Super Neptunia RPG
PlayStation 4/PC via Stream
DESPITE having taken off only at the turn of the decade and coming up with zero output in 2016, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series has managed to churn out a whopping 17 titles to date. The bounty is both a testament to the popularity of the franchise and the sheer inventiveness of developer Compile Heart and publisher Idea Factory. And it isn’t as if they’re simply out to satisfy the cravings of a captive market across platforms and media. To the contrary, their prolificacy is a reflection of their creativity and ensuing willingness to test the boundaries of their constituencies.
If nothing else, the release of Super Neptunia RPG on the Sony PlayStation 4 and on Windows underscores Idea Factory’s desire to inject freshness to its intellectual property. Considering the loyalty of the considerable fan base, the safe bet would have been for it to stick to what works and produce another title in the main series. Instead, it has opted to go for a spinoff, and, what’s more, spread the welcome mat for Canada-based Artisan Studios. The collaboration is its first for the series with a developer outside Japan, as clear a sign as any of its continued desire to push the envelope.
The good news is that Super Neptunia RPG holds promise from the get-go, employing familiar settings and characters, albeit with a twist to set up its presentation as a two-dimensional platformer. It starts with longtime series protagonist Neptune suffering from amnesia and compelled to collect taxes by way of 2D game cartridges from Gamindustri denizens while she tries to regain her memory. Soon enough, she reasons that the shadowy Bombyx Mori, her employer, isn’t after the public’s welfare, and thusly resolves to set things right. En route, she teams up with usual party mates Noire, Blanc, and Vert, who, like her, are game consoles personified as goddesses and all of whom also have no recollection of their past.
Super Neptunia RPG does its preamble with equal parts panache and patience, making use of cut scenes to flesh out the narrative and taking the time to introduce its dramatis personae. Humor is laced in abundance, often breaking the fourth wall in its telling — a tack Hyperdimension Neptunia fans know only too well and gamers new to the franchise will, no doubt, appreciate. The meta approach works, and is backstopped by lush and beautifully rendered 2D visuals and first-rate audio cues; purists will invariably stick to the Japanese track, but the English voice acting offers an otherwise-excellent alternative.
Parenthetically, Super Neptunia RPG’s mechanics mimic those of Metroidvania offerings, ensuing that gamers exert effort on both exploration and combat. That said, the seeming emphasis on strategy during battle, featuring character formation and customization options, is trumped by the relative ease with which challenges are overcome, and not simply because of the possibility of chaining attacks via shared ability points. Indeed, button mashing proves to be an effective tool for triumph even as the pace of play can be sped up by literally fast-forwarding proceedings.
Needless to say, side quests are aplenty in Super Neptunia RPG; interaction with non-playable characters will yield tasks that require venturing in large swaths of land. In other words, it’s a veritable feast for completionists who need to scratch their itch of getting to every nook and cranny of, opening every treasure chest in, and collecting every item on, the world map. In any case, gamers will be spending well over double digits in hours to reach the end, providing good value for money at $49.99 for the PlayStation 4 and certainly at much less for Windows-based rigs.
Speaking of platforms, Super Neptunia RPG proves to be a technical marvel even on a midrange personal computer; performance is spotless, with nary a hiccup or frame drop. At the same time, gamers may want to make use of a controller, which provides a smoother interface compared to the traditional keyboard setup. Meanwhile, it doesn’t fare as well on the PlayStation 4 Pro; occasional stutters will crop up, although there is reason to hope for the coming of a corrective patch similar to that issued for the Japanese version.
In sum, Super Neptunia RPG comes off as a great inaugural effort from Artisan Studios. Not coincidentally, the Switch version releases today, and, for all the relative limitations of the hybrid console, Idea Factory couldn’t have come up with a better title to introduce the series to Nintendo diehards. Its lighthearted tone, simple combat system, and newbie-friendly approach amp up the fun factor on the go. At home, though, gamers can’t go wrong with either the PS4 or Windows iterations.
• Brand of humor familiar to series regulars and certain to appeal to newcomers
• Outstanding level design
• Lush two-dimensional visuals accentuating the meta factor
• Excellent English voice acting
• Appropriately energetic soundtrack
• Relatively easy battles
• Side quests can be inconsequential
• Occasional stutters on the PS4 version
• Overworld interface could be better
POSTSCRIPT: Gamers keen on knowing more about the work that went into Super Neptunia RPG may want to keep tabs on the Reddit Ask Me Anything session early tomorrow morning, Manila time. Representatives of Artisan Studios, including co-founders Mario Rizzo and Julien Bourgeois and lead animator Charles Duchesne, will be on hand to answer queries about the release.