A Growing Niche
Over the past decade or so, the western gaming market seems to have become more and more interested in and accepting of unusual and really Japanese games. It wasn’t all that long ago that localization companies were still very picky about what games they would bring across the Pacific, and in some cases, those that did make it would have the “Japanese-ness” toned down or eliminated. This was, of course, to help make these games more marketable to western audiences.
However, something changed in the market that is now letting these very much Japan-market-focused games hit the west in droves. Maybe it’s because anime-style things are becoming a bit less stigmatized in America. Maybe the localization companies decided we’re just “ready for these games.” Hell, maybe the people that are into niche titles are just more willing to spend more money, encouraging the localization of titles I don’t think would’ve make it to America just a decade ago.
Case in point, the Neptunia series is something I couldn’t imagine taking off in the west back in the mid-2000s. Now, though, it’s one of the most popular niche series currently running, to the point where everyone in the gaming sphere at least knows about the series and its concept. Last-gen gaming consoles (and an unreleased Sega console) anthropomorphized as cute anime girls, interacting with each other along with other cute anime girls representing various Japanese gaming companies and related businesses…the series has a charm about it that attracts quite a number of gamers.
While the main series just recently hit four entries, there have also been a number of spinoff games created. The game we are looking at today is one of these: a spinoff of the Neptunia series, focusing on the cute anime girl form of Nintendo, Blanc.
Developed by Idea Factory, Compile Heart, and Tamsoft, and published in the west by Idea Factory International, MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune Vs. Zombies was released on May 10th, 2016, for the PlayStation Vita.
Of Course It’s Zombies…
In MegaTagmension, our main cast of girls (who are also goddesses who rule over their respective lands of the game’s world) has decided to partake in an activity that will allow then to become closer to and more understanding of their citizens. That activity is…attending high school. Specifically, an elite high school known as Gamicademi. It’s inferred that they have been attending as students for some time, as the characters Vert (Microsoft) and Noire (Sony) are heading up the student council, and Neptune (Sega) is the head of the school’s film club.
Unfortunately, due to the declining birth rates in Japan, the number of attending students at Gamicademi has dropped so low that it is on the verge of closing. Neptune has the idea of filming a movie to help bring attention, and hopefully more students, to the school. She manages to talk self-stylized writer and director extraordinaire Blanc into helping her out.
Neptune already has an idea to film a zombie movie…which is quite convenient, as a real zombie outbreak has just begun as well. Using this to their advantage, Blanc, Neptune, and a cast of characters spanning all of the Neptunia series’ main entries work to stop the zombie horde while recording it at the same time to create a kick-ass movie.
The absolutely ridiculous plotline spirals even further into insanity as the game progresses, but it’s all held together by the moment-to-moment interactions between the cast. The dialogue is snappy and entertaining, and the main players have well-thought-out characterizations beyond the “gaming consoles as people” concept. Much of these character conversations are hilarious, and there are (surprisingly) a couple touching moments as well.
Prior to each mission, you are allowed to select two characters you wish to fight with…if you select the right combination for a particular mission, you will get to view a special version of the pre-mission cutscene featuring these characters. This typically doesn’t change much, but making the right choice for some missions unlocks special cutscenes accessible from the main menu, where you can view the characters interacting “backstage,” and these scenes are definitely worth working to unlock.
Kicking Ass All Cute-Like
This entry in the Neptunia series steps away from the JRPG genre of its parents in favor of a mission-based hack-and-slash style of gameplay. MegaTagmension is broken up into dozens of small, quick missions, where you take control of your choice of two characters to meet some kind of objective, usually “kill so many enemies” or “kill the boss enemy.”
Every character has the same basic controls: a light attack, a heavy attack, four specials accessible with a quickly-recharging energy meter, and the ability to transform and gain access to a more powerful moveset and a couple of super attacks. Keeping the controls the same across characters makes picking up and playing a new one rather easy. Luckily, though, each of the characters still play in ways distinct from one another. One uses a gun and is specialized in distance attacks, another is able to move while attacking, a third one can surf on a giant shrimp…
Unfortunately, the variety in character playstyles goes to waste, as there are very few (if any) situations where one character is better than another. Regular enemies typically just rush in as a giant horde, mindlessly waiting to be wiped out, with no real need for strategy. The boss enemies take a bit more thinking, but their attacks are usually so telegraphed that simple dodge-attack-repeat actions are all that is necessary.
