Review – Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online

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I had been exactly 1 year, 2 months and 2 weeks since Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls when Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online hits Japanese shelves last February. Compile Heart had declared in April 2016 that this time they would take their time and not disappoint. 1 year later, what’s left of that promise? Not much I’m afraid…

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For that 2nd PS4 exclusive, Compile takes a similar approach to Hyperdimension Neptune U, which means a action-RPG spin-off that tells a small parallel story to the main episodes. In this one, Neptune, Blanc, Vert and Noire are testing a VR MMO, the famous Four Goddess Online played by Vert in the main series. For that, Cyberdimension Neptunia has little story focus, despite the hacking part which slightly bolstered the interest. In the end, the narrative had little surprise and very flat story-telling.

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The city is where you’ll chat with all the characters. That’s the place where all the funny things happen via chatting here and there. You’ll make acquaintance with Kiria & Kuronekohime, two lovers intending to clear the game before Neptune’s party. The reference made to Reki Kawahara’s universes is pretty clear and there are some cool Easter Eggs to Sword Art Online, plus some clever jokes like confession part in the cathedral or Uzume’s strange pet. But in terms of overall side content, it was light and somewhat boring. Some anecdotes were very strange, not to say embarrassing like Vert’s tea lectures. I’m still wonder how we came from console wars to tea… That felt horribly out of place, sign that no interesting renewal has been found for the series.

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Characters were notably under-used : Kiria & Kuronekohime vanish at mid-game and personally I’d have wanted further story development for Mein who has been the most sympathetic new girl. It is quite striking to notice that Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first episode that does not introduce a new playable character. The 4 little sisters quickly join your party, followed by Purple Heart, Black Heart, Green Heart and White Heart who are separate characters in this title. That makes a somewhat underwhelming total of 12 playable characters when recent episodes did much better on that.

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But as far as I’m concerned, the most disheartening side is that there are few illustrations, most of them not that fantastic. It’s pretty, but bland. Tsunako’s talent is misused and you could sense that in the interview just before release. Cyberdimension Neptunia is at the end of a political process aimed at watering down the experience by removing fan-service as much as possible to make it some classic kawaii JRPG. But in doing this, the series is just becoming shallower and fades in comparison to Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash for example. Here again, that goes against what had been said in the April 2016 interview : it’s clear that there is nothing to expect anymore.

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Funny to notice that after April 2016, official speech focuses on only one thing : Unreal Engine 4. Compile had promised a revolution thanks to the powerful engine. In a way, it’s a success : Cyberdimension Neptunia is definitely seamless compared to past episodes, to the point you really feel the series has made a step forward. Movements so quick that you have to re-learn how to play. It’s a real pleasure to witness the Neptunia universe running at 60 fps. Special effects and lightning effects have also improved a lot, and some character (not all) models seems sharper than before. However, environments still looks pretty barren, and maps are somewhat tiny. Level design is bad and exploration is absent. Once again, we’re far from what Megadimension Neptunia VII had offered in that department.

It’s a game in a game, so the characters get fixed jobs inspired by classical RPG, that are different to what you’ve been accustomed to : Noire is Black Knight and fights now with a spear, Rom and Ram become respectively Samurai and Ninja, and therefore fight head to head against monsters. All characters can equip 4 skills or magic spells, which you choose via the rear buttons, just like in Dragon Quest Heroes for example. Those are pretty much welcome to complete the one and only combo available per character, first sign of shallow gameplay. Locking proved very unstable and unable to give a clear sight in battle. Dodging is totally ineffective, but there’s a reason for that : Cyberdimension Neptunia’s gameplay is based on guard & counter. Hitting after a successful guard trigger a counterattack, something that quickly becomes natural all game long.

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The problem is that it produces a static and lackluster battle system. There player may be bored quickly by such lack of variety, another problem being the low challenge. You have a whole second to launch your counterattack, enemies are weak, brainless and your own characters gain experience and levels at breakneck pace. There aren’t many enemies on the map either, so you don’t have the same enjoyment as the PSVita action games.

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Bosses are considerably rehashed within the game, and show poor battle patterns. Game over doesn’t even exist. So in the gameplay department alone, Cyberdimension Neptunia seems a major failure to me, only the final being tough enough to bring some fever.

