Review: Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls

19 Oct 2016


Everybody’s Doing It

The Neptunia series has been one of the more intriguing (or unusual, if you rather) concepts to hit gaming in recent years. Turning the idea of console wars into a JRPG, and anthropomorphizing said consoles, along with other gaming-related companies, into cute anime girls.

As it turns out, this concept is no longer unique to the Neptunia series! Japanese print media publisher Dengeki Bunko teamed up with Sega to publish a couple of light novels using the “gaming consoles as cute girls” idea. Rather than covering multiple companies and mediums like Neptunia, this project instead focused exclusively on Sega hardware. With the release of the first novel in mid-2013, the Sega Hard Girls were born.

Within the world of the Sega Hard Girls, just about every console or console-esque system that Sega has released was turned into an anime style character. As the more “main” characters of the project, you have the major system releases like the Dreamcast and Sega Saturn. Backing characters delve into the slightly more obscure (such as the 32X) and the outright arcane (TeraDrive, a Japan-only home PC from IBM with an integrated Mega Drive/Genesis).

The similarities between the two franchises are hard to ignore. So, of course, the developers of the Neptunia series decided to embrace the idea, and both series were brought together for a crossover game.

Developed by Compile Heart, Idea Factory, and Felistella, and published in the west by Idea Factory International, Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls was released in the US on October 18th, 2016. The game was released as a Vita exclusive.


Take It Seriously For a Moment

The plot of Superdimension focuses on Neptunia series mainstay IF, the personification of the company Idea Factory. The game takes place in a world alternate to the mainline Neptunia games, one in which some kind of disaster has struck, leaving the landscape in ruins. IF has been roaming the world on her motorcycle, seeking out a certain building: a library. Not just any library, but one that contains all of the history of the world.

As luck would have it, she happens to stumble across exactly that library! Almost immediately, though, something comes crashing down from the sky. Or rather, someone…a young blue-haired girl. IF worriedly takes this unconscious girl into the library, where she meets the caretaker: a fairy names Histoire. Leaving the girl in the fairy’s care, IF sets off to explore the library.

When she returns to Histoire, IF is informed that, somehow, she has been exploring the building for days (rather than the mere hours in her mind)…and that books have begun to disappear from the library. As it turns out, the library doesn’t just contain historical records – it literally contains the history of the world. Thus, books disappearing means that history is disappearing.

Histoire modifies IF’s bike into a time machine and tasks her with exploring the past to figure out why history is vanishing. The blue-haired girl finally awakens at the same time, introducing herself as “Segami,” and, of course, she has amnesia. However, Segami feels that exploring the past holds the key to her memories, and so joins IF in her journey.

Despite my limited experience with the Neptunia franchise, I came into Superdimension expecting another story filled with nothing but comedic nonsense. However, I ended up being surprised when this title actually used a somewhat serious tone in its plot setup. Sure, there’s still all the puns and meta-jokes you could ever ask for in the dialog, but the opening few hours of the game presented a surprisingly strong story.

…and then the character Neptune shows up.

Once Neptune (the series’ namesake) joins the cast a few hours into the game, the plot swifty returns to franchise standard – hilarious dialog and excellent character interations, but shallow storytelling. I still enjoyed the story quite a bit, as this style is what I originally expected, but after the opening seemed to promise something different, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.


Gaming History

If you have played any of the mainline Neptunia series entries, much of the Superdimension experience will be familiar to you. While about half of the game is spent reading dialog, the other half plays out in a JRPG format, with a few interesting twists.

The library acts as your hub world, offering party management, quests, and equipment/item shop options among other things. From here, you can select which point in history you want to explore, with multiple becoming available as the story progresses. Each era presents a static map with a list of dungeons you can currently visit. Once you select a dungeon, you gain direct control of the game.

Field navigation has changed up a bit in Superdimension, now incorporating some simple platforming elements. Dungeons include climbing between various levels, navigating ropes over pits, and some jumping navigation across platforms. Controls during these platforming portions are serviceable (I never had much issue hopping between platforms here), but these new elements overall feel rather shallow. It seems like they were just thrown in to put a new twist on the standard formula for the series, without much real thought put in to designing the dungeons around them.

Of course, you’ll be doing battle with monsters as well, with enemies appearing on the map for you to fight or dodge as you so choose. Superdimension retains the ability to move your characters around the battlefield freely within certain areas for positioning and attacking, along with series standards such as character transformations and various special attacks.