Really, unless you’re pursuing the “figure out the correct characters to use in each mission” unlocks, this game is really easy to power through by just using the same two characters over and over. Doing so keeps said two characters at, and occasionally above, the recommended level for each mission, and earns you enough experience and money to upgrade the crap out of them, making it hard to ever lose a mission. If you do decide to put every character to use, though, be prepared to grind missions to bring them all up to level, as later enemies will wipe the floor with underleveled characters.
Along those lines, each character earns experience points individually and are separately upgradeable, which allows you to customize your teams as you see fit. There is quite a lot of cosmetic customization available for the characters as well, so you can tailor your favorite gaming console to your specific fetis—uh…tastes!
Ultimately, though, the game controls quite well and laying enemy hordes to waste is quite satisfying. The ease of the game, combined with the short missions, make MegaTagmension perfect as a portable pick-up-and-play game.
Also included is a multiplayer mode, available in both local ad-hoc and online modes. When playing online, you bring all of your customized and upgraded characters with you. Each character and their transformation is available as a separate character. In a team of up to four players, you can bring your character of choice into missions that are separate and distinct from the ones available in single player.
There are a few changes to the gameplay in multiplayer: your characters can no longer transform, but you can now charge up your super attack and combine it with the attacks of other players. Many of the missions in multiplayer also let you fight special enemies, some of which are taken from past Neptunia games. If you have some friends to play with, the multiplayer mode is quite entertaining…and abusing the pre-written chat system can be hilarious.
Show Some Skin
Hope you like panty shots!
Kidding aside, the artstyle here is the same as the rest of the Neptunia series: brightly-colored, cute, big-eyed anime style. The characters use the same distinct basic styles from the series, only this time, they are all in school uniforms (of course), losing a bit of their uniqueness.
Dialogue scenes are handled in the usual talking-head style, and the sprites have that somewhat unsettling breathing animation to them which seems to be becoming popular lately. During the battle sequences, all of the characters are animated fluidly and pull off their multitude of fancy movies with grace. The enemy design, though, isn’t quite so varied; after the first few story chapters, you’ll end up just seeing the same enemies, some occasionally reskins of older ones, over and over. Even the boss enemies begin repeating themselves around the mid-game.
Environments, unfortunately, are quite dull and repetitive. The majority of the game takes place in just a few areas: a classroom, a school hallways, a town square, and the middle of a forest. For as creative as the story and characters are, the places where they are fighting are just plain uninteresting.
Seriously, though, there’s an abundance of panty shots. The character customization gives you access to torn and revealing clothing right off the bat, just in case you want to fight zombies in full sexy mode.
If Consoles Could Talk
The soundtrack of MegaTagmension leans toward the heavy rock and metal side of the spectrum, with a few poppy tracks thrown in for good measure. The tracks have a distinct “made for a video game” feel to them…kind of hard to explain, but they’re not something I’d expect to hear come from a live band or orchestra, and they’re not really anything I’d find myself listening to outside of the game. The soundtrack fits the action-heavy gameplay quite well, though, and enhances some of the battles…although I can’t think of a standout track.
The game is also fully voice acted, and includes dual audio for the purist gamers. I played through in English, and I would have to say that most of the voice actors give a damn good performance. I’d personally say the standout performances come from the characters Neptune, Nepgear, and Noire, who all do a great job bringing their characters to life. Other characters, such as Rom and Ram, have performances I’d best describe as grating.
Weirdly, though, not everything in the game received an English dub. The aforementioned “backstage” cutscenes are only offered in Japanese, as is the opening cutscene for multiplayer mode. Why Idea Factory International decided to forego dubs for these sections, I have no idea, and it doesn’t make sense to me.
Overall, MegaTagmension offers up an entertaining made-for-portable game with great characters and an inane story, with some stumbles in the mechanics and presentation. The number of characters and customization available offers something up for any playstyle, but the actual challenge presented doesn’t quite match the available variety. Character designs are great and the voice acting is above average, but the environments in the game are lacking.
Really, everything to do with the characters themselves is great, while the things outside of them stumble somewhat. The Neptunia series, though, is really built on its characters, so this kind of focus isn’t entirely unexpected.
If you’re a fan of the Neptunia series, and especially the characters, MegaTagmension definitely comes highly recommended. If you haven’t played the series before, this game does offer a decent entry point, as it doesn’t require prior knowledge of the series to enjoy. Hell, playing this was my first exposure to the Neptunia series, and despite the faults, I had a great time with it.
It’s not a perfect game by any means, but if you need your cute-girls-destroying-monsters fix, you can’t go wrong with MegaTagmension.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Idea Factory International for Vita. Screenshots taken by reviewer.