Like a questionable Jell-O mold, Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle
Hyperdimension Neptunia, it is safe to say, is a series that I rather enjoy. Not necessarily for the fanservice (though I’m aware it’s a heavy selling point for many) but more for its witty dialogue decent gameplay mechanics and neat take on the game-industry-personified aspect. Especially int he case of Megadimension Neptunia V-II, the series has recently reached an alltime high point, besting Hyperdevotion Noire as my favorite in the series. But what happens when an RPG series with such inherent risqué overtones ends up transitioning to a 3D brawler/Warriors-type game made by Tamsoft (of Senran Kagura infamy)?
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed holds the answer. Released to Steam as a port of the PS Vita Original, Neptunia U is a fast-paced game that incorporates all of the characters, transformations and funny in-jokes with a gameplay style that makes for a more action-packed time, complete with RPG leveling and a quest style structure.
It also features the kind of exploding clothes and intense, bare jiggle – both up front and bringing up the rear – that makes this a game that you definitely didn’t want to be caught playing in public on the Vita.
The overall structure and game flow is similar in may ways to the RPGs. Players select a quest to take on with the various available characters from the Neptunia universe at their disposal. Some quests can only be taken on with certain characters, so leveling them up accordingly will be crucial to the overall success of players. Each quest also has varying level recommendations, which is important to pay attention to, as an underdeveloped character won’t last particularly long in battle, even in HDD form. There are also irregular quests which are displayed in red as opposed to purple. These quests are never particularly clear as to what the objective is, so trial and error is going to be prevalent in many of them. They are also much more challenging from an enemy power perspective, so going in with a much higher level than what the game recommends is a good idea.
Compared to the RPGs, the gameplay in Neptunia U is very simple. Players run around the environments in real time, engaging enemies in a hack-and-slash manner. Most often, a pair of characters can be brought into a stage and can be toggled by pressing down on the D-Pad. It takes a bit of time before this can happen though, so making sure you start with the characater you really want is pretty important. Enemies have health bars and damage is inflicted action RPG style with numbers displayed. Each enemy yields experience which is applied at the end of a quest to level up the characters used in the round. Obviously, the more you use a particular character in the stage and the more that character defeats thier foes, the more experience is awarded.
Character commands are nice and simple too. There’s a jump button, a dash/slide button and a light and heavy attack button for regular character manipulation. Several special moves are available too, which is shifted onscreen by using the right bumper button by default. As characters level up, better moves can be unlocked. This is how characters also transform into their superpowered HDD modes which can really put the hurt on anything standing in your way. This transformation is only available with the EXE gauge is filled through enemy kills.
Beyond this, players can enhance the character roster through defeating certain numbers of various enemies. Collecting medals from these enemies and redeeming them can lead to better weapons, accessories and stat boosts, which encourages replay.
With a ton of quests to go through, players will find a lot to do in Neptunia U, and the gameplay is pretty solid. However, on a technical level things aren’t quite up to par as with other PC ports of this kind. Most notably, the resolution of the game elements is a bit on the blurry side in 1080p and there are some concerning dips in performance, even when all that’s happening onscreen is a couple of 2D menus moving around, even in lower resolutions like 720p. On a rig as powerful as mine, this should pose no problem whatsoever even with maxed settings (as Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 3 on Steam demonstrated.) That said, the code provided to us by Idea Factory is firmly in Beta territory and could be smoothed out completely by launch.
On the presentation side of things, Neptunia U was the first game to feature Dengekiko and Famitsu as characters to be used in the series which is fitting, being that the game emphasizes fanservice and character popularity in the main story as the cast is featured in each of the representative publications as the plot progresses. Of course, the character design in Neptunia U continues to be pretty top-tier, relatively low resolution notwithstanding; as an Atlantic Canadian, there’s something very satisfying about swinging around a giant lobster while using Famitsu. It’s also nice to have a number of additional outfits and color swaps available right from the get-go.
The big white naked elephant in the room visually is, obviously, the exploding clothes. This is obviously a feature that will either sell or repel players, depending how sensitive they are to such objectification. To Neptunia U’s credit, there are unbreakable, hardened versions of each characters’ clothing that can be unlocked if players do particularly well and manage not to lose their heroines’ clothing. Of course, by the same token, there are also easy-rip and pre-ripped clothes too, which is much easier to unlock and more or less shows where the game’s designers’ priorities were.
Meanwhile, the sound is mixed. While the music is everything you’d expect from a Neptunia game, the enemy voices and effects are on the wrong side of irritating. If I never hear “Pixelvadeeeerrrr!” screamed out ever again, it’ll be way too soon. Characters with guns like Uni also lack the kind of punch you’d expect from weapons of those types. They kind of sound like a closed hi-hat cymbal, which is pretty wank. There are also some voice samples that are clipped in nasty ways as early on as the title screen, which will hopefully also get fixed up for launch proper.
On the whole, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Acton Unleashed is a game that works well for the most part, but gets taken down a few pegs thanks to some iffy (but hopefully temporary) porting issues and hardcore slowdown. Oh, and some really questionable gratuity (*cough*Ram and Rom*cough cough*). My recommendation: check back to this review just before launch to see if it runs any better and unlock those hardened clothes ASAP.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Tamsoft ; Players: 1; Released: February, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed provided by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory International.