Arfoire may have been defeated in Hyperdimension Neptunia, but this time, in mk2, she has her own syndicate plotting her revival. Enter the ASIC (Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime), a crime ring specializing in pirating. Their headquarters are located in the Gamindustri Graveyard, where “the fallen and obsolete” of the Gamindustri world lie. The CPUs (Purple Heart, Green Heart, Black Heart, and White Heart) from the previous game rally and, along with Neptune’s little sister Nepgear, charge into the enemy’s headquarters to defeat them once and for all.
Except, things don’t go quite as planned and Nepgear ends up escaping alone with her life barely intact, with the help of Compa and IF. Her sisters continue to sleep in hibernation, captured until Nepgear and her friends can save them from their fate.
Whew, that was a mouthful, and … to be honest, I’m not quite sure where to start. Although I started playing this game with much trepidation, I will admit that Neptunia mk2 is a fun game. It has many interesting ideas working for it, and it runs very smoothly. There are hardly any loading times between scenes or between battles, and I found myself flying through the dungeons, completing quests and even grinding without the least bit of annoyance.
Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I feel that the game is full of strange dualities. Playing the game is fun, but the content is inane. The art is nice, but the dungeons are simple and empty. There are plenty of geek-culture references — winged bear-like enemies named Kupocat and other enemies resembling the aliens from Space Invaders and references to Steins;Gate — and yet, it somehow falls short. It’s almost touching and emotional at times, but conflicts are resolved a bit too quickly and I felt like I was herded from one objective to the next with no proper pacing.
It’s almost like the creators had so much fun inserting little nods — Disgaea and Atelier references abound — that they forgot to add the flavouring that takes an “average” game and makes it “great”.
I suppose part of this is because I haven’t played the first game. As I understand it, you don’t need to have played the original Neptunia to play mk2, and, to a point, I agree. The conflict is unrelated to that in Neptunia, and the world is different. However, despite its self-proclaimed detachment from its previous installment, there are plenty of threads linking mk2 to Neptunia. Almost every member of the cast from Neptunia is back (from Compa and Gust to Noire and Blanc), which will be a boon to fans. The names for all the nations are the same, and the general theme (of geek culture) is constant.
I had no trouble keeping up with this, though. What did lose me was the fact that it throws you jump into the middle of a conflict, uninformed, and yet, expects you to keep up meticulously. “There was a conflict with someone and someone else, and people are captured, and … oh look, tentacles. What?” It was only after I did a bit of online research that I grasped what was going on.
I didn’t much appreciate being lost. Beyond this problem, the story-telling style of hurried rushing and jumping into the middle of events made me feel that everything happening in the game was superficial at best, and didn’t endear me to the characters or their predicament. It was almost like the game was deliberately trying to lose me right at the start.
But, as I said, this game is full of dualities. Now that I’ve complained to my heart’s content, let’s move on to the aspects that Neptunia mk2 does well.
Story scenes play out in visual novel style, complete with an Auto option and a backlog for you to read the dialogue (staples of any visual novel game, but hardly present in any other genre), which I thought was a nice touch. The portraits are in 3D, which is kind of refreshing, and almost every scene is voiced in both Japanese and English audio. You can also find hidden events that will raise a character’s affection for you, which will affect your Lily Rank.
Lily Rank is sort of like a friendship system and it increases if you have a character in your party or through various events. Increasing a character’s Lily Rank can unlock different support effects for different characters and affect which ending you get as well.
Support is just one of the many ways Neptunia mk2 allows you to customize your battle party. You can partner one of the girls up with one in your active party to enable special support effects, such as “Nulls all Ailments” or “Physical Def +”. You can also switch partners in and out on the fly in a battle at the expense of your current turn.
Another way you can customize your characters is by dressing them up through the usage of special clothing items. They start small (a hair ribbon of a different color, glasses, etc.), but eventually you’ll find entire outfits you can dress your character in. In addition, the image editing option from Neptunia is back, and you can upload an image from your PS3 and decorate Nepgear with it.
You can also influence the relative strength of your CPU candidate characters (Nepgear, UNI, ROM and RAM) by changing the “shares” in Gamindustri, which can be increased or decreased accordingly through the completion of quests. For example, if you want to make Nepgear stronger, then you can complete quests that increase Planeptune’s shares (the nation where Nepgear’s from). This will in turn decrease shares of someplace else, so you can balance and tweak the strengths of your characters to some extent.
Battles are incredibly fast, well-animated, and fun. As I mentioned, there are no loading times, so you jump into a battle, and you jump out. They’re avoidable, too, since everything runs using symbol encounters. You can generally tell which enemies are too strong for you as well, so you can pick and choose your battles. In addition, you can pre-empt the enemy to gain an edge in battle by attacking them in the dungeon.
Fights are loosely turn-based in that you can complete any number of actions so long as you have AP left. Every action you take decreases AP, which refills a set amount at the beginning of every turn. You can move anywhere you want within a certain radius of your character’s current location, and you can use any of three attacks you assign to your character in any order you wish. If you use the correct order of attacks, you can also unlock a special EX Finish attack for more damage. In addition, you have access to skills, which take SP to cast. SP is refilled by attacking the enemy.
This introduces some strategy into your attacks, since the weaker Rush attacks strike the enemy several times, leading to more SP gain, while the stronger Heavy attacks do more damage. In addition, every enemy has a guard gauge that is heavily decreased only through Breaker attacks, which do moderate damage. If you can decrease the gauge completely, then you break the enemy’s guard and can do massive damage to it with all subsequent attacks (until the gauge fills up again).
You can also transform any of the CPU characters into their Hard-Drive Divinity state, which makes them significantly stronger. However, each turn consumes a crazy amount of SP, so you have to spend time building up your ability to use this boost during a battle if you want to use the form efficiently.
Battles aren’t difficult, which I found refreshing, although boss battles do present some challenge. I think the balance between the difficulty levels is comfortable. Provided you do most of the quests, you should always be at a reasonable level, and even if you aren’t, grinding doesn’t feel tiring at all.
About the only complaint I have during exploring is the fact that the camera is much too close to your character. You can zoom out a little through use of the D-pad, but it’s not as much as I’d like.
mk2 is an entertaining and lengthy game, but as far as story and characters go, there’s nothing to see here beyond mindless fluff. Even so, if you’re going to play the game, I highly recommend at least familiarizing yourself with Hyperdimension Neptunia first, regardless of whether you pay attention to story or not.
Food for thought:
1.) Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 earns its keep as an M-rated game almost immediately. Nothing too, too explicit, but quite explicit enough.
2.) Nepgear is based on the Sega Game Gear, UNI is based on the PSP, and Ram and Rom are based on the DS, for its two screens. Vert doesn’t have a little sister, on account of Microsoft not having a portable system.
3.) There’s a plethora of DLC for this game. I don’t know when they’ll be released, but I do know that two of them will unlock the ability to use Falcom and Cave in battle.