Title: Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Blackheart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Release Date: February 24th, 2015
Platforms: Playstation Vita, PC
Reviewed on: PS Vita (Review copy provided by the publisher)
The last time APGNation visited the Neptunia universe, I had less than stellar things to say about Hyperdimensional Neptunia Re;Birth 2. So it was only natural that I was a bit hesitant when it came to Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Blackheart. But it seems my fears were unfounded — the strategy RPG was developed by Sting rather than Idea Factory/Compile Hearts, as most Neptunia games were. Sting is made of people behind such JRPGs as Knight in the Knightmare and Rivera: The Promise Land, and Hyperdevotion Noire is actually a very solid game and might just be the best entry in the series since its inception.
Attack on Noire
Like in previous entries of the Neptunia series, Hyperdevotion Noire takes place in a world where video games are the very crux of the people’s existence. In this particular installment, the familiar map of Gameindustri has been replaced by Gamemarket, an alternate reality in which the nation of Lastation, a country made up of homages to all things Sony-related, reigns supreme over all. With this change comes a swap in protagonists as well, as perennial heroine Neptune is sidelined in favor of Noire, the CPU Goddess of Lastation, taking center stage for the first time. From there the setup is simple: in a bid to unite the world under her rule, Noire is tricked by a mysterious woman to unite the power of her nation into a crystal known as a Sharicite. This trick naturally leads to Noire being thrown into the street and forced to reclaim her dominance of Gamemarket one city at a time by beating up anyone who stands in her way.
Joining Noire in her quest are familiar faces like Neptuna, Blanc, and Vert and new characters. The new here is especially interesting in that rather than basing each character on a game console or developer, every fresh face introduced in Hyperdevotion Noire embodies a specific video game series. These characters range from those players will almost certainly recognize such as Ein Al, a parody of the Final Fantasy series, or Lady Wac, a mature woman sporting a Pacman-themed gown, to the more obscure Ryuka, who embodies Sega’s Yakuza series, and finally to games that have never touched Western shores and might just confuse even veterans of the genre, as is the case with Poona, a character referencing an obscure Wii game called Opoona.
Each of these girls is cute and interesting in her own right, but the sheer size of the cast ensures that none of them get the development they truly deserve — shame really, as there is quite a bit of potential to go around these parodies of classic gaming franchises. Beyond that, Noire truly shines in her role as the main character. Whereas Neptune is rather goofy and prone to breaking the fourth wall, Noire is rather unsure of her role as Goddess and constantly wavers between wanting to simply retake the world by force, and making friends with those she has been crushing beneath her heel while doing so. This dynamic actually leads to some effective, if simple, character development that serves to briskly move the plot forward and ensures that Noire never stagnates as a character.
This should come as no surprise really, as the Neptune series’ greatest strength has always lain with its characters and the whimsical dialogue that flies between them. And Hyperdevotional Noire is no exception, as the dialogue here is just snappy as it was in previous entries, making each cutscene enjoyable as the Goddesses and their new companions fight back and forth over the silliest things.
So in short, Noire’s story and dialogue remain as fun as ever. But does the gameplay live up to that pedigree of excellent writing and snappy dialogue? Press on, for the answer lies ahead.
Kiss, Fight, Kiss
Hyperdevotion Noire manages to separate itself from it the rest of the Neptunia series not only in its choice of heroine, but its very genre as well, moving the battlefield from a traditional turn-based arena to that of a strategy RPG in which you move Noire & co. across the grid-based playing field like pieces on a chess board. The options presented to the player as they battle their way across Gamemarket are straightforward, but don’t impede on the tactical combat that can be rather punishing if you do not play it smart.
On the actual field of battle, players are given a range of stages that vary in difficulty between simple to aggravatingly gimmicky, like slogging through through mazes of HP-sapping stage hazards and blockades that can be frustrating for even the most seasoned of gamers. This is not to say that these maps are completely devoid of fun, as it is intensely satisfying to clear Noire‘s more difficult maps, and amusing to play through its sillier ones including a boxing ring, soccer field, and concert stage.
Also unique to Noire is the Lilly System. While in previous Neptunia games the Lilly System merely served as a way to track the affection rating between girls and, if raised to high enough levels, unlocked the game’s true ending, in Noire it instead acts as a means to increase the power and reduce the cost of a character’s skills based on how many of their fellow teammates surround them at any given time. This system is accompanied by an animation of each character kissing a skill user on the cheek before the actual attack kicks in, a feature that is a bit tacky in its execution, but fitting for the atmosphere of Girl’s Love that has permeated from the Neptunia series since its inception. In all, the Lilly System forces players to be mindful of where they move characters and think a few steps ahead of how their placement can be used to maximize damage and combat efficiency. This makes for some truly thoughtful gameplay at times, despite all of the images of girls kissing that one must experience to get there.
Gamemarket Still Needs Your Help!
This is not to say that nothing is wrong with Noire, however. The game is still bound to its past by the shackles of an unfortunate reuse of art assets from previous Neptunia titles, and a crafting system that is still as annoying as it was back in Re;Birth and its sequel. Similarly, the graphics are middling at best and do little to push the Vita all that hard, though the super deformed, or chibi character models used for each playable character are simply adorable. But if you can look past all of that, Noire is a solid S-RPG that even those unfamiliar with Neptunia as a series will most likely enjoy.
With all of that in mind, I give Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Blackheart a 8/10.