We all know the dreaded curse of video game sequels. Studios will often find themselves with a hit on their hands, and in a feeble attempt to recreate gold, will instead serve up a horrible mess of lost potential. Japanese role-playing game Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation steers clear of this trap, instead building upon the success of its predecessor.
The game starts off after the events of the first campaign. While we'd recommend seeing that through before trying the sequel, it isn't necessary, as the title will spoil you rotten from the outset. Rather than playing as the titular Neptunia, you'll instead set off on an adventure as Nepgear, Planeptune's CPU candidate and Nep-Nep's younger sister. Joined once again by accomplices If and Compa, she and the other CPU candidates must battle against the evil Afoire to save Gamindustri. It all sounds complicated we know, but you'll pick it up.
To be fair, the plot of the initial entry was pretty straightforward, fuelled primarily by anime and gaming jokes, but while there is some light-heartedness in this outing, it has a somewhat more serious overtone. It also moves at a much brisker pace, and is significantly less predictable than its predecessor, so it's a real step up in the narrative department – even if it's not going to win a Man Booker prize.
The bulging character roster helps in this department, as every party member has their own two cents to share, adding more wrinkles and interactions to the adventure. With plenty of additional world map events buffering out the backstory of stars and helping to build their relationships with others, it doesn't feel as though anyone has been shoe-horned in.
Still, while the plot plays a big part, most of your time with the game will be spent wandering the title's dungeons. The locations are varied, with some being particularly distinctive, meaning that you won't be yawning through recycled content time and time again. Moreover, while the campaign does feature some backtracking, the title's ability to modify dungeons helps to keep proceedings interesting.
While there are some tweaks to the tone of the sequel, though, the battle system is almost identical to Re;Birth1 – presumably because it wasn't broken to begin with. For those unfamiliar with the format, it's adopts a turn-based structure, wherein you'll have free roam of the battlefield in order to attack enemies. Standard strikes are split into three types to avoid brainless hammering on the X button, whereby rush attacks help to raise your EXE gauge – eventually enabling super special finishers – while power attacks deal damage, and SP attacks primarily heal or buff your party. This enables a ton of tactical freedom – especially when paired with the many squad options.
The plan system also makes a return, allowing you to customise pretty much everything that you can think of – from dungeon drops to enemy difficulty. In fact, the developer has added some new options in this area, allowing you to completely alter a dungeon so that all of the enemies are different, which is perfect for some late-game grinding. The Lily Rank friendship system is also put to good use, as some items can only be made if certain characters get buddy-buddy with each other.
While none of the character designs are overtly abhorrent, there is still an element of sexy-time. At major plot points, for example, you'll be rewarded handsomely with a CG which will put some of the girls in the kind of questionable situations that will leave you with a nose bleed. Thankfully, for those who see this as a turn off, such events are infrequent enough that you'll be able to ignore them. Care has been taken with the voice acting, too, and there is more of this than in the previous instalment.
The difficulty curve is also much more forgiving, as the plot sends you in and out of dungeons regularly. Rather than expecting you to grind heavily before bosses, you'll instead take the time to engage in the odd fight to get your EXE gauge up. The game has a great arc to it, which means that you'll almost always find yourself at the precise level required to overcome a foe or a side-quest, and it's more moreish as a result of that.
Of course, if you do want to stray from the beaten path, there's always the inclusion of Stella's dungeon, a minigame that runs in parallel to the main campaign. Playing as the aforementioned character, you and your trusty cat must venture through previously visited arenas in search of treasure. This can be useful in the main game, but it's not a necessity. Fortunately, the distraction is addictive, and offers a welcome change of pace.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation picks up where its predecessor left off, and offers some nifty improvements across the board. It's clear that a lot of care and attention has gone into this game, and while it certainly won't appeal to everyone, we daresay that Gamindustri veterans will be delighted with the offering.