Game Review #540: Megadimension Neptunia VII (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory, Ghostlight
Release Date: 7.28.2020
Watch the Trailer
Buy Megadimension Neptunia VII from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
I’ve said it before, but my greatest fear when picking up a long-running series for the first time is feeling completely lost by the games’ recurring characters, storylines, or in-jokes. The Hyperdimension Neptunia series launched on the PS3, and technically only has four games in the main series. It also has over a dozen spinoffs and remakes which feature many of the same characters, so it seems a little daunting at first glance. Megadimension Neptunia VII (that’s vee-two, not seven) is the newest of the main games, and is making its debut on the Switch four years after its launch on the PS4. Luckily, it takes some steps to make new players feel included – and maybe have a little fun at their expense. But in a very loving way.
The Neptunia games take place in the fictional/digital realm of Gamindustri, which is divided into four nations, each representative of a different game console. You’ve got Lastation/Playstation, Lowee/Wii (when the series launched this was more current. This is what Nintendo gets for not keeping its naming conventions consistent across console generations, I guess), Leanbox/X-Box, and Planeptune, which is a take on the cancelled Sega Neptune console. Each country has a figurehead in the form of a CPU, or an adorable anime girl, that take power from shares – a type of energy CPUs derive from the belief of their followers – to protect their realms. Apparently the first game was a more literal take on the console wars, but I guess sometime between then and now they all became friends? That part doesn’t really get explained in detail in VII, but it’s also not really relevant to anything happening in the game either, so no harm no foul.
The game’s nominal protagonist – although the story takes different routes with its entire cast of 16 playable characters – is Neptune, the CPU of Planeptune. She’s a high-energy girl who would rather run off on an adventure than sit around doing the work of governing her country, and on one of her adventures she finds a strange console and brings it home. When it activates, she and her younger sister Nepgear are transported to another dimension where they meet that world’s last surviving CPU (and human being), Uzume Tennouboshi. She immediately earned a special place in my heart as I instantly recognized her as the Dreamcast CPU. Neptune and Nepgear decide to help Uzume save her planet, which is plagued by a giant purple city-destroying robot girl, while they search for a way home. Things get bigger and more complicated from there, but that’s where things start.
The story is broken up into three different acts, which are presented kind of like anime OVAs, which is a neat idea. The different acts are further broken into episodes, complete with episode previews. Each OVA has its own opening and closing credits, which all feature great J-rock and J-pop songs. I really found myself enjoying the strong relationships between the CPUs and their allies, as well as the game’s upbeat and fluffy sense of humor. Things veer into heavy fanservice from time to time (these girls take a lot of communal baths) which I normally don’t like to bring up or pass judgment on, but just be forewarned; some of the characters in the game are extremely young-looking, so a lot of the fanservice scenes with those characters can be pretty uncomfortable because of that. Just something to be aware of before you pick it up if that’s something that bothers you.
The game’s story elements play out in visual novel style cutscenes, but the meat of the gameplay takes place in 3D dungeons which players explore with whomever they have chosen as the leader of their party. You can run, jump, and swing your weapon while exploring these dungeons. Swinging your weapon is useful for both destroying certain objects (crates, barrels, boxes, etc…) and for beginning combat with enemy units patrolling the area. Hitting enemies to engage them in combat gives you the initiative, which means you characters always go first.
That’s pretty standard for a lot of JRPGs nowadays, but it does have its challenges – well, challenge. The hit detection on this is all over the place; I literally never figured out where to swing to actually hit an enemy consistently. Sometimes I wouldn’t even be facing an enemy and my sword would hit it, other times I’d be basically right on top of an enemy and no hit would register. That confusion about starting fights isn’t just limited to initiating it with an attack; just running into an enemy starts a fight, too, but without the initiative, and the hit radius for that is all over the place as well. I never figured out where I needed to be to start a fight on my terms, or how far away to stay to avoid getting hit with a surprise attack. I enjoyed the battle system overall, but this part of it kind of sucked.
