Ah, geez. I really, really didn’t want to have to do this. I like Idea Factory. I literally just reviewed one of their games, like, two days ago. It was a visual novel by the name of Code: Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ and it was great. In fact, I honestly think that most of the games that Idea Factory makes are great. So why, then, are they having such a hard time with their flagship series? First, it was Super Neptunia RPG. And, while that was pretty rough, everyone makes mistakes (not to mention there were some extenuating circumstances with that one), so I was totally willing to look past it. But now we have Neptunia Virtual Stars and, while it doesn’t have any of the same problems as its immediate predecessor (obviously), it is by no means a gem itself.
I’d like to say that Neptunia Virtual Stars is just another case of Idea Factory just trying to get something shipped out and letting that get the best of them—it’s not a secret that IF’s production value isn’t always the highest around, and that is 100% A-OK. You don’t have to have AAA quality for a game to be legitimately good. But I don’t think that that’s the case here. At least not entirely. I think IF was testing the waters, so to speak, with something, and that “something” ultimately came back to bite them… at least as far as I’m concerned. But let’s not worry about that for the time being. For now, let’s just keep this ‘ol review train moving just like it always does!
In true Neptunia fashion, Neptunia Virtual Stars features an outlandish and zany story starring Gamindustri’s four favorite goddesses as they embark on yet another journey to save the world. But it’s not their own world that they’ll be saving, this time! Summoned without warning by a mysterious digital goddess named Faria alongside Vtuber duo Me and You (yes, those are their names) Nep & co. have been tasked with saving not only Faira’s own planet Emote but the entirety of Virtuland. Easy, right? Not quite! Seeing as how the goddess’ powers come directly from their nations’ people, Nep, Noire, Vert, and Blanc have basically been reduced to normal people. Fortunately, Faira, in her infinite(?) wisdom, thought to bestow upon her saviors the ability to manifest their own latent powers into weapons capable of fitting off the forces which seek to make all of Virtuland obsolete. Can they do it!? Well, I mean, they’ve got Neptune with them, so… yeah, probably. But just how will they do it!? That’s what we’re here to find out!
As far as Neptunia stories go, this one is pretty run-of-the-mill. The game itself is short, leaving little time for any actual intrigue to build up, which instead means that the story relies on the usual zany tropey-ness that the franchise is known for. Fortunately, because the series is known for it, this is expected. It works just fine. I generally enjoy a Neptunia plot regardless of what it is because both the writing and English voice acting are, in my opinion, quite good. Unfortunately, Neptunia Virtual Stars nixed English VAs, which, for me, was a pretty big bummer. I’m almost certain I know why they did this, but I can tell you that the story wasn’t as enjoyable as it otherwise might have been had the English VA crew whose additions to series I very much appreciate were there as they normally are.
Back in 2017, Idea Factory International released a game called Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online. It was a real-time RPG co-developed by Tamsoft that utilized the Unreal Engine and featured hack-and-slash combat, which, while simplistic, was smooth, fun, and very satisfying. The easiest way to describe Neptunia Virtual Stars would be to say that it’s a lot like 4GO except noticeably worse. The combat feels even more simplistic than it did back in 4GO (which I didn’t think was possible), and it lacks all of the nuances that its predecessor did. Movement is very awkward and clunky, it can be hard to tell what you’re hitting at times, and a lot of the enemies just aren’t compatible with hack-and-slash RPG characters.
Now, barring the last point, it’s pretty obvious why all of this is the way there is; Neptunia Virtual Stars didn’t use the Unreal Engine, and, as far as I’ve been able to find, Tamsoft had no hand in this game’s development (which is a shame because they do great work). So, sorry, you won’t find anything like a good game engine being put to use or the handiwork of Tamsoft in this game. You’ll find a lot of real-life Vtubers that you can summon mid-battle, though! I personally don’t think that they’re anywhere near as useful as the Emotion Arts that you can use by saving up all of your energy—namely because you don’t have any control over which one decides to show up—but I guess it’s cool to see them in the game if you’re into that sort of thing.
