Idea Factory and Compile Heart have released the fourth game in the main series of their zany, referential, turn-based RPG Neptunia saga, Megadimension Neptunia VII (that’s V-2 not 7). It became available in North America on February 2nd and Europe on February 12th. TechRaptor has been streaming the game and given some first impressions but now the full review is finally here.
Old favorites have returned in Megadimension and new additions join the fun as the series makes it’s debut on the PS4. The graphics are improved from the last version of the game and the high quality of voice acting, art and music that fans have grown accustomed to in the Neptunia games is upheld. The biggest change to Megadimension Neptunia VII from its predecessors is its combat system, but let's first get into the story.
For those not familiar with the Neptunia franchise, it’s worth explaining that the story and characters are a metaphor for the console wars, in which major companies compete for market shares of video game consoles throughout gaming history. In this fictional representation of the console wars the major consoles are represented as cute girls known as CPU’s that watch over and protect their nations in a world called Gamindustri. Later in the series, CPU Candidate characters were introduced as younger sisters to most of the CPU’s and they represent handheld consoles from each company/nation. They have the ability to transform into more powerful versions of themselves magical girl style and gain their power from the market shares of their nation.
Taking place after the events of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, protagonists CPU Neptune and CPU Candidate Nepgear are almost immediately launched into another interdimensional adventure. Gamindustri has entered a shift period in which its citizens begin desiring shinier new CPUS and as a result a lot of slanderous rumours about the current CPU’s have begun arising and ruining their shares. In the midst of this, the sisters are accidentally whisked away to the Zero Dimension, a postapocalyptic world where they meet the tomboyish new character Uzume Tennouboshi who is armed with a megaphone and obsessed with being cool.
In this first chapter, the girls are tasked with helping Uzume save Zero Dimension from an impending threat as well as finding a way back home. The entire game is split into three chapters each taking place in a different dimension. Despite the game’s title, Megadimension isn’t actually a dimension in the game but instead seems to refer to the many dimensions included within the game.
All three chapters have their own story arcs and worlds yet are interwoven so that clues that are divulged in the first section of the game are pieced together in the last. Although some old villains are up to their same-old tricks, new antagonists join the fray in a plot that, while perhaps not particularly deep, is engaging and will get players trying to solve the mystery along the way.
The second chapter takes place in the traditional Hyperdimension however, things aren’t quite as they should be. This chapter introduces the Gold Third characters B-sha, S-sha, K-sha and C-sha. Each represents a video game company and are part of a group trying to take over Gamindustri from the beloved CPU’s. This section of the game finally incorporates the rest of the CPU characters and is split into further chapters that can be played in any order the player chooses. The order the chapters are played in doesn’t have any effect on the game, but it's nice to feel like you have some agency.
The third chapter brings Heart Dimension into the mix and ties up the events of the previous chapters nicely. There’s even a point towards the end which you’ll have to choose which party and dimension to play through instead of the other which may have an impact on the ending (otherwise I’m not sure what the point of making the choice is). As usual with Neptunia games, Megadimension Neptunia VII has multiple endings depending on some of the actions taken during the game but all seem satisfying, if some are more sad than others. Trying to get a different ending is great motivation for a second playthrough with the game's New Game +.
Story is presented primarily through visual novel style cutscenes with a few 3D scenes thrown in. While a large portion of these scenes are voice acted it can get a bit tedious reading all the text boxes for those that aren’t. Another little annoyance with these scenes is that all the male characters will sometimes have much lower audio than their female counterparts.
Gameplay in Megadimension Neptunia VII is largely the same as it’s predecessors but with some new features and adjustments. Enemy types and dungeon’s are borrowed from previous games but there are new elements as well. Sending scouts out to investigate dungeons will help discover hints, special items and new dungeons like the Spelunker inspired Neplunker dungeon.
There are many elements in a long JRPG like this, from how you navigate the map, to crafting and combat. As such this installment to the franchise does a good job of introducing players to each necessary concept as they come up. These tutorial prompts can always be viewed through the menu making the game more accessible to new players than other games in the series, yet it doesn’t go so far as to dumb the gameplay down for veterans of the franchise. This is true for all of the game except when it comes to the box breaker item usually included in the Neptunia games.
The prompt for using the box breaker item doesn't come until after the item has been crafted. The plan for crafting the box breaker item (a ‘key item’ in the form of a power bracelet) is added to the player's development menu but no attention is drawn to its significance. It seems an egregious oversight given that the ability to break boxes is necessary to progress through a certain dungeon and to continue the story.
