Say it like you just don’t care!
- Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Felistella
- Publisher: Idea Factory International
- Release date: 11th June 2021
- Genre: Classic JRPG
- Platforms: PS5 exclusive
- Reviewed on: PS5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of the Hyperdimension series, the first PS5-exclusive JRPG from Idea Factory/Compile Heart is Neptunia ReVerse, which is a remake of a remake of a PS Vita game! However, don’t be confused or let the substandard graphics in the trailers put you off. This game is still a corker in its own right!
I have played many Neptune games, including their most recent game, Neptunia Virtual Stars, but never have I laughed so much, so loud and for so long as here with Neptune in Neptunia ReVerse. It is side-splittingly funny.
It shouldn’t work though. Looking at the game objectively, it is your typical JRPG; Girl loses her memory and has to get it back, to do so needs to do quests for someone to help her, turn-based combat, fan service, average graphics, visual novel, same as every other JRPG, right? Despite the familiar premise and well-worn tropes, this game goes above and beyond through its delightful world, characters, and highly amusing narrative that pulls you through the lengthy dialogue of this excellently told story.
The first hurdle you will need to get over, though, is the graphics. After recently completing Ratchet and Clank on the PS5, going straight into this was like falling off a cliff in graphical standards. I’ve never been one to expect much in terms of graphics from a JRPG, as the genre never really excels in that department (and I’ve long been a proponent of gameplay being more important than graphics). The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the true in-game cutscenes still appear to be rendered in 720p, well below the crisp 4K we expect today! Even though you may wince at how basic the visuals are during exploration and combat, the world you get to explore is colourful, sharp, varied and interesting. The artwork does its best to add interest, however, it’s certainly not a beauty.
The bulk of the game is presented in visual novel form, and the characters have sharp and interesting designs. Having pleasant visuals to watch during the lengthy dialogue sections softens the blow somewhat, as do the excellent special effects of powerful moves, or character transformations during combat. These sequences are visually exciting and inflecting a well-earned power move upon a foe is a true visual highlight.
Breaking the fifth wall?
Where Neptunia ReVerse excels is in its witty, hilarious, and superbly acted dialogue. The game breaks not only the fourth wall between game and gamer but also the fifth (Yes the fifth wall is a thing!) The writing openly attacks the fifth wall with the narrative, plays with it, and then uses it to further the story. It’s such a hook, and so well written and funny that it feels like a breath of fresh air. You are not just watching the events but are part of this journey too. It’s like when the actors of a pantomime involve the audience in the dialogue of the story. It’s these moments that connect with the audience, and in this case, bring them along for the ride and make them laugh. I could show a multitude of examples, but below is just one example of such humour.
Old-school rules still rock!
I didn’t play the original remakes of this game (more’s the pity) so I am unaware if the combat has been changed or refined in any way. However, what I can say is that there is pure elegance in the design of the combat system that begs the question, why change what isn’t broken. What I mean by that is, many games try to reinvent the wheel with regards to turn-based combat, but when it’s done well, as it is here with Neptunia ReVerse, there is no need.
At your disposal are simple attacks with your melee weapon, defensive moves, items, and skill-based attacks, which all use various amounts of a limited source of skill points. The extra that makes this game special is EXE drive and the transformation of some characters to their HDD super-powerful state.
Within a turn, players have the ability to do three or more actions, chosen by the player. There are three types of basic melee hits: Break, power and rapid, with a subset of variations of each that use storage capacity to execute. You can mix and match these moves, as long as the total doesn’t exceed your megabit storage capacity. (For example; you may have 64 MB of storage but three of the most powerful Rapid attacks, at 25 points each, comes to 75 points. So you can chop and change which rapid attacks you use to fill up to the 64 MB limit.)
Of course, each character can use a break, power and/or rapid but then only have enough storage for one hit of each. When I was at the point in the game where I had three players in my team, I set up one character to focus on Rapid attacks, and the other two on Break or Power alone. It’s an elegant system that you can adapt to your own preferred playstyle.
Additionally, landing hits build up players’ EXE drives, which when full allows each player to unleash an extra hit of their chosen combo.
The judicious use of the HDD ability was also key. Even on Normal difficulty, I had to be aware of when to hold back with the use of HDD. HDD uses 30% of a player’s health, so has a limited amount of use, but saving it for the right moment was very rewarding. When you are in HDD mode, the characters look different but can use the same attacks, albeit in a much more powerful hit.
When you add these extra layers of tactical options on top of what is already a very classy turn-based combat system, it just begs you to keep playing as it positively encourages experimentation with its depth, but it never becomes so complex that it is overwhelming.
The upgrading system again was superb in that, although it’s a little confusing to start with what and how to upgrade, it works by completing tasks by obtaining items that then unlock blueprints of plugins that can be added to each player. One plugin may give a memory boost for extra memory to allow for bigger melee hits. Another would be for extra health or power. Again, simplistic but tactically deep.
Traversal of the game is done via a world map that highlights where the player needs to go next to progress the story but also highlights new areas to explore along with the list of materials that can be found in those areas. These small details of information make such a difference to the overall enjoyment of the game, specifically knowing exactly which area you need to go to find the correct materials to complete blueprints, or side missions, or the main story.
Once at your chosen location, it’s a simple matter of exploring the not very large dungeons and icons until you are done, then back to the hub world. The story exposition is carried out throughout all aspects of the game, so this keeps the story ticking over nicely even in the depths of a dungeon.
Still sounds great.
Although the graphics during the dungeon crawling aspects are dated, the audio of the entire game is not. Sound effects during battle are excellent and have a satisfying sense of power when landing. This is complemented by the outstanding clarity of the voice actors, effortlessly portraying a range of emotions during the visual novel talking scenes and in-game cutscenes. Where this game pushes above and beyond others, however, is in the details where you wouldn’t expect them to be.
When you save the game one of the characters will pipe up with, “Saving the game now!“ or other such one-liners. Whether it’s loading the game or going into menu screens, the game finds any and every excuse to delight and surprise you with a little humorous quip wherever it can.
The star of the audio show has to be lead actress Melissa Fahn, who plays Neptune herself. She absolutely knocks her performance out of the park. Despite the genre, and the lighthearted and fun nature of Neptune games, she conveys each scene with such composure and authority, so that it was a joy to hear her work in each of Neptune’s scenes, and her timing is impeccable. I doubt Melissa will be shortlisted for any awards at the end of this gaming year, simply because this type of game is never considered for such awards, but she should definitely be in the mix.
There are actually a couple of extra little things the game delivers that again surprise you. On the surface, the fishing mini-game was a very bulk standard affair, however, what took me by surprise was the incredibly realistic haptic feedback on the controller when a fish had been hooked and you were trying to reel them in. The controller and the R2 button especially felt alive, like a fish really was on the end of it. It is very impressive to feel but sadly one of the only times I can recall the haptic feedback being used in the game.
The other delightful surprise was that there is a free additional DLC add-on which is a very simplistic, 8bit looking side-scrolling shooter that can be downloaded for free and accessed via the main menu. The game is called, unsurprisingly, Neptunia Shooter; It’s a very fun little free addition and quite challenging too!
I could wax lyrical over Neptunia ReVerse for quite some time. Despite the dungeons’ graphics being of the most basic type, the rest of the game is impeccable. Even though the game has a light-hearted tone, underneath the surface is a wonderful, rock-solid, excellently designed and made game, and arguably the best Neptune game of all.