Hyperdimension Neptunia is one of the weirdest games I've ever played. Imagine the console wars between SEGA, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, but an actual war, with each console personified by a big-breasted, scantily clad battle goddess. Neptune, the purple-haired babe representing SEGA, ends up banished to the mortal world, and, in true RPG fashion, loses her memory. She teams up with other cute girls (personifications of the game's developers: Compile Heart, GUST, Idea Factory, and NIS) to fight a wave of monsters that have started appearing on the floating islands that make up the world of Gamindustri. Channeling the destructive force of old school SEGA games like Altered Beast and Alex Kidd, Neptune defeats a series of bigger and bigger bosses as she tries to reclaim her role as a goddess and stop a mysterious villain attacking all of Gamindustri.
The combined efforts of SEGA, NISA, and multiple veteran developers sounds like an RPG fan's wet dream, especially considering the sheer amount of cleavage, heaving bosoms, and sexual innuendo that a game like this produces. Unfortunately Hyperdimension Neptunia's story is muddled, poorly written, and full of way too many side stories that go nowhere. That said, somebody give the localization people a raise. The story is crammed full of video game references that span multiple decades and numerous consoles, as well as memes and in-jokes that are region specific. The localizers deserve kudos for translating Japanese-specific gaming jokes, and finding humorous American equivalents.
Aside from the interesting premise, there's not much in Neptunia to get excited about. The world as a whole is pretty bland. The art of the different planets is pretty, and I like the conceptualizations of how a world based around the consoles would look, but unfortunately there is nothing to explore because the entire overworld is menu based. I love menu controls as an option, a way to quickly jump to key areas. But if a developer is going to create these worlds like floating steampunk islands and medieval kingdoms, I want to see them. And I really want to talk to NPCs that are more than a vague silhouette. Likewise, while the game has some well done 3D character models, the dungeons they run around in are all dull, boring hallways. There is a lot of unrealized potential in this world and these characters that never gets displayed.
Neptunia's battle system is one of the few elements of the game that seems fully fleshed out, though overambitious for this RPG. Each character has Action Points that are used on her turn to unleash four-part combo attacks. The combos are controlled via a customizable branching menu system. It's an intriguing idea, but the complicated setup makes the combo tree unintuitive. And the limited amount of options while in battle is too restrictive. I constantly had to go back into a pause menu, scroll through moves, and rebuild my combos when I wanted to try out new moves. When I did create interesting combos it was satisfying, but most of the time it felt like way too much effort for a payoff that was barely noticeable in the battle.
The overly complex battle system is never a serious issue because Neptunia is a cakewalk. I will give the developers credit for reducing the need for level grinding. By completing side quests the characters level up enough naturally. There's a missed opportunity here to use the complex battle system to create a strategic RPG that requires enemy analysis and fine-tuning combos, but the game never gets hard enough for that. I beat everyone down with the first couple combos I set up, with only some minor tweaking.
The battles do have a lot of flourish. In fact, each move is an epic film about shooting the enemy with a giant syringe, or a 12-year-old girl transforming into a hot goddess. Each of these scenes are totally skippable, which is good because letting it all play out can make a simple battle last more than six minutes, and a boss battle can easily eat up over half an hour.
There are a number of other interesting elements to Hyperdimension Neptunia, but none of them stand out, or make the game particularly interesting. It's not that Neptunia is a bad RPG, but aside from the incredible premise, it's not something I'm going to remember much about a few years later.