Unless you’re a hardcore JRPG fanatic there’s a fair chance you’ve never heard of Idea Factory. They crank out complex JRPGs on a regular basis and prior to the PS3 era we rarely saw any of them released overseas. The few that did – namely Spectral Souls and the Generation of Chaos series, both of which made their Western debut on the PSP – were torn to pieces by players and critics alike. Idea Factory doesn’t make games for everyone, after all; they’re an acquired taste.
Still, Idea Factory made quite a bit of headway in the PS3 era, primarily via the release of some of their more accessible JRPG series. In particular, a series of similar crossover games found some traction that they might not have seen when the industry was a little younger; Cross Edge, Trinity Universe and the original Hyperdimension Neptunia all found their way over and managed to dig up enough of a niche fanbase that we’re still seeing IF games in English today. It’s a little impressive if you think about it given the chilly reception JRPGs tend to get from mainstream press and gamers today.
Let’s go back to that third one. Hyperdimension Neptunia was released in 2011 and somehow managed to win enough hearts that it’s seen multiple sequels and spinoff games localized for Western audiences. This was almost certainly due to the endearing plot and characters moreso than the gameplay, which was something to endure rather than enjoy. The team took players’ criticism to heart and now here we are with Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1, a much improved retelling of the original PS Vita title released in 2014, but today we’re going to talk about the 2015 Steam release.
A quick rundown if you’ve never heard of this series and yet are somehow still reading this review: Hyperdimension Neptunia is a game about anthropomorphized representations of game consoles and publishers battling it out to claim dominion over the video game industry. Yes, really. I know it sounds dumb. It kind of is, actually. But it’s done with enough TLC and tongue-in-cheek references to the real-world game industry that fans of the medium are bound to love it.
You control Neptune, a purple-haired girl who can transform into the CPU goddess Purple Heart and represents Sega’s theoretical eight-generation console. She battles against her sisters Blanc (White Heart, representing the Wii), Noire (Black Heart, representing the PS3) and Vert (Green Heart, representing the Xbox 360). later, everyone joins forces against the machinations of the villainous Afoire, who represents the concept of software piracy via the R4 flashcart for Nintendo DS and…Well, you can probably already tell if you’ll be into this or not. It’s fun, just trust me.
The original game ran on essentially the same engine as 2010’s Trinity Universe, a silly crossover game featuring characters from Idea Factory, NIS and Gust-developed games. They gameplay experience was pretty much exactly the same between them; in essence it was a very straightforward set of turn-based RPG mechanics slapped onto some simple dungeons. It…well, it worked for what it was, but personally I never found them all that impressive from a gameplay standpoint. Said engine also wasn’t optimized all that well for the PS3, so it kind of ran like crap most of the time.
Re;birth, on the other hand, runs on a similar engine to 2014’s Fairy Fencer F and the earlier Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. It’s a turn-based system with free movement and customizable attack combos; the closest comparison that comes to mind is something like Final Fantasy Tactics but with quite a bit less hard strategy involved. It’s not as inspiring as, say, the combat in the “Tales of” series, but it’s vastly better than Trinity Universe and the earlier Neptunia games. You still run around, beat up monsters and clear out dungeons while crafting items and gear, but it’s just a bit more engaging this time around.
As I said, we’re talking about the Steam release, so: it’s fantastic and I wish every niche developer would do this with their games. Seriously. It runs like a charm, loads in seconds, everything looks great and it runs at a constant 60FPS. There’s no bugs. It’s a small download. It’s relatively inexpensive. How can this little company manage such an achievement when, by contrast, the PC release of the monolithic Final Fantasy XIII is an enormous 60GB install and lacked resolution options until they were patched in months later? Regardless of what you think about the game and its (admittedly ridiculous) concept you can’t really argue with how it’s presented here.
I’m going to be honest; Neptunia’s been a favorite series of mine since the first game. It’s kind of hard to say why. The writing is very well done and endearing for what amounts to a cutesy fanservice parody game…but, well, it’s still a cutesy fanservice parody game. In other words, it’s kind of dumb and I’m not too short-sighted to recognize that. I can’t just wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone as it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of saké.
Wait, yes I can! Everyone should hop on Steam and pick up Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 so they release more of them. No self-interest there, no sir. Just pure ethics in gaming journalism. Seriously, though, if you’re into JRPGs, don’t mind anime tropes and aren’t looking for a plot that’s going to change your view on existence, you really can’t go wrong here. The Steam update runs fantastically well and looks great on decent hardware, plus the improved gameplay mechanics make this a much more pleasant ride than the original. If the upcoming PC release of Fairy Fencer F is this good, we can certainly look forward to that as well.