However you manage to contact an enemy, once you do, combat begins. Players and the AI take turns according to the order listed in the upper right corner of the screen, which is affected by the actions you take. You and your enemies can move around the battlefield at will, as long as you stay within your movement range. Positioning yourself beside or behind an enemy will increase both your damage and your accuracy, which adds a nice tactical layer to positioning your characters. This becomes most relevant during boss fights, but certain tougher random enemies require some extra thought, too.
Your regular attacks are heavily influenced by your equipped weapon, not just in terms of damage, but structure as well. You can link several individual attacks together in your weapon, which allows you to build combos instead of just executing a single attack. However, the more moves you add to your combo, the longer it will take for your character to act again. Sometimes, if an enemy (mostly bosses) are fast enough, they can get two attacks in if you use too long of a combo. I mostly got around this by using special attacks instead of combos in boss fights, but sometimes you run out of SP and have to resort to combos.
Every weapon has a different combo layout, which determines how many of each of the three classes of attack you have access to for your combos. Some weapons favor one attack type over another, certain enemies have a higher defense to some types of attack, and some weapons limit the number of attacks you can incorporate into your combos, so building your character’s loadout has a little more depth than just equipping the weapon with the highest attack, which I appreciated. Different weapons even have different areas of attack, which can even make it possible to hit more than one enemy at a time.
Every character also has special attacks, such as magic and physical attacks, that consume SP to use. You eventually gain access to an EX meter, as well, which enables your characters to use team-up attacks provided you’ve filled enough bars on the meter and you have characters in your party that can team up. CPU characters can transform into their HDD modes, and eventually a second level of transformation called NEXT is unlocked. It is apparently new to the series with this entry, but since it’s all new to me I can’t really say how it affects combat strategies compared to past entries. I really never used the transformations except in boss fights anyway; they’re really overkill for most enemies and transforming uses up your shares – which I guess we should get to now.
In addition to having money to spend, you also have to garner and manage shares – eventually. You have to make it out of Uzume’s Zerodimension first. Anyway, once you do, you have to influence public opinion to increase your shares, otherwise you can’t transform. Getting shares is somewhat simple; you can complete quests offered by the guild in every major town, defeat monsters, and make investments in industry, commerce, or publicity. Investing also does cool stuff like expand the selection of shops and adding new items to be crafted in the development shop – oh, by the way, there’s a development shop where you can craft new weapons, armor, cosmetic, and consumable items. The town also features a scout function, where you can send scouts to dungeons you have discovered where they will look for items, money, and information to unlock secret treasure chests, as well as recruiting new scouts.
Hyperaverage Visualia, Megaawesome Auditoria
As far as the graphics here go, I’m really of two minds. The character portraits and backgrounds from the visual novel and town portions are rendered in a top-notch, colorful anime style bursting with bright, positive, fun energy. The 3D graphics during exploration and combat are… well, they don’t look bad, I guess, but they’re a step down in quality. Things definitely look a little out of date; it looks like a lower-budget game from several years ago, which I guess is what it is. The graphics are still colorful and the character and enemy designs are cool, the graphics just aren’t super sharp. There are also issues with the game slowing down in larger areas or in places where there are a lot of enemies on screen. There were a couple of times when I entered a new dungeon and it took some time for enemy models to load – time where I couldn’t move around – that I thought maybe the game had frozen.
On a more positive note, the game’s audio goes above and beyond what similar games I’ve played offer. The game isn’t fully voiceovered, but every major story-related cutscene and movie feature top-notch voice work – both English and Japanese - that really bring the characters to life. Moreover, I love the upbeat, electronic soundtrack. Whether it’s just a fun little tune playing on the world map, one of several intense, uptempo battle themes, or the J-rock bangers played during the different opening movies, the music never disappoints.
Megadimension Neptunia VII
This game has its warts, I can’t deny that. The 3D graphics don’t live up to the 2D aesthetic, finding a way to surprise enemies and gain the initiative is frustratingly inconsistent, and I, personally, am not super comfortable with fanservice that features very young-looking characters. But the game’s good qualities more than make up for these shortcomings; the characters and story are instantly lovable, the combat system – whether you have the initiative or not – is a lot of fun, and the soundtrack is absolutely impeccable. I can’t think of any reason for a JRPG fan to pass this one up.
Buy Megadimension Neptunia VII from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes