Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls Review
As a huge fan of learning about other cultures, I love seeing an obscure game that has no commercial reason to make it to the states get translated. By and large, the Neptunia series fits that bill. Neptune and her clan re-enacting real-world video game company battles as anthropomorphic versions of video game consoles definitely fits that bill, and the Idea Factory/Compile Heart troupes have always put a lot of heart into the translations for such a niche group.
Now, we go further down the rabbit hole. I always have to do a bit of research to properly review one of these obscure translated games, and this one is no different. The Sega Hard Girls are another set of anthropomorphic girls representing consoles. They were created to represent the hardware (hence the Hard Girls) and celebrate the history of Sega. Meanwhile, the entire Neptunia series is centered around girls who are representations of consoles themselves. Therefore we end up with two girls, one on each side of the coin, representing individual consoles.
Instead of following either side's particular storyline (Neptunia has always been about all consoles and the console wars directly, whilst Sega Hard Girls' story comes from an anime where they are all in school together), Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls cuts it's own path with a brand new story. The game cheekily makes fun of that point at times, where characters ask if they know each other yet or not. Instead of existing on the same plane, each console "set" is divided across the generations, and the opposing girls are engaged in mortal combat that at first, is inexplicable: they just all feel there should be only one, in a Highlander-esque sense. Our two protagonists, IF (pronounced eye-eff, representing Idea Factory) and Segami (for Sega as a whole) find good enough reason to travel through time and try to stop the nonsense.
IF comes from the apocalyptic future, where these battles (culminating in an Uzume vs. Dreamcast battle) turns the world into a wasteland, representative of Sega dying out after that console's life cycle. As they travel, they find a monster is "eating" history, destroying the very fabric of the universe. By going back and righting wrongs, they are able to clear and save events from being eaten, and weaken the monster in the hopes of defeating it. You run across little characters here and there that do nothing more than pop up and say a cute phrase. Some are meant to make you laugh (which will hold stronger for people who are invested in Sega history) while others put out missions. Along with storyline missions, these have countdown timers on them. Get them done, they are saved, and you don't have to worry about them. Miss one, and it is eaten by the monster, who grows more powerful with each piece of history it eats. Your endgame goal is to defeat this monster, though a loss will reset history to the beginning, allowing you to clear more quests, weakening it whilst leveling up your team, and eventually being strong enough to defeat it.
This is where the game struggles for me: There are four eras, and levels, while aesthetically different, are basically the same across all four generations. Yes, the forest is beautiful in the past and becomes more desolate as you advance further in time, but it's essentially the same map with another chance to collect tokens to try for 100% completion. Add to that the time rewind, and the game starts feeling like that second half of Bravely Default that many people gave up on. Each mission varies in difficulty, and it's hard to tell at first what might be easy for you and what wouldn't be. Many times I'd try a mission and be severely underleveled, whilst in others, the enemies couldn't even do damage to me. With no autosave, I'd find myself losing an hour of progress until I'd trained myself to save after EVERYTHING.
Battles are completed in a style reminiscent of Final Fantasy 10. There is a turn order, and actions you do effect who comes next. You can move and attack, or move and wait, which might get you another turn before the enemy even gets a chance to react. Characters have a set amount of SP which is used to unlock special attacks. I did not like how this process worked though, because there isn't really an affordable "ether" to rejuvenate those points, and the only way they recharge is about 3-6 points at a time per successful attack on an enemy. When moves cost 100-200 points, you find yourself recharging a lot. Grinds can get old when you do a boss battle and know you shouldn't proceed until you've recharged, and there's not even an inn to save at like a traditional RPG that'll rejuvenate your special abilities.
While battling, you will increase a "fever gauge", which, when full, allows you to dole out maximum damage. Your character's stats get boosts, you can utilize attacks saved specifically for fever mode, and all enemy turns are delayed until fever is depleted. Again, though, the charging up of this gauge ends up taking precedent, and you save it for the big battles. When at 100%, a little gem appears during battle that you pick up to activate it. One of my biggest annoyances was that gem. Why? Because it has to be announced at the beginning of every battle. When trying to refill SP, running on a world map to maybe get first attack (and also maybe get surprise attacked, because the chances are rather shoddy) you have to wait for the dramatic camera angles, wait for the girls to say their line, wait for that gem to appear, wait for the enemy to attack, and then take your shot. And when you just need to charge the SP of one particular girl you end up skipping the other three over and over just to get to her turn. Long story short: There needs to be a traditional RPG inn, and the grinding gets old. It reminds me of when I had to "draw" magic from enemies in Final Fantasy 8, and that wasn't what I'd call my favorite part of the game.
Despite all these flaws, I still find myself enjoying the game. It is very narrative driven, with lengthy cutscenes given with basic character portraits (think as simple as cut out puppets that occasionally change facial expressions) that deliver humor well. At times you really have to use your imagination, and at other times particular jokes get dragged through the mud, but the girls do interact well and give you impetus to see what's coming up in the story. The translation group has to put a lot of heart into the game, as nearly everything is voiced. The voice scenes have helped to push my save file past the ten-hour mark, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface of some of the content.
As you advance, you unlock the ability for the Hard Girls and Neptunia characters (well, at least clones of them...long story) to join your crew. IF and Segami are your mains, but you can have up to four in your party for some turn-based combat. Much like in other Neptunia games, I have a hard time seeing the point in going any further beyond finding the four-pack that achieves your goal, but at least everyone levels up together in this game, so swapping and experimenting isn't too much of a hassle. There are a lot of aesthetic choices in the item shop, but they are insanely expensive for the nothing they do to improve stats. There's also a class change option, but I don't see much benefit, especially when only a couple girls seem to have anything worth changing classes for.
Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls definitely fills my itch for uniquity, though it definitely has some issues that may make it hard for people without a strong foothold in Sega culture to really adhere to. Following two different sets of characterized Sega consoles is confusing enough, but the game's own lore does it's best to explain itself. The battle system is fun, as I've alluded to in other Neptunia game reviews, but the SP recharge and sparse powerups make you do a lot of grinding to prepare for a single boss battle. It pulls awkwardly from some rough points in gaming, namely the time rewind of Bravely Default and has mechanics similar to the Draw system of Final Fantasy 8. The narrative is fun to follow, and combat is fun for what it is. If you love Neptunia, this was probably already on your radar. If you're hardcore into Sega to the point that you already knew who the Hard Girls were, you probably had this preordered. Fans of traditional RPG's may enjoy the turn-based system that allows you to smartly use your abilities to better bring your turn around faster, but may get turned off by the unnecessary grinding just to recharge your mana. Those who love anime will like the quirky cutscenes and laugh at the stupid interactions, while those looking for deeper meanings to stories may end up rolling their eyes and fast forwarding through the lengthy cutscenes. I personally give it an overall positive review as a fun game worth digging into, but wholeheartedly admit it may not be for everyone.
Special thanks to the developers for providing a code for review.
Final Review Score: 3.25/5