It has been said on several occasions that any art is a reflection of the time it was created in, and the same could be said about the state of said art’s medium. Say what you will about Japanese game developers, but most of their games have at least managed to keep a sense of humor, no matter what economic predicaments they’ve found themselves in. Granted, this humor is often expressed through scantily-clad teenage girls, but I’m not one to judge the art preferences of another culture. Which brings us to the perfect example of both of these phenomena, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series.
Hyperdimension Neptunia (oh god neither of those are a real word) is a series of pretty traditional JRPGs set in a world known as Gamindustri, where everything is based upon video game companies, platforms, series, and/or personalities. Industry titans like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft (with the occasional bone being thrown to poor beleaguered Sega) are represented by thinly-veiled settings and characters who occasionally have to band together to fight some horrible threat facing Gamindustri. This particular title, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 2 Sisters Generation, stands as a remake of the second game in the series, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, routinely considered one of the better titles in the series (it was even made with a little help from Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, to boot!) for the PSVita and Steam.
The awful Kingdom Hearts-spinoff-esque title and release platforms should be a dead giveaway as to what this game’s target audience is: diehard JRPG fans who don’t mind bright anime colors and catchy-to-the-point-of-obnoxiousness J-pop theme songs. If this previous sentence didn’t totally lose you, you’re actually in for a pretty fun time.
Despite being a remake of a game originally released in the US in 2012, the plot remains sadly relevant to the state of gaming today. Gamindustri faces a terrible crisis – a cult/criminal organization called ASIC is working to resurrect their dark god, Arfoire (pronounced R-4…you know, like the infamous Nintendo DS flash cart) by corrupting the minds of today’s youth and convincing them that stealing games is not only okay, it’s totally awesome and makes you a giant badass. This is, of course, causing Gamindustri to collapse, and the game opens with the three heroines of the previous title being essentially rendered helpless by this onslaught of game piracy. Subtle? No. But it doesn’t need to be.
To combat the scourge of illegal downloads, you set off in a party of four occasionally rotating plucky young adventuresses, all named after components of game consoles (like Rom and Ram), video game studios (like Cave and Falcom), or even game series themselves (there’s a character just named Tekken, for god’s sake). Unique in that the party members consist entirely of female characters, a big part of the game is seeing everyone interact: the limited presentation (no doubt a necessity due to the PSVita’s specs and limitations) strongly recalls modern visual novels, and a lot of benefits and stat boosts can be gained by making everyone interact with one another and spending time to read all the text. Despite all its modern anime goofiness, there really has been a lot of thought and love put into the characters and setting, and it’s nice that the game tangibly rewards you with items and teamwork-based stat benefits just for reading all the lore.
Of course, all the lovingly-crafted settings in the world can’t help an RPG if its primary systems are terrible, and luckily Sisters Generation has combat and exploration that’s both refreshing and surprisingly deep. Now, admittedly, much of the game is essentially a series of beautiful menus – the primary overworld that takes you between dungeons is little more than a list of locations and events, and you don’t have direct control over your characters unless you’re in a dungeon.
But the time you spend in dungeons is fun enough to keep you motivated. Combat is a combination of real-time positioning and turn-based actions, and characters are allowed to move themselves freely during a turn until committing to a move (not unlike Valkyria Chronicles), with everyone taking moves one after another. Standard attacks come in three flavors and can be strung together like combos to charge up a special move gauge, and if you’re not patient enough for that, everyone has a series of special moves, reliant on what is essentially a magic meter. And while the characters themselves aren’t highly customizable as far as class and skills are concerned, the game gives you plenty of chances to tweak the system itself: Game-design documents that you find during your mission allow you to change everything from item behavior to enemy AI, giving you a degree of customization over the world that (while time-intensive) provides a degree of involvement that almost makes up for the linear character progression.
There is absolutely a lot to enjoy in Sisters Generation (and the Neptunia series as a whole), but it does ask a lot of the player, at least when it comes to presentation. If you can tolerate oddly sexualized character designs (and nobody will blame you if you can’t), a goofy and self-referential story that asks you to both care and not think too hard about it, and the ability to not craft the characters in your own image, there’s a fun dungeon-crawler buried in here that fans of classic Japanese RPG series will find welcoming. Gamers without a sense of humor or those who prefer Western RPG mechanics will want to keep walking, but if you can handle some traditional Japanese weirdness, then Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 2 Sisters Generation is a title absolutely worth your time.
Don’t come crying to me if it suddenly makes you feel bad about all the games you’ve pirated over the years, though. That’s on your conscience. You didn’t expect all those games to have feelings, did you?