I’m no stranger to JRPGs. In fact, they’re one of my absolute favorite genres in gaming. I adore cheesy anime tropes such as the amnesiac hero, the perky love interest who just can’t cook despite their best efforts, and the protagonist’s mother who has a heart of gold and ends up dying in the first act. Megadimension Neptunia VII (pronounced V2) features none of these tropes that I love; instead, it takes a tongue-in-cheek, satirical approach to the gaming industry. There’s no hero who’s lost their memory and is fighting to save the world. Rather, there’s a spunky heroine who’s constantly breaking the fourth wall to point out my beloved anime tropes in a manner similar to the Marvel antihero Deadpool, and I couldn’t help but to be charmed by her and her friends in my first time dipping my toes into the franchise, even if the writing isn’t as witty as it wants to be.
In this installment of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, the CPUs, or goddesses, of Gameindustri have to deal with a time of social unrest known as the CPU Shift Period. This is when citizens begin to grow tired of their old CPUs and wish for new ones while nasty rumors about the current ones are spread. That’s right, the Neptunia series is tackling its leap to a next-gen console head-on. The game, which is split into three different acts, introduces even more characters this time around and each represent a different game console or company, keeping true to the spirit of the franchise.
Newcomer Uzume represents the Dreamcast, while B-Sha, C-Sha, K-Sha, and S-Sha represent Bandai Namco, Capcom, Konami, and Square Enix, respectively. Franchise staples such as Noire, who reigns over the nation of “Laststation” and Blanc, who rules over “Lowee,” also return. The game makes use of these representations pretty well; for example, C-Sha dons a Mega Man-esque buster, while K-Sha can don a Solid Snake-esque eye patch. Still, like most of the humor in Megadimension, it’s not exactly funny so much as it’s just a nice nod. Megadimension seems to have a hard time understanding the concept of a joke. There’s no set-up or punchline, but merely references, much in the same way that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie) conduct the writing of their poorly received parody movies.
I’d like to say that this is the game’s biggest flaw, but unfortunately, it’s not. No, the biggest flaw is much more glaring and obvious: breasts. The game is absolutely packed with characters whom have oversized, jiggling breasts, and having an entire cast of female characters sexualized just for the point of being sexualized simply doesn’t cut it in this day and age. It’s 2016; female characters should be defined by their personalities, not by their body. No matter what excuse you want to try to come up with to defend the game’s handling of its characters’ bodies (perhaps I “didn’t get it,” or maybe, I just “don’t understand Japanese culture.”), at the end of the day, it’s simply gross. Megadimension is full of the bad side of anime tropes, which is fan service, and has moments that made me cringe.
The game itself is surprisingly difficult, with too great of a need for more save points in dungeons and less of a need for grinding money just to stock up on precious healing items. Perhaps its saving grace lies in its combat system. The game operates similar to a tactical-RPG in the sense that battles are turn-based with up to four characters. Characters can be positioned and coupled with each other to form “Lily Ranks” and in turn gain a bonus “Lily Effect.” These Lily Effects offer bonuses to offense or defense, depending on how you couple the characters.
There’s a combo system that has you performing either Rush, Power, or Standard attacks. Rush attacks build up the EXE meter (which is used for special skills) quickly but deal low damage, Power attacks fills the EXE meter slowly but deal powerful damage, while Standard attacks do a little of both. You’ll have to carefully pay attention to how you format your combos in order to maximize the amount of damage you do, and be sure to take advantage of an attack’s combo trait, which can have perimeters such as “all previous attacks were Standard,” or “previous attack was Rush.” The amount of combos you can deal, as well as what type of attack your combo will start with, depends on which weapon you have equipped. Unfortunately, battles get repetitive too quickly, and unlike most JRPGs I’ve played, I found myself getting distracted by just how bored I was during fights.
New elements to the series include the introduction of “Giant Battles,” which have you leaping from different areas on the map to take down a huge enemy. Here, combo attacks are replaced by the sole use of individual and formation skills (these drain the EXE meter and depend on how you surround the enemy; your first formation skill, for example, requires you to triangulate around them). Luckily your skill points constantly regenerate. The battles are fun, but aren’t particularly memorable.
Also introduced is “Neplunker,” which is a collaboration that has various elements of the classic game Spelunker mixed in with the battle system of Megadimension. If you’re up to put your skills to the test, this special dungeon is the place to go, as clearing it will net you a special item.
When you’re not in dungeons, the game plays out like a visual novel, and a boring one at that. There’s just not an interesting plot here. It’s hard to become even slightly invested in the characters as they’re nothing but walking one-liners with huge boobs. Neptune is a charming protagonist, I’ll admit, but even her fourth wall breaking can’t save the game’s lack of true humor. Like everything else in the game, from its character designs to its battle system, the writing is just juvenile at best.