Roughly a year and a half ago NIS America brought over from Japan the Idea Factory developed Hyperdimension Neptunia, a cute and kooky role playing game that all but parodied the fanboy fanaticism found on the consumer side of the video game industry. Earlier this year, NIS America followed that release up with its sequel, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2. In short, it's a good case study of the sequel falling short of the expectations set by the original.
The original Hyperdimension Neptunia took place in a land known as Gameindustri, with the game's four main characters each representing a different home video game console. Well, Idea Factory followed a similar formula with Mk2 -- only this time around, home game consoles aren't what are represented by the lead cast; gaming handhelds are.
The sequel follows the story of Nepgear (representing the SEGA Game Gear) as she and her friends battle against a fanatical group that have been taking over Gameindustri and imprisoned her sisters Uni (representing the PlayStation Portable) and Ram and Rom (jointly representing the Nintendo DS). The game references don't end with just those four, however, as Mk2 is chock-full of them. Outside of basic and quite obvious video game pop culture references, many of the characters have names inspired by various video game companies like Nepgear's friends Nisa and Gust.
The story is, well, rather silly (though the designers did a good job making it seem quite serious at times). Those who haven't played the first game, however, will be quite lost. The game tries to give new players an idea as to what's going on and why, but without prior knowledge of many of the who's and what's from the first game, Mk2's attempt just isn't enough. It's almost a guarantee that players who make Mk2 their first of the two Neptunia games will still be scratching their heads on a few things after the game's 20-some-odd hours of play are over.
Those who did play the first Hyperdimension Neptunia game will realize very quickly that there are some gameplay changes from the original and Mk2. The sequel does away with the random battles found within the first title, instead having enemy encounters visible as the various enemies patrol the game's numerous dungeons. Much like Gust's recent Atelier games, players can gain an initial battle advantage by getting the jump on enemy parties.
Encounters themselves are semi-turn based ordeals with more-or-less industry-standard options such as basic attacks and combo attacks. Much like the original, Mk2 brings back the over-the-top video-game-title-inspired special skills that rarely get old to watch being executed.
Tactics are also involved this time around and players can choose where each of his/her characters will stand during encounters. Furthermore, characters can be paired together -- a simple mechanic that can wield satisfactory results for players who pay attention to each characters' strengths and weaknesses.
The rest of the game is a combination of mostly traditional JRPG elements. There are NPCs with which to chat, items can be bought/sold/crafted, weapons upgraded, and so on. The one bummer here is that it's all done through menus. Those who would like hands-on exploration the towns and cities of Gameindustri will be vastly disappointed.
Presentation-wise, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is clean, yet dated. Whether deliberately or not, the late-era PS2/early-era PS3 quality visuals just don't cut it these days -- even when compared the recent NIS America import Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland. The characters themselves appear well-designed, but many of the environments and backgrounds are dull and unappealing. The game's visuals also suffered from the occasional frame rate slowdown when things got hot and heavy.
The game's audio is a mixed bag. The English voice-over work is so-so at best and its original Japanese-language audio winds up being the more appealing option of the two. Mk2's soundtrack, like the game's overall graphics package, is similarly underwhelming thanks to its overly-repetitious tracks. At least the game's dialogue helps to breath some life and personality into Nepgear and the rest of the cast (even if the many one liners are groan-worthy).
Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 is one of those titles that has a very niché target audience and, because of that, won't appeal to many Western gamers. Fans of JRPGs should probably give this game a look, though it's highly recommended that they play the original Hyperdimension Neptunia first to avoid that same feeling one would get were they to begin watching an anime OAV halfway through. This sequel does have its moments of brilliance, though it's often timed dulled with its unsatisfactory presentation and average-at-best story.
Final Game Guys grade: C+
(NISA provided a copy of this game for review.)