WARNING: This review is over 4000 words long. You have been warned.
Once upon a time, I happened upon a term called "kuso-ge". According to Wikipedia, it was apparently meant to teach gamers to appreciate a game's flaws, no matter the lacking quality. Speaking as a hobby writer and critic who spends pretty much every waking moment evaluating my own work when I'm not trying to escape the addictive hell that is imgur, this offends the hell out of me. Here I am, constantly spouting how it's necessary to face your faults in order to get better, and I find that there are people out there who do not give an owl's caffeinated hoot. In order to improve, you have to figure out what's stupid about yourself and work on either eliminating that quality or making it tolerable, maybe even good. What you don't do is give your flaws cuddles, decorate their hair with flowers and constantly tell mostly harmless jokes with them.
So no, I do not like Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. For some odd reason, even though they're still some of the worst games I've ever played, I still look back at its predecessors with a certain degree of fondness. I imagine the same will apply to Victory if/when I play the next game in the series; each time, I manage to convince myself that it can't get any worse and, time and time again, I am proven that it can indeed get worse, even if only partly and not as a whole. In the face of my complaints, I often get told "it's not for you". I disagree; this series is about a world parodying our video game industry, all the while having its own conflicting cultures, gods, temporal and spatial abnormalities, ancient history, items of varying levels of age and power and pretty much anything it needs to pull whatever plot it needs out of hammerspace for whatever sequel. This isn't just my kind of thing; this is exactly my kind of thing. If the execution of the premise was actually decent, I'd be in a better mood than the one I'm in now.
Now, given how long this review is, I figured I'd save you all a lot of trouble and divide it into story and gameplay. As you can't finish this review all in one go, I figured I'd save you lot the trouble of trying to figure out where you left off.
At the very least, Victory is actually a sequel and not a reboot because Compile Heart forgot to cater to a specific fetish and needed to wipe the continuity clean to add in little sisters because the game's world could not possibly live without them. However, and I know this is tempting fate of the highest degree but they might as well have started again. By accident, Neptune is transported to an alternate dimension that resembles a past version of Gamindustri that's meant to resemble the 1980s and meets up with alternate versions of her CPU friends who act or don't act just like the ones in her dimension except when they don't or do (I dunno). Oddly enough, Planeptune isn't run by another Neptune but actually an airhead named Plutia, much to the dismay of fans everywhere who wanted to see Neptune save the world alongside another Neptune. Together with her alternate friends Plutia and Noire, Neptune spends her days lounging around doing pretty much nothing except when someone shows up at their door to tell them the plot's arrived.
The cracks in the characterisation caused by mk2 have only worsened and some of the faecal matter is beginning to leak through. You see, the characters don't have the most rigidly defined personalities, allowing the writers to make them do pretty much whatever they want without risking making them too out of character. Also helping them is that any complaints about how the characters act can be countered by pulling the alternate dimension card despite this being the exact same card awful fanfiction writers fall back on in the face of criticism. Thus, events happen not because they actually would happen but because the writers wanted them to happen. Noire, the first game's IF of the party minus the personality traits other than "stereotypical Tsundere, get me #1 in the polls immediately", repeatedly gets landed on by people falling from the sky. Given how she's presented as the only smart/sensible one of the team, you'd expect her to catch on the first time around and step out of the way on all subsequent occasions, or even stick her sword up in the air if she got particularly sick of it. Unfortunately, all she ever does is stupidly stand in the same spot despite the voice above saying "GET OUT OF THE WAY YOU CARDBOARD CUTOUT!" because Noire being landed on is apparently funny.
One would think that returning characters Neptune and Nepgear would be better in this regard. They are not. Being booted out of her main character role from the last game and with the cries of "she's too boring" still ringing in her ears like the DuckTales theme, Nepgear is subject to being the butt monkey this time around, having affinities and traits like "Turncoat" and "Gossip Girl" slapped onto her at the most inconvenient of times as quickly as it takes to ruin any serious moment. At all other times, she's complaining about how she's not the main character if not (justifiably) about how badly her sister is treating her. It's a shame that she never evolved into a confident hero by the end of mk2 after saving her sister and the world shortly after, thereby making her self-esteem issues mostly irrelevant, because Compile Heart would have a decent character trait to work with if she did. Unfortunately, such is not the case and Compile Heart, bless their souls, have had to make do with what little they had.
