Game Review: Hyperdimension Neptunia ReBirth 1

I love JRPGs. I love them even when they force me to grind or have characters that boil down to trite stereotypes. I’m not sure how many people who read this are also fans of JRPGs, but if you find yourself looking through gaming sites and fora you’ll inevitably come across complaints that JRPGs have declined in quality in recent years. Some even go so far as to proclaim that JRPGs are dying. While there are definitely some critically acclaimed JRPGs that have come out in recent years (Persona 4 immediately comes to mind), there’s also been a steady increase in fanservice heavy games that don’t pretend to be for anyone but straight male “otaku”.

Hyperdimension Neptunia ReBirth 1 is the perfect example of the sort of decline in JRPG quality.

The Hyperdimension Neptunia series takes place in Gamindustri, which is broken up into four lands, each ruled by a Console Patron Unit, personifications of game consoles, and populated by characters representing various franchises. The CPUs are constantly warring with each other for control of all of Gamindustri, and during one of their fights, one of the CPUs, Purple Heart (representing a fictional Sega console) is defeated by the other goddesses, loses her memory, and becomes Neptune. Teaming up with the personifications of various companies and franchises, Neptune’s journey will take her all across Gamindustri as she fights personifications of piracy.

The very idea of personifications of various consoles, game companies, and franchises going on wild adventures together sounds like a lot of fun and a recipe for a ton of gaming-related humor, and, to be fair, it has that in spades. Fourth wall breaking is commonplace, Neptune will occasionally hum the victory theme after battles, even the monsters are obvious references to many games. Unfortunately, the humour never really goes beyond the self-referential “HA HA LOOK AT THIS ISN’T THIS FUNNY PLAYER LOOK!” and even becomes grating after a time. Neptune insisting that she’s the heroine and should be treated a certain way is funny the first couple of times, but by the fifth and sixth becomes annoying. The script, while not being the worst I’ve ever seen, is far from the worst and is riddled with grammatical errors and lines that don’t make any sense.

It doesn’t help that the characters could all be summed up in a single word or phrase: Neptune likes pudding. Vert is a hardcore gamer. Compa wants everyone to get along. Suffice it to say that I’m willing to bet no one plays this game for its deep characterization, which is not in itself inherently bad (Conception II, one of my guilty pleasure games, does much the same thing, and most JRPGs rely on stock characters and stereotypes) but these characters struck me as particularly vapid, not cute, definitely not endearing.

Now, the character designs are pretty cute, cute in that weirdly sexualized way that is “moe”, but still cute. Unfortunately, the environments and the backgrounds during scenes are bland and repetitive. The music, likewise, is forgettable, although a couple tracks, like the one that plays when you unleash a character’s EXE Drive, had a strong beat and helped me out while I was exercising.

Combat is turn-based and your characters can move around freely within a certain area. Attacks are combo-based and there are three different types of attacks: Rush attacks, which cause less damage but score more hits, Power attacks, which hit less but cause more damage, and Break attacks, which are like Power attacks but break the enemies’ guard. Attacking an enemy fills up your EXE gauge, which can be used to unleash powerful attacks that can utterly crush most enemies and even some bosses. The EXE drives are easily the most satisfying part of combat. Unfortunately, combat quickly becomes a drag, no doubt due to the massive amount of grinding the game makes you do.

To call this game a grindfest is an understatement. The game has a really bad habit of throwing sudden difficulty spikes at you, especially at the beginning. This is coupled with the game’s second bad habit: throwing you into marathon boss fights (or a long scene with a boss fight) without giving you the opportunity to save. In one case, the game sticks you in a dungeon with a series of fights against progressively tougher enemies, no save point in sight, and no way to exit the dungeon. I found a good grinding spot through the use of the Remake System (which lets you add dungeons to the map, weaken enemies, make enemies stronger, change what items you can find in a dungeon, unlock items for shops, and more). There are sidequests, but they are all the find this/kill that fetch quest variety, and the only reason you’ll want to do them is to adjust shares, ditto for the Coliseum fights. Shares are a measure of belief in the goddesses and are required to be a certain amount to unlock the True Ending.

In short, the fanservice is pretty much all this game has going for it and is undoubtedly why it’s so popular, because I can’t see anyone playing this game for its shallow characters, repetitive gameplay, and same-y environments and music. Unless you’re really into that sort of thing, I’d recommend staying far away and picking up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky instead, or really, almost any other JRPG. Conception II may be a shameless fanservice-y game, but even it’s better than this one, and that’s saying a lot.


