Review: Megadimension Neptunia VII (PS4)

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Title: Megadimension Neptunia VII
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (7.1 GB)
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Compile Heart / Idea Factory
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
Megadimension Neptunia VII is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I don’t think I need to summarize the premise of the Neptunia series for most people who would click this review. They have made ten of the games in the past five years or so.

But just in case, the Neptunia series is set in a world called Gamindustri and is supposed to be an allegory for the games industry. The world is ruled by four goddesses who are anthropomorphic representations of the major game consoles: Noire (PlayStation), Blanc (Nintendo), Vert (Xbox) and Neptune (unreleased Sega console).

Megadimension Neptunia starts when Neptune finds a strange console with a swirl mark on it. Upon booting it up, she and her sister Nepgear are transported to the mysterious Zero Dimension, a ruined dimension overrun by monsters.

There they meet Uzume and embark on a quest to save the Zero Dimension. Meanwhile back home, the internet is abuzz with negativity about the goddesses as Gamindustri enters its Shift Period. The goddesses there worry that the civil unrest may end with the citizens calling for a new generation of consoles… I mean, leaders.

Megadimension tells the kind of silly story that is mostly there to hold together the rest of the game. It’s fine on its own but is best when it is being used as the connective tissue to make fun game industry jokes. To that end, Megadimension introduces some new (to the main series) characters as a way to get in even more monkey business.

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In this case, the characters are the personification of some game publishers: S-Sha (for Square-Enix), B-Sha (Bandai Namco), K-Sha (Konami), and C-Sha (Capcom). Even more so than the console goddesses, who the series has been making jokes about for a while, these new characters serve as a great way to poke fun at the companies.

Their individual stories draw in a lot of material both from the companies themselves and their long running game series. For example, S-Sha has a lot of mannerisms tied to Final Fantasy and B-Sha who loves to nickle and dime people.

As I really enjoyed the new characters, I do wish they got a little more time to shine. The game is split up into three larger volumes, each with its own opening/closing credits and faux-main screen.

… the light-hearted nature that comes with turning video game consoles into anthropomorphic characters …
The middle volume is mainly where the new characters come in and is further broken up into four mostly-simultaneous, play-in-any-order mini-chapters each only a few hours hours long. These mini-chapters are where the Sha characters get their big parts but sadly they’re mostly reduced to being side characters again for the third volume.

Though the story does exist mostly as that connective tissue for jokes, it does finally pull together all of the plots together during the third volume. Overall, the story manages to pull in a good mix of the light-hearted nature that comes with turning video game consoles into anthropomorphic characters while still giving the player a plot to chew on.

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Gameplay:
The gameplay in Megadimension Neptunia should be very familiar to anyone who has played recent Compile Heart games. It shares much of its DNA with their other RPGs, such as Fairy Fencer F. For combat, that means the normal turn-based semi-strategy system of fights seen from Compile.

In dungeons, enemies are visible to be avoided or attacked and on the main map, encounters can happen randomly but in either case the game cuts to the combat system. Once a battle starts, all of the player characters and enemy characters are thrown into a small arena and, based on their speed stat, get a chance to move and attack only on their turn.

This arena does mean that there is a positional component to the combat, although unlike most strategy RPGs this one doesn’t use grids. Instead, characters can move anywhere within a certain radius of their starting point at the beginning of their turn.

… the skills are oddly balanced …
From there, they can use an attack, skill or item, or just defend. Of course the actions also use the positioning system so skills can hit a certain area or items can only be used on a target that is within range of the character using it.

But while the base gameplay is pretty simple, Neptunia spices it up a lot with the nitty-gritty. For example, depending on the weapon the player is using, they can customize up to five levels of combo attacks which will be used in battle. These combo attacks can fall into “rush,” “power,” or “standard,” which changes the damage/hits ratio of the attacks and gives the player some ability to customize their attack strings during battle.

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Similarly, skills come in a ton of varieties. The normal skills exist, the attack skills or buff and heal skills that use skill points (much like a standard mana system). But there are also special combination attacks that either call upon characters outside the battle or depend on other characters in the battle surrounding the enemies. These attacks all use up the EXE bar, a resource that builds up as characters fight.

And herein lies one of the issues I had with the game – the skills are oddly balanced. In particular, the partner attacks never seemed as powerful as they should be, given the hoops needed to jump through to get them. By comparison, the normal skills are way more powerful than normal attacks, particularly if the character’s weapon only lets them combo two or three attacks. A lot of boss fights were just “spam normal skills until I was out of SP and then either use items to regain SP or mop up somehow.”

Certain characters can also use transformations, powering them up at the cost of one EXE bar to transform. However, much like the combination skills, the transformations never seemed as powerful as they should be. In fact, once I obtained some character’s unique skills, which are non-combination attacks that cost EXE rather than SP, I rarely ever spent my EXE meter on either combinations attacks or transforming characters.