Neptune, on the other hand, actually has a character to work with but that character is a massive bitch... well, she's always been like that. However, the first game gave her a character arc about it and she didn't have many opportunities to be completely intolerable in mk2. In Victory, while almost every other character is working diligently for whatever goals they have, Neptune just sits on her backside for three years doing nothing to figure out how to get back to her own dimension. Whenever she is called out on her slothfulness, she either doesn't care or shifts the blame back. She comes across as callous to her own "beloved" sister, leaving her at the mercy of a merciless sadist simply because it'd be troublesome to intervene and treating her generally as an afterthought. She only acts for her interests and doesn't seem to care about anyone who isn't a hot chick younger than 20 unless they have something she likes. This is exactly the same as her first character but, while she was rightfully called out on this then and learned to not be a bitch, Victory doesn't give her such character growth and makes her the second most irritating player character.
The most irritating (to put it mildly) player character, however, is none other than newcomer Plutia. Good God, has this one made an impact. True to the game's expectations, Plutia's god-like status has carried over to real life, only her real life feats are limited to parting the Red Sea, except the Red Sea is the Neptunia fan base and one side loves her and the other wishes she'd impale herself on every sharp object she can find in a car workshop. Plutia is a few things but she's mostly sadistic and she rapes pretty much everyone in the entire game (the game never says that but I very much doubt she's making her targets listen to Hot Problems). No, I am not kidding: at one point, Noire visits Neptune and Plutia to complain about Wii Land. When she begins to get a bit annoying, Plutia decides to transform into her dominatrix alter-ego and kick out Neptune and her fairy friend into the next room from which they hear, quite loudly, Noire getting raped for two hours. When she's done after a scene break, Noire is reduced to a robotic state of complete compliance to Plutia's every whim for a short while. Did I mention that the general premise of the series is "cute girls doing cute things"?
I hate Plutia. No one can ever understand the true extent to which I utterly loathe her. She's a completely intolerable Mary Sue who exists only to get pleasure from hurting people, who see sees as chew toys that seem to be able to speak rather than actual living, thinking people. This would be fine if she was a villain but we're supposed to recognise her as a hero even as she befriends a crying girl because she wants to see her cry again because it was "cute". Even CFW Trick acted out of a twisted view of affection rather than a desire to inflict pain on others. However, as Iris Heart is a hot dominatrix rather than a teddy dinosaur with a large tongue and a not-sexy voice, it's okay. Yes, Plutia does get scolded and she's oddly compliant with her allies when they're not busy crossing their fingers hoping to not be 'disciplined' by her HDD form but this does not balance out how she has both Blanc and Noire fighting for her affections, frightens everyone including the villains, acts as the emotional heart of the team and is portrayed as generally unstoppable. You know something's gone wrong when the heroes are in the position of assured victory that is typically reserved for the bad guys and you begin to feel like you are the villain this time around. I'm not kidding when I say that the most awe-inspiring character in this game is Pirachu, the rat from the last game, because he stands to fight six opponents he knows he can't defeat just to give his colleague time to flee.
Speaking of the villains, they're better this time around. Unlike mk2's ASIC, the Seven Sages actually regularly converse with each other so we see more of their characters, motivations, relationships and whatnot. However, it's hard to take them seriously as villains. Not because they're not threatening or villainous because they definitely are; Mister Badd (I know, stop laughing) and Anonydeath (I know, stop laughing) are dangerously intelligent yet vile enough to make you want to punch then in the face. It's just that I want to punch Plutia in the face even more. She regards nothing as even an inconvenience let alone a threat and a "meh, pushover" attitude, especially one coming from a member of a party of five goddesses and one of their little sisters, kind of makes it hard to care about threats that you'll inevitably solve by beating the carp out of them. Although, given how the Seven Sage's de facto leader Rei Ryghts (I know, stop laughing) is a stuttering nervous wreck beyond the likes of even Nepgear, this attitude is somewhat justified.
