their limited range of movement to position them in a way that causes the most damage to opponents. There are three different types of attacks (rush, standard and power), along with special attacks. Using the non-special attacks builds up your EXE gauge which can unleash team attacks or transform your characters into their HDD Forms and the new Next Forms.
Going into this review, I was a stranger in a strange land. I had never spent time with the inhabitants of Gamindustri before. I knew the gist of the series — that it’s an RPG featuring four characters who represent the three major game consoles and never-released Sega Neptune — but that was the extent of my knowledge. I didn’t know it featured heavy visual-novel bits, I didn’t know what type of writing the game had, hell I didn’t even know it was a dungeon-crawler. But the basic premise was intriguing enough to make me want to try it out, to see if this is something I could get into. Four hours in, I had my verdict: I hated everything about this game.
I hated the fatuous dialog. I hated the characterization. I hated the weak excuse for dungeon crawling. I hated the combat. I hated the enemy design. I hated the story. All of it was garbage. I wanted to stop playing right then and give up every trying to do a review again.
But I didn’t. I kept playing, and as the hours passed, I started to look at this game differently. I no longer found the dialog to be inane, but goofy. I no longer found the characters to be frivolous, but charming. I started to enjoy the combat as I figured out how to overcome the limitations my characters faced. The story even began to click with me as I slowly became engrossed in this, admittedly silly, game world. And what happened next? Why at Destructoid they say, CJ’s small heart grew three sizes that day. It was either the game that did that or the cardiomegaly I was recently diagnosed with.
Unfortunately, as I warmed to it more and more, its faults really began to stand out. For starters, nearly every dungeon theme from the first story in the Zero Dimension is repeated in part two. It gives the game an unmistakable feeling of déjà vu. This issue was perhaps exacerbated for me due to the fact the first dungeon I played in the second part of the story was a highly enjoyable excursion through a Super Mario 3D World-inspired level. The bright colors and general aesthetic put a smile on my face the whole way through. After that wonderful dungeon, everything else was either a retread or an original theme that lacked its imagination.
Seeing the same dungeon themes multiple times made me realize just how cheap this game is. Megadimension Neptunia VII is the series’ first entry on the PS4, but there isn’t anything here that couldn’t be handled on the last-generation console. There are PS2-era textures, recycled enemy designs, frame-rate drops, and an extremely limited number of character portraits; some of which are reused for multiple characters. While this slightly annoyed me, there were also moments where it had me laughing out loud. One instance in particular had two characters discussing sleeping arrangements in a room with only one bed. However, said room in the background (which is the only room background in the game no matter where it’s taking place) not only had two visible beds, but one of them was a queen size. Given that just a few hours prior I watched three characters take a bath together, I can’t imagine anyone in this universe shying away from sharing a bed with one of the busty beauties.
Speaking of the dialog, it’s mostly harmless pablum about pudding, boobs, comic books, boobs, gaming, and boobs. All of that is cool, but there’s also a bunch of swearing in it. Now, I have no problem with swearing in a video game, but tossing in those words in the midst of a conversation about how delicious shiitake mushrooms are feels out of place. It would be like turning on Yo Gabba-Gabba and listening to a story about the power of sharing before DJ Lance Rock and the gang break into Tyler, the Creator’s “Bitch Suck Dick.”
For me the biggest fault of the game is found in its pacing. While the first story progressed just like any other RPG, part two switches it up by having you play as each of the four CPUs in their own little stories. Everybody in Gamindustri has forgot about the CPUs and a mysterious new force known as the Gold Third has seized control. Each of the them returns to their region as the cause of this crisis is slowly pieced together.
You play the CPUs in the order you want and spend time leveling them up; but once you complete their story and pick a new CPU to play as, you drop back down to whatever level you started at and repeat the same process over again. For all four. While I admire the change up from a storytelling perspective, the act of basically starting from scratch three times proved jarring compared to the familiar flow of the rest of game. This issue is compounded by the difficulty level, which doesn’t increase along a curve so much as something you’d see on a heart-rate monitor. Like the heaving breasts of Vert, it goes up and down and up and down.
Adding to that momentum-killer are the random encounters. While enemies are visible in the dungeons, encounters on the overworld map happen at random. You move from destination to destination on a fixed path where occasionally you’ll be ambushed by monsters. These encounters do not level up with you, meaning if you have to pass over an area where you fought low-level enemies earlier in the game, you’ll still be fighting those same low-level foes hours later. It’s a nuisance and it wasn’t uncommon for me to have five or six of these battles on a single trip across the map. Oh, and every time you emerge victorious, you have to reselect your target destination.
Megadimension Neptunia VII opts not to use its transition to the new hardware as a reason to try and expand its audience beyond the current player base. Its story, while an enjoyable, sunny romp, is deeply rooted in the events of past games. This one is for fans only; and good on Compile Heart and Idea Factory for that. So to the Nep-heads who have enjoyed the series’ take on the console wars and its obsession with pudding and boobs: I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t pick this one up. To everyone else, there’s probably a better RPG you should spend your time and money on.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]