A single picture of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory says a thousand words. Luckily NIS America and the game's developer Compile Heart not only realize this, but embrace it. The anime-styled JRPG features a bevy of young girls who loosely represent video game consoles in the modern era. In turn, a storyline of a symbolic console war is born, but meanders and shifts towards something more akin to an anime with assorted slice-of-life drama and sci-fi zaniness.
In other words, everything is crazy and nothing makes a whole lot of sense -- but that's okay. Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a niche title specifically designed for the modern otaku generation, chock full of all manner of nerdy and it never apologizes for that and never will. As such, it's difficult not to respect the series for what it is.
Unfortunately, I don't happen to be a member of this particular nerdy niche. While I can certainly support a good anime and the insanity typically inherent to it, I tend to draw the line at anything involving young girls in bikinis, whether they be sci-fi space bikinis or standard beach fare. That's a whole level of fanservice I'll typically avoid with a 10-foot pole. I endured that aspect of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory in the hope of discovering something more, and was rewarded for my dedication.
Whatever you opinion on the game's aesthetic and target audience, there lies a rather excellent turn-based combat system underneath that is that's both easily accessible, yet hiding an extent of challenge and complexity. At face value it's quite literally young girls battling your average JRPG enemies, but the systems therein -- positional and area of effect attacks, guard breaks and CPU modes -- are intuitive and, for lack of a better word, fun.
My experience with Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory started with no expectations. I've quite honestly never played either of the previous titles in the series, but I've always been impressed with NIS America localizations. Right off the bat I was slapped in the face with a flurry of narrative that, considering my lack of education in the backstory, left me floundering. These young girls are Goddesses and their job is to protect the people of their land; that's about as much as I picked up. Once I got control of my character, Neptune, I just started clicking on things in town. NPCs made a number of very nerdy video game references, which I appreciated to an immense degree, and access to shops and missions were limited -- I was able to quickly discover my current goals with little to no tedium. My adventure was just beginning and I was actually excited.
Delving into my first dungeon area, again, I had no idea what to expect. I had a couple of missions in my quest log and a more important campaign mission to wrap up here too. Dive right in! Monsters simply roam dungeon areas with their difficulty made readily apparent. Nothing early proved too challenging, though stronger enemies lied farther in.
In addition, spread throughout the map were crafting nodes where I could pick assorted items. Some of these could be used for quests, some for creating new items in town. The campaign mission was a clearly marked location on the map and was filled, again, with narrative I wasn't exactly acclimated to just yet. Yet even this early on, with little awareness of what was going on, I found myself impressed with the structure and direction of the game. Even the writing, which I image was filled to the brim with Japanese cultural references and jokes, was well translated and while perhaps meant for a younger audience, still endearing.
Returning to town that first time was a revelation and a half. I turned in missions, accepted new ones, bought items at the store and crafted new items too. I had found my bearings: this was a JRPG, and it was very well put together. I recovered from my early case of vertigo due to the particularly unique setting and tone of the game faster than I ever imagined. From there, I dove in. Within an hour I was returning to old dungeons to search for crafting materials, doing a little extra leveling; I was even beginning to relate to some of the characters (gasp) and was interested in where the plot was going. This was Hyperdimension Neptunia as I never imagined it could be.
That was only the beginning of the game, before it pulled the rug out from under the protagonist and set her on a completely new adventure in a different dimension of Gamesindustri (yes, the world is named Gamesindustri). I found the protagonists transition to a new world oddly similar to my own beginnings with the game. "Where am I, why is everything so insane, and how do I get back to the real world?"
But after only a short while I was invested in an adventure I never would have expected myself to be excited about.
Yes, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a JRPG and a niche JRPG at that. It's going to be difficult to get into for a lot of gamers, and a lot of the criticism over its cast of young girls in sci-fi space suits is more than fair. That said, it's still a solid game and probably deserves much more attention and credit than it gets. NIS America has performed a miracle bringing such an eccentric Japanese title to North America -- not just creating an acceptable port, but giving the game a life of its own. The voice acting alone, I mean, yeah... it's a bunch of young cute girls with high pitched voices, but the VAs really impress.
The only thing that never really clicked with me was the association of the girls with video game consoles. The story didn't really fit into any console war scenarios that I was familiar with. Maybe it was just a goofy premise? Either way, it did allow the game to be very nerdy.
All in all, if you enjoy JRPGs or quirky anime games, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is something worth checking out. If not, well, it's still a solid game in and of itself, but you might find that there's a reason niche games are typically mocked by the greater gaming community. I, however, am more than willing to say that without titles like Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, the industry would be worse for it. I'm glad for the time I got to spend with the game and can't wait for the inevitable sequel.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is available today exclusively on the PlayStation 3.
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