Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed - Review  

So Many Striped Panties
by Sam Wachter

PS Vita
Less than 20 Hours
+ Dengekiko & Famitsu are adorable
+ Heroines have different play styles
+ Fast, frantic combat
- Pointless clothing break mechanic
- Boring mission structure
- Dialog is painful at times
Click here for scoring definitions 

   We're not even halfway through 2015, yet it's clearly become the Year of Neptunia. With PC ports announced for all the Re;birth titles, Victory, Hyperdevotion Noire, —insert Neptunia Racing Spin Off announcement here—, it's abundantly clear then that we should be worshipping our Purple-haired, Fake-Sega Goddess, Neptune. If I sound disingenuous, it's perhaps because of the fast and furious pace at which we're receiving titles in this franchise, since each is a new skin over something that was done better elsewhere. Hyperdemension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is one of those games.

   For those who may have missed the memo, Neptunia U is an action-RPG wherein our favourite console goddesses kick some butt and take some names. Gamindustri is in peril, as an 'evil overlord' keeps inserting quests for our eight heroines to complete. They level up, break the fourth wall through constant banter, and show their panties frequently. While Neptunia U tries to parade around in an RPG's skin, it's far more akin to Dynasty Warrors and the Senran Kagura series than anything else.

   Neptunia U's structure is entirely mission based. Players will select a quest, noting the requirements such as the number of participants that can perform or must participate in the quest, and if there are any other secondary objectives, such as defeat X amount of enemies, kill a boss, gather medals or other aimless busywork. Frankly, there's not a lot to the game because it has such a lather, rinse, repeat formula of selecting a quest and completing the objective. While there are Irregular Quests wherein the objective is initially hidden, more often than not there's no change in the overall structure. This tried-and-true formula works perfectly for games like Senran Kagura and Dynasty Warriors, but here it comes across as rather stale considering the upbeat and insane nature of the Neptunia franchise. It's disappointing the insanity and fun of the Neptunia franchise was not transplanted into Action Unleashed, because it could have made for more imaginative mission structures overall.

   Thankfully, with a cast of eight characters, there is at least some variety in the gameplay. Each heroine comes equipped with her own fighting style; while the button layouts are the same for each one, there are some differences in how attacks can play out depending on the character that is chosen. For example, Uni/Black Sister uses a gun that is bigger than herself, but it's not as easy to point and direct where shots are fired because the projectiles goes all over the place. It's charming because it plays with her character, but it forces the player to make a more conscious effort to ensure that the weapon is being positioned correctly before it's used. It's helpful then that the player can use the right stick on the Vita to handle the game's camera, which for the most part does a good job of following the player through waves of enemies without moving erratically as some other games do. Couple that with the great framerate, and it really does make the action come alive.

Trombe! Trombe!

   For the most part, combat is a very standard affair. Each character has a strong attack, weak attack, and by holding the right shoulder button, two special attacks and an HDD Transformation. When the HDD gauge is full, the heroines can transform into their other personalities and do twice the amount of damage compared to their regular forms, as well as unleash an .EXE Attack which will obliterate enemies instantly. By combining weak and strong attacks, the heroines can create combos to mow down hordes of enemies with ease. However, using too many strong attacks results in — wait for it — panty shot time.

   Yes, Neptunia U uses a clothing mechanic to represent damage, and it means being forced to view an animation of the girls either yelling at the player to knock it off, or moaning suggestively. This element can be turned off, though it's not through a standard menu, but through a manually-equipped costume not found until later in the game. For those who are not into near-constant crotch and butt shots, it would have been great to have a feature to turn the animations off to enjoy the action. Unless players have and equip the indestructible suit, there is no choice but to endure the barrage of panty shots.

   Sexual humour is not new in this franchise, and neither is breaking the fourth wall. It's great that the localisers and developers poke fun at the sexualisation of the characters through the text, but at the same time it's problematic to have flirtatious moaning as clothes are torn off. It's difficult to say if this issue is more the fault of the voice direction or the script, but it does not work. There are moments when the game is poking fun at the industry and those moments are cute and cheeky, especially when Dengekiko and Famitsu argue over journalistic integrity and review scores, but a lot of the humour, along with its attendant voice acting, is a colossally mixed bag.

   The story of Neptunia U is bare bones. Players return to Gamindustri, and this time we have the presence of two journalists named Dengekiko and Famitsu. This setup allows whacky antics to fill out the skeletal plotline of a mission-based, action-structured game. Since there's not much for plot, the game offers silly back and forth banter between all the heroines, which is great in theory for those who like these characters, but it desperately needs some cohesion to hold things together. To newcomers going into Action Unleashed, good luck ever getting a sense of who these characters are — the game unfortunately doesn't give any reason to care about these parodies of video game names.

Tetris land! Tetris land!

   One area that does deserve some praise is the visuals and audio. The music is incredibly peppy and entertaining, and it's great to listen to while bashing dudes left, right and center. Visually, the game has a lot of vibrancy and colour appeal, with each area and its enemies paying homage to other video games such as Tetris and Super Mario Bros. There definitely was a lot of thought put into how the game was designed, especially because the framerate is solid, the UI is quite good, and it sports an incredibly easy to use interface. Players can also watch some humorous scenes in the City Watch section of the menu, in the form of Famitsu and Degekiko's upbeat "reports" (where everything is 35/40 or higher!) and it is a good break from all the action.

   Another aspect the game does well is its reward system. Players will collect medals from dead enemies and they allow the player to buy upgrades for the heroines. It's also worth mentioning that all the upgrades stack, meaning that the heroines will grow stronger based on the number of medals collected for each enemy type. Each enemy type offers different rewards such as new equipment, more health, better stats, the list goes on. This element is fantastically implemented and actually feels like legitimate character building instead of just buying equipment and constantly upgrading it.

   Neptunia U is an oddball — it's a solid game that excels in some aspects, but is equally forgettable. The action is what will draw players in, but the formula is something players have seen before and even done better. Regardless, the humour has its moments and the gameplay can be fun in small chunks, and it's a decent time waster. For those craving a rich and deep action title: there's better. Fans of the series, however? Let's face it, you've already forked your dollars over to our purple-haired overlord, Neptune.

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