Coming off of Neptune‘s debut on the PlayStation 4, the series is quickly shifting back to its more traditional home on the Vita with Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls. While the first few Neptunia games I played used dramatically different approaches, Superdimension is the third one in a row (Megadimension Neptunia VII and Re;Birth 3) to feature very similar gameplay.
Developer Compile Heart is known for their willingness to recycle assets liberally, and I have to admit I really noticed it for the first time where some locations felt so familiar that I knew exactly where the event triggers would be because I’d seen them in previous games. Is this the saturation point for the series? Or is beating down hapless dogoos as fun as ever?
As noted, combat apes what was seen in Re;Birth 3. You’re free to move anywhere within a designated circle during your turn, and each action starts filling a meter on the side. Moving and jumping don’t use up any of your available actions initially, but if you defeat an enemy and then move to engage another one it’ll cost a significant chunk of your meter.
One bit that’s unique to Superdimension Neptune is the way the meter is used. You’re free to just swing away with basic strikes until it’s all used up, or you can start thinking a little more tactically. That can mean cutting your turn short, which allows you to take your next turn more quickly — the order is displayed on the screen and is easy to follow — or maybe holding the button down for a nasty charged attack that’ll push back that next turn substantially.
Things like skill points, which work like mana for characters’ individual abilities, transforming into your guardian mode and Lily rank positioning boosting damage all return. It’s arguably more polished than its predecessors, but we’re talking minor upticks and not major improvements. Still, it’s a tried and true system where the only significant drawback is familiarity.
Same stuff, different game. While some new (or reworked) characters have been added, the story still advances via static frames with gobs of dialogue; the only “animation” occurs with some changing facial expressions. Environments and enemies are underwhelming as well, missing out on a huge opportunity presented by the storyline travelling back in time to older SEGA consoles.
Rather than implement era-specific characters that’d create nostalgia for the Dreamcast, Saturn, etc. you get the exact same lineup of enemies: dogoos, vaders, bits, froggies and so on. Yeah, a lot of games reuse the same foes, but they usually evolve and add some new stuff. That’s not the case here.
Voice acting is a little different because many of the usual characters (Noire, Blanc, Vert, etc.) aren’t present, but the silly interactions between the girls and fourth-wall dialogue remain intact. Music and sound effects are standard fare.
Eschewing Neptune as the lead (she morphs into “Nepbike” early on), Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls instead casts IF as the main protagonist with Segami in the supporting role. Despite some changes to the cast, the tone and layout of the game will be immediately familiar with a central hub, Histoire in the role of quest giver and so on.
Our story this time is that there is a problem with the timeline, and IF and Segami need to travel back to previous SEGA console eras to investigate. This invariably leads to conflict with various characters that will eventually come around and join your cause, though you’ll be limited to four active party members at any given time (one of which must be either IF or Segami).
While the game has no shortage of recycled assets and ideas, changes have been made from previous Neptunia titles. Perhaps the biggest is that characters can now switch their class, which changes up their stats and gives them different skills. Everyone has a default class and can unlock two additional ones by meeting specific criteria. It’s not a new idea, but it spices up the familiar formula.
There’s also a nod to Chrono Trigger here in that the game eventually loops back onto itself as the countdown timers for your various missions reach zero, which summons the final boss. You’ll die, and then the loop will restart. After completing the first go around you’re free to challenge the boss at any time, though you’ll likely need to make the trek several times to stand up to it.
Speaking of missions, they’re split between normal and story, and in what I’m assuming is a nod to the time loop element they can only be accepted one at a time. That’s fine for the story missions, but for the fetch-heavy normal versions it’s annoying to have to constantly enter an area, collect whatever resource is requested, backtrack to the exit and warp back to the library (read: central hub) to turn that mission in and grab another.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of the game will rely heavily on how much affection you have left for what is a very recognizable setup in terms of story, dialogue, location and gameplay — though at least the latter portion has a couple of interesting tweaks.
If you’re a fan of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls should effectively scratch your itch. If the past two domestic PlayStation releases have dulled your enthusiasm, however, this is unlikely to rekindle it.