Megadimension Neptunia VII Review
I seem to have found myself falling smack dab in the middle of something rather established here. I was tasked with reviewing Megadimension Neptunia VII, having no prior experience with the series. I come out of the review with the following conclusions: those who know what this is are already going to love it, while those who have never heard of it may walk away confused if they don't take the time to dig a little deeper.
The Neptunia series of games is rather extensive, whether or not you consider the series' various re-releases, reboots, or special editions. There's an anime that covers the first game, as well. The series tells an awkward story unless you dig a bit deeper into the lore. The land of "Gamindustri" is divided into the lands of Planeptune, Lowee, Leanbox, and Lastation, each representing a portion of the real-world game industry (with Planeptune, land of our hero, being based on the ill-fated Sega Neptune). Each land is ruled by a goddess that is a direct representation of the main console crafted by Sega, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony, respectively.
Megadimension Neptunia V-2 (as I like to call it, as it's "Victory 2", not "Seven" as the typed title seems to appear) starts with our heroine finding a strange white console with an orange swirl on it that transports her to a land called the Zero Dimension, where the goddess over that land is fighting her last battle (much like the Dreamcast was the dying breath for Sega's home consoles). The characters befriend each other and work together, much how Sega works on games for many different consoles now. The story continues with the CPU Shift Period, wherein the followers of these "CPUs" are searching for someone new to follow for unknown reasons, much like the shift between console generations.
As you can see, this game is very meta. It's an anime imagination of console wars, with anime girls represnting corporations and gaming systems. When fully powered, these girls do the traditional Magical Girl transformations, gaining more power to take down the enemy. Gameplay involves storyline bits, mainly involving reading or listening to scenes as they develop, or traversing dungeons and partaking in turn based battles where positioning and attack levels are critical, like a Tactics game without the grid. Weapons make a difference in your hitbox, and special moves can hit a larger blast radius. The main style of action is mixed up in big boss battles that require you to use only special moves and position yourself to maximize damage and defensive capability. Special attacks can happen if you have the right energy charged and are geographically lined up as well.
City and map management add another tactics level to this game. You can invest in building up research, which will unlock new purchasable items in the shops. You can set your own paths that you can invest in to get to new locales. As the game progresses, you can even hire scouts to research dungeons, or take on quests from guilds to help your people and increase your shares (power energy representative of gamers' faith in the represented console), which help you power up in traditional battles.
The storyline pushes the game deep into anime and game development, which may turn off a few people. Personally, I enjoy figuring out the references. Hearing the character representing Dreamcast use victory quotes from Virtua Fighter and such gave me those "ah-ha" moments that made it all the more fun. It delves a bit too deep into the Magical Girl strategy, as every character is a girl of questionable age that powers up by getting into skimpy clothing. Most characters are traditional anime tropes, with some level of ditz that's supposed to make them cute/attractive. I was disappointed when my favorite character, who was more independent, transformed to her final form and her inner self came out more childish than all the others put together. The only males I've seen so far are monsters, minus the one anthropomorphic fish that I feel is a throwback to Dreamcast's Seaman as a supporting character.
In regards to the cutscenes and presentation, I'm a bit torn. It feels like the localization team got a good voice cast together, but they were dealing with some interesting translation choices. There are things that may seem more natural in one culture compared to another, much why games like the Phoenix Wright series leave room for creativity in the translation. I changed my primary character, not out of preference, but because my new main had normal grunt sounds when she jumped, as opposed to Neptune, who alternated between "BOINGGG!!" "JUMP!!" and "Like-a-Kang-a-ROO!" over...and over...and over as I platformed my way through the dungeons. The actresses did a great job of voicing our stars, but sometimes the enemies felt phoned in, as the robots depressingly say "mission...failed..." every time you defeat one. Characters are animated with static poses and instant position changes, but they put in some natural breathing motions that allow the characters to feel more alive. When big issues happened, like when Neptune got sucked into a vortex, I felt like they were using paper dolls, and had to lend my imagination to the tale a bit more.
Cutting through the chaff, though, you will find a solid game. If you can handle the gratuitous fanservice, understand the traditional anime facial expressions and tropes to comprehend their emotions, and take the time to research a bit and get the real-world game industry stories these fantasies are based upon, you'll uncover a freeform tactical combat game with deep strategy and unique cooperative combat, layered with a miniature city management game and plenty of meta-humor for people who "get" all the intricacies and references. Even as a knowledgeable gamer and anime fan, it was intimidating dropping in on the middle of this series, however once I got up and running, I found it to be quite the enjoyable experience.