Idea Factory’s games are so often full of life, exploding user screens with vibrant color, beautiful art, memorable characters and addictive gameplay. Unfortunately, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed does little justice to the Neptunia franchise. With tiny arena environments, absolutely nothing to explore and gameplay that doesn’t vary in the slightest from one stage to the next, Neptunia U is a disappointing mix of wasted potential.
Originally a PS Vita game, Neptunia U is graphically one of the better examples of a PC port. Character art remains crisp and colorful, bright colors synergizing well with the hand-drawn anime characters and backdrops. During battles, characters are realized as fully 3D models complete with multiple outfits, many of which will be familiar to players of the previous Hyperdimension Neptunia games. While stages are distilled to basic geometric shapes and flat, textured surfaces, unique and interesting enemies combine with beautifully animated attacks from the many playable Goddesses to make every battle a visually impressive experience.
Unlike past Neptunia games, Neptunia U follows a Musuo-inspired system of hacking and slashing at waves of enemies. On its own, the system isn’t so much an improvement over the previous JRPG gameplay so much as it is a thoroughly enjoyable side venture. However, the exciting new combat style is wasted on the box players are given to play in. All stages are chosen from a menu following a “quest” that, upon completion, ends the stage. In this context, the term “stage” is especially apt in describing the tiny areas that a quest takes place in. One stage, in particular, is a small, flat square where players can run between opposite ends of in seconds, complete with two large unnecessary spheres cluttering up an already cramped space. Many stages are reused from past Neptunia games, reduced in scope as if to force players to simply stand in place and spam attacks at a constant wave of respawning enemies.
Further adding to the tedium of playing, most quests offer little in the way of variation. The goal is always to kill either a certain amount of enemies or to gain a certain number of kills against a specific foe. Because the quests are interchangeable, gameplay quickly reaches a level of repetition that defeats the purpose of having multiple quests and stages, turning an otherwise enjoyable battle experience sour. Flashy combat animations, transformations into Goddess forms and the screen-wide devastation of EXE abilities aren’t enough to keep up the pace of combat, especially when nearly every quest stage can be completed by simply spamming a basic attack. Girls can be switched out in some battles to add diversity or allow a weakened one to take a momentary breather, but this is rarely necessary even in the most difficult of stages.
Like the combat, many other components of the game also feel almost like beta versions of a greater vision. Multiple modes that could have added replayability instead end up equally shallow, such as a Gauntlet mode that pits all playable girls against each other in a Fighter-style tournament. However, the competition comes in multiple levels of difficulty, ending primarily in either you killing your opponent in one hit, or vice versa, save for some very cheap juggling. Completing this mode – thankfully, only once is required – unlocks a 40-level tower to climb. Each level is the same as every quest that came before it: kill a certain amount of enemies in a tiny stage then move on to the next.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U‘s only real saving grace is the familiar cast of bubbly heroines, the Goddesses of the world of Gameindustri. They are joined by two newer playable characters, reporters Dengekiko and Famitsu, based on their real-world game magazine counterparts Dengeki and Famitsu. All the expected humor returns as the characters are drawn into battles on the craziest, silliest of premises, all the while poking, prodding and teasing both each other and the player. The characters frequently break the fourth wall, commenting on the ridiculousness of their game and chastising players for forcing them into blatant fan service, their clothing tearing off during battles. At various stages throughout the story, all playable characters will earn clothing that’s either more likely or impossible to tear. Famitsu will comment depending on the acquired outfit, such as when a particular girl is fighting a little too well, resulting in a decline in her popularity due to lack of nudity.
While certainly a far stretch from an epic RPG story, there’s still fun to be had following the girls along their journey. Fully dubbed in both English and Japanese, the girls feel lively as ever, including post-game cameos of IF and Compa with their respective, returning voice actresses. Sadly, that joy might be specific to standing fans of the franchise. Unsure what to expect, newcomers may instead find the humorous but shallow romp an odd premise to a lacking and repetitive game whose combat, the focus of its gameplay, is by far its weakest feature.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed has fun combat that is trapped in repetitive levels filled with unrealized potential.