Wednesday 24 June 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review (PS Vita)

Written by Natalie Houghton

This is the latest in a barrage of Hyperdimension Neptunia games that have all been released in a flurry this year. Departing from the usual JRPG format of the previous games, this is a spin off which presents itself in the form of a Musou type action game. The general idea behind the Hyperdimenson games is quite pleasing, however the execution often lets them down. This spin off though is cut from an entirely different cloth, given that it's not developed by the usual creator of these games and is instead developed by Tamsoft who have already established themselves in this genre.

Following suit, all of the main characters who have been available in the previous games are available to play here, including the CPU's (Personified console goddesses) themselves (Neptune & Co) as well as their younger sisters; the CPU candidates (Nepgear & Co). Follow them around the parody filled world of Gamindustri as they embark on a raucous romp where they endeavour to complete all of the quests dealt to them and bash as many monsters on the head as is goddessly possible. They are joined on their adventures by two new playable characters - the journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu who will report on their every move. 

Essentially this is a 'Gotta smash 'em all' type game akin to Dynasty Warriors. To progress in the game our heroines must complete quests - which in all fairness are quite linear. The methodology is as follows: 1. Pick a quest 2. Note the requirements for completion 3. Begin thrashing around like a fish on acid 4. Kick ass! 5. Rinse and repeat. 

The repertoire of quests does not really change that much. There are a few 'special' quests that supposedly have different clear requirements but they aren't really that hard to figure out or that different from the main quests themselves. More variety in the quests would definitely not go amiss.  

Depending on your perspective you'll either love or hate the damage feature of the game which involves half the characters clothes magically flying off and becoming tattered. The result of which is that they therefore expose themselves to the world - exactly the same as in Senran Kagura games. This franchise is no stranger to having slightly ecchi (pervy), tendencies and the dialogue even pokes fun at itself and points out this fact. Love it or hate it though, this fan service is there to stay until you manage to unlock an unbreakable costume later in the game. 

There are a total of 10 characters to pick, each with their own unique weapons and fighting styles, each character has a normal attack and a strong attack which you can mix & match to create various combos with. There are also a couple of special attacks that require SP to use - these can be used to temporarily clear a large number of mobs. As you slaughter enemies, the EXE drive gauge will fill, once it is full enough, the characters have the option to transform into HDD mode which is essentially a stronger version of themselves that resembles the dragoon mode from the Legend of Dragoon (if anyone actually remembers that...). Whilst in this mode, there are a couple of special skills that can be executed which will pretty much mutilate everything in sight.

You can fight solo or play with two characters - the more two characters fight together the higher their lily rank will become, this will unlock special bonuses such as increased EXP gains and eventually a double team combo which is guaranteed to wash away anything that stands in their way - go nakama power!

The combat is fast and fluid with excellent optimisation for the PS Vita, the frame rate is top notch and the cel shaded style works really well along with all of the colours being astoundingly eye popping on the OLED screen. The characters and the art in general are incredibly well drawn and a pure pleasure to look at. The level design itself is fairly generic though, there's a forest level, an ice level and the classic lava level as well as a few levels that pay homage to older games such as Mario Bros and Tetris.

Character stat increases, new weapons and accessories are handled in a slightly different way to normal, whilst characters do level up in the usual way, acquiring upgrades is done by accessing the medal collection. Upon defeating enemies, some of them drop medals. Once a certain amount of medals have been collected you can then unlock stat increases as well as gaining new equipment. This means that you have to keep fighting in order to unlock everything. 

The plot is fairly thin and is more of a background distraction than anything else, it loosely manages to take the characters and general story forward and whilst at times, the banter between characters is interesting and slightly amusing there are other times where it totally misses the mark. The crux of this is that you don’t really care about the plot at all! Both characters Dengekiko and Famitsu are attempting to get the scoop on each of the girls' antics and in order to get these stories, quests need to be completed... and written about, THAT.IS.IT!

The English voice acting is dubious at best and half of the characters virtually sound the same, the Japanese is a notch above and comes as the recommended choice. My only real gripe is that some of the characters dialogue is overly cutesy. The general soundtrack on the other hand blew me away, I really did want to listen to it as I fought my way through endless hordes of slimes, animated flowers and cubes. Like the looks of the game itself, the wide array of tunes on display here is nothing but a joy to listen to. 

The two extra modes which are unlocked after beating Chapter 3 don't really add any further depth to the game. Both the Gamindustri Gauntlet where you can create your own 10 fighter tournaments and battle it out until the end is much more dull than it sounds and the same goes for the Neptral Tower which involves climbing a long tower filled with randomly changing enemies.

Overall, this is an attractive and amusing game that is pleasing on the eye as well as the ear that is great for a fun quick blast in the middle of the day, during your commute or simply whenever you feel like it. It would get repetitive quickly if it were on a console but it suits the nature of time-limited handheld gaming perfectly. If you are a fan of the genre and like crazy button bashing over the top combo-creating anime style games then it is definitely worth a go. It isn't the best game ever but by no means is it the worst either. 

Score: 6/10

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