As mentioned before, the biggest change to this Neptunia game is it’s combat system. Idea Factory has been tweaking the EXE gauge used to power special abilities and the trademark combo system for some time now and have tried something a little different in that regard for this title as well. In Megadimension Neptunia VII, the EXE gauge is filled by landing combo attacks as well as taking damage. It can be spent on transforming into HDD and Next Form as well as formation skills, coupling skills and special skills.
The EXE gauge is not persistent between battles and can be difficult to fill. Doing enough combo attacks to fill the EXE gauge to the point where you can power a special ability often leaves the enemy at such low health that it hardly seems worthwhile to use the high-powered attacks it enables. Yet since the gauge isn’t persistent between battle instances within a dungeon, players might as well use their special abilities whenever they can.
Building combos for each playable character is part of what makes the Neptunia games unique. The combo system is slightly simplified in Megadimension making each combo tied to the weapon characters have equipped. Each weapon has different slots unlocked for the different type of attacks that can be used in a combo and players can choose between equipping weapons with the highest stats or choosing ones that accommodate their favorite combos.
Hitboxes are also tied to weapons which is part of the heavy emphasis on positioning Megadimension Neptunia VII has. Planning out your team's formation and lining up the perfect attacks is a fun and rewarding experience, yet trying to position an attack by moving your character and not adjusting your aim from one place can get frustrating. Formation skills have been added to the game and lend more importance to positioning during battle.
Formation skills are unique to different combinations of team members and can be executed when you’ve accrued enough EXE and have the appropriate party members in the right flanking position around the enemy. All party members have to be in the same form (normal, HDD or Next Form) in order to execute a formation skill. Since changing form costs EXE, Formation skills can get expensive, but they are powerful and become crucial to battle strategies about halfway through the game. All in all, the emphasis on positioning is a good trend in the Neptunia franchise, as it adds more strategy to battles.
Other changes to combat in the game include a “parts break” element in lieu of a defense guard bar. Enemies have a weak spot that can be focused on to achieve a parts break and can be found with the use of a special item. Some will bemoan the lack of strategy needed in choosing different types of combos to break through the defense bar of enemies while others will enjoy the carefree fun of dealing straight damage without worrying about breaking through defenses every round.
Giant Battles are another addition to the game. Big boss battles are held in a special arena in which characters can’t use combos but only their special SP and EXE skills. Positioning is rather important in these battles and some SP is gained over time to ensure other skills can be used. Next Form is also new to Neptunia and represents the next-gen consoles. They can be transformed into after turning on HDD form and are more powerful and have a great design.
There seem to be slight pacing issues a player might experience while playing through the game. If players don’t stop and do the side quests, they can run through the game and progress through story points until they are hit with a boss fight that they are far underleveled for. Yet there isn’t much prompting or encouragement to spend time completing the quests unless you’re in need of money.
Consequently, you can end up grinding for some time in order to progress in the game. Luckily grinding is rewarded with “challenges”. Challenges are like achievements for mundane things like running or jumping that can be earned for each character in the game. Earning challenges for characters will boost their stats depending on the challenge you’ve completed.
Dungeons get increasingly maze like and confusing the further you get into the game. Some enemies can blend into the background of certain dungeons adding to the confusion. There are also random encounters while traveling along the routes on the map. This may serve to prevent players from trying to return to HQ to heal for free instead of buying items or using abilities, but it gets tedious and doesn’t add much to the game.
One issue with the game that detracts from the experience is that when the game transitions between different sections, it will often forget the equipped items for some characters. This is usually just with aesthetic items and doesn’t effect gameplay, but it does take you away from the game to reassign items to characters.
Nearly all the characters from previous games, Hero and Villain, make a reappearance in this installment. Players will have the ability to play as all their favorite CPU’s and CPU Candidates at various points in the game. It’s the most fun when all the characters and abilities come together but often they are split apart, limiting the available options. The game builds slowly as it adds features and characters, which can be frustrating to those who are familiar with the franchise, but it’s better to have well explained mechanics slowly implemented than many that aren’t well integrated or understood.
Megadimension Neptunia VII doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. It’s a silly, referential RPG with a recurring cast of characters, mechanics and even plot. Yet, this latest installment of the series has some changes and improvements, making it one of the best. The game isn’t perfect, it has some frustrating issues and little annoyances that may be a product of localization, but overall it is a very fun experience with more strategy than previous Neptunia games, with an intriguing story and gameplay that is a bit more newcomer friendly as well. Megadimension Neptunia VII can be purchased at $59.99 for PS4.
Megadimension Neptunia VII was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the developer.
The game isn’t perfect, it has some frustrating issues and little annoyances that may be a product of localization, but overall it is a very fun experience with more strategy than previous Neptunia games, with an intriguing story and gameplay that is a bit more newcomer friendly as well.(Review Policy)