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The lack of care in the development is obvious when you look at the general picture. As unbelievable as it may sound, the live 2D, which was born with the series, is out : 2D models are sadly fixed and lip sync is nowhere to be seen either. The use of Unreal Engine 4 didn’t go very far. Cut-scenes are rare (2 or 3 tops) and fail to impress too. Photo mode doesn’t stop the action, so a lot less good than the one in MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army. The multiplayer has been simply dreadful since only the room host could benefit from correct frame-rate. It took Compile and Tamsoft about 30 days to address this problem among other bugs. Far too late : a game that can be platted within 30-40 hours doesn’t last you one month…

1 year for this?”. That’s what I wondered while watching the end credits of Cyberdimension Neptunia. Despite the unquestionable graphical improvements, we find ourselves with an episode delivering very little in every other aspect instead of tackling long-lasting drawbacks. A game of a series that has lost its true self, with insufficient volume, and that ultimately come to remind us that graphics alone don’t make a great game.

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Review – Mary Skelter Nightmares

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How to renew Dungeon-RPG? In a genre fairly common on handheld due to its low profitability threshold, we might come to think we’ve seen everything. But here comes Compile Heart, determined to bring some changes in a now classic gameplay frame with Mary Skelter Nightmares.

Mary Skelter Nightmares takes place in a town that has slumped 666 meter underground. The cause of this disaster is an eerie tower that has sprouted from nowhere, unleashing countless fiends called Märchen (pronounce merhen) that capture inhabitants and torture them in the dark building. Jack and Alice are two of those prisoners waiting for their turn in anguish, until a young girl member of the local resistance, the Reimei, helps them evade what some already call Jail. After generations struggling to get rid of the Märchen, humans finally got their trump card : the Keshiki Shôjo, girls of unbelievable strength capable of slaughtering Märchen. With Alice, the group is large enough for the resistance to carry out its long-lasting plan : reach the surface through Jail.

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Although fragmented (because told between extremely long dungeons), Mary Skelter Nightmares’s narrative felt more interesting than your average Compile Heart plot. Given that the IP gave birth to two novelizations, you’d expect no less. It manages to create a suspense in which every character around you seems suspect. Dialogs also were more interesting than usual since it has a somewhat dark atmosphere full of suspicion that fits the horrible story. You can’t help being disappointed by the ending though, very unsurprising for a scenario that definitively had potential to impress. More than that, the lack of proper epilogue is a huge letdown since the player would expect to learn what happens to the main characters after the end.

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Mary Skelter Nightmares being a “girl game” like they say in Japan, the girls are lot more interesting characters than Jack, himself being being a perfect example of weak-minded hero always walked all over by the chicks. A purposeful gap rife in this kind of game and base of most of the fun dialogs. Girls have some eccentric personality that make all the fun : Kaguya is too lazy to ever do anything, Oyayubihime has acute size-complex and Gretel views everything scientifically but has zero common sense.

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Like in Makai Shin Trillion, each girl has a friend level that goes up when you offer presents. The system however isn’t as nice as in Makai Shin Trillion in which all presents had bizarre and fun designs/descriptions, whereas here they’re just a small written line. Interface is not as good also. As the cleverest of you might have noticed, every of the main characters represents a fairy tale : Alice for Alice in Wonderland, Shirayukihime is the literal translation of Snow White, etc. Quite a lot of anecdotes will be about that.

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But as this is Compile Heart and not Disney, the player has its right to steamy events. At high friend level, the game will provide special illustrations of the heroines, and some aren’t exactly soft. Given Compile’s poor offer recently in that matter, it’s rather satisfying despite the feeble quantity (quite less artworks than usual for the publisher).

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But all this is nothing compared the extra-lewd (but not mandatory) mini-game invented by Compile Heart for its newest RPG. It consists in wiping Märchen‘s blood off the heroine’s body by means of Vita’s touchscreen. I’ll spare you the erotic specifics, but it’s clear that Compile’s hardline is back after years of tasteless compromise. Idea Factory International has re-confirmed its intention to leave it is exactly as it is.

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Jail is a living being : your actions will impact its needs. Killing monsters feeds it and walk without picking up a fight allows it to sleep. At a certain satisfaction level, the prison will paradoxically grant you a random bonus like a heal, a buff or an increase in probability to meet the wandering merchant, key-person for your equipment and your relationships because he has the exclusivity of 90% of items in the game! Another point is that the dungeons are insanely large : surface is roughly twice or thrice Moero Chronicle for example. Fortunately, the developers had the wonderful idea of setting teleporters at each floor, which makes the progression quite comfy in the end. Progression that will also put your brain to test by various puzzles (blocks to be moved following more or less complex rules, slippery-floor mazes…) and many traps.

