Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is a hard-sell. It’s what reviewers like to call ‘a niche title’, meaning a game that the majority of PlayStation 3 owners will pick up and then swiftly put back down. Set in a land governed by gaming tech, it's the third instalment in the Neptunia JRPG series, a franchise which bases its narrative around the Japanese gaming industry and the console war.
With such an endearing concept, it’s a great shame that the metaphor is only skin-deep, with references to Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and SEGA taking the form of overtly personified characters, and monsters that look like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Moogles, and other well-known industry critters. But, while it may not offer a grand critique of the industry, Victory does provide JRPG fans with the occasional games-culture reference, such as the CPU (goddess and creator) of the Leanbox nation (Xbox) dealing with a console factory suicide strike, linked to the 2012 threat at a Chinese factory owned by Microsoft, and other snide quips in the alternate dimension about the superiority of Sony's CD-ROM technology compared to Nintendo's outdated cartridges. When visiting Lowee (Nintendo), you can even listen to the heart-breaking sorrows of a certain ‘Maryo’, who sighs, “I’m getting tired of saving her time and time again."
The story itself begins with the protagonist, Neptune, CPU of Planeptune and known in her HDD form as Purple Heart, coming to a sudden realisation that due to her sheer laziness and neglect of all CPU duties, she has de-levelled back to level one. During the prologue, Neptune is transported to an alternate dimension of the Gamindustri world, which reverts back in time roughly to the introduction of the first PlayStation in the console wars. In this dimension, Neptune is no longer the CPU of Planeptune, as the exasperatingly ditsy, yet secretly sadistic Plutia has taken her place. Neptune soon discovers that although all of her CPU friends have counterparts in this retro version of Gamindustri, none of them seem to remember her, and so our protagonist must build up relationships with the neighbouring nation CPUs, such as the tenacious and hard-working Noire of Lastation, and convince them to join her party. Along with the issue of being stuck in an alternate dimension, Neptune must also take down the evil Seven Sages who are planning world domination, in addition to Rei Ryghts, the inept leader of the anti-CPU campaign.
The game's art style comprises of a colourful blend of 2D anime-style cut-scenes and a rather half-baked 3D setting during combat, dungeon, and boss sequences. When brawling through dungeons, the framerate is sadly inconsistent, and has an awful habit of blurring the backgrounds when the party leader runs.
It must be mentioned that the characters in the title are extremely over-sexualised, especially considering that the majority of the cast must be in their teenage years. Most of the characters are dressed in Lolita-style attire, and often test the boundaries with their unsettling erotic language and overt girl-on-girl sexual references. Victory is crawling with fan service, from the disconcerting bath scene, to the provocative gestures of a certain HDD form CPU. However, the game is not necessarily tarnished despite this over-sexualisation; in fact, it often brings a much welcomed element of humour into the story, often in the form of cringe-worthy innuendos and sexual references.
While there is a sizeable amount of dungeon-crawling, level-grinding, and repetitive questing, the majority of the gameplay sees you scrolling through reams and reams of text. In fact, 60 per cent of the 40 or so hours it will take you to complete the game will consist of reading absolute drivel about slippers, cleansing earwax, and naps. While it's clear that a huge amount of work has gone into the localisation, you can’t help but feel that the 20 minutes of dialogue that you just read could have easily been condensed into a three minute scene. Because of this, at many points in the game, it can feel like you’re playing a visual novel, rather than a combat-centred JRPG, as each small portion of dungeon gameplay simply leads on to another 40 minutes of scrolling text cut-scenes.
This is a great shame, as the combat sections are fantastic and truly rewarding. By infusing a turn-based battle system with a tactical element of character positioning and movement, the game succeeds in offering an engaging battle structure. For example, if you position a party member between two or more monsters, you can achieve multiple strike combos and take down several enemies at once. However, while grouping your characters together may provide you with an advantage during your turn, once the enemies attack they also have the ability to hit more than one target if you haven’t set your party members far enough apart. Enemies will also work together, healing each other and congregating into strong formations in order to take you down. To counter this, you'll gain combat skills, some of which are utterly bizarre!
The audio in the title is a mixed bag. Famous video game composer Nobou Uematsu has done a decent job of creating musical pieces that truly fit with the style of the gameplay, resulting in hyper, sickly sweet electro-pop beats. However, the acting is less inspiring. The Neptunia series has always promoted its inclusion of both Japanese and English voice options, yet after just a few hours, the English dub seemingly vanishes in favour of further reams of scrolling text, with only the sporadic appearance of voice acting from then on. Honestly, we’re not entirely sure whether this is a bad thing, as the English voices are often whiny and infuriating, and the high-pitched squeaks of the Japanese actors aren't much better.
While this may only be a very average JRPG at best, despite all of its flaws and framerate issues, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is absurdly lovable. Redeemed by its cute, static 2D anime sequences, colourful locations, tongue-in-cheek industry references, and rewarding tactical combat, there is a sizeable amount of enjoyable gameplay that can be salvaged from the otherwise disappointing story concept. That is, if you have a spare thumb that you can permanently attach to the square button in order to skip past all of the mundane cut-scenes about slippers, naps, and group bathing. Yes, group bathing.