I’ll get this out of the way right now; I adore the Neptunia series. I’ve played every main series title, all three of the Re;Birth remake for the PS Vita, Hyper Devotion Noir, and have watched the 2013 anime -even if it wasn’t all that great- But why, you might be asking yourself?
The answer is simple; despite its many flaws, the reused enemies, textures, dungeons, and bosses, and even in the face of a difficulty curve best resembles a sidewinding snake, there is just something about the Neptunia universe that I find utterly appealing despite how much of a mess it is. Its characters are lovable, the art is nice, and I even laugh at all of the dumb anime and video game in-jokes that pepper 75% of the dialogue. It might not be especially good…but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it anyway.
Welcome to Gamindustri
Neptunia is a series that exists mostly to poke fun at the video game industry as a whole. In the far off land of Gamindustri, a pun so bad it makes me cringe just typing it, the world is ruled by four goddesses, Neptune (representing the unproduced Sega Neptune console), Noir (Playstation 3), Blanc (Nintendo Wii), and Vert (Xbox 360). Each of these four girls exists to ensure their nation comes out on top by collecting shares to bolster their standing in the world. Between fighting for supremacy, the girls occasionally team up to fight larger threats against all of Gameindustri, like the evil Goddess Arfoire of Sin in Neptunia MK2, or the rabble rousing anti-goddess sentiment of the Seven Sages in Neptunia V.
Joining our goddesses are a variety of “human” characters representing various video game publishers and developers that rotate with each sequel. Among the most used of these are IF (Idea Factory), Compa (Compile Hearts), NISA (Nippon Ichi), and 5PB (A Japanese record label is best known for their work on the visual novel Steins;Gate). Each of these characters has a personality loosely modeled on their namesake. For example, Iffy being obsessed with phones, or 5PB being a rock star, and serve to round out the cast in a fun way, and allow Idea Factory to make EVEN MORE gaming and anime references then they already do with the core cast.
As for the story, a good chunk of Neptunia is devoted to using our girls to poke fun of the concept of the “Console Wars” that video game news sites and fans alike seem to enjoy reporting on every so often. Extending this metaphor, in Neptunia a nation represents a game company or publisher, that country’s goddess is then the console they produce, and the citizens of the nation are we the gaming public. If things are going well, the company/nation prospers, our goddess seems to almost shine, and the citizens are happy in turn. If the nation fails, however, and the people lose faith in their goddess, decay sets in, and ultimately the nation is destroyed, and its goddess falls with it.
Beyond being a parody of gaming as a whole, the crew at IF and Compile Hearts also use Neptunia as something of a soapbox to comment on issues in gaming. We see this in the first game with the focus on the console wars, in the second with piracy, and the third with gaming’s history as a whole. By commenting on issues such as these Neptunia has become a series that is very much on the pulse of gaming when it comes to the themes and topics that define its plot. By addressing these issues first hand, it manages to appeal to its audience by tapping into things they enjoy and care about. In fact, Neptunia as series seems solely aimed at those already enfranchised in gaming as a whole. And by catering to this hardcore crowd, Neptunia doesn’t have to do anything to provide to outsiders, as it exists solely to please its fans and nothing more.
Of course, having an interesting plot and fun characters can only take a series so far, which bring us to…
The gameplay (graphics, enemy design, bosses, ETC…) sucks, but that’s OK!
Neptunia has an incredibly basic battle system. You move toward an enemy, attack, heal, attack again, use some special moves, then repeat until the enemy is dead. This is true of literally every main series game, remake, and RPG-themed spin-off (perhaps except Hyper Devotional Noir, which wasn’t developed by Idea Factory) and will likely remain so even as the Neptunia marches into 2016. This turn-based test of tedium grinds away at the player’s brain while they, in turn, grind on enemies for the sake of experience points and randomly dropped items, many of which can only be hand by beating difficult enemies and at a very low chance to drop. Like an MMO without the social elements, open world, or a sense of advancement it openly punishes players who choose not to grind by making bosses incredibly difficult without the sort of items and weapons grinding can get you. All of this can make Neptunia as a franchise a…frustrating experience, to say the least.
On top of this, every game since Neptunia Victory has reused the same dungeon maps, enemies, and textures as its predecessors with few changes or added content aside from a few new characters. Even with Re;Birth 3, the most recent Neptunia game in the west, it is not uncommon to see enemy models reused with only their names and statistics altered from the very first dungeon to the very last, and whole areas recycled wholesale with only different enemies and item to differentiate between two completely different areas. Once would be all right, twice a minor annoyance, but six or more, as they did in Re;Birth 1 and 2? That is a downright lazy and lets down not only their fanbase, but the very concept of game design as a whole. For shame Idea Factory! For shame…
But that is not even touching upon the repetitive grinding you must do to raise your level, as is often needed to beat the game’s overly difficult boss enemies!
So why play Neptunia when most of it is sub-par at best?
Well, we as fans love Neptunia flaws and all. As bad as the battle system is, and how annoyingly grinding the series itself is, its characters are endearing, its plot amusing, and often this is enough to keep us coming back for more. To succeed in its mission, Neptunia doesn’t have to be a good game, it only has to be the game that its fans want it to be, and for the most part, Idea Factory delivers just that. Every game in the franchise pours its silly little heart out to showcase our favorite heroines, poke fun at gaming as a whole, and give us, the fans, more or less exactly what we want -though I’m fairly sure that no one asked for the travesty that was Producing Perfection.-
Nowhere is this more evident then with IF and Compile Hearts yearly popularity poll, in which fans vote for their favorite character from among Neptunia’s rather a large cast. In 2013, Noir won and as a result, Hyper Devotional Noir was made. In 2014, Blac won, resulting in next year’s Blanc + Neptune Vs. Zombies. We, the fans, wanted to see more of these characters, and IF listened. Neptune is more than just a game series; it is a strange back and forth between fans, creators, and the industry as a whole that has given birth to a franchise so goofy yet endearing that we as fans keep coming back for more year after year.
So while Neptunia may be unfriendly towards newbies, and the sort of game that doesn’t appeal to everyone; it really doesn’t have to. By appealing to its little niche, to people who love the series despite all its flaws, it will likely keep marching on for years to come. As it should, because gaming isn’t about making a universal product. It’s about a medium that has something for everyone yet doesn’t need to make every single one of those products appeal to every person. There is room in the wide world of gaming for all kinds of niches, and Neptunia is one of them.
P.S.: Idea Factory, if you’re reading this, first off hi! Welcome to APGNation! Second, maybe dial back the repeated dungeon environments a little bit? It is really annoying. Third, Nepgear is the best girl.
For those looking to get into Neptunia, here is a list of games to get you started:
A * next to a game’s name represents a highly recommended title while a – represents a game you are better off skipping.
Main Series games:
Hyper Dimension Neptunia – (PS3, 2010)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia MK2 (PS3, 2011)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Victory (PS3, 2013)
Mega Dimension Neptunia V II (PS4, 2015)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Producing Perfection – (Idol Raising Sim, Vita, 2013)
Hyper Devotion Noir* (Strategy RPG, Vita, 2015)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Action Unleashed – (Beat em’ Up, Vita, 2015)
Blanc + Neptune Vs Zombies (Vita, 2016)
Neptunia Vs Sega Hard Girls (Vita, 2016)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 (Vita, 2014)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 Sisters Generation* (Vita, 2015)
Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3 V Generation* (Vita 2015)