Just when you thought that the PlayStation Vita had no new games, here comes a rather lovely RPG adventure which packs a ton of fun combat and exploration into a perfect on the go package. Superdimension Neptune VS SEGA Hard Girls is a spin off from the long running Hyperdimension Neptunia RPG series which sees various games consoles brought to life as goddesses for adventuring purposes. It's a wacky concept but it works surprisingly well and the plot here is basically a love letter to every SEGA console ever.
The main series heroine Neptune however is not the star of this adventure – in fact, she's only included as a comedy sidekick who has been transformed into a motorcycle, a joke which is repeatedly referred to in fourth wall breaking cut scenes. So it's IF (named after the publisher Idea Factory) who takes centre stage this time in a quest to explore the mysterious halls of an ancient Grand Library. The library holds the history of the world within its shelves, and legend says that if one was to tamper with the books kept there, the past itself could be completely rewritten. And that's where you come in.
IF is the bold young lady you control who discovers this revered library just in time to possibly prevent a world ending disaster. The cut scene driven plot sees IF team up with various console characters from the SEGA Hard Girls anime and goddesses from the Neptunia games to recover the lost history.
Everything feels nicely put together, the cutscenes and dialogue exchanges (of which there are many) tell the story and the actual exploring and battling controls are easy to pick up and responsive. The menus that offer up the battle options when in combat are also not too hard to get to grips with and there are on-the-fly tutorials that introduce each new element and which can be referred back to if you need refreshing.
The gameplay is mostly of the "pick a mission, go to that location, fight lots of enemies in cool turn-based battles, collect goodies" variety. The game would be awful if the battles weren't so darn fun; each time you send up to four of your party to battle the wealth of weird and wonderful creatures opposing you in a well-balanced turn-based battle. It might be fairly standard stuff but the mechanics have been refined so that even though there are hundreds of fights to wade through, it rarely feels like a chore.
An 'Action Gauge' fills as you move, attack, use skills, or use items so the strategy comes in as you decide how best to utilise your team and their respective skills. It is definitely a system that has had a lot of thought put in as it's not overly complicated to pick up but allows for a great deal of tactical play as you move around freely until your gauge is completely filled. When you attack there is a cool 'Fever Gauge' which fills and when at 100 per cent a rainbow-coloured gem will appear above the battlefield. Collecting this gem triggers 'Fever Time' which locks enemies and allows you beat the living daylights out of them as your stats increase by 10 per cent and the enemy can't fight back until the fever subsides!
If you ever owned a SEGA console, there is certainly a weird nostalgic pleasure in getting to control and battle with characters such as the Dreamcast, SEGA Saturn, and Mega Drive. These anthropomorphized consoles are the 'Hard Girls' with an array of personalities and abilities such as healing or support magic, while others are better at all out offence. There are more girls that you need to unlock, too, so you can switch up your party to create the sort of team that suits your play style.
The adventure takes place across four different eras: the classical themed Mega Drive Era, the medieval themed SEGA Saturn Era, the industrial themed Game Gear Era, and finally the modern Dreamcast Era. These are basically similar locations that look a little different and have new enemies, which may feel like lazy game-making but it works well.
Graphically Superdimension Neptune is charming enough, with the animation of the lead controllable character always interesting. The nicely detailed enemies stand out against the fairly sparse environments, but the girls are the stars of the show here with some cool animations, transformations, and magical abilities.
The game will take some time to work through, too, so it feels like a good value purchase rather than a cheap cash in on the main series, and it can be addictive to the point of distraction, too. We've played many of the Neptunia games, and even though Superdimension isn't core 'canon', it is one of the better ones.
If you're a fan of turn-based strategic battling or just fun RPGs, then Superdimension Neptune VS SEGA Hard Girls is a highly recommended experience. Surprisingly, given the perceived lack of love and support for the Vita in the West, this is actually a great time for RPG fans to own Sony's handheld.