When I get that feelin’, I need Nep-tual healin’
The goddesses of Gameindustri have certainly been working overtime for the past few years. It seems like hardly a few months goes by without Compile Heart and publisher Idea Factory International releasing a new numbered entry, reboot or spin-off title in the endlessly quirky and addicting Hyperdimension Neptunia series. Megadimension Neptunia VII is the latest foray into the fan service-laden franchise, marking the Guardian CPU’s debut on the PlayStation 4. However, does the shift to Sony’s latest console bring more to the table than an added layer of visual polish to the Neptunia series, or is Megadimension Neptunia simply more of the same?
The story of Megadimension Neptunia VII begins with Gamindustri in a state of turmoil known as the CPU Shift Period. With the world on the verge of a great change, rumors have begun to swirl about Gamindustri’s guardian CPUs, causing Neptune and the rest of the CPUS to fear that the citizens will soon call for their ouster. It’s during this tumultuous time that Planeptune’s CPU Neptune and CPU Candidate Nepgear discover a strange game console — modeled after the SEGA Dreamcast, no less! — that, when activated, suddenly whisks the pair of heroines away to a strange, war-ravaged land known as the Zero Dimension. Not long after the duo arrive in this neon-saturated nightmare, Neptune and Nepgear come across the strange world’s sole surviving CPU, the fiery-willed Uzume Tennouboshi, also known as Orange Heart, who is locked in a battle with a towering giant that’s made the destruction of this war-torn land her sole purpose. Of course, Planeptune’s purple-haired Console Patron Units are happy to assist her in this goal, which sets in motion an adventure that spans space and time, introducing new supporting characters, menacing new villains and plenty of cheeky fan service to keep fans of the series’ lowbrow hijinks satisfied.
Megadimension’s new setting is a welcome change for the series, trading in the series’ traditionally saccharine, Easter Basket-esque color palette for something a bit more edgy, comprised of lots of dark purples, pinks and neon shades that would look right at home on the cover of your favorite ’80s Retrowave album. However, this more serious tone is merely aesthetic, with the main cast of characters as jovial as ever as they endeavor to save Uzume’s world from complete destruction. And while you’ll see more than a handful of menacing new monsters designs, there are still plenty of adorable Dogoos and Vaders to go around, reminding you of the series’ lighthearted nature. That’s not to say you’ll spend the entire journey in this strange and hostile world, as the game’s story is divided into three disctinct chapters, each with their main characters, setting and story arc that ultimately comes together in a grand finale. This decision to break the story of Megadimension Neptunia VII into separate, smaller portions comes as both a blessing and a curse for the title, offering a trio of chapters that, while refreshing in their varied themes and settings, comes off a bit disjointed, lessening the impact of the overall narrative. Then again, we take it Compile Heart never intended for this trope-filled adventure to be Shakespeare, and it ultimately succeeds in what it aims to do; create a cleverly written, satire-filled vehicle for satisfying, dungeon-crawling action.
And it’s here that Megadimension Neptunia VII shines. The game’s dungeons are more varied and visually appealing than ever. Each area you explore is teeming with baddies, with plenty of tucked away goodies and branching paths to explore as you work your way to each area’s inevitable boss battle. Familiar themes have returned, such as the Lilly Rank system, which was first introduced in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 and also appears in Hyperdimension Neptunia V. This allows characters who battle alongside one another to gain affinity for eachother, which in turn grants party members bonus passive abilities or skills such as EX Finishers and EX Drive Skills and more. The game’s combo-centric combat system has been changed up a bit as well, with the length of a player’s combo now determined by the weapon each character has equipped. Types of attack slots, such as Power, Standard and Rush may or may not be open depending on which weapon you’re using, making you pay more attention to what gear you bring to battle when customizing the best combos for a particular battle.
