- Developer:Compile Heart
- Publisher: Idea Factory
- Genre: 2D – JRPG
- Release Date: 21/6/19
- Platforms: PS4/Switch
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
The Neptunia series have never been afraid to change their format to give fans new ideas and games to play. Many hardcore “Nep” fans were aghast when Hyperdimension Action Unleashed arrived with its real time “musou” type hack and slash gameplay, moving away from the traditional turn based combat style.
Nep even took on the mighty MMO genre with her tongue firmly in cheek when Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online arrived. So it is of no surprise to the series fans that a new studio ( Artisan ) is bringing the franchise into the 2D side scrolling universe for the first time.
If you were to ask me what my all time favourite games were, you’d come to learn that high up on my personal list are two 2D side scrolling JRPGs. Muramasa Rebirth and Odin Sphere Leifhanser are, in my opinion, two of the greatest games ever made. They are beautiful, have imaginative stories, and fantastic gameplay. So it was of great interest to me when another giant of the JRPG world, the Neptunia series, wanted to veer away from their normal gameplay and into this genre.
They shouldn’t have bothered.
Initial reactions are impressive though. The highlights of this game are undoubtedly the incredible artwork, and the beautiful graphics. Each scene is backed by what looks like a beautiful hand drawn oil painting. It’s very easy to sit back and drink in the atmosphere and the look of the game. Add to this the character movements, which are silky smooth, have nice little touches of movement, are not stiff, and again, work well. Character design is also exceptionally detailed and interesting to look at.
The audio also has some outstanding voice acting, again being carried by Neptunia, the series’ main protagonist (she even calls herself that), played by Melissa Fahn. She brings such life and energy to what is in my view a pretty bland script, in a way that only she can. “Nep Nep.” It’s safe to say that without her skills, this series wouldn’t be half as successful as it is.
However, cute voice acting and stunning visuals can only get you so far when everything else is a bit of a mess. To start with, the tutorials in the game are woefully inadequate and barely give you the right idea of what to do. For example, I had been playing the game for two hours before I realized I could pause mid-battle to use spells, healing, and other such offensive items. The game also doesn’t give you any indication of where you are supposed to go.
You wake up as Neptune, who yet again has amnesia, (a running joke in the series) and are told to go visit the local guild. Once there, you are told to go somewhere else and to start to explore the surrounding land. As you do so, you keep finding yourself coming to dead end areas, and it was only by pure chance that I realised if you press the options button on the controller, you can bring up a map. This map though, again didn’t give you the direction of where to go. Another example. I eventually found an NPC I was to interact with, and when the dialogue had finished, Neptune said to herself “I need to go back to base”. Thinking that was the way to go I went all the way back to where I started, fighting monsters as I went that had re-spawned. When getting back to the starting point, activating conversations with every NPC I found and not getting any new information, I then realised my quest status said to go to a location I had not been to before, that was actually right next to where I had just been! Again I had to wade my way back to my previous point and then go a little further.
The point is that it’s very frustrating to not have a good idea of whom to interact with and where you are to go. Talking to NPCs can set off side quests, which are mostly either utterly boring fetch quests, or quests to defeat a determined amount of monsters. With a lot of quests open it wasn’t clear when you had completed them, or to whom and to where you were to go back to, to report them being done and then collect your reward. I found myself talking to everyone all over again until someone said, “Oh thank you, here you go.” The game suggests that completed side quests have icons over NPCs who initiated them, but in my experience not all of them did. Imagine if you will, playing a game like The Witcher, where you are tasked to do something but the game doesn’t show you where you need to go to do it – it soon becomes very frustrating to play.
But this game gets worse. The combat. Sigh…..
The combat is a real time turn based system. What this involves is there are two dials. One dial on the left for the enemy, and one on the right for your team. When the dial on either side reaches a certain point (and it isn’t clear at what point this is) an icon appears above one of your team of a corresponding button you can then press, that means you can initiate an attack. Wait for a bit longer and you can then hit twice or more. Get enough hits in and you can then raise the level of another bar to launch a more powerful attack called a “Break Attack.”
As I found out by accident, you can pause the battle to use items, but this stops the flow of everything and draws you out of the experience. The items desperately need a shortcut menu for use during battle. In short, the battle system is merely you waiting until an icon appears over your character’s head, you pressing that button, you hitting the enemy once, and then hoping you get enough hits in before the enemy does. It’s nothing more than a glorified quick time event each and every battle. Seriously, that’s it.
The RPG side of the game is actually pretty good, but again very unclear. There are many traditional ways to improve your characters, with new weapons, clothing, armour, skill buffs, and accessories to wear, but much like the rest of the game, little explanation of what you need to look for to make best use of these items in order to help you. For example, one type of bracelet would have different statistics over another, but the game didn’t explain if the items stats were lower or higher than what you were currently using, or what would be more effective against enemies. So much like the whole game, by the use of trial and error, I had to wade through quest aids in order to determine what was better than something else for any given task.
If I’m honest, I feel like the developers of the game assumed people playing this game would know how to play JRPGs and all the little nuances in getting the most from them, so therefore couldn’t be bothered to explain their own one at all. The perfect example of this is that in order to recap and understand systems, you have to find a certain NPC who tells you. At the end of the day, you’re simply left to get on with it and find everything out for yourself. This is highly frustrating, and a somewhat disappointing torment for such an established franchise to put you through.
I really didn’t enjoy playing this game at all, mainly because it was too ambiguous, confusing and didn’t explain itself at all. Even when you did start to grasp and understand the systems and the story, it was so mundane and run of the mill that it didn’t excite at all. Fetch quest here, defeat that there, find your friends… yawn… The story is forgettable, and the combat is lacking any real sense of purpose or tactical depth, but the main frustration is that the foundation of a great game is actually there, just with such poor execution on so many basic levels it doesn’t materialise.
Only the RPG elements (when you can understand them), the beautiful artwork and the voice acting of the series protagonist keep this game, in fact the entire franchise, alive. This certainly isn’t the best game in the franchise, but with a few better choices of game design, it could well have been.