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But the main innovation in Compile’s latest game is fear and panic. Every dungeon is guarded by a Nightmare, large and hideous creature that can take you by surprise at any moment. The Nightmare is invincible : all you can do is drive it back for a short time, after what it will keep hunting you down in the corridors. You must then run away as fast as possible to lose it, without thinking where you’re actually going. Actually, you can’t, because the mini-map is deactivated automatically at this very moment, increasing the risk to run into a dead end! The Nightmare is vulnerable only after you’ve destroyed one of Jail’s hearts, generally hidden deep into the dungeons. You therefore have to progress during hours in anguish before the final confrontation with the Nightmare.

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In terms of gameplay, Mary Skelter Nightmares chooses a job system with various specialties like the Paladin focused on defense, the Blue Mage capable of casting any enemy magic, or the Blood Chemist who regulates the flow of blood in battle. Each job modifies the appearance of the characters with plenty of cool outfits, and we appreciate Nanameda Kei’s design once more in the nicely 2D animated models. The Blood Chemist is the only original job of this game, for it’s at the center of the blood system. Every Märchen beaten spills a certain amount of blood on your team. Once a character receives a certain amount, she’ll switch to Genocide mode, which multiply her power and almost nullifies the MP cost.

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But depending on how tainted the blood is, the character is at risk to activate the Blood Skelter Mode, far less desirable state since the ally become uncontrollable while still powerful enough to wipe out her own team in a flash. That’s where Jack comes in : the hero is placed in a supportive role, just like Ion in Moero Chronicle, and will use his own blood to avoid or cure the Blood Skelter Mode. There is a constant risk-management in this because Jack is liable faint depending on which actions you take.

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Despite introducing all this new gameplay stuff, Compile’s title fails to use it the best way. For example, many jobs grant skills that can target all enemies on the screen and usually allow you to end the fight within 2 or 3 turns. In the end, you’ll end up doing just that while healing yourself time to time. Jobs felt rather unbalanced, with few of them giving a real advantage. No strategy is really needed, as the item dealer can cover you fairly easily, so it’s nowhere as interesting as Moero Chronicle or Dungeon Travelers 2-2 in terms of pure gameplay. Battles remain shallow from back to front, most bosses not being that hard either.

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The only interesting boss fights were the ones taking place on several floors, as you actually need to activate traps to weaken the Nightmare while escaping its assaults and random battles. The flavor of those sequences (only two in the game though) lies in the fact that you can’t open the menu, thus can’t heal yourself between battles, forcing you to get the perfect timing.

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It’s obvious that Compile Heart designed Mary Skelter Nightmares to be more accessible than your average D-RPG : you can save anytime, go back to the base anytime without any limitation, characters are fully healed when leveling up and battles aren’t so frequent. Characters keep all skills from previous jobs, and they can change every ten levels, so it makes a party a little bit overpowered at some point. It can be played relatively easily but not with the same enjoyment as more challenging D-RPGs.

Loaded with nice and innovative stuff, Mary Skelter Nightmares paradoxically gives up on hardcore gameplay to let the player enjoy the new stuff without getting demotivated. The introduction of fear and panic elements, a better storyline, splendid design as well as hardcore ecchi stuff make it quite entertaining despite lengthy dungeons. Good but not perfect, Mary Skelter Nightmares is nevertheless Compile’s best offering this year.

Review – Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review – MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies

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Both unbalanced and limited in its gameplay, Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed had quite some room for improvement, to be used to make a solid sequel. Hence comes MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies and its hazardous wording, sadly presaging the errors of the game.

Even though Compile Heart denies it, MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies very much looks like Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed’s sequel. This episode focused on Blanc, winner of the lastest poll, is supposed to be a different experience. We put little credit in that after seeing the graphical/gameplay assets exactly identical to Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed. The publisher stressed the school environment, Neptune and the other goddesses living their adventures on a campus this time. Nothing new, this has been developed in Neptunia light novels before. But while the novels exhaustively illustrates the school theme, this game does it poorly and it looks like a simple skin. Vert is president of the school council, Noire being the deputy-chief… each character has a set role, but the very short dialog doesn’t really tell you more.

