The Hyperdimension Neptunia series celebrated its 5th anniversary last year. It’s of course for me a lot of fond memories, but lately also a growing disappointment, not to say delusion. That’s an occasion to assess the situation and let’s be honest, it’s not going that well.
If you look at last week’s top 100, Compile Heart is not in it. Indeed, no title has topped 35K units sold in Japan. Even the new main episode, Megadimension Neptunia VII, ended quite below its 40-60K goal. In 2014, 3 of 4 Neptunia games had been above 40K, including ReBirth2 which was a remake. New IP Moero Chronicle even reached 70K, a dream-like figure for a Dungeon-RPG. This alone shows how bad 2015 was, not to mention that during the year the Neptunia franchise lost half of its fanbase : while Megadimension Neptunia VII draws 33’000 fans in April, Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army stalls at 28’000 in October, and there are less than 20’000 enthusiasts left for Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls in November. The picture looks grim in Japan, but bear in mind there are increasing western sales to compensate. Nevertheless, at new year’s eve, Idea Factory’s subsidiary is almost in shambles after months (years?) of clear ill-management.
First very simple and plain thing : 3 or 4 games per year is way to much for one IP. However tiny and faithful the audience is, such a pace isn’t sustainable. Furthermore, remaking every single title in this flurry of games necessarily ends up counter-productive in the future. If a publisher starts remaking every game in more complete versions, buyers will naturally hesitate to acquire the new episodes day one. Disgaea 5 knows something about that. That is the first problem of Megadimension Neptunia VII, adding to the ones raised in my review. The second shock comes from Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army. This successor of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed had everything to succeed and yet added to the distrust.
Besides the total lack of effort in the writing, the pathetic jokes and the poor user interface, it is the removal of costume break that is puzzling. Whever you like it or not, this feature inspired by Senran Kagura was a major selling point of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed. Its disappearance without notice (Compile Heart acknowledged it end of November, one month after release) has been a shock and a treachery for many. Here we must remember what Idea Factory International stated during the Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 controversy : the international subsidiary doesn’t want to have to censor anything anymore. Might Compile Heart have censored the game from the very beginning so as to have a free pass in the West later? It is a mere hypothesis, but the result stays the same : the Hyperdimension Neptunia series seems to be wanting to dwell in its comfort zone without taking risks or go further. Compile Heart look as if it intended to simply cash in on and wait. But gamers, unlike gullible casuals, do realize that. In 2015, the developer failed or refused to keep up while others were raising the stakes. Therefore, the present situation is no surprise.
Economic crisis, creativity crisis, confidence crisis… the Neptunia series goes back from scratch in early 2016 and Compile’s eerie silence in January shows how serious the issues are : never before the company had left its official planning blank. But maybe it’s a good thing if it means that the devs are thinking on how improve their strategy, balance their IP catalog (Makai Shin Trillion is definitely one that should see further development in another genre) and invest more on each title. The Dengeki special issue of November made it clear that a new Neptunia game is in the works. But given the series’ all-time low, everything or so must be rebooted.