A few days ago I finally completed (after about 3 months) 神次元ゲームネプテューヌV, or “Kami Jigen Game Neptune V”, the latest instalment from Compile Heart in the Neptune franchise of PS3 games. It took quite a while (approximately 3 months), and I think it’s about time to wrap things up.
Before we begin
A few may ask about what exactly is this game about: to be rather brief (feel free to consult other sources for more information), it all started as a rather niche title by Compile Heart, a subsidiary of the Japanese game maker Idea Factory. The idea was to parody the “console wars” that happen between fans of specific gaming systems. The idea chosen by CH was to represent consoles as goddesses (守護女神 or “goddess of protection”, but read -at least in the first game – as ハード, i.e. “hardware”). Each of the goddesses ruled a country (hinting quite openly at the system they represent) and even had a church (協会 in Japanese) complete with followers. The goddesses starring in the games were in fact all tied to more or less real projects:
- Neptune (ruling Planetune), the main character, is linked to the SEGA Neptune
- Noire (commanding Lastation) is linked to the PS3;
- Vert (handling Leanbox) the Xbox360
- Blanc (in care of Lowee) the Wii
In addition to these, there are Makers, characters that represent game companies (all Japanese). Everything is set in a fictional world that represents the gaming industry (ゲームギョウ界, Gamegyokai）.
The original game (超次元ゲームネプテューヌ, aka “Hyper Dimension Game Neptune”) was a rather niche title, as I said. Mainly a dungeoun crawler, it had a lot of shortcomings, saved only in part by absurd dialogues and parodies. Despite its evident flaws, its good points were enough to strike the fanbase, and it sold very nicely for Compile Heart (notice, we’re not talking about AAA titles sales here, but about tens of thousands). This prompted the development of a sequel, 超次元ゲームネプテューヌｍｋ２, which was, in both graphics and game mechanic, a radical improvement over its predecessor. In addition, mk2 had a huge cast of Makers and introduced the goddess candidates (女神候補生), characters representing portable consoles. In fact, the main character was no longer Neptune, but her sister Nepgear (representing the SEGA Game Gear). Game system wise, it played like a traditional jRPG this time, and the story was a little more serious, although with many comical moments. It wasn’t flawless, but a definite improvement over the original. Also an important difference was that unlike the predecessor, character portraits were drawn using 3D rather than 2D.
Early last year, Compile Heart announced a new title in the franchise, that is the Neptune V we’re talking about in this post, where the “dimension” in the title shifted from “hyper dimension” to “divine dimension” (神次元). CH promised changes to address criticisms moved to the original, including the return of 2D portraits (AAS, or Active Animation System) and adjustments to the game mechanics. Last but not least, Neptune was to be the main character again.
And it’s about this game we’ll talk about. As I’m mostly writing a run-down of the game, more details like the story, the characters, the game system and what else are to be found in this post. And with that settled, let’s get over with the review.
A brief recap of the main story
A few years after Mk2′s story. The goddesses are enjoying a totally peaceful life. But one day, due to a certain event, Neptune ends up thrown in another dimension. She has landed in the Gamegyokai of G.C (Gamegyokai history) 1989. The world is somehow different from the G.C. 2012 one. Also, the mysterious organization “The Seven Sages” shows itself. A crisis of this new world in front of Neptune? Will be she able to return to her own era safely?
Neptune V has been marked as return to the roots of the original, but I wouldn’t go and say something like this. The original was very disjointed, events weren’t in order most of the time and the flow of the game suffered as a result. Mk2 had a more tight storytelling and a coherent plot. People didn’t like it that much, but I personally feel that while not absurd as the original, it was definitely a step up. So, how does V’s plot fit in these two extremes?
The main story is full of wacky moments, wall breaking events and so on. However the story has a definite direction and almost never loses it during the course of the game. The true end route (out of 3 available) manages to pick up all the questions in the story and answers them in a decent fashion. I was kind of worried a couple of events I witnessed would have not been referenced again, but they actually did.
There isn’t a single theme in the story. In Mk2′s piracy was the strong underlying message, but here there’s nothing similar in Neptune V. Console war gets mentioned but just as verbal infighting between characters. Basically V is its own thing.
As for the ending itself, It brings closure to the whole story, but may feel anticlimatic after what has happened before. However I believe it’s intentional (Neptune later laments that even being the main character in the end she didn’t manage to much – and that remark springs another wacky conversation). While objectively can be considered a good ending, from a purely personal point of view I prefer Mk2′s True Ending. As a minor complaints, a couple developments in the story feel forced, like a plot device. The characters, despite being archetypes, have sufficient depth. Most conversations are hilarious, especially when Noire’s around (and Asami Imai does a wonderful job – but more on the voice actors later).
Same with the Seven Sages, they’re sufficiently present to appear as something more than cardboard boxes. However the game at a certain point mismanages the behavior of some them, and there are a couple of puzzling developments that are in contrast with what happened in the game up to that point (mostly deal with Anonedeath and Akudaijn). Nothing really big, but it rubbed me the wrong way.