Rei's goal is to overthrow the CPUs and establish a new government system, a surprisingly adult and human motivation for a villain in what is trying to be a light and silly game. Nevertheless, given how the CPUs are either lazy, sadistic, sore losers or willing to threaten their subjects with violence if they leave their landmass, it's not hard to sympathise with such goals or even agree with them. In fact, Rei's personality and trials are more befitting of a hero than a villain. The resistance Rei leads consists of seven people who don't respect her much at all and she is fighting against four nations and five goddesses to revolutionise an entire world. In addition, the CPUs have great power without really working for it, sometimes by luck only, and they just sit around arguing with each other about petty things while Rei is hard at work. At least the villains in mk2 posed a genuine threat with their frightening power and their unambiguously evil goal to blow up the world, making even Plutia more preferable to stand with than them. Mind you, the threat-o-meter does rise but only about three quarters of the way through the game while the Four Felons established in the very first cutscene that they were not to be messed with.
This will take longer to get to than you think because Victory is by far the longest of the three games, mostly thanks to its cutscenes in which the characters seem to have a massive aversion to shutting up. When they're not talking in circles and repeating the same plot points over and over because they're too stupid to figure it out in less than ten text boxes with a synchronised "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" added, they're going off on tangents mostly for Neptune to break the fourth wall. Admittedly, there are a few good zingers in here but they get dragged on too long to be funny. It's like the game is declaring war on all things succinct and punchy (I am quite aware of the hypocrisy, thank you). This only gets worse before boss fights because you can't skip cutscenes. Oh sure, pressing square brings up something saying 'skip' but that's only fast-forwarding. You can only skip entire cutscenes at once if you're re-watching them and why would I want to skip them if I made the choice to re-watch them?
If you're watching the English dub at least, you'll be better off if you can read faster than you can listen because there is no English dub. In ten chapters of this maybe 40 hour game, there are maybe only three voiced scenes per chapter barring the ones that introduce new characters, and even those ones can go unvoiced. Having so little lines to voice and may explain why the voice actors completely phoned it in this time around. On the other hand, most of them voice both the human and CPU forms of the main cast, meaning they have to manage two often completely different dispositions and leave us with a jack of all trades, master of none scenario. The villains don't have this problem and newcomer Copypaste (I know, stop laughing) is always entertaining to listen to. I didn't even play beyond Chapter 3 without the Japanese voice acting, partly because it's actually there but mostly because I like to listen to a Neptune that can actually capture her inherent energy and a Noire that doesn't sound like a high school gymnast with a broken nose.
To put the cherry on top, Victory isn't so much light and silly as much as it is airheaded and stupid. I have no problem whatsoever with light-hearted plots and I'm even okay with silly plots. However, good light and silly plots still maintain consistency; silly moments are treated as silly, awesome moments are treated as awesome and pants-soiling moments are treated as pants-soiling. Victory, however, treats the awesome moments as silly, the sad moments as silly and the entire game is just one big silly moment that spans around two decades. This a shame because there are elements in this game that could have actually been good if they had effort put into them. I am not ashamed to admit that there is a scene early on that gripped my heart like a vice and made me tear up in genuine sympathetic sorrow. If Neptune could keep her mouth shut and not repeat "We're going to ruin this moment!" for five minutes like a record being held at gunpoint and if Plutia did not take up the role of the Heart and resolve the matter in a completely inappropriate way that had me shouting insults at the TV, I would have considered it an actually good moment. The problem is that the game treats itself as an absolute joke, sabotaging its only strong points and never working to resolve its weaknesses.