So, you know how I mentioned that it didn’t feel like every enemy in this game was made for a hack-and-slash approach? Well, that’s because this game isn’t just a hack-and-slash RPG—it’s also a third-person shooter. Like its RPG counterpart, this portion of the game also lacks any real depth. Ironically, this mode can, at times, be even clunkier in terms of maneuverability due to how camera placement works. Fortunately, there is a saving grace here. While the game tries to encourage you to experiment with all of the characters because, to be fair, they are all rather unique, it didn’t take me long to realize that—despite being named Neptunia Virtual Stars—this game seems to favor Noire (and I mean, hey, who doesn’t?). It tends to skew her toward being OP the further along you get. And, while I realize it’s bad that I wanted a strong character so I could steamroll everything, tearing stuff apart as Noire is honestly pretty fun. You know how sometimes you just want to mindlessly run and beat up a bunch of baddies instead of fighting fairly? That’s what a powered-up Noire can do for you. Just make sure you slap some real-world Vtubers on her, first (because they’re also equipment in this game for some reason).
So, since I’ve already briefly mentioned Vtubers twice, let me round out this section by talking about them a little more. As you may or may not know, Neptunia Virtual Stars brought in a bunch of different real-world Vtubers for this game. Crossover stuff is fine, and, this actually fits in this context. Objectively, I’m completely okay with a decision like this. But the way they handled things was kind of, I don’t know, weird? Neptunia Virtual Stars is uncomfortably in-your-face about the fact that it has real-world Vtubers in it. They’ll appear on-screen for no reason, they’ll appear on monitors floating around in every level, you can collect cards of them, they’ll issue quests (complete with videos you have to watch) and so on. But the most egregious thing, in my opinion, are the loading screen videos. Whenever the game loads, a random Vtuber PR video will play. And, more often than not, they’ll literally be telling you to subscribe to their YouTube channels. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think that that’s appropriate for a video game. And, if that isn’t bad enough, the game incentivizes you to watch the whole thing by rewarding you with items for not skipping it. I’m not going to outright say that this game is manipulating its players, but, well, you know…
I’d Say Dance ‘Til You’re Dead, But…
If there’s one genuinely good thing that Neptunia Virtual Stars has going for it, it’s its lineup of vocal tracks. Neptunia‘s always been great about pumping those out, and this game’s no different. I also happen to be a huge fan of rhythm games. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I unlocked the in-game rhythm game (try saying that ten times fast) BeatTik. But, unfortunately, it was nothing as I had imagined it would be. Instead of finally throwing me a bone, all BeatTik does is have you press the same button (or whatever buttons you want) in time with the song. And the songs aren’t the vocal tracks that I was hoping for—nope, they’re all relatively lifeless 30-second clips. The extended songs are all DLC that you have to shell out more money for. Anyway—you gain points at the end of the song depending on how well you did, which can then be exchanged for items and can even convert the video itself into items.
You might be wondering why I’m complaining, here. I mean, aside from the DLC thing. Sure, pressing buttons in time to the song is a little boring, but that’s fine for a game that isn’t trying to be a rhythm game at its core, right? Sure! Except none of the songs that I played through had me pressing the buttons in time with anything at all—or so I thought for quite some time. As it turns out, the button prompts are, in fact, perfectly in-tempo with the song. It’s the sound effect that plays when you press the buttons that gets wonky and out of time (which is just as bad, trust me). So go ahead and play BeatTik to your heart’s content! Just make sure you mute the sound effects before you do so.
Unplugged and Unjust
It isn’t really very often that I’m so negative about a game, but Neptunia Virtual Stars does so many things wrong that I just couldn’t ignore it. Normally, this would be the part where I would say, “only get this game if you’re a fan of the series,” but I’d be wary even then. As little as I’ve talked about it within this review, this game is obviously little more than an attempt to pander to the Vtuber fandom. I don’t say that with any disrespect—if you like Vtubers, then more power to you. But, Idea Factory, next time you make some sort of crossover titles, keep in mind that you’re capable of making quality crossovers—like Superdimension Neptunia VS Sega Hard Girls—and maybe don’t try to patch up a lack of content by slapping Vtubers everywhere like they’re bandages.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 3, 2021 (PS4) ; T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Neptunia Virtual Stars provided by the publisher.