Once again, thanks for tagging along with us for a Neptune marathon clocking in at a massive 62 hours from one end to another, and for asking questions of the game. I’d like to acknowledge Alaylle for helping me so much with logistics and support – It can be a bit difficult managing a live video stream all on your own.
So what did we sit down to watch this time? A console war, cute girls, and a storyline literally out of this world… If you want absurd creativity with a game that pokes all sorts of fun at… well, just about anything game or anime related, look no further than Super Dimension Game Neptune.
The story starts with a virtual caricature of what happened back in the ‘90s, with Vert (Xbox 360), Noire (PS3) and Blanc (Wii) ganging up on Purple Heart, representing the unreleased Sega Neptune, because she wasn’t relevant anymore. Events are more out of this world after the opening sequence, where we are introduced to Neptune, and Compa, Compile Heart’s in-game representative. Compa’s a ditzy nurse who’s very… direct in her medical treatment. IF (Idea Factory) is considerably more sensible contrast to the rest of the cast… although I have no idea where she gets reception for all of her mobile phones she carries. There’s also Nippon Ichi, who you’d suspect took a little too many lessons from various wannabe heroes, like a certain scarfed Prinny. Gust is so adorable, yet you can’t help but wonder if she’s going to accidently blow a hole in a nearby wall.
The Hearts are no different. Each console goddess has a distinct personality, which you might even expect if your console came to life, took a female form and started talking with you. Noire’s a classical tsundere. Vert’s a narcoleptic otaku. Blanc’s… well, just say she’s a bit scatterbrained. And Neptune’s by far the creepiest cheerful little girl you’ll ever meet. During the cutscenes, you’ll laugh a lot as you see references and cameos from various Sega games to Fist of the North Star and Sailor Moon. Even if you only understand a little, you’ll find yourself laughing at the characters themselves — Compa’s cluelessness, Neptune’s overly enthusiastic outlook (albeit with violent tendencies), Vert falling asleep in conversations, and IF just standing there thinking "Wait, what did I just see?", disbelieving what she just saw… with you most likely you’ll think the same thing.
A major part of Neptune is combat. The attack system itself is highly customizable, where you can pick attacks. The moves vary from two basic melee blows and a single gun shot, to more spectacular attacks with both gunplay and the weapons. IF may be relatively boring, but there’s something to be said when you watch Compa tear into an enemy… by shooting lots and lots of elemental bullets using with oversized syringe. The strangest attack would be Purple Heart’s Planetune – the game even adds a little disclaimer as you watch the entire planet being blown up telling you it’s a bit of a dramatization, which you’d wish they add to other games with world ending attacks. Like many other Idea Factory developed games, each attack costs AP. Once you’re out of AP or you end the turn, the next person in line takes theirs.
A lot of games from the cameo companies appear in little discs where you can summon them to do an elemental damage attack. If you know your gaming, you’ll recognize these characters, and if you remember any of them, it’s kinda neat to see them. If it wasn’t for the fact they don’t do all that much damage for the AP cost, I’d use them more often. Another nifty feature lets players import a picture, and throw that on the blank disc attacks the characters have. It’s silly, and rather pointless due to the fact it costs more AP to use this, but for the aspiring artist, having your favorite character or logo cloned around while an enemy gets torched is priceless.
The little details in Neptune show even during battle, like when you watch Neptune’s matrix style transformation where she changes from hyper silly to hardened heroine. It looks cool, and pokes much fun at the transformation genre at the same time. As you progress through the game, you’ll get access to more parts, to make her look anything from powerful to downright weird in a mix and match process. Leveling up isn’t left out on the silliness – among other things you’ll even hear Neptune manually (and quite badly I might add) sing out the beginning of a very familiar Final Fantasy tune when she levels up. Virtually no stone was unturned. Compile Heart decided to take a shot at everything. There are subtle references in naming, character design, and a fair amount of events. I really enjoyed how they hammed up everything that moved, and for some reason, watching Neptune introduce herself as the planetary game defender Neptune.
For most part, Neptune can deliver its parody promises in spades, but with all of its strengths, it also has quite a number of weaknesses, with design decisions leaving you scratching your head. I’d like to note, that the game does a bit of deceptive advertising. You might have seen the various videos of the Hearts, even the visual artbook and the opening trailer has them prominently on them. It is entirely possible, and somewhat likely that you’ll never actually get the other goddesses, particularly if you find some of the mechanics just plain confusing. You can, right at the very end, literally before the last battle, although that requires a lot of work to pull off.
Even though Gust and Ippon Ichi join your party, they don’t actually help in battle either. These characters are passive members that help with shopping. I felt that both Nppon Ichi and Gust were short changed, just looking from the sidelines, and probably pointing and laughing at just how I could have used them. It’s particularly confusing when you realize in the game that you have them, complete with combat stats and equipment, and it’s almost insult to injury if they end up be unlocked as DLC sometime later in September. This means for a significant amount of the game (right up until the end), you’re stuck with three characters for the entirety of the game. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the game also builds the concept of being able to tag in and out to continue chains with another character. It’s almost like Compile Heart is taunting you for the lack of any real ability to actually use it, since you have three frontline spots, and particularly on hard difficulty, you’d actually want them there.
This leads to another struggling system I found – healing is on a conditional basis. You need to meet certain conditions (all in combat) before you can heal yourself. It’s unique, but it’s also really obtuse. Essentially, you can only heal yourself if your HP is below a certain level and you match a certain condition. Then you recover a percentage of your life. Often, the one time you need to heal, is the one time it doesn’t, and it can end a combat there. Granted, the game does let you just retry battles, and if you think Neptune is too hard period, you can go to the options and just turn the difficulty down to reduces the amount of damage you take from enemies before trying again.
Consider that enemies can have well in excess of a couple of hundred thousand HP. You can tell you’re going to be in battle awhile regardless of difficulty just due to the amount of chipping away you need to do. I found that it killed the fun of making your own combos, since I was using the combos so many times it proved to be mindless button mashing.
Even for me, someone who regularly spends time grinding away, I found Neptune can be quite draining. I wanted to get on with the storyline. I have no real problems with random battles, but sometimes you can’t help wonder if Compile Heart deliberately cranked up the encounter rate. The only exploring you’ll find yourself doing is inside dungeons, and sadly, most of those are indoors. Sometimes, I really wished for a change of scenery, you know, like running through Planetune’s streets, instead of the same generic cave, dungeon or tower.
I find the best way to describe Neptune would be like this – it represents the absolute best, and unfortunately some of the absolute worst of Japanese RPGs. Neptune has a genuinely off the wall plot, with an outstanding cast of characters you can’t help but laugh at, beautiful (sometimes disturbingly wrong artwork), and moments where you’ll just either laugh or stare at the screen in amazement because you’ll say ‘Wait, you did not just say that!’ It also has some of the worst sticks in the business. Compile Heart tease you with the prospect of all these awesome characters, but you’ll never get to use them, lots (lots and LOTS) of random combat, and elements that deliberately thrown in just to make things difficult.
Neptune, in a way, is a lot like Blanc… scatterbrained.