Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Idea Factory / Compile Heart / Felistella
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

Considering that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is essentially a JRPG that doubles as one long gaming in-joke, you might think you know all its flaws without even playing it: that it relies too heavily on grinding, or that it’s more joke than game, or that it tries to have it both ways when it comes to mocking video game conventions while at the same time embracing them. Coupled with the fact that some of those criticisms were levelled against the 2010 PS3 game that this is remaking, you might even be particularly firm in your expectations towards the game.

Having never played the original, I can’t tell you how much of those PS3 criticisms ring true, but I can tell you this: Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is a flawed game, but for completely unexpected reasons.

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Take its central premise: that the four main characters are the console makers personified (er, embodied as goddesses), and they’re all working to save Gamindustri from destruction. Considering this spring’s pop idol management sim spin-off didn’t exactly approach similar subject matter with a light touch, you might be expecting the worst. Surprisingly, however, that’s not the case. Jokes are littered liberally throughout the game, but they’re much closer to Arrow- or Marvel Universe-style Easter eggs (albeit fairly obvious Easter eggs) than anything else. Any time you do that, of course, you run the risk of trapping people in your meta, self-referential hell (see: Family Guy), but it’s to the game’s credit that it seldom feels that way. Considering that even a game as great as Danganronpa 2 occasionally fell into this trap, that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 doesn’t is no small achievement.

Which isn’t to say that the game is anywhere close to Arrow or Marvel in terms of storytelling — far from it. While the jokes and references are handled fairly well, the story itself gets pretty convoluted pretty fast. Don’t be fooled by Wikipedia’s brief synopsis; there’s a lot going on, and it gets pretty hard to keep track of it all pretty quickly.

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The same thing goes for the gameplay itself. As someone who usually hates turn-based battles and grinding, I was expecting the worst here. Surprisingly, however, both are handled relatively well: the combat moves at a fast enough pace and doesn’t require too much planning, while you’re not expected to fight the same enemies over and over to level up. I mean, you will fight a lot of similar enemies, but thanks to the aforementioned quick pace, the pain of that isn’t too great.

You know what is painful, though? Dying partway through a dungeon, being hit with a Game Over screen, and finding out that your last save happened a long, long time ago. In-dungeon saves are few and far between here, which is a bit of a pain when you consider how big some of these dungeons are. It’s not hard to lose what feels like a lot of progress, and it’s even harder not to feel a little bitter towards the game about that.

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That said, the bitterness shouldn’t be too great. You can get away with a lot if you’ve got a sense of humour, and if there’s one thing that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 has, it’s a sense of humour. Admittedly, it’s a sense of humour that will appeal only to a very specific subset of the gaming population, but if you are one of those people, your game of the year isn’t just here, it’s available to take with you everywhere.

Grade: B