Enter a new dimension of video game parodying!
Much like the actual video game industry which it so closely parodies, the CPUs within the world of Gamindustri never get a break. Every day, these guardians (mostly) work tirelessly in order to ensure that the people of their nations stay happy and safe and that their lands remain prosperous as a whole. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite as easy as it seems; whether it be the physical embodiment of sin attacking the world, or gross rumors on the Neptunia equivalent of 4-Chan, someone, or something, is always causing trouble. You’d think that, after everything that Gamindustri’s girls have faced, there would be ready for just about anything at any time. Then again, what would be the point of another Neptunia game if everything were that easy? Compile Heart’s newest installation in the series, Megadimension Neptunia VII has the CPUs facing off against an opponent that spans not just all four of their nations, but multiple realities this time around. Will they have what it takes to stand up to this new threat? And, perhaps more importantly, is their adventure fun? Let’s find out!
Megadimension Neptunia VII‘s story starts off with Gamindustri, the world in which most of the Neptunia series takes place, in the midst of what could best be described as political turmoil. Though Gamindustri’s four resident CPUs, goddesses in charge of watching over each of the world’s four major nations, are generally quite loved by the public, there comes a seasonal period of public unrest known as the “CPU Shift Period”. During this time, without fail, every nation begins to become unhappy with the CPU that oversees their nation. Nasty rumors begin spreading, morale drops, and people begin calling for a new leader to step up to the plate. While the CPU Shift Period is a problem that can be overcome (until it pops back up again later, of course), it requires quite a bit of time and effort on the part of both the CPUs and those working to keep the peace within each nation. Naturally, all of the CPUs are hard at work in order to both keep the public safe and happy, and to avoid being booted out of their own nation… well, all except Neptunia‘s main protagonist Neptune. While she should be doing her best to keep civil unrest down to a minimum, good old Neptune has been slacking off as always, leaving her sister Nepgear with all of the work. Though the situation started out looking less-than-promising, things go from bad to worse when Neptune one day brings home an old, mysterious-looking game console (inspired by the Sega Dreamcast) and excitedly begins demanding that her sister fix it (which, of course, she does without much hesitation). Nepgear manages to fix the console without much issue, but things are never that easy; upon booting up, the console immediately begins emitting a strange energy and transports the two to a different dimension. Though the protagonists of the Neptunia series aren’t unfamiliar with hopping dimensions, they weren’t quite prepared for their newest destination; a sinister version of their beloved Gamindustri known as the Zero Dimension that had been completely transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Though initially wanting nothing more than to escape, Neptune and Nepgear would soon find themselves locked in battle against the threats of the Zero Dimension; threats that would chase them all the way back to their own dimension.
Megadimension Neptunia VII‘s overall tone and progression matches those within previous installments of the series, and is very much a story-driven JRPG. The actual gameplay once again takes place through the form of standard dungeon-crawling, with players trekking through a generous number of dungeons while battling hordes of monsters and collecting treasures along the way in an attempt to get to the end in order to fight whatever boss character may be waiting. The dungeons themselves are well-designed overall and VII does a nice job of featuring different types of dungeon themes in order to make sure that things don’t become stale while exploring. Exploration is really only half of the dungeon-crawling experience, though. After all, you can’t have a good dungeon-crawling session without combat that is both plentiful and fun. Fortunately, The combat within VII is very similar to that of Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, featuring a battle system that not only emphasizes traits of combo-centric traditional turn-based combat, but both character positioning and movement as well, meaning that characters are not only able to perform actions such as attacking or using items during their turn, but move around the field as well. Standard attacks, special moves, and items all have ranges, with some having additional features such as being able to attack all enemies within a certain proximity, so an extra layer of strategy is needed when considering how to engage the enemy.
Yet another layer of combat strategy comes in the form of the characters themselves. The number of usable characters increases rather dramatically after a certain point in the game, rising to over 15; that’s a lot considering that you can only have four on the field at one time. Because of this, it becomes incredibly important to be aware of when and how you use characters during combat. Although, as previously mentioned, only four of the Neptunia girls can fight at once, an extra four characters can participate in the form of the Coupling and Lily Rank mechanics. Coupling essentially allows an active party member to “equip” a second character, coupling the two up (hence the term). The active character can not only tag out to their Coupled character in-battle, but also receive plenty of benefits from their coupled character, such increased offensive or defensive stats, and access to new skills (both active and passive), although not all once. This is where the Lily Ranking system comes in. When through participation in battle with other party members, or through Coupling, characters can build up affection with their fellows-in-arms known as a Lily Rank. As the Lily Rank builds up, characters will receive better boosts, and access to more skills when Coupled. Although these mechanics can make it a little more difficult to freely switch between party members at a constant rate due to the need to build up their Lily Rank with each other, it does offer a fun and unique way to make use of an extra four party members. Finally, there is the EXE Drive Gauge. When in-battle, a meter known as the “EXE Drive Gauge” appears on-screen. Normally, characters spend SP in order to cast spells or use most skills. The Drive gauge is, essentially, an additional SP bar shared by the group, albeit with a few key difference. During combat, the EXE Drive Gauge starts at 0 and builds up through giving and taking damage, and racking up combos. When the gauge gets high enough characters can consume parts of the EXE Drive Gauge to turn the tide of battle with powerful attacks or, in some cases, even transform into a power powerful version of themselves. While every character has gauge-related abilities that they can utilize on their own, certain characters can team up on the field, or with characters with which they are Coupled, to unleash attacks even more fearsome than they could use on their own.
