Bad weather for the Neptunia series. The sales hit a low in Japan when Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls was released in November 2015. The game was unlucky to follow the rather disappointing MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies. But did it really have the qualities to turn the tide?
Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is a spin-off of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series focused on IF (who came 2nd in the latest poll) and characters personifying the Sega consoles, that is to say Neptune, Nepgear, Uzume and Plutia. That means you won’t won’t see Noire, Blanc, Vert or any other characters of the main series. However, this crossover welcomes lovely guests : the Sega Hard Girls, characters representing Sega consoles in another IP. Megadrive, Game Gear, Saturn and Dreamcast (who you might have seen in Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax) take the form of cute girls called as such.
The world of this game is thus not the gaming world in general but the Sega’s situation throughout the years. As a big Easter egg, an entire level reproduced Sega-Sammy’s theme park Joypolis, situated in Tokyo bay. The story starts in a barren world, current state of Sega who has lost the console wars, where IF comes across an amnesiac girl, Segami. From the Great Library which they use as headquarters, IF and Segami will cooperate in order to fix History and build a better future. You’ll therefore have to go back in time, like going back to Megadrive era (symbolized by Antiquity) or Game Gear’s (shaped as the industrial revolution). But that’s about it, since time travel doesn’t impact the story very much, far from being a new Chrono Trigger for example.
Your final goal is to slay the History Eater, which eats small eras by falsifying it. This final boss can be faced almost right away, but it’s a lot too strong at the beginning of the game (because for example its HP regenerate very fast). So you do have to clear a number of story or sidequests, since every quest cleared weakens the boss (or to be more accurate, the boss cannot reinforce itself by eating the uncleared quest). The big problem here is that Superdimension Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls quickly becomes a game where you do nothing but pointless sidequests. You know the sidequests in Neptunia? Find that item, beat that enemy, etc. The vast majority of the game is about rummaging around dungeons to find that enemy or that object. Those dungeons are still of very basic architecture and doesn’t change much from the Rebirth games available on the same system. I don’t find the efforts made in Megadimension Neptunia VII to achieve a more complex level design, that despite vertical zones.
Very much like MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies, the story part is pretty short and the narrative feels kinda flat. The game only tells the phoney war between Neptune’s side and the Sega Hard Girls, with not that much parody, not many illustrations either, and features rather dull characters event compared to what we had on the past. We can expect far better form Compile Heart in that department. It still has a good sense of humor, thanks to Neptune who is more hilarious than ever : turned into a motorbike in this episode, the main protagonist of the series keeps joking about her being a bike all the time! Technically speaking, the 3D engine in use since ReBirth1 feels a bit old after the astonishingly beautiful MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies, but it’s still above average graphics for a handheld. I’d want to stress the good soundtrack, which has great boss themes like Going Down.
The developer Felistella overhauls the system in use since Hyperdimension ReBirth1 : combo building is no more and a action gauge appears. Every move you make (walking, attacking, using an item, etc.) consumes the above mentioned gauge. You can thus manage your turn by doing various things, before filling the gauge, which would delay the character’s next turn. Paradoxically, you might want to go this far to use the overcharge : it’s a final combo that you can lauch by keeping the attack button pressed, sending the gauge in the red. This way, you can deal a powerful blow just before the end of your turn, after doing other actions. An interesting change on the strategic side : should the character replay fast? How should I place her to fulfill her role?
For the first time, Superdimension Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls introduces a job system. Not modifying the look of the characters nor their equipment, this system is actually closer to the «titles» in Tales of. In any case, the girls can now become Witch, Adventurer, Paladin, Scholar, Berserker, etc. which changes their stats and allows them to acquire new skills. Another interesting point is that the game will ask you to choose a formation, which can grant great advantages in both offense and defense. Those formations, which you can unlock by collecting base-ball balls (!) hidden in dungeons, have impressive effects like defense & magic defense+100, attack+100 or the privilege to go beyond the 9999 damage cap. Big problem though : your MPs don’t recover when you’re back to base. MPs regenerate very slowly in battle and your must hold back using magic or goddess form. Annoying.
Superdimension Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls isn’t linear. You quickly have access to many eras and many dungeons. You’ll realize pretty fast that some places are a lot more dangerous than others, and it’s up to you to find the logical order of the missions. The bosses in particular are extremely strong. So powerful that for some, you’ll be forced to come back a dozen of hours later ! The freedom in gameplay is real and it’s a nice innovation compared to the past episodes. The various characters being very progressively added to your team, the game takes the generous initiative to give you «copies» of the characters (officially, reverse engineering done by Histoire, Manager of the Great Library of Time) so that you can train them earlier.
Despite that care, the leveling is still too slow in this game, for a very stupid reason : Felistella decided to implement a level cap on jobs. Worse, to remove this level cap, you must clear… more sidequests! That’s where it becomes really tiresome, because extending skill slots and getting more jobs also asks you to find rares items or foes. Some are seriously difficult to obtain, so you can be blocked at level 20 for hours. The end of the game is downright tiring because of that, although the easy mode (accessible at mid-game) and Megadrive’s damage boost softens the challenge.
The year of Neptunia ends like it began : by an lukewarm title unable to inherit the core ideas of the franchise. Superdimension Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls is the final symbol of a lost year for the series, trapped into an identity crisis and unable to solve its contradictions of gameplay. Despite good humor and renewed battles, this episode is still poor in its narratives and situation to be one to remember. To the lack of ideas and guts, adds a unbalanced progression system. Cyberdimension Neptunia Online will have to fix all those issues next if the Nep team wants fans to stay.