Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 Vita Review

The first Hyperdimension Neptunia game on PS3, in my eyes, wasn’t a very good video game. The concept was fascinating – taking part in a console war represented by human characters that are based on some of the popular gaming consoles – but the execution was dreadful, as the game suffered from horrendous loading times, a repetitive, superfluous travel system, a painfully slow battle system and a performance on PS3 that was a mess. The entire game felt like it was created by a group of inexperienced designers, and that might be the truth, because the following sequels, MK2 and Victory, improved on the original game’s ideas to make for better titles.

In a current period where remakes and remasters are “in” right now, it seems like a good time for Idea Factory and Compile Heart to revisit the first Hyperdimension Neptunia and channel it with the experience they have learned to improve the game. This is where Re;Birth1 comes in, a title that gives Vita owners, a system that’s only connection to the series was the shallow Producing Perfection, a better version of the original title that fixes a lot of issues that I personally had with the game.

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Being a remake, the story remains close to Hyperdimension Neptunia’s light-hearted adventure, keeping the mixture of dungeon exploring and heavily-focused, visual novel scenes intact. The setup is that in the world of Gamindustri, four goddesses, known as Console Patron Units (CPU), have been struggling in battle for supremacy of the world in a fight known as the Console Wars. The war has been going on for so long that their jobs as guardians of their respective countries of Planeptune (Sega’s cancelled Neptune device), Lastation (PlayStation 3), Lowee (Wii) and Leanbox (Xbox 360), has been forgotten, and now the lands are flooded with evil monsters lead by an unknown assailant. Neptune, the goddess of Planeptune, is struggling in the fight after getting teamed up against, and is defeated and thrown off the battle stage and crash lands outside Compa’s house without any information about what happened. Using the tried and tested plot formula of the genre, poor Neptune has amnesia, but at least the game loves to take the mickey out of the plot for it.

The various jokes and references make up a lot of Re;Birth1’s entertaining plot. There are nods to all corners of video games, with jokes, acknowledgements or even enemy designs from games like Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Space Invaders, Final Fantasy, and The Legend of Zelda thrown in. The game even goes as far as to having the main antagonist named after the R4 Nintendo DS cart that allowed people to play copied games on their handheld system.  It doesn’t stop at physical items, as hints to developers, such as the creator of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, are sneakily referenced through the game’s NPC characters. Re;Birth1 becomes a game in itself to try figure out exactly what the develops are referencing to with a lot of their designs and names, and I’m sure even the most hardcore of players will miss some.

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In a sort of director’s cut on the plot, the story has been rejigged with new scenes, more comedy and refreshed dialogue, even as going as far as to remove a couple of characters and replacing them with ones that didn’t enter the series until the sequels. The general plot is the same, but it’s the tweaks to the text and the extra involvement from characters that make it an interesting change. A new ending has also been added, giving hardcore fans a reason to go back check this Vita remake of the game.  This is a game by Compile Heart and Idea Factory, so the compulsory Moe warning must be placed in the review. If you hate that genre, then you won’t get on well with Re;Birth1’s super cute characters and personalities.

Without a doubt the biggest improvement to this remake is the replacement of the original game’s straight-forward, but badly implemented, turn-based battle system with the improved version featured in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. This seems to be identical, so anyone who has played Victory will be fine adapting to these changes. Enemies are seen on the map, and you can go in for a hit to get the advantage in battle. Getting touched first results in a surprise attack from the enemy. Taking the combat system from Victory means that Re;Birth1’s battle system is based on turn-based action, but characters can move within the area of a circle to position themselves for better strategic action. Positioning is important because it can determine if your attack – depending on weapon range – hits more than one enemy or use it to take advantage of an enemy’s weak positioning. It also works for the enemy, meaning your party can get destroyed because you clumped them together and the boss decided to give you a group spanking.

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Every enemy has Hit Points and Guard Points, so a typical battle will often follow like this – normally it’s best to break the enemy’s guard with the attack that breaks guards, then move onto the more powerful strikes to take the health down, then return back to guard breaking if the guard has been repaired. The last attack type, rush, is used to build up EXE drive metre, which is a special move characters can use once they have hit the required amount of EXE drive available. If worst comes to the worst, the CPU characters can transform into their more powerful HDD forms and delivery some additional pain with different special moves from their normal form, but at the cost of using up more SP.

Built on top of the battle system is Lily, a mechanic that allows the three party members to be paired up with a character that sits in the back row that builds up a relationship between the two. As this continues, the backing partner can do a supporting attack in battle. A nice feature about this is that during a fight, you can switch between the front and backing character, which makes it act like an additional character coming into play, as you can replace someone who is nearly on death’s door with a fresh-faced character to finish the fight.

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Overall, the battle system is quite well designed, although grinding can make it more repetitive than it needs to be. There’s no real way to have the battle be done automatically to skip the grind, since it requires strategic movement from the player. Thankfully, to help speed it up a little, a fast button can be held down to speed up the animations.  The major problem I find is that participating in the dungeons is a bit of a chore. These dungeons, while have some interesting presentational looks, are rather flat and boring in actual physical layout, and when having to deal with them while grinding can be soul destroying seeing the same patterns used again but with different colours.

Amusingly, and I guess since the game is fully digging into the gaming industry’s trends, Re;Birth1’s takes the concept of being a remake and turns it into its own gameplay element. Dubbed “Remake System”, this mechanic is similar to creating items with the synthesis, but now plans discovered over the course of the game can be used to change key elements of Re;Birth1, such as being able to craft a new dungeon to appear on the map, switch the enemies to make them harder or easier to fight, add new items to the shops, change item drops in dungeons, and even give yourself more special metre. While this mechanic has been done in a couple of games before, the fact that the developers managed to take the concept of a video game remake and turn it into a feature is something that adds to the silly authenticity of the game being set in the world of Gamindustri.

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Anyone who played Hyperdimension Neptunia on PS3 will remember that its performance was horrible – it was slow and suffered from bad frame rate. I’m happy to let you know that all this is removed from the Vita remake. It will rarely see a drop in frame rate on some of the dungeon maps. The game is mostly a smooth experience that simply makes this version the best representation of the first game. It’s nice to be able to recommend the first game without having to worry about people having to deal with bad performance issues. English and Japanese audio tracks are both available, and the dialogue for the English localisation has returned all the voice actresses to redub their lines. Voice work is decent enough for the major cast and it manages to capture the cute and Moe representation this game has going on. The lesser characters don’t get the same treatment, so expect them to sound a little phoned in.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is simply a better and improved adaptation of the original PlayStation 3 game. It’s not often that original titles that get a remake are bad video games, but I personally didn’t enjoy the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, but this remake turned that around by implementing the experience the development staff has gained in creating Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2 and Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory to bring a solid JRPG that in terms of promoting remakes is probably one of the most improved titles that a video game has gained from being remade.

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If you are looking for a JRPG that is full of light-hearted, comical entertainment that does a good job of honouring and having fun in regards to the topic of video games, then you will probably find Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 to be a respectable time. It’s not a fantastic JRPG, but as titles go, it’s a concrete, entertaining video game with a group of Moe girls full of charm and silly banter. More importantly, under all that cuteness is a video game that shows a message that experience in development can truly turn a title around for the better.

7 out of 10