A story-driven JRPG wouldn’t be the same without the storytelling aspect, and Megadimension Neptunia VII although in a somewhat unique way. While the story within Megadimension Neptunia VII progresses in a relatively normal manner, there are a few interesting things to note. Originally VII was set to come in multiple game installments, although it was decided at a later point in development that the segments would all be combined into a single game. Because of this the game, although one story, is segmented into three parts, each covering a major story arc within the game. Although I applaud Compile Heart’s decision to try something unique within the series, the results are a bit mixed. On the positive side, each story itself is quite entertaining, and unique in its own right. None of the separate stories within VII feel as though they are copying one another or inappropriately overlapping anything. Ironically, you could almost use the previous description to explain the negative aspects of the game’s storytelling as well. There are several times, especially during the second story arc, where things seem a bit too separate; it isn’t a good thing when parts of the game still feel as though they are in that “three separate titles phase”. Regardless of any shortcomings however, the game’s storyline is still a great example of how visual novel-style storytelling should be. A whimsical satire of the video game industry at heart, VII has done a great job of keeping its material up with the times, with both jokes and commentary abound on games, gaming, and gamers alike, without ever completely abandoning the actual story present within the game.
The girls of the Neptunia series are also, of course, all back in full swing and Megadimension Neptunia VII has added even more girls to the mix, making picking out your potential video game-based Neptunia waifu more difficult than ever. Included in the new lineup of characters are the sole CPU of, and last existing human within the Zero Dimension Uzume Tennouboshi (the personification of the Sega Dreamcast), and K-Sha, C-Sha, S-Sha, and B-Sha which represent four of the video game industry’s big names; Konami, Capcom, Square Enix, and Bandai Namco. Not only does each character bring a fresh perspective to the mix, but each also wonderfully represents their respective company both in personality, such as K-Sha’s tendency to both hide in boxes and become an unstoppable war machine as soon as she picks up a gun, and on the battlefield, such as C-Sha’s frequent use of Street Fighter-like moves and an arm canon that most certainly belonged to Mega Man X at some point or another. Like with previous characters of the series, Megadimension Neptunia VII also does a great job of shedding each character, and by proxy each company, in both positive and negative lights and manages to do so without lowering itself to the point of tastelessly stepping on toes.
Graphically, Megadimension Neptunia VII is pretty nicely-packaged. Although not necessarily on the cutting edge of graphics, the game clearly has had a lot of work put into its finer detailing. The dungeons are generally quite varied from one another aesthetically (except when appropriate, of course), and successfully convey the fact that they were inspired by different genres and games. Player character models are also done quite well, boasting smooth detailing overall with little to no clipping during movement, and few jagged edges. VII has also continued to succeed on the forefront of parodying as well, including an array of inspired monster designs based off of anything from Dragon Quest‘s iconic Slime to the ferocious Metal Gear. The graphical quality during the 2D visual novel-style cutscenes are quite a site to behold as well, with a great deal of detail having been paid attention to character designs. Characters are even given breathing animations during the dialogue exchanges, as well as relatively accurate lip-syncing; details that breathe a surprising amount of life (har har) into what would otherwise be still character portraits. The only real downside to the graphical enhancements is that it seems to make the game run slowly, regardless of how low or high the actual setting are. Even turning every setting down to the very lowest (which, I’ll be frank, I’ve never had to do before) didn’t stop the game from hiccuping and occasionally dropping the framerate. This problem doesn’t just happen during the 3D parts of the game either; there are even occasional instances of lag during the 2D cutscenes that feature nothing more than gently moving character portraits and a dialogue box. Hopefully, this is a problem that will soon be solved with a patch, because there really isn’t anything bad to say otherwise!
The audio side of Megadimension Neptunia VII is equally impressive as well. Made up of a number of tracks by a roster of composers slightly larger than the norm, VII‘s musical score not only appropriately meshes with whatever location or situation you may be in, but in many cases also accurately reflects the current visual aesthetics of the game. The various battle themes within the game are especially notable; not only are there quite a few of them, but each one seems to be better than the last. It’s always been hard to find a video game OST that doesn’t at least have a few duds hidden within it somewhere, but VII has managed to surpass that problem without a hitch. The voices that bring VII to life are an all-star cast as well which is pretty important considering that the girls are, like it or not, the main focus of the game.With a large number of characters with spoken parts, it would be pretty easy to have a voice actor, or heck even a specific scene, that isn’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the game’s voice acting, but Compile Heart has made sure that VII didn’t drop the ball on that even once.
To sum things up, Megadimension Neptunia VII is a fast-paced, incredibly hyper JRPG with a lot of personality and a healthy dose of fanservice to boot. It manages to praise the good within the video game industry and playfully poke fun at the bad, and heavily rewards tried and true video game fans with an ever-abundant amount of clever video game jokes and tropes. It would be safe to assume that this game isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, and is definitely quite a bit more alluring to those more familiar with Japanese-style games. With that being said, VII successfully presents itself as one of the strongest titles in the series to date and may even be good enough to draw those curious about JRPGs in. It may not be perfect, but overall Megadimension Neptunia VII is a mega good time for those willing to invest themselves in it.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC, (reviewed), PS4 ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Compile Heart ; Players: 1; Released: July 5, 2016 (February 2, 2016 on PS4); Genre: RPG ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory International.