Retro-ish Review: Fallout

I have a massive backlog of games. Among the titles in my backlog that are on the list of “games I should play but will probably never get to” are the first two games in the main Fallout series plus Fallout Tactics, which I picked up for free when removed them from their catalog and they’ve been sitting in my library ever since. Now that Fallout 4 is out, I thought I’d finally give the first game in the series a go.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade (or, like me, never got into the series). Fallout is an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where humanity has survived nuclear war by sealing themselves in giant vaults. A resident of one of those vaults, you have been tasked with finding a water chip before your community runs out of its water reserves.

Upon creating your character and being given this general goal, you’re thrust into the world and given the freedom to go in any direction you want. I created a high intelligence character and decided to go directly to the vault the game pointed me towards, where I promptly ran into a bunch of scorpions (random events occasionally happen while traversing the world) and died. When I reloaded, I ended up in the small town of Shady Sands–where I couldn’t figure out how to put my weapon away so the NPCs would talk to me. There doesn’t seem to be a “holster” button, instead, you need to press the red button on the left to switch your active item from your weapon to the other slot that isn’t carrying a weapon. This is just one of the many weird decisions the devs made in this game with respect to inventory management, but more on that when I get to the stuff I didn’t like about the game.

Combat in Fallout is turn-based, something you don’t see a lot of in Western RPGs these days. At the beginning of your turn, you have a number of action points which you can spend on movement, attacking, reloading your weapon or using items. Companions you recruit act on their own. It’s pretty standard stuff, what is unique about Fallout is the way it allows you to target specific body parts on your enemies, with various effects. Shooting an enemy’s legs might knock them over or impede their movement, for instance. Most weapons have this ability, which you can toggle by right-clicking your weapon when it’s active. Finishing off an enemy with a critical targeted shot to the head is really satisfying.

Outside of combat, you wander around speaking to and bartering with people. In addition to the quests your Pip Boy records, there are many hidden quests that reward exploration and creative thinking with valuable experience. I mostly focused on the main quest initially (as you are on the clock) so I probably missed a bunch of hidden objectives. Near as I can tell, however, most of them don’t have a huge (if any) impact on the game unless you want the best weapons and armor. I actually found the way quests are structured to be much less stressful than other Western RPGs, which are fond of giving the player a laundry list of objectives that I inevitably put off until the endgame. Oddly for a game that gives you a clear time limit, I didn’t once feel like I was being pressured to complete a legion of sidequests for few rewards. The quests I did participate in were interesting, including one that occurs if you sleep at a certain inn and another that involves a big battle encompassing an entire town.

Many if not all of my gripes with Fallout have long since been alleviated in the RPGs of the present (I hope). For starters, you can’t manually change your Companions’ armor and weapons, you need to “steal” from them, make sure they have ammo for their weapons, and then tell them to use the best weapon in their inventory. They also have the annoying habit of running up to the enemy and attempting to punch them even when they’re low on health. Occasionally I would get “stuck” because one of them wouldn’t move out of a doorway. I definitely feel as if Fallout is meant to be a solo affair and that the companions were added in almost as an afterthought because managing them felt unnecessarily cumbersome.

Then there’s Dogmeat.

Oh, Dogmeat.

Dogmeat is a dog that joins you very early on if you are wearing a certain armor or you offer him an iguana on a stick. He can attack more times in a row that most (if not all) other characters and although he doesn’t do much damage, he has a pretty good chance of knocking enemies down.

However, unlike the other companions, you can’t issue any sort of commands to Dogmeat, which includes ordering him to stay put out of harm’s way. If he gets in the way of an enemy with a weapon with a “burst” setting (like a machine gun) you had better hope it misses or does very little damage. My issues with Dogmeat came to a head during the endgame, where you won’t be able to bluff your way through the final area if he’s following you, and you can’t trap him in a room like you can with other members of your party because he goes with you when you enter and exit an area. There is a mod you can download that will fix these issues, but I’m a purist. I did eventually end the game with my entire party miraculously intact, but I have a feeling I would have beaten it much sooner without them, especially since I didn’t need their help at all to clear the final areas. Another gripe I had was that some useful inventory tricks (such as how the “use” button works) weren’t explained in-game or (in the case of holstering) in the manual at all. Some alternate solutions to quests also seemed to require a bit of off-the-wall thinking. (For players looking for an easier time with the game, I used the Science and Repair skills a lot.)

Fallout is a difficult game to judge on its own merits, having grown up with Western RPGs that take at least a hundred hours to complete. The world felt small and the towns felt strangely empty. Even so, I enjoyed my time with it (although that ending was a load of bull) and already have Fallout 2 set up and ready to go.