Game: Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;birth 2: Sisters Generation
Developer: Idea Factory
Release Date: January 23 2015
Platforms: Playstation Vita
Reviewed Platform: Playstation Vita (A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.)
The Neptunia series has never been very good. From the buggy first game in the series to 2013’s Neptunia Victory and beyond, every game in the series has reused the same monsters, dungeons, and character models as those that have come before it in an endless cycle of tedium that has somehow managed to drag on and earn a fanbase of its own despite its niche nature and repetitive game play. Yet I’ve somehow managed to amuse myself with those very same games for nearly two years now. Thus is the paradox of games like these, we as players know that the Neptunia series is not technically very good, but enjoy them anyway. Today we will be exploring this conundrum with a review of the latest game in the series, Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sister’s Generation for the Playstation Vita.
First released for the PS3 as Hyper Dimension Neptunia MK2 several years ago, Re;birth 2 is a straight up port of the original that counts the battle system, DLC characters, and Remake System of the first Re;Birth title as its only new features. Due to this, those who have played MK2 know exactly what they will be getting into here. With the goddesses from the first Neptunia captured by the forces of evil, the CPU Candidates, little sisters of the these same goddesses, must embark on a quest to save their older siblings, conquer the forces of evil software pirates, and take part in cutesy cut-scenes where they make constant references to other major video games franchises and poke fun at the console wars and gaming fandom in general. The dialogue remains as snappy and fun as ever, though some cut-scenes are no longer voiced in English and some dialogue has been rewritten, both to accommodate new characters and remove a few off-color references, but this is really not enough to save Re;birth 2 from being another in the long line of Idea Factory’s cutesy anime heroine-based RPGs that provides interesting framework, characters, and story, then drops the ball completely when adding gameplay to the formula.
In fact, the addition of Neptunia Victory‘s battle system to Re;Birth 2 actually diminishes some of the fun of the game. As without the SP system from MK2, which saw players beginning battle with zero skill points and slowly gaining them each turn, most battles devolve into slugfests in which the player transforms their characters into their respective goddess forms, moves close to the enemy, then spams whatever deals the most damage until the battle ends. This problem is made all the worse by the addition of EX Attacks, a feature also gleaned from Victory, that do so much damage that even boss fights turn into a slog of repetition, turn after turn of pumping up the EX Gauge then ending the battle in a flurry of high damage cinematic attacks. And this is how every boss fight ends up — there is no strategy to any of it, you simply transform, fill the gauge, heal a bit, and repeat until the target keels over. It really isn’t even fun, just tedious and boring.
But it gets worse, outside of battle players are subject to repetitive dungeons, obvious rehashed enemy designs, and a quest system so bland and poorly conceived that it’s amazing that it survived the transition from MK2. So why is it so bad? Aside from every quest being either a hunting or gathering mission — both of which devolve into fighting many enemies anyway — your reward is also in “shares” in addition to items and money. Shares are meant to represent each nation’s market share of the world of Gameindustri, and the amount acquired also determines access to new characters and one of several endings — this is never explained in the game. So it’s entirely possible to neglect certain quests or do the wrong nation’s quests and end up unable to access the good ending or the new characters unless you make up for it with intense late-game grinding.
Really, the only good things about Re;birth 2 are its characters and story. The game takes an intense look at the problem of piracy in the gaming world and turns it into a battle between very literal good and evil that is an altogether amusing way to frame a very real problem. The fact that it feels so natural to the entirely goofy world of Gameindustri is also a testament to just how much the people at Idea Factory put into the world and characters that make up the Neptunia universe. Even while I was frustrated by the off-putting battles and seemingly endless repeat of similar dungeons and enemies, I pressed on with Re;Birth 2 just for the sake of seeing the plot through to the end. Unfortunately, a game is more than its plot, and with a battle system and exploration far more lackluster than the other RPGs currently available on Sony’s handheld console, I really cannot recommend Neptunia Re;birth 2 to anyone but fans of the series, those who like these sort of niche anime heroine games, and possibly those who have literally played every other RPG for the Vita. For these reasons, I give Neptunia Re;birth 2 a 5.5/10 (or a 6.5/10 if you are a prior fan of the series.)
As an aside, I mentioned in our hands-on preview that the characters of Gust and NISA had been replaced by Broccoli and Red. While I did enjoy their presence in-game, both new characters failed to live up to the legacy of the girls they replaced, to the point that I wished they were not in the game at all by credit roll. Red’s obsession with finding the “perfect waifu” is annoying and and reeks of the sort of anime industry pandering that gives female characters subtextual interest in other girls for the sake of fanservice, while Broccoli is just an annoying character in general with her cutesy accent and odd speech pattern. I really missed Gust in particular and hope she returns to the Neptunia universe in future installments.