Rei doesn’t take the center stage till the later chapters, but once she appears more she’s surely interesting, especially after certain events and the optional events required for the True End.
The candidates are present but just in the beginning, in a couple side events (and Nepstation ones) and in the true end path. While not exactly a big presence, they feel inside a story more than needless addition. The lack of maker characters in the story may be a disappointment, but it’s clear the story wasn’t built around them – you don’t feel their presence missing. Personally I was displeased by the lack of the popes save Histoire, but it’s a minor complaint.
Overall, the story is good, is fun and lasts more than enough. Can’t really complain.
Much discussion went around how different the goddesses from GC 1989 are from GC 2012. Well, in the end the goddesses of GC 1989 are different from the GC 2012 counterparts, from subtle differences to drastic changes in behavior. They’re generally likable, though I assume some of the fans of particular characters may be disappointed. Let’s have a rundown:
- Neptune – Well, not much to say about her. Wacky, mad, “The main character” (主人公) as she keeps reminding the audience, a source of trouble;
- Pururut – The first new addition to the cast, I believe this will polarize the audience, especially with her Iris Heart persona. I think she’s funny, and the recurring gags with Iris Heart really work, in my opinion. She also has a couple surprising good moments, that people wouldn’t expect out of her;
- Noire – Less Tsundere and more Tsukkomi. GC1989 Noire can be summed up like this. She’s really fun to watch her desperate attempts to keep the situation under control or fighting to have Pururut’s attention as a friend with other characters. Her most memorable quotes come from exchanges with Neptune and Pururut;
- Blanc – Her behavior has a lot of differences from her 2012 counterpart. Gone is her interest in books, and she’s definitely a less of a shut-in. She still has a short temper and in goddess talk she really trash talks as usual. She likes to pick on Noire and other characters when she notices the flaws in their reasoning;
- Vert – She probably the one that is most similar to the original Gamegyokai counterpart. The differences are present but are more subtle.
- Histoire – She has a different purpose for exsisting than the pope of Planetune (play the game and find out why). Her usual “three…” gag is used only once or twice, as it’s replaced with other recurring gags. Compared to the original Isun, she lacks a bit the will to make the lazy goddesses that inhabit the church (aka Neptune and Pururut) work;
- Pish – The other new character. She provides mostly comedic relief and she’s more present from the Good and True End routes. She’s fun to watch, but someone may find her way of acting annoying. She obviously represents the PC Engine, no matter what other people say;
- Nepgear – The description on the character page on the official site about her being demoted and treated badly by almost everyone has generated a lot of misunderstandings. In the end, it’s not as bad as it seems. There are a few recurring gags about her, but she’s no different from the other characters in the end. Even her supposed lack of self-confidence is nowhere to be seen (maybe in one case), and in several scenes she shows the same determination she gained in Mk2;
- IF & Compa - As I previously mentioned, Compa stays pretty much the same, but IF’s been really downgraded: instead of the volitive, often sarcastic person from the original and mk2, her personality is kind of weak-willed, something I really disliked. They’re just side characters, so their impact is limited, though;
- Uni – I mention the candidates because they’re still present, despite their limited “screentime”. Uni retains her extreme tsundere tendencies, as usual aimed at Nepgear. There are a couple amusing moments with her and Noire in the True End, but I won’t spoil them. What’s interesting to note is that Eri Kitamura almost radically changed Black Sister’s way of speech compared to Mk2. I think the change was for the better, too bad she doesn’t appear that often;
- Rom – She’s the usual introvert self, though the development that occurred at the end of Mk2 remains. She tends to have more fun with Ram than usual (and later with other characters);
- Ram - Compared to Mk2 she tends to play more pranks but she’s still very protective of Rom. there are a couple scenes with them that make little sense, but they’re too short to have any meaningful impact.
The system is a modified version of the Mk2′s battle system. AP are gone, SP are treated like MP, and so on. It works for the average player, and that’s what is most important, but it should be noted it’s easily exploitable for the more experienced players. The Combo system works decently, without offering too many options like in the original game.
The change of the goddess transformation (eating a chunk of your SP and lasting for the whole battle or until you explicitly cancel it) is a good balance between the original and Mk2, and the fact that in most battles the party starts already in goddess form is a welcome addition.
The Kenbusha/Observer/Scout system is somewhat promising but still needs a bit more refining: the only way to make time pass is to enter and exit dungeon, an unnecessary hurdle. Also the results are somewhat too random, especially when the player is aiming for a precise objective. The Flag system is underutilized, since its most prominent feature is to change the strong monsters that roam the dungeons, and it’s probably the way it’ll be used by the majority of the players.
The Jump feature…is pretty much useless. Save a couple times, it has no uses save for the character challenges.
Another underutilized feature is the Disc Make System. It’s optional, and may completely missed unless gaining at least a rank in the Guild. It’s a pity, as the system offers another layer of customization of the characters, and that proves extremely useful later in the game.
