It’s a challenge to write a playtest about Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation without sounding redundant. I playtested Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth last year, and practically everything I had to say about the first game still applies to the second, except with an extra coat of polish this time.
Even the story threatens to tread the same ground. The game opens with Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert—the “CPUs” (read: moe anthropomorphizations of consoles) who had to overcome their differences and join together to battle the forces of the piracy promoting, faith-stealing Arfoire—being defeated and trapped in “the console graveyard’ alongside Neptune’s younger sister Nepgear. Nepgear is awakened years later by Neptune’s friends IF and Compa (who represent Idea Factory and Compile Heart, respectvely) and tasked with gaining enough power to free the CPUs from their imprisonment.
You see, Nepgear is a CPU candidate, granted the same superhuman abilities as her older sister and capable of transforming into a more serious, battle-ready version of herself. To battle the forces of the evil Arfoire, she needs to work with the other CPU candidates (the “sisters” of the title), all of whom have some arbitrary reason to distrust or dislike her.
Yep. It’s a lot like the first Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth, and at first, I was irritated by this. Given that the original game recycled a ton of content as you got further and further in, I didn’t exactly feel like giving Re;Birth 2’s story the benefit of the doubt, especially when the moefied PSP character UNI seemed almost exactly like her older sister Noire. Nepgear’s lack of self-confidence and incredibly soft-spoken personality didn’t exactly help things either. Her constant worry that she wasn’t good enough to get anything done (even though she was tearing through enemies like a hot knife through butter) made me a bit nostalgic for the energy and enthusiasm of her older sister.
That said, my mild annoyance with Nepgear as a character was quickly overshadowed by how impressed I was with this game’s localization versus the last’s. While Re;Birth’s localization was pretty rough, Re;Birth 2’s actually had me chuckling to myself at some points. The fact that this game’s localization was so much more fun to read than the original’s made the game feel much better-paced and distracted somewhat from the fact that environments and enemy character models were being recycled over and over again. It sounds like a little thing, but it made going through story beats that should have felt old and tired entertaining and made Re;Birth 2 a lot more enjoyable to play than its predecessor.
The Neptunia Re;Birth series is somewhat interesting in the fact that there aren’t really any towns. You’ve got a map and locations to click on in which story happens, but you’ll never actually explore the land of Gamindustri. Dungeons are revisited again and again, but they’re linear and static, with options to tweak the monsters and items in them if you’ve clicked on the right NPCs or viewed all of a town’s events. Quests are always of the “fetch” variety, which will have you wander out into these dungeons and kill a certain number of the pastel reference-heavy monsters or collect the things they drop. Outside of the silly story, the only thing to be found in Re;Birth 2 is combat. Fortunately, that’s still pretty good.
Combat once again takes on its hybridized SRPG/Final Fantasy X approach, using exactly the same UI, system, and even voice clips as the original Re;Birth. While the voice clips are limited, the combat is a lot of fun. You’ve got a turn roster at the top of the screen that can be changed somewhat by the cooldown on the action each combatant performs, and when it’s one of your characters’ turn to attack, you’re able to move them anywhere in a movement ring before making your move. If you attack, a box will appear in front of your character displaying your attack range. That box will change in size and shape depending on what weapon you have equipped, and whatever enemies you catch within that box are subject to your customizable combos.
(In the spirit of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation’s battle system, I’m going to lift this next paragraph straight from my writeup of Re;Birth 1.)
Combos are based on three types of attacks. Power Attacks (mapped to Square), Break Attacks (X), and Rapid Attacks (Triangle). Power attacks are pretty self explanatory, dealing as much raw HP damage as possible. Break attacks will eat away at the opponents guard gauge, which can be broken to deal bonus damage. Rapid attacks will build up the EXE Drive gauge, which, when raised high enough, will allow you to add highly-damaging finishing moves to your combo (for no cost, strangely) or can be spent to use an ungodly special attack.
Proper use of these combos is absolutely mandatory, as Nepgear and friends are distressingly fragile. (Don’t worry, we’re back to original content now). For the most part, enemies in a new dungeon can hack off about a third of your HP in a single turn, and if your characters are positioned closely to each other, a string of enemy attacks can wipe you out handily. However, if you get in a first Persona 3-style attack on an enemy wandering around in the dungeon, all of your characters will get a turn in advance of all of the enemies on the field, which allows you to take out entire enemy parties before they have a chance to attack if you can break their guards and dish out killing blows efficiently enough.
Bosses, while a little less back-breakingly hard than the first game, are still where the game’s combat shines the brightest. You need to have your characters’ spacing and movement down to a T to beat them. Get everyone close together for an AOE attack buff, break apart and surround the boss to keep casualties to a minimum, keep your healer at a safe range, but also close enough that she can get to everyone within two of her turns if possible… the spacing-based boss battles spoke to the SRPG fiend in me, and each fight felt like a tactical high point.
Keeping in mind that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation only really aspires to be cutesy, nostalgic fun wrapped in an interesting battle system, it hits that mark admirably. The localization managed to elevate the game above the initial dread I felt when I saw it falling into the same groove as the first game. Considering it basically is the first game with some new characters, that’s pretty impressive.
Food for Thought:
1. One of the big changes from Re;Birth 1 to 2 is the addition of “Stella’s Dungeon,” a mode that has you send Stella, the anthropomorphization of the games’ developer FeliStella, out on an adventure to one of the dungeons you cleared. You can’t actually watch her explore these dungeons, but in a number of minutes, she will return with whatever she found. The more items she finds that she can equip, the deeper into the dungeon you can send her. It’s just a bonus time-waster that runs in the background even if you have the Vita off, but it can be kind of fun.
2. Red, the tiny representative of Sakura Wars devs Red Entertainment is obsessed with finding “wifeys” for herself and giant mechs. Cave (based on shooter company CAVE, before they moved to mobile) is good at evading things. Characters exhibiting traits that matched their companies humored me far more than it should have.