MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs. Zombies Review
MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptunia vs. Zombies. Quite a mouthful, even for the series as a whole. Ditching the RPG roots, these anthropomorphized video game consoles head to high school to take on the zombie menace and film a movie that saves the school from bankruptcy simultaneously. If you made it through that opening paragraph without getting confused, then you already have an idea of what to expect. For me, however, this game may be well polished, but the core of it won't let it shine as brightly as it could have.
In this Vita title, you take a tag team of girls into a brawl to eliminate zombies that are invading the school. The zombies seem an afterthought, though. The primary concern of the girls is that the academy is soon to close due to lack of a student body, and it is in major need of increased enrollment. The girls feel that the best way to save the school is for the video club to craft an amazing movie that will make people want to attend their school. They want to make a zombie film, and by convenience, real zombies arrive. But rather than appropriately freaking out, the girls decide to incorporate them for realism, and put together a slapdash story that justifies them kicking the tar out of their undead classmates. There's a big bad villain who's foreshadowed to be doing something terrible behind the scenes, too.
Storywise, though, this is where I got confused. The plot advances with the girls meeting new teammates, but they aren't required to be used. This translates to end scenes where everyone talks about how awesome that person fights, when I didn't even use them in the level. "Zombies" in game levels translates to "just about anything" as we have blue goop with eye patches, strange giant apes, and even mecha fighting our heroines alongside the generic zombie enemy. And when we finally meet the final boss, there's no real reasoning for their plot than "for the lulz", almost literally. Ten thousand year old demon knows leetspeak.
I've reviewed Neptunia games in the past. I've even enjoyed them. When I reviewed Megadimension Neptunia VII on PS4, I was impressed by the layers put into a game, a labor of love integrating the meta storyline representing the actual game industry with some pretty solid tactical RPG styles. MegaTagmension goes another route, that of a Dynasty Warriors or Senran Kagura (whose company helped out with the design of this game). I just wish they had a bit more confidence in their own work, because this is a game where "more of the same" would have saved it. In the solo storyline, there are twelve chapters, ranging between seven and nine "cuts" in each chapter. This might seem like a long game, until you realize that the rather easy to achieve challenge times run between thirty seconds and two minutes. The game's cutscenes, which do have excellent voice work, but still consist of mostly static paper-doll images yammering back and forth with a bunch of dry jokes and humor only an anime fan would enjoy (hey, I am one, I know there's a difference) for minutes at a time for the actual gameplay to last about thirty seconds. Plus, the game is very, VERY deep in customization, but it doesn't seem like much when the actual gameplay is so short. You choose a character, a tag-team character, two backup supports, weapons with upgrade slots, and a complete outfit for each character. You also have to monitor your level-ups, as you gain AP that has to be implemented in a menu that has just a bit too much lag for it's own good and doesn't help by forcing you to try to push a point in before you realize you don't have enough AP. All this set up to push through a level that can take maybe the same amount of time as it takes to say the title of the game four times. Add to this that there are fourteen characters, all starting at level one, each with alternate forms (all with their own equipment and level-up slots) and the game gets rather daunting for something requiring at most about three minutes of your time. Plus, every level boots you back out to the main menu, so you have no fluency, and selecting through the menu may take more time than the fight itself.
There are multiple levels, but all the enemies spawn right in front of you. What good is a maze of a level if it boils down to a small arena you work in? What good are fourteen characters if the game is constantly getting harder and you have to level each one individually from square one? I ended up picking one character (Nepgear) and using her exclusively. By leveling her a few extra times before I got used to the confusing leveling mechanics, I was able to wipe the floor with most enemies my first time through without even using the tag mechanic, short of the "Lilly Ranking" attacks, after saving up enough money to buy her Level Four weapon. By this time, she was hitting even harder than her transformed "HDD" super-status. It's like a Dragonball Z Saiyan Level upgrade that makes them weaker. Soon, every level felt blended into each other: pick Nepgear, walk forward, kill things, repeat. It was odd when this real zombie threat was on the island and my goal was to kill specific types of zombies, so I'd get the "CLEAR" status while there were still about twenty zombies mingling around.
