After 3 years of (fine) remakes and (uneven) spin-offs, there is a particular anticipation for new mainline episode, which by the new jumps into the new generation. Can Compile Heart surprise us and give a fresh direction to the series?
Much unlike Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory’s story wasn’t much compelling. Big initial issue for Megadimension Neptunia VII since it inherits the logic of its predecessor, and is at risk to get old. It nevertheless does surprise by its structure : the story is divided in 3 parts, like the acts of a play. This partition of the narrative is a quality and a drawback at the same time. It succeeds in giving some suspense because the first parts will progressively lay mysteries and clear them slowly one after another. Those parts each correspond to one dimension : 零次元(zero jigen), 超次元 (chô jigen, the series’ traditional world) and 心次元 (shin jigen).
The player starts in Dimension Zero, which is actually a devastated Planeptune after world’s end. Neptune and Nepgear will come across a girl called Uzume, the goddess and only inhabitant of the place, and together they will try to figure out the truth about such an apocalypse. A fresh and motivating start however ruined by the rather dull second act : you play each country separately, with maximum two or three characters each time. Those interludes are quite long and you’ll have to wait until the very end of this chapter to reunite everyone and fully enjoy all the new things. To those narrative issues, you add the relative lack of risk-taking in the overall contents of Megadimension Neptunia VII : nearly eveything, situations like illustrations in this episode is woefully classic, common and almost “politically correct”. All the suspense and the numerous hints given here and there never translate in something relevant, the ending itself being unable to impress given the far-fetched logic.
Neptunia is fortunately not just about that and this new installment comes with its load of new characters and parodies. Uzume stands out by her goddess form, which is the exact opposite of her human personality : the base Uzume is tomboyish and self-assured whereas Orange Heart is the archetype of a young hysteric girlwith her (very) high-pitched voice. You probably remember that Noire, Vert and Blanc had doubles in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Neptune is no exception and her mischievous second self will be featured here. Friend or Foe? Here again, the truth will be blurry until the end but one thing is sure : she’s as crazy as the original!
To or (great) pleasure, transformation scenes are back for good and in nice shape, wonderfully animated including quite some risqué angles. A welcome initiative that partially offset the rest.
K-sha, C-sha, B-sha and S-sha represent four large Japanese video games companies, the identity of which is no big mystery given the initials. The are numerous jokes and allegories about the games and sometimes even the economic history of those publishers. For example, K-sha would keep speaking in quotes from Metal Gear Solid and her attacks mimic the famous infiltration series. S-sha is undoubtedly the best new character : the Easter eggs from Final Fantasy are hilarious and her fighting style is the most dynamic and impressive by far. The design of her Gold form (transformation roughly equivalent to the heroines’ goddess form) is absolutely brilliant with its little crown and the Sephiroth-like wing. Just have a look above.
The combat system is not modified but knows a certain numbers of little changes in many aspects. The base is still the same : turn-based and free moving around a limited area. The combo system is overhauled : still divided between speed, power and standard, they receive small efficiency bonuses under some conditions (achieve/not achieve and speed action previously, etc). A innovation a bit technical but restrictive on the creative side, ot to mention all the combo slots hadn’t been unlocked when I had clear the adventure after 50 hours. Combined attacks have been in the series for some time now, but they have been rationalized. Now the position of your characters will decide if you can launch a combined attack or not : two characters can launch a joint attack provided the enemy is on the line between them. An attack of three will form a triangle, an attack of four a square. Megadimension Neptunia VII also gives you the choice a status of Offense or Defense to each character, but the effet in actual combat is barely noticeable.
A couple of fights will have you face giant opponents : although the combat strategy changes radically, every of those encounters are played in the same way so it’s definitely not the best add in this game. The biggest change involves the EX gauge which doesn’t stay filled throughout the dungeon but will be depleted after each fight and you start off at zero in the next. However, it will rise considerably faster! A good thing, because the major novelty of this game consumes it heavily.
The main four girls are blessed with a “Next Form” of lavish look and disproportionate power. It really does the job because it gives this impression of superpower that you find in great JRPGs, and the direction is just fabulous… such is the ruling of the main series. The goddess from uses one slot of EX gauge and the Next Form another. The new ultimate move uses two slots and is so powerful that the goddess who uses it gets back to human form immediately after. The Next Form comes (quite) late in the story but in a well-constructed succession of events, and features a wacky but awesome music called Absolute. Perfect transition to stress the fact that MegaDimension Neptunia VII’s OST is the best and most complete soundtrack in the series to date. Battle themes have made dramatic progress, from the chorus in shukumei no kaikô to the delightful melody of Will be Venus. Even the random battle theme, Outside the Dimension, is a lot more elaborated than before. Besides that, Decision bring a more serious tone and is so good that it feels almost out-of-place in a niche game.
Let’s go back to our EX gauge. You keep using and replenishing it in a flurry of offensives launched very frequently. This gives a excellent pace in battles, but does have some vicious effect on challenge because the numerous attack possibilities you have will generally crush any boss in no time, not to mention the overpowered support magic. That raises the question of the (terrible) difficulty balance in this game : there are very few interesting fights, all the other being blatantly easy, including the final boss. Some characters are hardly efficient, K-sha in particular given her abysmal defense stats. Moreover, characters don’t level up at the same time anymore, which really doesn’t help. I can’t help feeling like playing a beta preparing a Vita version. Technically speaking, Megadimension Neptunia VII doesn’t really benefit from the generation leap : outside the battles against the Dark Goddesses, where there are a lot more effects and colors, that’s Vita’s Rebirth in super-HD, which fails to convince on a big screen. However limited the budget of a niche game might be, we did expect a little effort from Compile this time.
The exploration still uses the scouts to discover new dungeons and bosses, as well as bringing back items and money. The world maps has roads (which you’ll have built by investing) and following those roads will often trigger random encounters (a lot too often). Something that was totally unnecessary I think, given the hassle of losing time in just going from A to B. The various cities can be development to enhance the political power of one side or another, which influences the general stats of the designated goddesses, like when you clear sidequests. Megadimension Neptunia VII has a few dungeons of little more complex architecture than usual that will necessitate some thinking.
The logic of the Victory series has grown old. While Megadimension Neptunia VII keeps most of the series’s qualities (humor, characters, etc.) plus a great soundtrack, the questionable balance in gameplay and game design diminish the pleasure. More than that, it might also be losing that Neptunia touch that makes it so special.