Hey little sister, what have you done?
Ever try to get into a story at its middle? Four books in, or at the end of a trilogy of games, or a season and a half into the story of a TV show? You probably haven’t, but if you have, the results probably haven’t been good. Even if somehow able to understand and follow the story starting at your profoundly dumb choice of starting points, you are undoubtedly missing something. On the other hand, though, maybe doing so can give you a less biased perspective, unsullied by love or hate for other installments in the story. Such a perspective is exactly what leads me to report that, regardless of the quality of its predecessors, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation is utterly disappointing.
Gamindustri is a world in consistent peril. As indicated by its pun of a name, this fictional world is host to video game references galore, including four governing nations that represent various game consoles. There’s Lastation (Playstation), Lowee (Nintendo Wii), Leanbox (Xbox), and our hero’s origin land of Planeptune, a land representing Sega’s series of consoles. Neptune herself, star of the previous games in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, represents a fictional Sega console that might have existed had the company continued in console development (“Neptune” being a reference to the Sega Saturn). Likewise, Neptune’s allies from the other three nations are personified anime girl versions of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii, and have joined her on many adventures to save Gamindustri from the treacherous clutches of the villainous witch Arfoire, the PC gaming-incarnate who has designs on an end to the reign of console-inspired nations.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation presents Gamindustri with a different problem; Neptune and her friends, a group all referred to as CPUs and heralded as guardians of their regions, have been taken captive by Arfoire’s forces. After 3 years of vague and glossed-over “hard work,” reoccurring characters Compa and IF (personified versions of the game’s developers) find the group and take a stab at freeing them from their prison. Their attempt doesn’t work on the central four, but does have an affect on one other character from Neptune’s party; her little sister, Nepgear. After fleeing with her saviors, Nepgear begins on a quest to free her sister and the other CPUs, as well as liberating the world from the clutches of Arfoire’s followers once and for all. The world is in a dire state, with the witch’s followers taking on the mentality of game piraters and abandoning all morals, and only a squad of magical teenage girls can make things right.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation is a turn-based RPG in a 3D space, where a lot of things depend on range. Players start out in control of Nepgear, IF, and Compa, each of who has a base range of a single square in front of them. Weapons obtained throughout the game will augment the range characters have; some may be able to hit a series of enemies in a straight horizontal or vertical line when aimed right, or may be suited for long-distance attacks instead of close-range. Special attacks like magic and healing abilities will target one or several enemies or allies within a circular field of range, which is usually big enough to do the job no matter what the situation.
Characters have three types of attacks, with varying effects. One type chips away at the shield all enemies carry, while the other two hit their HP directly. Of these, one is a single powerful strike, while the other is a series of much less effective strikes in quick succession (quick tip: the power strike is almost always better). Each character’s turn gives them the chance to make four strikes, with some very slight variation on who can do what. The system is competent, and not without its small share of strategy, but really ends up feeling like a turn-based Tales of Xillia, which just makes me want to go play that instead.
Traversing the world of Gamindustri is a simple enough task. An overworld map gives players a concise and simple view of the world, showing a view of everything from the cities to the…well, forests and mountains. Y’know, JRPG overworld things. Word balloons will frequently dot the map, revealing spots where random NPCs will have something to tell you. Occasionally they will give you an item, or a useful “plan” item which can be used to modify dungeons or add new items to the marketplace. Many just want to say hi, and often prove to be examples of some of Sisters Generation‘s wittier moments in writing.
Dungeons are, unfortunately, where everything goes south(not literally, they actually go straight). Although they do grow slightly more complex in scope, the structure of every dungeon in Sisters Generation is essentially the same. Roam bland corridors or pathways with relatively interesting backgrounds, fight optional enemies along the way, and find the giant “EVENT” icon near the back of the map. There, you will meet the same character over and over, have essentially the same conversation (with some admittedly humorous and self-aware dialogue), have no idea what’s going on for a minute due to a rather striking lack of visual representation for anything not lewd (more on that in a minute), and fight a boss. This is how the game moves forward, over and over, without doing much to break the cycle. Some dungeon maps are exact carbon copies of other, earlier maps, and shamelessly so.
One of the biggest issues in Sisters Generation is the lack of proper explanation, and the balance of what tutorial is there. A lot of things do get explained, but so much information about mechanics like the friendship-increasing Lily System is given within a few hours that everything ends up feeling a bit incomprehensible. There are systems I barely even touched because I was trying to understand others, all while running into other things that were never explained at all. Over the final hours of my time with the game, I found things happening to my characters in battle that I had no frame of reference for. Is my character suddenly missing three times as many attacks because the enemies are higher level? Or do I need to give her different items? Or does this enemy have advantages over my character that the game hasn’t bothered to fill me in on? There’s also the matter of enemy “types,” some of which will resist or be weak to different types of attacks. The issue here is that the wide, often inconsistent range of enemies makes it extremely hard to diagnose what “type” many enemies actually are.