… story constraints of the game take a big toll on the gameplay …
As alluded to before, there are a lot of ways to mess with the way the characters are set up. In addition to the ability to set combos on each weapon, there are also “couplings” where two characters can be linked up. They get stat bonuses and can do any combination attacks they share. Plus, then the character in battle can switch with the coupled character mid-battle.

All things considered, Megadimension Neptunia has a pretty fun and interesting combat system. Although the balance is a little odd between the systems, the game at least avoids the difficulty/grinding spikes that plague some of Compile Heart’s RPGs.

The other big issue I had is that the story constraints of the game take a big toll on the gameplay. The clearest example is the coupling mechanic I mentioned before. This mechanic is really only for when the player’s party has more than four characters as it is less helpful to have a meager stat boost than to have an additional character in battle. However, although the coupling mechanic is introduced in the first hour or so of the game, the player’s party doesn’t have more than four characters until nearly twenty hours into the game.

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Another example is the Next transformations. The trailers and promo materials for the game tout that the main goddesses get a second, more powerful transformation level. Indeed this is true, but they only gain access to it for one battle in the middle of the game and then not again until the last couple hours.

In fact, just the progression in general was a point of contention for me. The story jumps around between characters a lot and because of that it will frequently force the player to use a specific party for a period of time.

Often these party re-organizing events even happen directly before a boss or battle which can be annoying, and the game sometimes shuffles all character’s equipment when it changes the party. It’s not until the last third of the game that it really lets the player have control of their party, and even then still does a few (albeit less severe) party reorganizations.

… it feels like the developers really designed the game for people to play more than once …
The odd thing about these last few gripes is that the game does fix them… in New Game Plus mode. After beating the game and restarting, then the player gets full access to all the characters and transformations and what not.

When combined with the fact that there are several optional content areas that feel a lot more restricted during a first playthrough, for instance the Colosseum has enemies that are several times higher level than the final boss, it feels like the developers really designed the game for people to play more than once.

Not that this is a bad thing. The design adds replayability to those who want to jump right back into the game a second time. It’s just a little annoying seeing half the game pass me by as I play through the ostensibly thirty hour tutorial (first playthrough).

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Visuals:
This is Neptune and company’s first outing on the PS4 and they do seem to make the most of it. The game looks a lot better than what I remember of the PS3 titles and of course stands above the Vita games. The cel-shaded graphics give the game a good look and even the environments aren’t half bad.

The coolest parts are definitely the special attack animations. This is where the Sha characters pack in tons more game references that the writers couldn’t fit. Seeing S-Sha kick Dragon Quest text boxes at her enemies or C-Sha bust out a knock-off of Megaman’s blaster cannon was enough to make me giddy. At least the first time. As with any RPG, the lengthy attacks can become cumbersome after seeing them a few times so fortunately they can all be skipped just by tapping L2.

… The Japanese voices seemed a little better to me …
Still, Megadimension is not a huge budget game and it shows in places. There are a lot of reused assets throughout the game. Mostly in terms of palette swapped enemies but even the areas sometimes get portions reused for other areas.

The story is mostly told with simple text boxes and character portraits. These look good but then the game occasionally intersperses in an actual animated cutscene and I have to wonder if that was also a budget constraint.

Audio:
Much like the most recent Atelier game, Megadimension Neptunia only comes with the English dub out of the box while the original Japanese is available as a (free) DLC. The English voices do sound like they are straining to hit some of the younger looking characters and the English dub doesn’t cover every story scene. The Japanese voices seemed a little better to me, and all of the story scenes are voiced (though not all side missions).

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One minor complaint, at least with the Japanese audio track, is that there were a few occasions where the character voices seemed quieter than in other places. The game does have controls to change the relative volume of things but a few scenes and one character in particular seemed quieter than the rest of the cast.

Music is overall pretty good. The average background music for most of the game is fitting and well done. Plus there are some less frequent songs that can pop up during character’s transformation scenes or when they use special attacks. The music all fits in well to the style of the game which is to say that it also doesn’t stand out too much outside the context of the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… the second playthrough is really where the game lets the reins loose …
Conclusion:
Neptune and company give a good first outing on the PlayStation 4. Megadimension Neptunia has a lot of the humor and silliness I’ve come to expect from the series, wrapped up in the shell of a good RPG. There are some minor points of contention: the odd balance that makes some of the strategies less useful, or the limited access the game gives to some of its mechanics.

Megadimension seems designed to give repeat players a lot to do too. In fact, I’d recommend this game more to players who were likely to play through it more than once, as the second playthrough is really where the game lets the reins loose. For those who wouldn’t, at least the jokes about the game industry and the quirky story help carry the game.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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