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The story won’t raise the interest : Neptune, president and only member of the movie club, intends to shoot a hit movie to save the school. For the scenario of the movie, she asks Blanc, although her writing skills haven’t improved. Ironically enough, the characters are shooting a B-movie in what turns out to be a B game… the overall story and dialog show that Compile and Tamsoft ran out of ideas, having even lost their sense of humor. While Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed had a real logic in its narrative which made it fun to follow, nothing of the sort in this sequel whose story goes nowhere. The characters join the group without any transition, making it clear that the developer wanted to rush the work.

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On the gameplay side, it’s still an action-RPG with numerous enemies on the screen, but they’ve been zombified this time. Again, this idea has been taken form another Neptunia light novel. Your progression will once more depend on your level and your equipment, but this time you can place temporary devices to boost your stats for one mission. Another novelty, you now manage your statistics manually : up to you to set your skill points in order to improve your attack, defense or get more combos. Difficulty has gone up, which was the right thing to do BUT update 1.01 erased that and ruined the battles that had been tough and technical so far. The movesets of the characters haven’t really changed. We just notice the introduction of a charged attack on triangle, which, strangely enough, is not for everyone. Hence, the old characters have less appeal comparatively to the new ones.

Those new characters underline again the incredible graphics of this game, which are among the best ever on a portable device. The modeling is still near perfect and animation is even better with the new characters. Once again, we can delightfully capture it thanks to the brilliant photo mode.

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Although using a megaphone in Megadimension Neptunia VII, Uzume will also rely on her fists to face the enemy. Her boxing skills are rather convincing, and you can modulate the power of each blow to adapt the situation. Her goddess form is lot more fast and re-focuses and the megaphone.

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Famous schizophrenic, Plutia doesn’t act or move very fast in her human form, but gains extraordinary mobility in her goddess form. Iris Heart seems to have been created for this game. Her combos are exhilarating to perform and use her whip-sword a lot more than in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. The unimaginable trajectories it takes makes it wonderful to play and see.

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Pishe feels quite useless in human form as her reach is perfectly ridiculous. The player will surely focus on Yellow Heart, whose maneuverability and speed parameters only equal her boobs size. She’s fairly efficient in melee combat, but only in one to one by doing hit&run.

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Tamsoft, who personifies the developer, is a purely human character and thus has no goddess form. She merely gets a power-up and some samurai armor parts. That said, she’s the best swordswoman of the game by far given her numerous, varied and very impressive combos, not to mention a dream-like power/reach compromise.

We do notice a clear lack of polish in this newest episode, along with the withdrawal of certain elements for no reason. First of all, the interface looks cheap as hell, including blatantly out-of-fashion menus and irritating loadings when browsing within the preparation menu. This sequel does add some artworks (we didn’t have any in the former game), but if only it had been done correctly… No, the (scarce) images are hidden deep within the chapters and can be unlocked only by choosing the right pair of characters at the right moment. That means roughly 1% chance each time. Despite the vague clues and without a clear walkthrough, this would take weeks…

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The victory screen (which was perfect before) has disappeared for some reason to leave room for some unappealing recap. But this loss is nothing compared the astonishing lack of costume break in this game, whereas it was the bloody main point of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed! Again, no explanation was given for this unbelievable decision. Compile Heart did offer already torn outfits in a desperate gesture in 1.01, the unthinkable had been done : Idea Factory has caved in to SJWs and the prospects of a politically correct business, and the very common school uniforms certainly won’t make up for that. Forget also about any serious postgame content : there is nothing such as Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed’s Neptral Tower or Budokai mode. In fact there’s nothing to do after the short and lackluster story.

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Nothing? Not exactly. MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies is the first entry in the series having an online multiplayer mode, in which fans will be able to hunt monsters together. Unlike the rest of the game, it turned out to be quite exhaustive and practical to use. It also feature the only good new music track of the game, EXistence. No framerate drop to report, the game is as seamless as in solo, and the opponents are considerably stronger. Several giant monsters are actually exclusive to this coop mode, and provide a challenge much more exciting than most of the solo part. Besides, a mini-chat allows you to communicate with your partners through the characters. All the party members in multiplayer mode are unlocked from the start, and you can also use infinite goddess form, which is pretty nice.

Far from being the expected evolution of Hyperdimension Neptunia U Action Unleashed, MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies is a sequel that misses the mark by a mile, removing things more than it adds and giving the series a undesired trajectory. It’s nevertheless still as beautiful as ever, now playable with friends, so fans might want pick it to enjoy the nice new characters.