The Processor Parts continue to show the problem that was present since the beginning of the game: it’s impossible to compare the entire set statistics with another set, unless someone writes them down. That limits a lot their usefulness, so they’ll probably get ignored again.
Item synthesis plays a much bigger role than in Mk2. Most of the items are available only as blueprints (either bought, obtained via bosses/events or dungeons) and aren’t available in shops until they’ve been created at least once. Therefore it’s essential to scout for the items needed, especially since most monsters in the game inflict some kind of status ailments or status down. Save for the most rare stuff, it’s not really a chore.
The game is definitely more challenging than Mk2, but I wouldn’t say it’s extremely hard, if you know what you’re doing. Sometimes a little grinding is required, but nothing big.
The EXE DRIVE system works and in general the removal of AP translates in a bigger use of skills than before. There are useful and not-so-useful ones, but it’s another choice in the hands of the players, so I think the overall result is positive. The Lily Rank and share systems are completely optional now, though using them to get bigger advantages in battle is always welcome. Shares tends to shuffle a lot of story reasons, so it’s important to keep them in check.
Most of the flaws in the gameplay are nothing to scream about, but the lack of more save points inside the story sequences is one. Given their length (some can be over 40 minutes long!) it would have been a better idea to add mid-save prompts.
The overall judgement on the gameplay is that even with some flaws, it’s generally enjoyable. Certain parts needed more polish for sure, but in general it’s encouraging to see how much Compile Heart is progressing, despite V not being as a big leap as Mk2 was.
Graphics, Music, Voice Acting
Compile Heart boasted about the character graphics being closer to Tsunako‘s (the original character designer) artwork, and that’s true, to an exent. They’re better animated and definitely more detailed than before. The frame rate though is still somewhat incosistent, and sometimes it’ll appear as the characters skip a few frames of animation. The EXE DRIVE and more powerful skill animations are instead well done and don’t suffer the problems of the normal battle/dungeon exploring.
The dungeons are definitely bigger than Mk2, which is certainly a relief, and they’re even more varied than the endless tunnels of the original. There are a little more variations on the themes, but the main issue for dungeons is that basic map of each time gets reused a bit too much with minimal variation, to the point most of the dungeons look a little too similar to each other. What’s worse, a couple themes are almost completely optional and may not even seen by the player unless they’re discovered via Kenbusha.
Enemy recycling (which is in generally common to most JRPGs) occurs as well, clearly a cost-cutting measure, especially against strongest enemies (you can spot Warechuu, Trick, and Judge from mk2, among others). It’s somewhat annoying but there’s little that can be done, considering how tight Compile Heart’s budget is (and also they’re no Gust regarding engine manipulation).
The AAS system returns due to popular demand. The portraits are bigger, better animated but the transitions between them are still jarring due to lack of “inbetween” animation. More puzzling is the lack of certain AAS portraits, later addressed in DLC-only events. Still, I think they could have done better than this.
Music wise we have a lot of contributors and the overall result is better than expected. Most of the tunes are catchy and/or fit the situation well. The boss music are good as well. There’s still a few recycling here and there, but in general there’s nothing to complain about the music. It may not be Falcom Sound Team JDK quality, but it’s still good.
The voice acting is one of the strongest point of the franchise and it shows. The overall performance is pretty much excellent, in particular I point out Asami Imai’s performance as Noire and Rie Tanaka as Neptune. Other notable mentions are of course Yui Horie (Nepgear), Eri Kitamura (Uni), Kana Ueda (IF) and all the other voice actresses.
Aoi “Madoka Kaname” Yuuki joins the franchise as Pish, and she offers a good performance overall, though her Yellow Heart performance reminded me quite a bit of Senki Zessho Symphogear’s Hibiki Tachibana.
Kana Hanazawa feels natural as the sleepyhead, plushses-lover Purut and the her completely different counterpart Iris Heart.
The male cast (mostly Akudaijin and Anonedeath) perform admirably as well.
The DLC for Neptune V has generated quite a bit of controversy: the currently released characters are just 3, IF and Compa as kids, and 初代コンパ (aka “First generation Compa”, a Maker representing the original Compile company). Their presence even caused inconsistencies with the story (IF and Compa) and originally all three were not affected by the level caps upgrade offered by CH (they were locked at level 99 maximum). This has been later rectified by a free update, so I think the problem is solved. There are also a number of available events and items: the general quality goes from the useful, to the amusing, to the absolutely useless. As usual, I recommend people to read descriptions, check around for impressions and think well before purchasing something they may regret.
The extra events and dungeons are unvoiced, which is a shame. Remains to be seen what will happen with the new maker characters, scheduled to be released mid-January.
In general DLC for V has been hit or miss, we’ll see what happens with the Makers.
Neptune V, while not being as “revolutionary” as Mk2, manages to improve the formula without being stale. The story is funny, the characters are likeable, and the gameplay is sufficiently good to provide an enjoyable experience. Therefore, I say it’s a recommended choice for the fan of the franchise.
As a mark my review is 8 out of 10. Highly recommended.