Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls Vita Review
Anyone with even a passing interest in the Neptunia series should be aware of the franchise’s main gag by now: all of the characters, a mixed trope of anime-style girls with anime-style tropes, are in fact physical manifestations of videogame consoles, companies and mascots; titular character Neptune is based on the unreleased Sega console of the same name, her sister Nepgear is based on the Game Gear, Noire represents the Playstation 2 while her sister Uni represents the PSP, Vert represents the original Xbox (hence her huge chest and lack of sisters, as one of the more meta jokes the series likes to toss around), and so forth. These console callbacks are admittedly more subtle than one might expect, so it can be forgiven if not everyone can spot all of the referential characters.
The Sega Hard Girls series, on the other hand, goes for a much more literal naming convention: Mega Drive, Dreamcast, Sega Saturn…even names like SG-1000 are given to these cast of characters with no hint of irony, while cameos from actual Sega-owned properties like Virtua Fighter and Sonic the Hedgehog are commonplace in this light novel-turned-anime-turned-videogame franchise. Enjoying cult success from the gamer/otaku demograph, it was only a matter of time until the Sega Hard Girls would cross paths with Nep and her friends, leading to the latest (and possibly only remaining) JRPG to hit the Playstation Vita.
As yet another non-canon spinoff (which have probably exceeded the actual Neptunia sequels at this point), Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is another game where Neptune isn’t the lead character (despite her constant insistence to the contrary within the game); as a first for the series, the lead role has been passed over to IF (which stands for “Idea Factory”, in one of the less clever naming schemes in this franchise), who hasn’t had an active role for quite some time. In this setting, the world is an apocalyptic wasteland due to some unknown cataclysm in the past: as a thrill-seeker with a cool motorcycle, IF wanders the world to discover lost ruins and other hints about what kind of world existed before her time, which leads her to discover a legendary library cared for by Histoire (another frequent series mainstay). While exploring the library, IF runs across Segami, the main protagonist of the Sega Hard Girls series, who is suffering from the all-too-common RPG illness: amnesia.
After barely making acquaintances, the duo are then thrust into a time-traveling adventure where they must visit past eras run by the goddesses, from Neptune to Plutia and the like, who are also at odds with other characters from the Hard Girls series as well as an unknown enemy who is literally devouring each time period. The strangeness only increases from there, as Neptune narrowly avoids fading from existence only to end up inside IF’s motorcycle (an amusing scenario that gets played out within the first five minutes and only continues to drag on as a joke). Fortunately, Histoire is able to create clone versions of both the Neptunia and Sega Hard Girls cast who get swallowed up, acting as additional party members alongside IF and Segami. Segami herself can also transform into other characters during battle, allowing for all the non canonical party combinations one would want regardless of the time-erasing narrative.
If the inclusion of the Sega Hard Girls as cast members sounds like potential for changing up the narrative of the Neptunia games, think again: all it equates to is more anime girls endlessly bickering with each other. Superdimension Neptune also brings back a common criticism with the series by having some of the longest stretch of cutscenes to date, where characters take forever in reiterating the same points (and jokes) over and over again. Once again, Neptune remains the only likeable character due to her frequent meta jokes about videogame tropes and even the very series she governs (at one point even complaining about losing track of the number of spinoffs that have been released), but once more it is the same gags repeated endlessly.
It’s a shame, too, as Superdimension’s gameplay actually features quite a few notable revisions to the Neptunia formula. Following the same basic format as the previous RPG-developed titles, Superdimension features fully 3D areas with turn-based battles as well as many of the added mechanics from the last few games, including party formation and Lily Ranking (an affinity-based mechanic where just having party members arranged a certain way will raise their Lily Rank, enabling team-up attacks and other bonuses). Being a more athletic character, IF can now sprint on the field, which not only allows for faster dungeon crawling (dungeon running?) but can also be combined with jumping for reaching far-away platforms. Climbing is also an added feature as well as collectible medals hidden throughout each area, adding a bit of faux-platforming to the usual random encounters.
Speaking of which, the battle system has received a notable overhaul as well. While previous games gave characters a set number of actions per turn, Superdimension uses a meter to determine how many attacks a character can unleash at a time. Each standard attack fills up a percentage on the meter, and once it hits 100%, they must end their turn. Players can also hold down the attack button in order to charge up a strong special attack, which uses up the meter completely but can also take down a targeted enemy in a single action. The trade-off is that it also forces the party member to wait longer for their next turn, so it can become a bit of a gamble on whether to put everything into one attack in the hopes the enemy won’t be around to counterattack, though it’s also one of the more satisfying changes to the series’ gameplay. Also of note is that characters also gain SP with their actions, no longer exclusively relying on items to restore SP and allowing players to store up their big screen-clearing magical attacks when opportunity strikes.
These revisions to the battle system make for more interesting fights, whereas previous games were usually a cakewalk due to the basic mechanics. However, things are not entirely balanced on the enemy side, especially in regards to surprise attacks; just as in previous games, players can attack an enemy to initiate the battle, giving them the first few turns. Should the attack miss, however, the enemy will instead get to go first, and with the new meter mechanic dictating actions, the penalty for not landing the first hit is much more severe, often leading to an unavoidable defeat of the entire party. This frustration is increased further with IF’s misleadingly-short weapon, forcing players to either guess the range of her hitbox or switch to Segami as the leader instead (who has a much more visible weapon in the form of a big hammer).
The quest mechanic has also taken a turn for the worse: story quests as well as sidequests are now accepted on the same menu, but they can only be taken one at a time, whereas previous games allowed players to accept as many sidequests as they want, clearing out several objectives in a single run (such as defeating X amount of enemies or collecting Y amount of items). Even more confusing is that when a story quest is turned in, players must back out of the menu entirely, then start it again in order for the next story quest to pop up. While the process of going to-and-fro the quest screen and the required area is quick and snappy, it’s also a pointless amount of menu navigation that was never a problem in past games.
Another interesting, but not entirely thought-out feature, is the way story quests are handled. Each quest has an arbitrary deadline to be completed, with the option to quit the quest entirely also an option. The ramifications for completing or failing a quest also have to do with the main menace, the Time Devourer: taking a page from the classic RPG Chrono Trigger, players can face off against the final boss at any time, though obviously going against it too early will result in an instant defeat. The key is to complete the story quests and keep history from being rewritten, which yields bonuses to help strengthen the team against the Time Devourer. Failing a quest, meanwhile, will make the boss even stronger, though losing against the creature won’t result in a Game Over. Instead, previously incomplete quests will be made available again, while additional scenarios may also present themselves.
Overall, Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is yet another solid entry from the Neptunia series, but it could have been one of the higher recommended titles were it not for the new list of annoyances it added alongside its gameplay improvements. The Vita also continues to show its declining tech with a framerate below 30, once more leaving the option of waiting for the inevitable PC port on the table. In any case, fans who have stuck around this long and have somehow cleared the dozen other Neptunia games up to this point will undoubtedly flock to this one, and it remains encouraging that Compile Heart continues to tinker with each new release despite the exhaustive number of titles pumped out each year.