Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Developer: Tamsoft
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

Seeing as Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is the fifth Hyperdimension Neptunia game I’ve reviewed on the Vita in the last year, I feel like I can write at least part of this review on autopilot. Lots of referential gaming jokes…blah blah blah…the game doesn’t just straddle the line between mocking fanservice and indulging in it, it pogos constantly from one side to the other…yadda yadda yadda…you fight Pac-Man ghosts and Tetris pieces and on and on and on. Basically, you could almost take my last review, of Hyperdevotion Noire, and just sub in this title for that one.

There’s one key reason why you can’t do that, though: because, since it’s a spin-off Hyperdimension Neptunia game rather than a mainline one, Hyperdimension Neptunia U is actually interesting and fun to play. Much like Hyperdevotion Noire and Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection before it, Hyperdimension Neptunia U takes the series’ standard JRPG formula and shows how much more interesting it can be when it’s applied to a non-JRPG game.

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In this case, Hyperdimension Neptunia U finds the franchise trying its hand at Dynasty Warriors-style action. This means, of course, endlessly hacking and slashing your way through dungeons full of enemies and…well that’s it. Taking a cue from Dynasty Warriors, this game doesn’t bog you down in tactics or special powers, but instead allows you to focus all your energies on wiping out hundreds of enemies at a time with 1,000+ hit combos. It’s a little repetitive, sure, but it’s also pretty fun.

Not only that, Hyperdimension Neptunia U’s developers seem to have taken an equally minimalist approach to story. Even though the game features about ten main characters, they’ve streamlined everything so that you’re not getting bogged down in the kind of hard-to-follow nonsense that typifies the mainline Hyperdimension Neptunia games. There’s not massive wars or fights for the future of Gamindustri here; instead, you’re presented with a plot about two game industry journalists — Famitsu and Dengekiko — competing to see who can come up with a better story about the game’s other main characters…and that’s it. You can occasionally take time from fighting to watch snippets of dialogue between the main main characters and their sisters, but even then it’s all in the service of that one main plot. Unlike the other games (excluding Producing Perfection), you don’t really need to know much else about the characters. It’s kind of refreshing, considering how much backstory you need to know in order to play the other games in the franchise.

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By streamlining things, Hyperdimension Neptunia U makes it possible to actually notice and appreciate its jokes — which is an important thing, seeing as the whole series is designed to be one big spoof of the gaming industry. You can notice things like the Sonic and Mario references, and the Kinect skewering, and the way it makes fun of Compile Heart and Idea Factory — and, yes, of many of the people who play these games. We may not be talking about Portal-level humour here, but, at the very least, it’s still nice to be able to read the dialogue without wondering about all the different subtexts you’re missing.

Of course, if there’s a criticism to be made against the game, it’s that it continues the series’ long tradition of trying to have its cake and eat it too. Sure, Hyperdimension Neptunia U makes winking references to the way people expect to see flimsy clothing coming flying off during the heat of battle, which means even they see how ridiculous games like Senran Kagura are — yet at the same time, when your characters sustain enough damage in battle, their clothes come flying off too, and you’re treated to lingering shots of the characters’ jiggly bits. I mean, it’s great that they acknowledge the absurdity, and at least here you have option of unlocking untearable outfits, but it still feels like they’re trying to have it both ways. Then again, that’s one more way than these games usually feature. And more importantly, the game takes such pleasure in mocking every other aspect of gaming, it deserves at least a bit of a pass.

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It helps, too, that Hyperdimension Neptunia U’s gameplay is so enjoyable. Like so many other “problematic” games before it — both in the genre and beyond it — Hyperdimension Neptunia U shows that it’s possible to turn a blind eye to certain issues when everything else is just so much fun. More importantly, it also shows that there’s a whole lot of promise in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series…just so long as its developers are willing and able to break out of their boxes a little and try something new.

Grade: A-