Actually, that's only in regards to story. To be fair, Compile Heart actually do work on the gameplay and it's surprisingly tolerable now. Oh, it's still as unbalanced as ever, don't get me wrong. It's just that, this time around, the balance is tilted against you. While the best tactic of surrounding your enemy and whacking them until they die hasn't changed at all, the enemies are now much more brutal and unforgiving, forcing you to take every advantage you can get. Your only saving grace is that the enemy AI is as stupid as ever and can't think of basic tactics beyond moving towards you and using whatever ridiculously overpowered attack its brain reads from its 8-ball. I like this change in difficulty; I like being forced to take my options into account and to think two steps ahead.
Unfortunately, skill won't carry you much through here. While positioning your party members to keep your enemy focused on your tank is definitely helpful, it all comes down to numbers and luck nonetheless. The standard enemies aren't that hard to overcome but some bosses will force you to grind a few levels to withstand their first turn of attacks. With this, along with the turn order bar, I think the series plain hates me now. The turn order bar is probably the most useless HUD element ever because it shifts the turns around constantly. It says you have two turns in a row? Well, too bad; you ended your turn and your other turn vanishes into the aether. Nowhere is it ever mentioned what actions do what to the turn order bar and you're better off not relying on it. At the very least, enemies no longer get a million turns; they're all just compressed into one turn that is spent on a single attack not unlike blowing up the planet.
As was the previous case, you approach enemies in the dungeon and touch them to initiate combat. It's possible to get the first strike in by hitting the enemy but this often turns into a roll of loaded dice. There's a slight delay between pressing the attack button and your character lunging forward to strike, most likely flashing their panties at you in the process, and your enemies have ridiculously skewed hitboxes that never match their sprites. This will result in you pressing the attack button half a second before you normally would to hit an enemy that wouldn't normally be hit by it anyway. If you fail this and the enemy touches you while you're trying to balance yourself after your ridiculously inept swing, the enemy side gets a free turn. If this happens to you early on, you might as well reload your last save then and there, especially if the enemy goes viral, getting an enviable boost in stats as well as their health and guard meters filled all the way back up. It would also help if the game gave you a clear indicator of whether an enemy could see you or not. Sometimes, enemies seem to have the vision of flies and yet there are times when I can stand in front of them and they won't give the slightest toss.
Given the heightened difficulty of combat, the combo system could have actually worked this time. Again, when you attack an enemy, you can then attack three more times with either multi-hitting Rush attacks, powerful Power attacks or guard gauge-reducing Break attacks, meaning you could attack most effectively depending on the situation. I say "could" because you only have a limited number of points in the options menu from which you can build your combos. Realising that the best way to approach bosses is to reduce their guard gauge and then throw every single EXE skill I had at them at once, I sunk all my points into my best Rush attacks - which fill up my EXE gauge faster - followed by my Break attacks and I pretty much left the Power attacks to rot even at the end of the game. Elemental attacks are even worse because you only have the attacks you chose from the options menu to use, so you're quite screwed if your Rush attacks are of an element your enemy is resistant to.
Unfortunately, the combat is pretty much where my praise ends because everything around that is a massive wall of snot. For one, the technical issues. For whatever reason, the game's frame rate is very inconsistent and can't seem to stay consistently at sixty outside of one-on-one fights. Secondly, the dungeons. Again, they look pretty and I wouldn't mind having a picnic in them. I lose my taste in dungeons, however, when I find at least one of each dungeon type replicated on each landmass and mostly with the same layout except in reverse or the entry/exit points rearranged. The game loses even more points by lifting dungeons, amongst other things, that are completely unchanged from mk2. Hey, Neptune? Let's break the fourth wall for a bit; does this factory look familiar to you at all? Are you going to call out the developers for laziness like you called them out for debugging issues? No? ... Alright then, I guess.
