When (video game) worlds collide
The Neptunia series has been around for a good five or so years, bringing with it a unique take on the video game industry that’s both comical and pretty on point most of the time. Although nearly every major company and console has been represented by now within the franchise, Idea Factory and Compile Hearts have always had to take quite a few liberties when attempting to anthropomorphize other franchises due to the fact that, well, they don’t own them. It’s probably been pretty tough walking that fine line between making sure that the Neptunia girls are accurate video game portrayals while simultaneously avoiding copyright infringement, but I feel comfortable saying that they’ve been doing a pretty great job with it. Have you ever wondered though how things would turn out if the series developers did have consent from a different video game company? Well, if your answer is “yes”, then I’ve got some good news for you; thanks to some cooperation on Sega’s part, that’s finally happening. For the first time ever, Neptunia‘s fictional systems have been given a chance to clash with a few of the real-life systems that we know and love in Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls!
Before I continue, let me delve into the realm of the Sega Hard Girls for a moment. Although most people outside of Japan may not realize it (I certainly didn’t), the Sega Hard girls have actually been around for a few years. They weren’t characters specifically made for this game. Originally created back in 2013, the Sega Hard Girls, or SeHa Girls for short, made their debut in a light novel series in Japan. Without getting into things too much the series essentially revolved around anthropomorphize versions of Sega consoles (all of whom were female, of course) going to school and learning about the history of Sega consoles and games, and closely followed the antics of three particular students; Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, and Dreamcast. A short animated series was also created based off of the light novel. It may seem a bit odd for me to go into this much detail concerning the SeHa Girls, especially before covering anything else, I felt it necessary. By becoming aware of the fact that the SeHa Girls have a bit of history behind them, the entire premise of Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls becomes a lot more interesting. Anyway, onto the actual game!
Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls takes place in yet another dimension, separate from those in any of the other Neptunia games. Devoid of goddesses, this version of Gamindustri has become little more than a wasteland. Without ever having a place such as Planeptune to call home this universe’s IF has become a drifter, riding her motorbike around Gamindustri in search of the Grand Library; a building which may very well hold all of the secrets regarding the demise of her world. After quite a bit of searching, IF manages to find the Grand Library. However, before she can even step foot into the building, she notices a relatively strange and quite unconscious girl falling from the sky. Just barely catching the mysterious girl in time IF heads into the library, not knowing that she will soon be holding the fate of the world in her hands.
After some time resting within the Grand Library IF’s new friend introduces herself as Sega Hatsumi, or Segami for short. Segami continues, thanking IF for rescuing her and stating that she has some business at the library as well although she can’t remember it due to the fact that she has amnesia (man, the Neptunia series really likes amnesia-heavy plotlines don’t they?). Their conversation is cut short however thanks to some troublesome news from the Grand Library’s keeper Histoire; history has literally begun to disappear. While shocking and terrible news indeed, nothing could normally be done about this. After all, history is in the past. Fortunately Neptunia has always been pretty great with the convenient plot devices and Histoire modifies IF’s trusty bike (without IF’s consent, of course) into a trusty bike that can time travel. And with that, IF and Sagami ventured off to save history.
The goal Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is to save history, and defeat the Time Eater – the game’s final boss (it’s not a big spoiler, I promise). Throughout the game, players will be able travel from the present time to four different eras. Known as Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, Game Gear, and Dreamcast, these eras each represent crucial and negative points within Gamindustri’s history and it is up to IF and Segami to fix them. Abandoning the linear and occasionally chapter-based gameplay found in most Neptunia games, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls plays the story out on a mission-by-mission basis. While in the Grand Library, which serves as the game’s HUB, players can accept quests from Histoire at their leisure. Only one at a time can be accepted, but players can generally accept quests in any order they want (within reason), meaning that they can visit their favorite time periods and characters first and experience the story in the way most preferable to them. Plenty of side-quests are also available throughout the game, which definitely helps to break up the tedium of going somwehere, listening to a conversation, battling a boss, and heading back to the library. Side-quests can also help net players plenty of nice rewards including items, equipment, and sometimes even new game settings such as being able to permanently increase EXP from enemies, or increasing or decreasing enemy difficulty.
Making progress in this game definitely feels a bit different than with other Neptunia games, but I think that the decision to segment the story into bite-sized chunks was a good thing and goes along well with the overlaying time travel aspect of the games. The only real issue that I have with the way in which the story plays out is that it can become a little too fluid if players aren’t careful. Those familiar with the Neptunia series know all too well of how infrequently the game takes itself seriously. It has a tendency to ask questions or set up situations that are more often than not resolved through a convenient plot device (like a time traveling bike), or swept under the rug entirely. These antics are of course a staple for the series itself and are generally quite amusing. With the ability to pick and choose when and where certain parts of the story start up and leave off however, it can become a bit confusing sorting through the causes and effects of the game’s many goofy events if you’re not careful. Because of this, I would definitely recommend sticking to one era until you can no longer continue during your first time playing through the game.
Mission based gameplay is definitely a pretty big gameplay difference, but it isn’t the only thing that Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls switches up; the way in which the game tackles the final boss is pretty unique as well (very minor spoiler warning). Early on in the game, you learn that all of the time-based anomalies are caused by a creature known as the Time Eater and that time can only truly be repaired after defeating him. Amusingly enough, you end up squaring off with the Time Eater toward the beginning of the game before you even learn too much about him and, not surprisingly, will lose. While at first I thought that losing a scripted event, it turns out that it isn’t. You can actually beat the game any time you want, so long as you’re strong enough. Borrowing a page from Chrono Trigger‘s book, Nep v Sega uses storyline progression not as a means through which to complete the game but as a means to get stronger. There is a canonical “True Ending” that can be obtained by playing through the entire story, but the game can pretty much end whenever you want it to. Losing to the Time Eater is also not a huge deal, but I’ll let you find out why that is on your own.
Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls may switch around a few things, but the Neptunia-style dungeon crawling that we all know and love is just the same as it has always been… well, mostly the same. The actual dungeon-crawling itself hasn’t changed. Each area within the game is represented by a visually unique dungeon to explore full of goofy enemies largely inspired by other games to fight, and items and equipment to find. What has changed is the player character’s maneuverability. Players are now able to quickly sprint straight, perform running jumps which offer both increased height and distance, and even climb across ropes and up walls. To play off of the increased maneuverability, many dungeons have light platforming elements added to this. For a series such as this one these additions aren’t entirely necessary, and at first I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy them. I can honestly say though that, the more I encountered these platforming elements, the more I grew to like them. Collectibles medals and baseballs have also been added to each dungeon. Like most collectibles they aren’t necessary, but the can provide the player with plenty of money and even some new items so it’s probably in your best interest to find them. While combat is the gameplay’s focus, adding an additional level of interactivity to the dungeon-delving portions isn’t a bad thing at all. Besides, this is a video game about video games; adding in new gameplay mechanics kind of makes sense.
Combat is as important as ever within Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls and largely sticks to the same formula that we’ve come to expect form the series but, as has been the trend so far, isn’t entirely the same. While still turn-based, the flow of combat is primarily dictated by the Action Gauge. Represented by the AG Meter on the right side of the screen during combat, the Action Gauge will fill up whenever the player does anything but jump. Because of this, players have the ability to mix in attacking, moving, and using both items and skills in one turn, but this comes at a cost. As the player makes more unique moves during their character’s turn the gauge will fill up, going from blue, to green, to red. The higher the gauge is at the end of that character’s turn, the longer it will take for the character to be able to move (also known as a cooldown). Consequently, ending a character’s turn before the gauge fills up completely will allow them to move sooner. The Action Gauge ended up tweaking the way I went about fighting toward the end of the game more than I had originally figured it would. As I was normally used to fighting common enemies, I initially played the game without much regard to the gauge; I would move and attack as I pleased until the gauge entirely filled up and ended my turn. Bosses proved to be quite a bit trickier however. Mindlessly attacking as many times as possible usually led to the boss getting to move anywhere from 2 – 4 times in a row, which never ended well for me. By forcing players to think carefully before making their move, the Action Gauge really added an incredibly fun new element to the game’s combat system and I hope that Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls won’t be the only time that it shows up.
The second new feature within Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is the Fever Gauge. Represented by a purple bar that can be found next the Action Gauge, the Fever Gauge will slowly charge up from 0 to 100 percent as players land hits. Upon reaching 100, a rainbow-colored gem will appear in the middle of the battlefield. Collecting this gem will cause Fever Time to Activate. Activating Fever Time has three effects (four if you count the crazy flashing lights and the phrase “FEVER!!” appearing on your screen over a dozen times). First, Fever Time boosts all characters stats by 10%. Secondly, Fever Time allows for characters to use their ultimate moves – known as EXE Drives – allowing characters to deal massive amounts of damage in exchange for significantly shortening their Fever Time duration. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Fever Time completely halts enemy movements meaning that, until Fever Time expires, the only characters dealing damage will be the ones in your party. Fever Time is an incredibly powerful tool that can easily be used to turn the tide of battle against any foe in the entire game, but that doesn’t mean that strategy doesn’t come into play. Mimicking the way the Action Gauge works, the Fever Time gauge will deplete with every action taken. Because of this it’s still very important to plan your movements and attacks out; wasting Fever Time is easier than you think.
I’ve got to hand it to Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls when it comes to graphical quality, because the game’s visual aesthetics are pretty outstanding. The game boasts very smooth 3D features for not only IF and Segami (the only two characters that can be controlled on the map) but for monsters too Even re-used areas and enemies (which there were a lot of) were noticeably touched up, which is always nice to see. Quite a bit of soft lighting was also used and, while perhaps a tad overdone at times, generally produced a pleasing visual effect that. Unfortunately, they may have been a little too good in certain areas. Due to what I am assuming is the great amount of attention payed to model detail, as well as the number of enemies roaming around on the map, the game would occasionally suffer from lag. It didn’t happen everywhere, and when it did it never lasted long, but the problem was a bit too common to go completely unnoticed.
The audio side of things was great as well. Consisting of songs both old and new, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls comes with a soundtrack that ends up being quite varied with no real weaknesses overall. The Neptunia voice acting cast was back in full swing as well, bringing along several new voice actors. While voice acting isn’t something that is entirely necessary, the voice talent ends up adding so much depth and personality to character and story alike that I would call their involvement with the game crucial in making the game’s many cutscenes as enjoyable as they are.
Between new battle mechanics, differences in storyline progression, and the fact that the game is one big crossover, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls had quite a bit on its plate, and took plenty of risks and could have turned out poorly if improperly handled. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, and things turned out pretty great. A game that I would call “snackable” when compared to the “full course” of the main Neptunia games, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls offers players a fun-filled crossover adventure that is easy to pick up and play with engaging combat and a whimsical (if not occasionally confusing) story that is sure to make you want to stick around to the end. With plenty to offer for both newcomers and longtime Neptunia fans alike, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is a great addition to both the game’s series as well as the Vita’s lineup of games.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed); Publisher: Idea Factory International; Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella ; Release Date: October 18, 2016; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Vita review copy of Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls provided by Idea Factory International.