Positioning is more important than ever in Megadimension Neptunia VII thanks to formation attacks. To perform one of these devastating maneuvers you’ll have to fulfill a number of battle requirements, then position 2-4 characters in specific locations around the enemy to initiate the attack. However, this can be tricky as all allies need to be in the same transformation state to execute a Formation Attack, and boss enemies are pretty crazy about unleashing spells with significant knock-back properties, meaning you’ll sometimes have to work pretty hard to line of these attacks up, but the payoff is consistently worth it, delivering astronomical damage ratios to even the toughest of opponents. All in all, these smart refinements add a welcome layer of depth to the series’ combat, which, while serviceable, has historically been somewhat shallow when compared to its contemporaries. These smart tweaks to the tried-and-true formula work to create a combat system that feels more strategic and engaging, making battles rarely feel like a burden as you explore the game’s various monster-filled locales.
Hyperdimnesion Neptunia‘s characters have always been one of the series’ biggest selling points. The Guardian CPUS, parodies of real-world video game consoles and companies, have gone a long way towards creating the unique, fourth wall-shattering humor the series is known for, and Megadimension Neptunia is no exception in this regard. The Zero Dimension’s CPU Uzume Tennouboshi is a blatant riff on the SEGA Dreamcast, right down to her “SEGA Swirl” emblazoned scarf. Her brash and edgy persona in her human form is brilliantly contrasted by her uber-kawaii HDD form, and she compliments Neptunia’s goofball nature and Nepgear’s confident enthusiasm quite nicely. The game’s second chapter also introduces a fearsome foursome based on the four largest Japanese publishers – Square Enix, Bandai Namco, Capcom and Konami, with each character reflecting each of these juggernaut companies brilliantly, for better or worse.
In terms of presentation, Megadimension Neptunia VII may not push the limits of Sony’s latest console, but the game’s characters and the world of Gameindustri certainly look better than ever. The game’s sharp, 1080p visuals really work to bring the game’s varied cast to life, and battles look great and run incredibly smooth, even at their most frantic, explosive EX Attacks showering particles all over and towering enemies filling the screen. The game’s visual novel sections look really nice as well, with detailed portraits, eye-popping colors and a distinct visual style that’s consistently appealing. That’s not to say all is everything is perfect with the shift to the PlayStation 4, as the game still suffers from some janky running and jumping animations when exploring the overworld, and dungeons bring with them frequent frame drops, which is baffling considering how silky smooth the game’s much more detailed encounters are. Even still, these minor performance gaffes don’t do much to damper the overall enjoyment of the experience, and fans of the series will drool at seeing their favorite femme fatales of Gameindustri rendered in full HD splendor.
Megadimension Neptunia VII fares well on the aural front as well. From the infectious opening theme to the epic boss encounter orchestrations, the game’s assortment of new audio tracks is simply exceptional, consistently fitting the action on screen like a glove. However, there are quite a few recycled tracks as well (be ready to hear that same quirky Event Scene music hundreds of times over the course of your journey), but all in all you’ll find a great deal to like about the musical selections in Megadimension. If you’ve played previous games in the series, you’ll know just what to expect from the voice acting you’ll be getting here. Each of the Guardian CPUs does a great job given the game’s quirky script, and the chemistry between Gameindustri’s heroines is as potent as ever, pulling you into their over-the-top antics with their solid performances.
Megadimension Neptunia VII may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t really need to. The game’s developer Compile Heart has made a variety of seemingly minor tweaks to the established formula with this entry in the series, but they all come together to create an experience that feels more refined and rewarding than ever. With combat more tactical and satisfying than previous installments in the series, and a host of fresh new faces added to the series’ ever-expanding roster of Guardian CPUS, this journey through space and time proves to be the finest installment in the Neptunia series yet, despite the game’s somewhat uneven approach to storytelling due to the game’s fractured nature. If you’re looking for a fresh and addicting adventure and don’t mind a bit of racy fan service, Megadimension Neptunia VII is a great addition to your PlayStation 4 library, and an exceptional current-gen console debut for the series.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Compile Heart ; Players: 1; Released: February 2, 2016; Genre: RPG ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory International.