The game has a lot of ancillary mechanics that add nothing to the overall experience but nothing is more tedious or agitating than the Scout system. You pay Scouts a certain amount of money to go to a dungeon, pass the time by going in and out of dungeons and then they'll tell you if they found anything when you get back. They may find items or the dungeon you sent them to will have different gather-able items or monsters or other things, or they may find a new dungeon on the landmass of the dungeon you sent them to. Unfortunately, if you're looking for something specific, you'll waste a massive amount of time sending the same scouts to the same location because it hinges entirely on random chance. For example, you can craft an item that lets you jump higher but one of the materials can only be found from a certain Tough Foe. Tough Foes can only be found by going to the dungeon that they appear in, standing up the flag(s) in that dungeon, sending scouts to it and hoping that they report with "enemy positions have changed". By the way, the game does not tell you where the monster is or if it actually drops the material or that the material is even a monster drop. Good luck scouring all those dungeons.
In fact, the game doesn't tell you much of anything, especially the requirements for two of the three endings. For the Good ending, you need to find a number of items. Not hard but a warning would be nice. However, if you wish to branch out beyond that and go for the True ending, you will need to see a number of certain events in Chapter 9. Also, those events can only be found in hidden dungeons, so you'll need to send your scouts out to find them. Also, the game never tells you where these dungeons are. Also, the game never tells you that some landmasses don't even have the hidden dungeons or that one landmass has two. Also, the game never tells you how many events there are, nor if you've viewed them all or not. Also, to put the cherry on top, the game never actually tells you that these events even exist. Trying to get the True ending for this game without a strategy guide or an account for a Neptunia forum is like trying to find a wallet in a mosh pit.
To be completely insufferable, the game reviews you Famitsu-style at the end of each chapter based on your performance in Story, Quests, Scouts and Monsters Killed with no elaboration on what any of the terms mean. Due to being underlevelled, trying to get a score of 40 on your first playthrough is pretty much impossible, not to mention a waste of time. Apparently, you get special rewards for a score of 40 but they're either cosmetic in value or completely worthless because I managed to complete the game just fine without them. Despite this, the reviewers - one of which being the president of Idea Factory - will inevitably give me a low score on everything that isn't Monsters Killed and say "Are you not trying to have fun?" Compile Heart, you of all people do not have the right to tell me to have fun with a game that simply isn't fun and you're not winning yourself any points when you tell me I suck because I refuse to play your stupid game how you expect me to play it. In fact, I have an idea: how about you suffocate yourself with a pair of shimapan and let me have fun my own way? You seem to like striped panties so much so everybody wins, like a game of Russian Roulette with a bullet in every chamber.
Sorry about that, got angry for a sec. Anyway, now for the Fanservice... of which there is not so much, actually. It's pretty much confined to the many panty shots and whatever Iris Heart does. There's one picture early on that's the most risqué thing the series has ever done but, apart from that, there's only one occasion where the party is molested by an antagonistic force and there are no twelve year-olds fighting in skimpy swimsuits. Regardless, if I played this game before the others, I'd be disgusted by it... actually, I'm still disgusted by it but mk2 has deadened my senses and my knee-jerk reactions have vanished by this point. Still, this is beyond the levels of the first game and you're going to be offended again if you were before.
I'm offended for more than that reason alone. Even though I'm dull for the Fanservice..., my gripes with the series have always been with the story. Say what you will but there is genuine talent somewhere in these games, made with the heart and soul of someone who really wanted to write something good, and it wouldn't take much to bring it out and make something amazing with it. On the other hand, for a silly game, it's not silly enough. The serious moments are too earnest and they completely override the silly atmosphere everyone is trying to convince me that the series has while resisting the urge to rip their hair out from my very stubborn position of not buying that argument. If the games started respecting themselves and put in some effort in either seriousness or silliness without hitting another reset button, we might end up with something great. As it is, it doesn't currently matter what order of personal preference I line the games up in as they're all on the same conveyor belt leading to the furnace anyway.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
Hello, everyone. Been a while, hasn't it? Yeah, thought I'd come back with and then slink back into obscurity until Remember Me comes out or until I actually make a review of something I actually like, like Klonoa or Thomas Was Alone.