In an RPG franchise far, far away, there lived a CPU called Noire. As representative of Lastation, she didn't want to exist in the shadows of her allies anymore, and wanted to stand true as the game's main character. With hope in her heart, pure determination, and an army of generals at her command, her wish finally comes true in Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. Not only is this the first title in the Neptunia franchise to not have the purple haired deity in the spotlight, but it's also the series' first strategy role-playing game.
In the alternate universe of Gamarket, Noire is supreme commander and rules over the other CPUs with an iron fist. However, after being tricked by a mysterious individual, she causes all the CPUs to lose their shares, and each country's generals run amok. Thankfully, before she can be defeated by a simple monster, you, the player, appear, and give her enough faith to fight on. Becoming her personal secretary, you must help Noire rebuild her army of loyal troops, before order can be restored to the land.
Plot development is paper thin with all of the focus placed in character development instead. You travel the world discovering numerous problems that generals have created before setting them straight. A lot of this includes industry related stuff, such as a contest between the avatars of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, but some of the characters and story threads are simply tied together with a piece of string in a feeble attempt to bring them together.
The generals, however, are all beautiful homages to the franchises that they represent, and are well developed. Be it Lid's love of sneaking and spying outing her espionage adoration, Vio's red and white umbrella connecting her to a certain zombie outbreak, or Ein Al's not so subtle use of Bahamut to obliterate her enemies, each will warm a small part of your gamer heart.
However, we all know that the highlight of any strategy title is its combat system, and while it starts off frustrating and slow, it grows into its own the further that you progress. The title uses a simple grid system, where characters move between squares, and dependent of skill and attack range, can beat enemies. Meanwhile, the game forces you to use your noggin through the use of a love point system – a special currency that can only be acquired when characters show their love for one another in combat.
By having warriors standing next to each other when performing skills, attacks will require less skill points to perform – and you may also get a buff depending on how many take part. If your party really likes each other, however, you'll gain a kissing currency which can be used to turn your CPUs into their super powered HDD forms, use special attacks, and even let you deploy more units when they start dropping like flies. Subsequently, it's not only something that you'll want to do often, but with as many people as possible. We're saying nothing.
With an arsenal of characters at your disposal, it's surprising that they all manage to each retain their individuality in combat. Not only do the stars specialise in different ranges and roles, but their attack skills are completely different, very rarely overlapping. From attacking the area around you, knocking enemies back, inflicting status effects, and long range nukes, each CPU's arsenal is as individual as their design. Each character also has unique abilities that they can bestow on the whole party if they are made battle leader. On maps where you need to reach a destination quickly, opting for extra movement would be advisable, or if you find yourself constantly inflicted by a status effect, it's best to pick a character that can counter it.
Major plot battles make themselves harder by not only adding bosses that can kill you in one hit, but they normally have unique terrain mechanics, too. From flipping switches to ride trains, avoiding laser cannons, and avoiding electric fences, all of the elements are unique and keep you on your toes. Sadly, some of them can be downright frustrating, like making sure that you are facing the right direction before moving to avoid pit traps, or waiting turns to use moving platforms. While the first incarnation may provide a tactical challenge, they are more of a nuisance when you are expected to play multiple times.
Alas, while the combat may be varied, the lack of maps is the game's greatest downfall. While side-quests are included, they are few and far between. Instead, the game encourages you to repeat the same side and main missions repeatedly thanks to the item development system. Normally one of the best features of the Neptunia games, creating items is a downright chore here. Obtained as mission rewards, item plans allow you to create new weapons, armour, and goods that can later be purchased at the shop. However, with weapon plans being available even for repeating main plot missions, you'll have to retread a lot of old ground.
Once you have earned your plans, you'll need the items to craft them, which leads to even more frustration. Certain rare items are a downright hassle to acquire, and are generally needed to make new weapons for your generals. With ingredients dropping from defeated level bosses, multiple runs are required to farm, but if you're extremely lucky, you might get what you seek in a chest. The loot contained within, however, is random, and with the majority requiring a character of a certain element to attack it in incredibly awkward areas, the hassle far outweighs the reward.
Noire's time to shine isn't wasted thankfully, as fans will be happy that she receives the screen time that she deserves. With one-to-one events with each general upon recruitment, and often perverted CGs attached, it's all about the leading lady and feeding her ego. If you want some alone time, you can visit the Basilicom and her room. Moreover, by helping answer the requests of the citizens and buying new items to upgrade it, you'll unlock special events with the CPU herself.
As the series' first shot at an SRPG, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a solid attempt. With many of its characters well formed, unique combat mechanics, and terrain features to spice up the action, it's a shame that it lets itself down with heavy repetition. Fans of the franchise will love the change of pace, as well as getting up close and personal with Noire and the other generals. Everyone else, however, may not be wooed quite so easily.