Sisters Generation‘s sidequest system is tied to “shares,” a mechanic that seems to do little outside of dictating what ending the player will end up with. Shares are shown in the overworld map via an assortment of meters, essentially showing which nation currently holds the faith of the most of Neptunia’s people. Each sidequest the player takes on, usually fulfilled by killing certain enemies or collecting specific randomly-generated items across dungeon maps, will move a certain percentage of shares from one nation to another. The story continually tells us that the percentage of shares held by different lands will affect the power of the CPUs of those nations, but no indicator is ever given to show whether these shares actually give any kind of ingame stat benefits to the characters tied to specific regions.
Speaking of story and characters, let’s talk about…that. As stated, Gamindustri’s heroic CPUs are trapped and helpless, leaving Nepgear and her own squad of heroines to save them. The game’s featured characters join Nep under the title of “CPU candidates,” a term which is never once explained, but which seems to basically mean “CPUs, but younger.” Like Nepgear, whose very name is a play on Sega’s Game Gear portable, the CPU candidates are all also based on handheld gaming systems. These include Lastation’s Uni, based on the PSP, and Lowee’s Rom and Ram, a pair of young twins representing the Nintendo DS line. What’s odd about these three is that although they are introduced to the player within the first few hours, none of them will actually join the party until around the 14 hour mark, and are treated as secondary characters pretty often; that, or smut targets (again, more on that in a moment).
Sisters Generation‘s story is about as much of a tangled mess as the hydra of cables behind a dedicated gamer’s entertainment console setup, and yet ends up feeling mind-numbingly repetitive. Just about every character is a dull anime stereotype seen in about a thousand shows and games from the land of the rising sun in the last decade, with only a couple exceptions. We get reports on what is allegedly happening in Gamindustri, but rarely are we actually shown. Instead, Nep and her friends hunt down the same evil minion of Arfoire over and over, exchange some dialogue, and fight. It feels like a series of Pokemon episodes, where Ash and the gang would find Team Rocket and foil their goofy plans. The difference here is that each time the Nep squad meets this minion, a bunch of confusing and/or utterly dull dialogue comes before a battle is finally held. What’s worse is that the game’s self-aware wit actually turns condescending towards the player at times like these, showing a self-awareness of how retentive and derivative the plot is but continuing to do those very repetitive, derivative things. It’s like getting stabbed 84 times in the stomach by someone who keeps shouting how sorry they are as they do it. 84 times. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab.
Something that some players may find offensive about Sisters Generation, and the Hyperdimension Neptunia series in general, is the controversial matter of sexualization; to me, though, it’s a bit complicated. For the most part, the game feels like something like Bayonetta, where things are sexy and the game owns it. Smut is all well and good when it doesn’t come at the cost of other aspects of a game’s quality, and this is true of Sisters Generation for a while. However, that rule goes out the window when stuff like pedophilia is involved.
You read that right.
There comes a point where Rom and Ram, who are canonically somewhere around age 10, are put in a pretty suggestively sexual situation by a blatantly pedophilic villain. That in itself would be comparatively more excusable if the rest of the cast agreed that it was gross; and to be fair, some do. However, what follows in the next half hour of the game leaves players understanding that the game has just given a message of “it’s okay to want to have sex with a 10 year old.” That is, to not mince words, absolutely disgusting. There are other suggestive cutscenes, but almost all the other ones focus on characters who are at least 18, for christ’s sake.
The rest of the game’s presentation is fine. The music is okay, the voice acting is actually pretty good, and the art is on par with the best of the series up to this point. Can I stop talking about this game now? Am I allowed out?
And here I thought that the most angering thing about Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation would be writing its name over and over. I can’t rightfully call anything about the game broken, per se, but I sure can call it player-breaking. It makes no attempt at making itself interesting, going so far as to acknowledge its own laziness without diverging from it at any point whatsoever. The battle system is competent but not particularly imaginative, and leads to battles that always begin and end the same way. The game throws around too many systems and ideas, not giving players adequate time to learn about them. The dialogue has its moments of humor and genuine wit, but then you have things like excusing the sexual objectification of children. Man, have I ever wished I could give a game a lower score than I rightfully can.
Final verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Playstation Vita; Publisher: Compile Heart; Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella; Players: 1; Released: May 29th, 2015 (Steam), January 27th, 2015 (Vita)
Full disclosure: this review was written based on review code given by the game’s publisher, Compile Heart.