Since the dawn of 8-bit time, video games have brought joy to the masses and free space to wallets the world over. However, within this lightening of hearts and pocketbooks, a darkness lurked: the darkness of perceived competition. Be it challenges found within the halls of combat both mortal and otherwise, the clashes between multiple space-based laser fests. Contest. Favouritism. Focus. Extrapolations of a joyous rivalry that make some wonder: what will it take for everybody to just get along?
Amnesia. It turns out it’s amnesia. Okay, so maybe the loss of memories isn’t a true solution to perceived aeons of in-fighting, but it’s a fine place to start; and by “fine”, I mean tropey; and by “start”, I mean start; and by what I’m about to say, I mean the next instalment of the Neptunia franchise: Super Neptunia RPG. That’s right folks, it’s time for another jaunt into the world where the fourth wall was torn down long ago, and the references flow like so much prized pudding. This time, however, our beloved Goddesses are a little lacking in dimension. You see, the villain who so spurns this adventure onward possesses a strong distaste for all video games who tipped the numerical boundary and entered the third dimension. So dust off those side-scrolling sensibilities and journey into a Gamindustri with a new perspective. (By the by, I know plenty of 2D games are still rockin’ the world, but Super Neptunia mostly relishes in the old school; so let’s keep that notion bobbing along).
Once again stripped of her memories and powers, Neptune finds herself wandering directly into the path of a new adventure. A group known as Bombyx Mori has seemingly taken over the world, placing a moratorium on 3D games and everything related to them. Magazines? Burned. Discs? Destroyed. Consoles? Removed from the social consciousness. So, bad news all around. Luckily for the world, a brilliantly named resistance force known as The Resistance fights back, waging war against Bombyx Mori. Well, it’s more of an underground disapproval, but the sentiment stands. Of course, this being a video game, nothing truly kicks off until Neptune joins the fray, setting off the true rebellion of all things depth. Along the way familiar faces pop up, familiar jokes are made and familiar conclusions are reached, a la Neptunia. The familiarity is not a bad thing, mind you, but still worth noting for the curious. Speaking of…
This is a Neptunia game, through and through, then back again. Sure it’s a 2D side-scroller, but genre has never stopped the Neptunia franchise from being itself. This game still abides by the rule of forcing you to utilise a single character in the story’s early stages, only to spontaneously dump the remainder of the playable cast on your lap in rapid succession. Self-aware fetch quests teach you the mechanics, self-aware characters push the story onward and self-aware UI elements make you question whether your controller is on the fritz (at least the first time…at least, if you’re a nervous/cautious RPG player like yours truly). Nothing presented is what would be considered a deep experience, although perhaps that is a reference to the loss of the third dimension; in which case, this game is smarter than all of us. That possibility aside, this is a simple game that is meant to simply be enjoyed. None of the dungeons are particularly complex, meaning they can either be rushed through, or thoroughly explored in a rather short amount of time. For those of us who possess that ever-present completionist whisper in the back of our minds, this is quite the calming factor. Until, you know, you collect 499/500 Magic Stones…
Which leads me to my biggest complaint about Super Neptunia RPG (and really the franchise as a whole): it’s a little light on the direction. Though it is true that there is much hearkening back to the days of less-guided video games than those we have today, an extra pointer or two would be nice. This time around, said issue mainly comes into play with the side quests. Take “Brave Crystals” for example; in this quest, Neptune is tasked with finding four gems, scattered across the world. After granting a brief hint as to where said gems are located, the NPC tells you to make haste…and that’s it. She never repeats her clues and they are not listed anywhere in your quest log. So, if you’re like me and didn’t finish said quest immediately…enjoy remembering. It’s not a game-breaking annoyance and enough backtracking will find these gems, but it’s still annoying that you’re just left high and dry. I wasn’t joking when I said the simplistic dungeons were a blessing, for many a hair would I have torn from my head if I had to meander through numerous labyrinths to find that lousy Terra Stone Shard…or that damn four-leaf clover some lady needed for a bracelet. 3D games are in peril, people; solve your own damn problems for once.
Speaking of problems: violence. It’s bad. But, if you have to beat up monsters to save the world, why not utilise a variety of elemental magics and an AP Gauge? I hear it’s all the rage. Combat in Super Neptunia is broken up into a single button per character, the face buttons to be specific. In addition to equipping the usual weapon, armour and accessory; each character on your team is assigned an attack, activated by the button correlating to their position on the screen (the bottom character being mapped to the X button, for example) When the AP Gauge reaches sufficient charge (with a higher charge being required for more powerful attacks), you simply choose who attacks and watch your enemies fall. As you build your team, you are able to increase your strategies; gaining the ability to rotate your squad, resulting in a total of four moves per character available on the fly. This comes in handy as the game progresses, as striking an enemy’s elemental weakness drastically improves your combat flow. For each weakness struck, the AP Gauge receives a bonus. It may sound like a fun bonus, but it is damn near a necessity for later foes; especially those who use Doom…insta-killing jerks.
So yeah, Super Neptunia RPG: everything you love and/or hate about Neptunia, condensed into a 2D package. Personally, I love these game. They’re a fun little break from the more self-serious games out there and serve as a charmingly pastel reminder that sometimes fun is enough of a reason to play; or, more accurately, the only reason to play. Video games are meant to be an enjoyable experience, an access point to worlds that can’t possibly exist in our reality. Now, whether your concept of fun is matching four-piece blocks in an ever frenzied challenge, or slamming your body into a nigh-impossible creature of darkest soul is entirely up to you. Both are valid, both are magical, and both are completely crazy sounding to those who have never experienced them. I mean, I unironically vented frustration at a fictional woman who sent me to find a fictional herb to make a fictional bracelet…aren’t games wonderful?