Night of the Living NepNep
Despite my love for all things cute 2D girls and Japanese, I am ashamed to admit I have never experienced a Neptunia game. I’ve seen plenty of material surfing around image boards and the internet in general, but I just never got around to sitting down and playing one of the over ten games from the franchise. Luckily, an assignment to play the newest game managed to find its way to my Vita, so now I have finally had a chance to see what the hype is all about. MegaTagMension Blanc+Neptune VS Zombies takes a detour from the mainline Hyperdimension games, in which the goddesses (Referred to in-game as Console Patron Units, or CPUs in the Neptunia universe) ruling over each of the four nations in the world of Gamindustri are locked in a Console War (yes, really) as well as protecting their lands from monsters in a traditional RPG setting. Instead, this game follows in line with a series of Japanese light novels set in an alternate universe where each of the CPUs are students in an academy within Gamindustri.
The game begins with Blanc, a CPU who is more or less the protagonist of this game, realizing that the world of Gamindustri is in trouble due to a declining population (an obvious reference to declining birth rates currently plaguing Japan). This is evidenced in their academy’s doors scheduled to be closed if attendance doesn’t improve. Blanc hears of Neptune’s idea to have the film club save the academy by making a Zombie flick to generate public interest, and decides to lend her help. Things are going well, but soon after the filming starts, actual zombies show up. It’s up to you and the other girls of the academy to put a stop to the zombie menace and figure out where they’re coming from, as well as finish your movie and save the academy.
Much of the game is presented in a visual novel style, with characters dialoguing with one another in between action segments. The action segments themselves are fairly reminiscent of a Dynasty Warriors or Senran Kagura game, where dozens of enemies take you on at once. The game falls more towards the latter (thanks to Tamsoft being on development duty, no doubt), as each of the girls has a powered up “Hyperdimension Drive” (HDD for short) form that enables them to do more powerful attacks as well as screen-clearing finishers. Players that are put off by Senran Kagura‘s more overt fanservice elements will be pleased to know that this game is very kosher, with the most extreme elements being present in the form of optional “torn clothing” outfits. Players get to choose from two characters and switch between them on the fly, each with their own individual health. This is very handy when fighting more difficult waves of enemies, as switching to a healthier player at the right time can mean the difference between failure and success. Additionally, support characters offer their assistance at the press of a couple buttons to boost your attack and defense as needed, which can definitely come in handy when fighting certain bosses. Your characters gain experience and levels as well as items and money which can be used for better equipment. All in all, a pretty typical Musou-style game approach.
The visual novel segments themselves are pretty spot on for the most part, though not exactly interactive. Each girl is ridiculously cute and brilliantly designed. Their colors and designs are bright and vibrant and you can still get a clear indication of the game consoles and companies each is parodying despite their change-up in appearance. In particular I got a kick out of Tamsoft’s, Dengekiko’s, and Famitsu’s designs. Tamsoft especially matches the company’s image perfectly, being a busty, tough girl with a big sword to swing. Each of the girls are subtly, yet nicely animated during these story sequences, and I found myself getting a very Dragon’s Crown vibe in the way they were animated. This was a nice touch in my opinion and helps to liven up these sequences a bit as there are a lot of them. The sequences are fully voiced, and are easily one of the best parts of the game. The voice actresses do a damn good job acting their parts and help convey to the player each of the girls’ personalities and how they connect with one another throughout the game. There is also an English dub option built into the game for players that wish to use it. While I felt that some of the actresses used for the dub weren’t the best match for the character they were voicing, I certainly appreciate the effort put into including the option, and the effort was definitely there. I appreciate it even more so that both languages are offered out of the box as opposed to the Japanese option being relegated to a download or the game being locked to one language or the other. More options are always good, right?
The writing is especially well done when it comes to these story segments, at least as far as character interaction is concerned. There are numerous scenes breaking from the main storyline where you get some closer glimpses into who the characters are and how they act with one another. These scenes are very well done and parody certain situations one might see in real life. One memorable scene for me involves Noir, who in this game is the student council vice president. Blanc asks Noir for approval for the film club to be recognized as an official club, but Noir is being very stubborn and refuses to help. This quickly changes when Blanc discovers a video of a girl who looks an awful lot like Noir embarrassing herself in a video uploaded to a Youtube-esque site. Throughout the game Blanc uses the video to keep Noir in check and it’s pretty darn funny. Another early segment finds the girls discussing what to do for a disaster to strike the school and get the outbreak started. Blanc sticks to an impossible scenario occurring so as not to offend anyone that might be viewing the movie. Scenes like these that lampoon real life make these story segments fun to watch, not to mention being pretty darned cute.
Unfortunately, while these scenes are endearing and interesting, the mainline story is a complete mess. There really isn’t much here in terms of substance outside of the girls interacting with one another. The main narrative keeps jumping around from “We need to save our school by making a zombie movie” to “Oh no! REAL zombies are here, we have to do something!” It becomes something of a disjointed mess fairly quickly, and frankly becomes a bit of a chore to listen to after a while. Cute girls doing cute things are great and all, but I found myself patiently waiting for the next cute scene involving the girls to come break up this tedium fairly often during these segments. I love games that feature these sillier elements, most notably the Senran Kagura series, but those games have a clear narrative alongside them that shapes the interactions the characters have with each other through the game and has a clear endgame in sight. During my stay with Neptune+Blanc, I honestly couldn’t tell what was going on half the time.
Compounding this tedium are the action stages themselves. Where during the story segments you’ll sit through a scene sitting around five minutes on average, these action stages last anywhere from one minute to one and a half minutes. Typically you’ll take down one or maybe a couple of enemy hordes on a comparatively huge map, and that’s it. Add in a not-so-large enemy roster, no directional aids for navigating to the next horde to take down, and the high cost of upgraded equipment, and you’ll find yourself playing the same stage over and over again. Character levels help and are much easier to earn than money, but the big payoff in ability comes from upgrading your weapons. This compounded tedium seriously brings the game down from something that could be considered great to more of an “OK” game. I found the girls endearing, well designed and pretty to look at, but there wasn’t really much else that kept me wanting to come back and keep spending time with it. Co-op is a new addition here and is available in the form of “Multiplayer” mode, and alleviates many of these problems. Enabling you to bring up to three other players via ad-hoc or online does help make the game more fun, for sure. It’s just unfortunate the funner aspects of the game are buried underneath an alternate game mode rather than being part of the core game itself.
While it may be coming across as such, I don’t really dislike the game as much as my writing may be letting on. Neptune+Blanc may not have been quite what I was hoping to get from my first venture into the Neptunia universe, but I am curious as to what the other games in the series have to offer and will most likely be checking them out in the near future. As far as this game goes I would certainly recommend it to diehard fans looking for their next NepNep fix or those looking to own a complete Neptunia catalog, whereas for newcomers it might be wise to check out the mainline games first.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Vita (reviewed) ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Tamsoft ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: May 10, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Vita review code provided by the publisher.