Unique to this title is a stamina meter, upon which every action in battle revolves. Everything from moving to attacking and healing fills up a portion of your stamina meter, and if you max it out, the character you’re currently using will have to wait longer than usual for their next turn. In return, though, you can end your turn at any time, and doing so before maxing out the meter lets the character act again faster. On the other side of the spectrum, you can choose to use the entire meter to perform one powerful attack, which other characters in your party can join in to make it more effective.

The addition of this (admittedly basic) stamina system does help to add a bit more strategic depth to battles. Choosing to go all out against a boss, for example, can cause said boss to get several turns in succession due to you maxing out every character’s stamina. Being more selective with the actions you take in battle is definitely the key here.

Of final note are the quests that I mentioned in passing earlier. The entirety of Superdimension revolves around the quests you take form Histoire in the library. Both story and side quests are offered, with all quests being on a time limit – each quest is listed with a number representing the amount of other quests you can undertake before losing access to the listed quest. While the idea of time limits always sets off alarms in my head, the limits here are relatively lenient, rarely being any cause for concern unless you’re spending too much time on side quests.


Time Skips and Frame Skips

I’ve never heard anyone claim that the Neptunia franchise pushes any boundaries graphically, and such is the case for Superdimension. The characters are nicely designed, both as sprites during dialog and full 3D models in the field, but the environments can be rather repetitive and lacking in detail. Much of the presentation here occasionally feels like an early-life PS3 game. Admittedly, that’s pretty good for the Vita, but I’ve seen other games pull off much more with the system’s abilities.

Also notable are some framerate issues, especially while exploring dungeons. Even when the only active thing on screen is your character, the game’s framerate stutters and drops surprisingly often. Typically I can ignore or overlook an occasionally unstable framerate, but these issues happened enough in Superdimension to become an annoyance. Luckily, though, it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in battle.

Speaking of battle, there are two smaller issues I had in graphical presentation as well. The first is when you enter “Fever Mode,” activated by collecting a gem in the battlefield when your “Fever Meter” is full. Entering this mode overlays the screen with a cluttered brightly-colored pattern, which remains on screen the entire time you’re in the mode. Having this present can complete obscure the action on the battlefield, becoming such a nuisance that I just avoided using it unless absolutely necessary.

The second minor issue comes in the form of character animations. While navigating the field, animations for your selected character are mostly smooth…but try to climb a ladder, and you’ll be presented with the most awkward and mind-boggling climbing animation I’ve seen in any medium. I really can’t describe it – it just has to be seen to be believed. Also, when crawling through tight spaces, the camera pans to directly behind your character…so, if you’re controlling the short-skirted Segami, you get “treated” to a full-on upskirt shot. Whether this is a positive or negative is in the eye of the beholder, but I can’t say I was much of a fan.


If Consoles Could Talk

The soundtrack of Superdimension can be summed up fairly easily: lighthearted and poppy, and with that “made for a video game” feel. In my experience with a couple other entries in the franchise, this is fairly par for the course. What I said about MegaTagmension Blanc‘s soundtrack earlier this year applies here as well: it fits the presentation, but it’s nothing remarkable.

I’ve been a bit negative for a while now, so lets swing back to something better: the voice work. Superdimension is fully voiced in both English and Japanese. I chose to play through in English, and came out fully impressed with the acting in this title. Each actress gives an excellent performance, breathing life into the characters and dialog.

Really, its the voice acting that heightens the game’s storyline and comedy, and it is probably the highlight of the game overall. The performances given by the actresses behind the two main leads, IF and Segami, definitely stand out the most.


Redeeming Qualities

Overall, Superdimension Neptune vs. Sega Hard Girls is a solid title with some stumbles in its presentation. Graphically, the game is somewhat disappointing. Musically, pretty much the same. However, the story, dialog, character interactions, and especially voice acting work together to overcome those flaws.

Some time ago, I had multiple people tell me that I shouldn’t bother playing Neptunia games. I usually focus on storylines in the games I play, so I was told that this series was something that just wouldn’t be for me. However, here I am, having played through three entries in the franchise, and I can say that I have become a fan. While I wouldn’t count any of the games amongst my favorites, every experience I’ve had thus far with this franchise has been greatly entertaining.

If you’re a fan of the series, picking up Superdimension is a no-brainer. If you’ve new to it, though, I’d say this title is a pretty good entry point. The story is unrelated to the mainline games, and with the plot staying relatively grounded in the opening hours, you can ease yourself in before it smacks you with the brand of comedy the series is so well known for.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Idea Factory International for Vita. Screenshots taken by reviewer.