Review – Trillion, God of Destruction

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Unique concept of the fresh Makai Ichiban Kan label, Trillion God of Destruction had aroused my curiosity for months. A clearly choatic development later, it’s indeed a original and complex game that I got, but maybe too much actually…

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The Idea Factory-published game starts as tragically as it will (probably) finish. Trillion, giant monster of unprecedented strength, has invaded and starts eating the Underworld. Astonished at the news that his brother fell, the Great Demon Lord Zeabolos himself goes to fight the dangerous invader. In vain, Zeabolos will be torn into pieces by Trillion, before being saved just in time by a mysterious scientist named Faust.

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Having lost all its strength after his defeated against Trillion, Zeabolos cannot fight anymore but most of his power has been transferred into a ring by Faust. The ring can be bestowed to other Overlords, who happen to be all demon girls related to Zeabolos. From there, you play as the Overlords one after another until you stop Trillion… or until you run out of characters, which means utter defeat.

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To start depleting efficiently Trillion’s trillion of HP, you’ll have to train your Overlord the best possible way. In Compile Heart’s new title, time is limited : after each encounter, Trillion will eat the Underworld a little more, a then hibernates and you have only several weeks to be ready until it wakes up again. Most of the actions you take in training mode cost you 1 day in the game. The “training” command will be the most commonly used : after a short scripted sequence, you accumulate points of various categories (Attack, Magic, Responsiveness, Appeal, Sense).

Those points can then be converted into definitive statistics but there’s a sort of exchange rate proportional to the stat value you reach. For example, at high level, you need 16 points of responsiveness (among others) to add 1 to your character’s Speed stat. Note that Attack and Speed are your top priorities when converting points, especially the latter that allows you to anticipate Trillion’s attacks.

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You’ll also want save some of your points to invest in skills. Active skills for starters : those are the physical/magic abilities you can cast from afar to hit Trillion and its pawns. But it’s not just that and you’ll find movement skills of utmost importance, because they allow you to move 2 or 3 squares at once. There are dozens of passive skills you can choose from : some improve your strength, defense, critical rate following varied conditions. Some others will make you save some MPs, increase gained experience, etc. You have to read them carefully, because some will be more or less useful depending on Trillion’s current state and strategy. For example, fudô no ishi, which increases the damage dealt as long as you stay on the same square, must be chosen only if you are sure to have a reliable opening against Trilllion.

Other possibility to train, senjin no tani is a training zone where you have to open as many treasure chest as possible in a limited number of turns. You can loot gold, equipment, but more importantly, seals for your weapon. Seals are key to prevail against Trillion because then improve your stats dramatically or give various effects like increasing your reach.

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Trillion God of Destruction also feature a fatigue gauge so you’ll have to hit the “rest” menu from time to time. You have 4 possibilities : sleep for an entire night (great recovery), collect gold from inhabitants, go on a date or pick some presents. That’s where you realize that the story is more about love and humor than fan-service. Trillion God of Destruction indeed focuses on the relations between Zeabolos and his relatives, in a fun and moving way which is directly linked to the sacrifices that happen in the game. Like in Fire Emblem Fates, it’s pretty hard to send to death characters you came to like for their sweet personalities. Trillion God of Destruction achieves his goal, because you do feel the bitterness of loss and defeat. Last but not least, this sub-menu will grant you omoide points, which are a reserve of HP/MP to be used on the field. In other terms, as long as you have omoide points, our character won’t have to use its own HP/MP. The more you have, the longer you can stand against Trillion. In the same way, offering presents allows Zeabolos to raise his affinity level with the girls. Up to you to find out which present suits to whom, and bear in mind a 100% affinity is a big help at the end of the game.

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With a personality derived from the 7 sins, the Overlords are a crazy bunch. Overlord of pride, Luche is a tsundere like you’ve never seen who keep complaining and talking down to her lord. Levia on the contrary, being the Overlord of envy, will be so overprotective of Zeabolos that she’ll drive him crazy. Angel Uriel is by far the most hilarious character : arch-rival of the demon world, he must cooperate with Zeabolos against his will in the common goal of destroying Trillion. Absolutely disrespectful, his defiance towards his hosts is pure fun!