Researching the series, I've learned that this is the second in a series of Mousou-style fighters for the Neptunia games, and this one unfortunately loses out some of the features of the previous. In videos, I saw the previous title had the Senran Kagura style clothes bursts when damaged enough, which leads to increased stats as your character desperately pushes to survive, but this is deleted from this title. The ripped outfits are unlockables, but they do not exist in a gameplay fashion. Also, the loading screen makes me feel there are a few voids: it constantly tells me to level up by going on quests (of which there are none in single player), and to be sure to talk to the ladies in the menu screens, because they may get testy. Not once did the cashier at the store get irritated that I hadn't chatted her up lately.
All this being said, though, it's the brevity that made it all silly! The customization is intense and deep. All of the girls have a different fighting style, and combining them in useful teams is a strategy in it's own. Saving up, buying, and customizing the weapons to perfection is wonderful. Even the cosmetic items are unique in that you have full control of them. Want the scouter to be three times wider, two times taller, and on her thigh instead of over her eye? You can do it! I've seen handheld titles last extremely long, and this game seems like it was tailored to it. A Dynasty Warriors Vita game can go on a half hour to an hour. Fire Emblem? You can save mid-battle if you are running out of time. Heck, the Vita itself has an auto-suspend that I've left alone for DAYS before coming back and saying "oh yeah, I was in the middle of something." Somewhere, though, the decision was made to cut the levels down to mostly under a minute ordeals, with cutscenes that last three times that and an upgrade system that doesn't seem worth the half-minute you are fighting. I even took down the final, intimidating boss in three minutes with barely any damage taken (by the way, in a brawler, perhaps it's best to not have the main villain have detached arms that sweep past behind you if you are in close to get hits yourself). The gameplay is solid and amazing, the graphics are beautiful, and the framerate never dropped. The controls are a bit daunting. They can be overcome with practice, but these brief levels only give you a glimpse of what could have been. The levels are designed with care that looks like you were supposed to spend a lot of time in them, but all you do is run forward and slash zombies (or monkeys...or robots...but they're all zombies).
The big draw for this game looks like it would be the multiplayer, but I barely got to review it, not for lack of trying. The servers were bare, most likely due to the prerelease status, and I only ever found one other player on a server. There was a chat window, but I was scared at the thought of using it. Busting out the Vita keyboard mid game would just make me feel like I was wasting time. I'm sure that the traditional headset chat built into the Vita would be much more inviting. With that, it kind of boils down to there being one to three other players who, for the most part, would be quietly following you around, beating up enemies with you. More of the same. Though I do admit, newer, bigger monsters arrived in the few rounds of multiplayer I played, and I got new item drops for better equipping of my characters, but it still results in "get close, hack until you see the windup animation, draw back, and go back in, super moving when you can." Multiplayer, if anything, would be a chance for the game to shine. I just hope the North American audience gets big enough for players to find each other without resorting to scheduling availability through a Twitter hashtag.
MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptunia vs. Zombies needs longer levels. It's an amazingly fun hack and slash that suffers from premature completion in a bad way. It's a lengthy game that has a habit of getting you in the groove just before booting you back out to the menu and making you start again. For fans of the series, the silly storyline will fit right in with what you expect, though it doesn't seem to have the meta layer I've seen in other Neptunia titles. The gameplay is fun. Once you get used to "pretzeling" your fingers into the right combinations, battles are satisfying, but begrudgingly short. A bit more fleshing out, and this would have been a cute anime girl version of a Dynasty Warriors game with awesome transformation and tag-team play. As is, it can be fun, but you'll find yourself dreading the menu as you clamor for more action.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy for review.
Final Score: 2.75/5