The prolific producer Idea Factory, and fledging French-Canadian developer Artisan Studios, have released their ninth spin-off of the already burgeoning Hyperdimension Neptunia series: Super Neptunia RPG. Tallying in as the 17th entry in the franchise, the 2D side-scrolling, turn-based RPG yet again follows the series’ long-standing protagonist Neptune (Purple Heart’s human alter-ego). Suspiciously, Neptune has amnesia [again] and has awoken in an unfamiliar world [again]—unfamiliar to her, anyway. If you’re reading this review, chances are you’ll easily recognize the world of Gameindustri and its ensemble of meta-aware characters.
Super Neptunia RPG
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Developer: Artisan Studios
Release Date: June 20, 2019 (Steam), June 25, 2019 (Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch)
If this sounds all-too familiar, that’s because it’s become a cliché of the series that even the game itself acknowledges. Familiarity is the lifeblood of the franchise.
The Hyperdimension Neptunia series has been polarizing since its inception, and this latest spin-off is no exception. On Metacritic, the first entry in the series (Hyperdimension Neptunia, 2010) garnered critic ratings as low as 20 and as high as 80, and user ratings ranging from 0 to 100.
In paradigmatic fashion, Super Neptunia RPG has received an equally split reception. This speaks to the nature of the game, and to the series as a whole. Neptunia has always been a series that you either love or hate (or perhaps, love to hate).
The reason the polarized response to previous entries is worth mention is because Super Neptunia RPG, like most games in the series, is designed primarily to appeal to long-time fans. Neptunia commands a loyal following, and its developers have made no qualm of pandering to that fan-base.
Alone, this isn’t a negative. It is merely a reality that must be accepted to fully understand what is being offered by Super Neptunia RPG. For long time fans, this game is a fresh sock and a hot cup of morning coffee—everything you need to tide you over ’til the morrow. For long time haters, well, there’s plenty to hate.
In terms of story, Super Neptunia RPG doesn’t break the mold. After a brief prologue featuring Purple Heart’s confrontation with a mysterious and shadowy silhouette, Neptune awakens in a historical era of Gameindustri.
Initially recruited by the bad guys, Neptune soon finds her footing in this “new” world and adventure ensues as the goddesses fight to free the world of—wait for it—crummy 2D games… cue sad trombone. The characters are—as they always are—likable if shallow, familiar if predictable, and humorous if glib.
There’s plenty of humor, meta-commentary, and breaking of the fourth wall; series staples that admittedly feel right at home with the light-hearted tone of the game. Yet, therein lies the first divide: If you’ve already bargained for this shallow tone, you’ll like what Super Neptunia RPG is offering. For non-fans, this might feel empty, as the game shotguns humor to the point of vapidity.
It’s not so much a matter of a light tone or a ridiculous premise, rather than the game itself doesn’t seem to take its own premise seriously. Super Neptunia RPG is a game that seems to perpetually parody itself, never quite hitting a comfortable stride on the path between self-awareness and self-immolation.
The gameplay largely involves navigating from place to place with some minor platforming mechanics that are rather unremarkable; excepting perhaps, to note the tedium of it all. The controls are often unresponsive compared to the task at hand, and you will inevitably fall into a bottomless chasm (at the cost of some HP and perpetual frustration).
An insufferable amount of time can be spent deciphering which barely-salient platform can or cannot be traversed, which camouflaged pathway does or does not lead to the next area, and otherwise which way leads where.
The game’s towns are, for lack of better word, “explorable”. Though it bares cautioning that the use of the term “explore” here is woefully generous. The towns are little more than a few navigable doorways, generally hiding a paltry number of NPCs; possibly quest-related or more often, shops.
Your main interaction with these towns will be picking up or turning in fetch quests or moving the story along. While NPCs and areas provide some minor backstory, they overall lack substance that would bring the richly illustrated world to life.
Similar to the game’s predecessors, the combat takes the form of a turn-based RPG, with the caveat of adopting an active-time battle system (ala Final Fantasy). As with similar ATB systems, a gauge (in the bottom-right corner) fills over time letting the player know when it’s their turn to attack.
Unlike most other ATB systems, Super Neptunia RPG allows you to stack turns and unleash multiple attacks at once. Attacks are triggered by pressing the face-button linked to each character’s position. The predominant method of strategizing lies in using the shoulder buttons to switch your party’s formation.
This in turn changes each character’s position and subsequently the attack or skill that character will perform when triggered; be it an attack, spell, buff, or heal. The system is comfortably stream-lined versus more traditional, menued turn-based mechanics (though using items still involves navigating a menu).
The combat can be particularly tiresome early on, as having few characters and few skills leaves the player repeatedly smashing the ‘X’ button ad nauseam. Even late into the game, save for some particularly difficult foes, this tedium continues.
The game helps speed through the monotony with an ‘L2’ triggered fast-forward function, though using it inattentively can lead to an early departure from your [temporarily] mortal coil. Combined with a trite number of fetch-quests, poorly implemented platforming mechanics, and the maddening repetition of Neptune saying, “Boing!” every time she jumps, the gameplay is too often as vapid as the writing.
Where the game shines is in its clean illustration. The monster designs range from cute to fearsome, and there are a variety of enemies that you’ll want to either hug, or stab… or both. From character design to background art, the game is—at least in screenshots—a treat for the eyes.
Sadly, Super Neptunia RPG doesn’t capitalize on this strength, and the lustrous art is fettered by poor animation, single frame expositions, and ceaseless reuse of character models. Close-up profile dialogues, for example, often remain on a single image for an unforgivable length of time.
The English voice acting is competent, but not excellent. Too often the voices sound like parodies, as if they’re making fun of themselves. The Japanese track is superior and seemingly less satirical, if you’re not adverse to subtitles. That you can choose between the two is welcome, even if this has largely become an industry standard.
The music in the game is noteworthy, though stops far short of par excellence for the genre. In Neptunia‘s defense, the competition here is stark. Some really stand out operatic vocals, smooth piano sonatas, and bassy string instrumentals bring some much needed maturity to the title. There are quite a few memorable scores that range between catchy and galvanizing, though much of the soundtrack proves quite generic.
Put simply, Super Neptunia RPG is a game for its fans. It changes the formula only in the most superficial of ways, and while the combat is wholly novel, it stops short of being a major innovation. The story, characters, music, and visuals are, in most—but not all—regards, more of the same-old. The platforming is inconsequential enough to be superfluous, and is remarkable only in the ways in which it hinders the overall experience.
Super Neptunia RPG, like its predecessors, has cut back significantly on fan service, though there are still several instances that nod at the series’ origins. Ultimately, that’s what this game is all about: origins. The game sticks to its roots, for better or worse. If you liked previous entries in the series, you’ll likely find this game enjoyable. If you didn’t, you won’t.
Super Neptunia RPG was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Idea Factory International. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.