Makai Trillion candle

Trillion God of Destruction is remarkable for its design somewhere in-between Mugen Souls and Disgaea. This is no coincidence : while Mugen Souls’ character designer Nanameda Kei is indeed behind’s this game’s art, the producer is Masahiro Yamamoto, former Nippon Ichi Software staff who directed Disgaea 4. No surprise to find this little satanic touch in Trillion’s universe : the medic says DEATH instead of です in japanese, and the present are all weird with eerie descriptions like the 98° sake, the obscenity candle or the dôjinshi of darkness. With its numerous characters and all those little details, the niche publisher built an comprehensive and appealing universe.

Makai Trillion fight

Let’s get to the heart of the matter, the actual fight against Trillion. One and only boss in the whole game, boasting 1 trillion HP, you’ll need to hit it little by little with countless blows, which also means you have to get close to it. Each Overlord can fight Trillion up to 3 times, but its hibernation time (and then the time left for you to be prepared) is reduced every time. But of course at the same time, Trillion keeps going forward towards the core, and it’s game over if it reaches it. Battles take place on a grid like any tactical-RPG, with squares marking the distances. Trillion will essentially do two things : attack and advance. Cruel and heartless, Trillion will never flinch and will slaughter your poor girls with no hesitation. The battle stops when your character dies or retreats, or if Trillion reaches the line of defense (in case your character is strong enough to resist that long). At the 3rd fight of the same Overlord against Trillion, the giant will spread a toxic breath that will kill your character for sure. To be clear, death in Trillion God of Destruction is definitive, but also unavoidable.

Any direct attack from Trillion will kill you on the spot. So you do have to know the color code that works as a countdown for its attacks.

White → attack coming in 4 turns

Yellow → attack coming in 3 turns

Orange → attack coming in 2 turns

Red → you really should get the fuck out of there

A lot more disturbing, Trillion also has abilities affecting your movements. You absolutely need to learn when it’s going to do such a thing and anticipate so as not to end up on a lethal square.

Makai Trillion dragon a

Once it has lost a certain number of HP, Trillion evolves, a bit like a pokemon (Trillion would make a damn fine pokemon if only it weren’t so evil). Each time it transforms, it becomes at least 20 times more dangerous and changes all its attacks and its strategy. Therefore, the player must rethink his approach too by taking into account Trillion’s new behavior. That way, the idea of fighting a unique opponent in the whole game is not as repetitive as you might have feared, because you need to adapt Trillion’s rising power and dirty tricks all the time. At this point, Trillion leaves very few openings, so you’ll have to build them.

Makai Trillion Pelpel death

When one of your characters is about to pass away, she will activate her Death Skills. You can then choose between the following : deal a great amount of damage to Trillion (like dozens billion HP), revive as ghost to help the next Overlord, extend Trillion’s hibernation, improve the net Overlord’s weapon or seal one of Trillion’s body part. The latter is by far the most useful one as it will deprive Trillion of some of its capabilities, which makes the next fights a lot smoother. Besides, when to the ring is bestowed to another character, there is a little experience bonus which makes her theoretically stronger than the former.

Trillion

But here’s the snag. Trillion God of Destruction is impossible to clear in one playthrough (the producer downright said it in a Dengeki interview). You therefore need one or several new game+ to expect something other than a game over screen. It’s really disheartening and Trillion’s last form doesn’t help : you need to seal almost every part of its body to just get near it, which you must sacrifice several characters. Besides, it rushes towards the defense line a lot too fast, which leaves you very few occasion to deal damage.

There are also pretty huge gameplay issues : for some reason I won’t reveal here, magic is useless against Trillion at the end. But there’s a set order of characters at this point and several of them are magic users, which means a annoying lack of attack power. On the top of that, there’s a problem about seals. Trillion’s last form requires some precise seals on your weapon, but you have no guarantee to have them since the drop of treasure chests is completely random! We also lament poor graphics overall, unsophisticated maps and chibi characters very unlike the first screenshots shown in 2014, sign that a downgrade occurred. To finish on a more positive note, I must stress that the music in this game has been surprisingly good, with solid battle theme and even better character themes. Dubby Witchcraft has some awesome vibes and Fragile Female is simply the best composition that came to my ears last year.

Trillion God of Destruction is a fairly unique tactical-RPG boasting clever mechanics and remarkable design, but it’s seriously hard as fuck. It is made to break the player psychologically in giving a very feeble glimmer of hope. It is possible that you play this game dozens of hours and see nothing else than a game over screen. Is it still entertainment at this point? Everyone shall find his own answer to this question.

2015, the twilight of the goddess?

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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.