For as long as there has been more than one console in the marketplace, there has been a certain type of rivalry between the purchasers of said consoles. Be it a friendly, personal opinion regarding the benefits one possesses over its competitors, or a more combative, stalwart argument regarding the superiority of their console of choice. The Console War is a constant my friends, a never ceasing conflict between sides that are neither good, nor evil…just opinionated. Hyperdimension Neptunia long ago decided to personalise this conflict by personifying these gaming machines as cute anime girls, all whom band together to fight greater evils. Perhaps we could all learn something from this series…or we could just say forget it and hit stuff with big weapons.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is the latest instalment in the ongoing journeys of the CPUs, and CPU Candidate younger sisters, of the mystical land of Gameindustri. However, if you are at all concerned with story progression, you might be happy to learn that this is a non-canonical journey. How do I know that you may ask? Well the characters themselves make that clear, through the immediate obliteration of the fourth wall. This is not a game that takes itself seriously people…like, at all. Former/possibly still main character Neptune actually says “tubular” at one point…so I think you get it. Two newcomers Dengekiko and Famitsu also don’t slow down the self referential humour, bringing with them a passion for journalism and, with it, the game’s plot.
Looking, as always, to sell issues, Dengekiko and Famitsu decide to write up a little piece on the CPUs and CPU Candidates respectively. Of course, they need to have actually done some cool stuff recently, so the two set up a few opportunities for our game-based heroines to show their skill and test their mettle. That’s pretty much it really. The girls wind up getting into the swing of things and decide to keep fighting off the monster hordes that plague Gameindustri in order to carve out a sizeable section in the magazine issue and promote their respective cities…also save people I guess, but that’s just a bonus.
In this particular iteration of the Neptunia franchise, gameplay relegates itself to the realm of hack and slash, pitting the character of your choice against an onslaught of critters. By onslaught, I of course mean many, many, many, many, many, many enemies…like so many. For those who think me to be hyperbolic in my description, one particular mission (admittedly late game) comes with the victory condition of defeating 2000 enemies. Yeah. That’s a lot of monsters. Now, whilst you may not find it too much of a challenge if you upgrade wisely (which I will detail more in just a hot second), it is still a chore regardless. Especially with the ever increasing fear that failing will cause you to lose all progress and start over. Whilst I understand that repeatedly striking things is the core function of this game, switching between shorter quests carries a sense of variance (no matter how slight) that these longer endeavours lack.
Combat is ostensibly simple in this game. Attacks are divided between the triangle and square buttons, as heavy and weak respectively. Hit one, then another, or the same one repeatedly, then repeat ad infinitum (or until you clear the quest). Fancy players might also decide to utilise SP Attacks, which vary between each character, in both range and power, serving as powerful tools of destruction. A super form, known as HDD Mode, can be used after filling up the respective gauge, which allows a brief and tremendous burst of power. Very helpful.
Upgrades. They are an incredibly important factor in enjoying this games, so pay attention and learn how to unlock them as soon as you can. I mean, it’s not like I glossed over that instruction and became increasingly more frustrated with the game before realising my mistake and then immediately making my character 10x stronger than they had been…ok, so maybe that did happen. My bad. Though it did have the benefit of showing me just how annoying a game like this could be. The contrast also made shredding swathes of speedily spawning savages much more enjoyable, by which I mean easier. Essentially, by defeating monsters, you have a chance to be rewarded with medals, which can then in turn be used to purchase upgrades. So you do actually have to fight to net yourself the sweet gear you need to fight the stronger foes you need to defeat to get sweeter gear. See the pattern? Though a tried and true method of inducing gameplay, the less than definite nature of gathering these medals creates an unmistakeable undercurrent of annoyance, especially considering that unlocking all upgrades requires amassing 999 of a certain creature’s medals. Again, a well utilised factor taken to an overly lengthy extreme.
Visually speaking, Action Unleashed carries with it the same vibrant colour scheme that runs throughout the rest of the franchise. From the lilac hair of the overflowing-with-radittude Neptune, t the crystal blue seas of that one level that has crystal blue seas, colour is aplenty. This certainly helps prolong the gameplay experience, by constantly and subconciously reminding you that this is a game designed for fun, with no intense reason behind it. It’s just here to look cute and be fun. This intention is also carried in the vocals, which are neatly available in both Japanese and English, which is always a nice touch in translated games. I decided to stick with English vocals throughout and enjoyed the banter that the cast has throughout the events/cutscenes. I will admit that constantly hearing their battlecrys in the midst of the chaos became somewhat grating after a while, though some blame might go to me for spamming the same attacks over and over. The monsters also possess a Pokemon-esque vocabulary and often chime in by screaming their own names, which is both funny (namely Pixelvader) and enraging (Dogoo).
Oh, before you go, there is one teensy tiny little thing I forgot to mention about this game; clothing destruction. It’s a Neptunia game, did you really think there wasn’t going to be any fanservice? Well, there is. As our heroines slash, shoot, spellcast and slam their way through creatures, they may find themselves taking some damage in return. When this occurs to a large enough extent, their clothes will tear, until they are eventually left in shreds that oh-so-conveniently cover up the parts that would send this game’s rating through the metaphorical roof. Whilst this loss of cloth does come with a nifty power boost, we all know why it’s in the game. Heck, doing to well in missions will unlock pre-torn outfits, seeing as your skill may prevent you from seeing this. Luckily for those who aren’t into this, you can also unlock tatterproof outfits that keep the girls covered throughout their combat. So it’s kind of up to you how much skin you want to see.
As you may have gathered from the spattering of mentions it received in this review, tedium is this game’s greatest negative. Though the simplicity of its combat is appealing, the sheer number of long winded quests kind of, ironically, takes the wind out of your sails. The challenge of defeating a ludicrous amount of enemies in itself presents a nice challenge, but having that challenge appear in every second quest removes any sense of … it may have possessed. I’ll admit, I had fun playing this game and it seems like the type of perfect portable game for filling in spare time, it just doesn’t have a whole lot of staying power. Of course, this doesn’t apply if your the kind of gamer who loves grinding for levels, trophies and unlocks. If that’s you, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
All that being said, I find it hard to be too tough on this game because it knows what it is. It is unabashedly a fun, ultimately pointless game that relishes in its repetition and non-canonity. For that I commend it. For that I enjoy it. And for that, I’ll probably play it just a little bit longer. What can I say? I’m a sucker for fourth wall breaking jokesters.