Super Neptunia RPG (PS4) Review
Release Date: June 20th (PC) 25th (consoles)
Publisher/Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Steam
The Neptunia series of games continues in it’s own quirky world. Originally a play on the current big consoles and running parallel to real-world gaming community and industry issues, Neptune has always been tongue-in-cheek with a compelling game engine wrapped with humor, fanservice, and just enough fourth wall breaking to keep a smile on your face through the runtime. Most of the games in the series fall into a traditionally modern RPG category with a three-dimensional battlefield to run around and strategically place characters to take down the enemy. Occasionally they have tried other genres, such as mousou fighters and even space shooters. This time, our heroines find themselves mysteriously dropped into a classic two-dimensional RPG. The story is just as cheesy and fourth-wall breaking as ever, and the new battle system offers plenty of excitement while staying close to 2D RPG roots. Unfortunately it takes a while to really get going, and sometimes lampooning the traditional “everyone has a fetch quest for you” mechanic of RPGs can get old and even confusing.
The game opens as Neptune (our heroine, representative of the failed Sega Neptune system) wakes in a strange village with amnesia (of course). She is recruited by a local military troop to collect taxes, but soon learns that they are the bad guys. She eventually teams back up with her friends Blanc (representing the Wii) and Noire (representing PlayStation). As the series has moved on, these representations mean less and less as the characters come into their own. The reigning monarch of the land is super-oppressive to the public, and forces them to create games as “taxes,” deeming anything three-dimensional to be worthless. I’m sure as we go on we’ll get another meta-commentary on the value of modern games versus classic gamer’s innate fear of modernization of their favorite franchises, or perhaps the general value of all video games, but I have admittedly yet to get that deep into the storyline.
Gamers spend time walking around a town, chatting up locals and getting quests all the while following the main tale. Eventually, you head out into the wild or down into a dungeon. These are played like simple platforming areas, with rewards coming to those who are good at hopping about. Strewn through these basic dungeons are treasures and enemies. You can jump and dodge these enemies but eventually you’ll want to take them out to keep your levels up. In combat, you can change the general formation of your four-person party (when you finally get a full party) into various modes, be it healing, attacking, or magic using. Rotating these combos around as your active time bar fills is key to finding the right combination to defeating your enemies.
Unfortunately, the combat mechanics can be their own downfall at times, primarily in the early game. As I said, when you have multiple characters you can change formation. In one formation, Neptune might shoot a magic attack, while in another she’ll swing her sword. You can tweak these formations outside of battle, but once in the battle you’re stuck with what you’ve programmed. Worse, if Neptune is alone (as she is through at least three dungeons), you can’t even change formation. Run across someone with a guard against her weapon’s element and you’ll spend a long time taking down a single enemy (or worse, find someone who you actually HEAL with your attack, and you can’t even change it). Each ability takes a certain amount of units out of a continually filling action bar that is shared between all characters. This means you can only attack as fast as it fills, regardless of party size. If you find the right combination you might get a boost to your time bar, but those were few and far between for me, translating to a lot of waiting (luckily I found that L2 is a fast forward button for those easy yet tediously long).
My biggest accolades to the game come in presentation. I can tell that while our protagonists are supposed to be “sprites” they are in fact neatly-crafted polygonal models that animate fluidly, and a high percentage of the game’s dialog is voiced. The music in dungeons is beautiful and I found myself enjoying their relaxing piano and such in battles and the field. The game does continue one of my most frustrating nags of the series: Neptune’s desire to articulate nearly every jump with sounds. “BOOIINNNG!” is quirky. “JUMP!” is redundantly dumb. And I want to strangle her when she says “LIKE A KANG-A-ROO!” for the twelfth time in three minutes.
While the story is fun and well presented, I wish there was a bit more hand holding. For example, a point early on in the game I was told I needed to go to the town of Lowee. Never been there. No idea where it was. I saw the girl who lived there was warmly dressed and there was a mountain zone. Went there. Two of three pathways were blocked by a guy saying “no passing.” The town was in pathway three. I was told to go to a library. Looked all around town. Turned out it was in another part of town, behind one of those previously locked areas, on the other side of the dungeon. I go into the dungeon, and eventually a party member got kidnapped. I witnessed this. Thought “I’d better go save her!” Turns out I’m supposed to go back to town right then. And what happens? I find a guy who will help me but I have to bring him five clumps of grass! Which, by the way, I’ve never found before this moment and I’m in a giant snowy zone. Add onto this the tons of quests offered by most everyone in the towns and you will lose track of who needs what where or where to find that last piece.
Despite the inherent cheesiness, I’ve always loved getting a chance to review the Neptunia series of games. Super Neptunia RPG fits right in with it’s corny humor and addictive gameplay. Unfortunately, the team-based combat falls flat when solo which is far too frequent in the beginning, and while we’re all supposed to be laughing at the joke of abstract fetch-questing we’re also getting lost on core game direction. If you have patience to get through those steps Super Neptunia RPG is a fun romp for fans of the characters and a fresh take on action RPG set in a 2D world.
-Wonderfully designed art and audio
-Unique action/RPG hybrid in a 2D style
-Morphs the traditional 3D battle style of the Neptunia RPG series into a familiar 2D play
-Battle system can hurt itself when not in full form
-Needs a bit more hand holding on the main questline
-Again…… BOING!!!!! JUMP!!!!!! LIKE A KAN GA ROOOOOOO!
Special thanks to Idea Factory and Compile Heart for providing a code for review!