When you’re the sequel to a ridiculous, satirical and poorly-reviewed Japanese RPG, what do you do for an encore? Whatever you damn well please, apparently. Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, set in an alternate universe, keeps the dungeon crawling and ridiculous writing style of the original, and eschews the much-maligned battle system for something slightly more tactical. Is it enough to earn the series a little more respect? In short, the answer is…kinda. This game is definitely better than the original, but the fact is, this game isn’t going to win anyone over who isn’t already a fan of anime or games produced by any of the anthropomorphized likenesses that appear in it: Gust, Compile Heart, Idea Factory, Nippon Ichi, etc.
For those who haven’t played or seen the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, this series takes place in a world called Gamindustri, where everyone and everything is a spoof on the Japanese gaming and anime industries. The character and place names, enemy designs and even some of the personality traits are references to Japanese pop culture. Like the original, this game makes no effort to take itself seriously, and if you go into playing it with a serious mindset, you’ll probably quit five minutes in.
For those who have played the original, the first thing you’ll notice is that the map system has completely changed. The four landmasses have converged so you aren’t forced to wait on a transport ship to get from nation to nation. Instead your 16-bit character sprite can simply walk from destination to destination. Activities in the city are done mostly with a menu interface: you can go shopping, craft items, accept quests and even check your Twitter, err.. Chirper account. Instead of having NPCs to talk to as you walk through the streets, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 lets you interact with NPCs and party members through a social media account. While many of the messages are little more than “I saw a puppy today!” (just like real life), some of them will trigger cut scenes where party members go do things together, which generally results in either an increased Lily Rank (more later) or a new skill. Fortunately, these scenes are marked with a big red exclamation point so you know to pay attention to them instead of just ignoring all your feeds.
When you enter a dungeon, you’ll see another change for the better – no random encounters. Instead, monsters will be running around on the map and you can choose to avoid them by staying out of their line of sight or fight them. If you just come into contact normally, a standard battle starts, if you manage to hit them with your weapon first, you gain the advantage, and if they approach you from behind, they have first attack in battle. Outside of battle are random dungeon fare: treasure chests, gathering points and hidden items. Most of the dungeons are pretty linear and the landscapes are fairly basic as well; so, when you’re dungeon-crawling, you’ll have no trouble convincing yourself to get in and get out with minimal fooling around.
Inside of battle, the old turn-based combo system has been somewhat revamped. Now, the party and their opponents are placed on a gridless battle map where they must run up to each other before attacking. Different character’s weapons have different ranges so some may excel in hitting multiple targets while others are suited for one-on-one fighting. Once in range, you spend action points to create combinations of moves. As you deal and receive damage, you also gain skill points that can be used to perform skills such as healing, status boosting, higher-level attacks or letting the Console Patron Units (CPUs) and CPU Candidates transform into their Hard Drive Divinity forms. The battle screen also features a turn order list so you can see who will be going next, letting you plan for combinations between characters and knowing which enemies to kill first. While still somewhat rudimentary in ways, this battle system is vastly superior to the one found in the original Hyperdimension Neptunia. The only real complaint is that if you keep up with your equipment at all, many of the normal battles get easy very quickly. The only real difficulty the game provides comes near the end with some of the bosses, but even those can be a cakewalk if you’re overleveled.
Many of the characters from the original Neptunia make their appearances again. IF and Compa begin the game trying to rescue the CPUs, who have been taken hostage along with Nepgear, Planeptune’s next CPU Candidate and little sister to CPU Neptune from the first game. IF and Compa can only free Nepgear before they are chased off and must set out to recruit the other CPU Candidates to help them save Gamindustri once more. They must also restore the people’s beliefs in the CPUs so they can convert the energy into Sharicite, a magic crystal whose power can free the still-imprisoned goddesses. Unfortunately, ASIC (the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime) has converted many of the commonfolk away from believing in the CPUs by letting them do as they please and providing them with special equipment that lets them play games without paying for them. By doing quests offered by the Guild, Nepgear and friends can re-establish people’s faith in the CPUs and convert them away from following ASIC. The story isn’t quite as enticing as the original, but the style is still there; if you enjoyed the first one, you’ll probably like this one, too.
Along with the new CPU candidates at the heart of the story, there are a few other new faces: Cave (known for making bullet hell shooters) and Falcom (Nihon Falcom, known for classic JRPGs) both show up in the story but are only playable with DLC downloads, and there are four Oracles, one for each nation. While the cast of characters expands in width, it doesn’t really manage to expand in depth. The characters are always acting ridiculously, saying silly things or breaking the fourth wall with references to real life people and games, or in the case of Keiji Inafune’s (the character designer from the original Mega Man) cameos, they’re talking to real life people. While it is enjoyable for anyone who gets the references, those who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese pop culture will be left dazed and confused. The villains also received a few new faces: the two underlings Linda and Pirachu (take a wild guess who that might be based on) as well as the Criminals of the Free World (which oddly shares an acronym with “custom firmware”). Each of them has their own personality quirk, but some of them push the envelope more than others – CFW Trick is so blatantly pedophilic that he crosses the line from humorous yet offensive to just plain gross at times.
Graphically, there may have been some minor improvements between the two games, but they aren’t amazing by any stretch. The quality of the character models could certainly be better as there are some rough pixellated edges, and there are a lot of palette swaps between enemies. During dialogue, there is some variability from scene to scene: sometimes the characters are shown as their 3D models while others are done with 2D drawings. I know it happened more than I realized during the game, but once I saw it happening, I couldn’t help but keep track of it. While certainly not a game-breaking issue, it is a strange lack of consistency.
Most of the audio is relatively forgettable. The opening song is very anime-esque and catchy, but in-game, very little of the music stands out. Most of the dungeon music fades into the background as you play; which may be good if you’re spending a lot of time leveling up. The voice acting ranges from average to great with Nisa leading the way. Due to the character’s personalities, some of the voices come off kind of bland, but that shouldn’t be held against the actors as they were just playing their parts.
All things considered, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 took quite a few steps in the right direction. The improved battle and map systems make the game much more enjoyable to play, but the story is not as good as the original. Assuming these companies will come together once again for a third installment, I can only assume they will get even more right on the next go-round. If you’re a JRPG fanatic, I would say you might want to buy this game, but otherwise, just steer clear of it.
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