Game: “Neptunia Virtual Stars”
C’mere… Today, I am going to tell you a secret about running a website that reviews video games.
*whispers* Contrary to what friends and family think, we don’t know about every single video game ever created.
There are approximately 3000 games on the PlayStation 4 and I can categorically say I’ve played less than 5% of them. The Neptunia series is unfortunately one series that has passed me by, but my play through of Neptunia Virtual Stars has inspired me to change this.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Characters are witty and 4th wall breaking|
|+ Introduces the world of VTubing|
|+ Gorgeous artwork|
|Negatives||– Fiddly control scheme|
|– Constant & repetitive yammering|
|– Uninspiring level design|
I’ll start by saying that, as a spin-off, Neptunia Virtual Stars from Compile Heart and Idea Factory doesn’t require you to have any understanding of the decade old series in order to enjoy it. Handily, when you first boot up the game, you are met by Goddess Neptunia (Nep) and her friends, Blanc, Noire & Vert; they set the scene and introduce their world of Gamindustri, a digital haven full of manga and video games.
Before you know it, a distress call from the planet Emote pulls Nep and the gang to another digital universe known as Virtualand. As the team gets their bearings, they find out they’re not the only ones brought in to save the world from the invading forces known as ‘Antis’. Joining the Goddesses are “Me” & “You”, two Japanese VTubers from our world.
For those unfamiliar with this term, VTubers inhabit a subsection of YouTube where content creators create their own animated characters, plotlines and backstory and present them as a typical YouTube video. Think about an animated 4000-year-old vampire reviewing music videos and you’ll be along the right lines.
Once everyone has been introduced, your party sets off on their hack-and-slash adventure to save the world from Antis. Each level in Neptunia Virtual Stars is split into two maps, connected by a mini boss with a big bad boss waiting at the end. Breaking up the main game is a side quest where you have to rebuild the main plaza by utilising currency dropped by defeating enemies. This is fun for the first two levels, but it quickly becomes repetitive as you have to grind to level up and rebuild the plaza.
Over the course of eight chapters you’ll find that while the difficulty ramps up, essentially, you’re playing the same level with a different layout. Each world is typically spread over one floor and if it wasn’t for the vibrant themes of each world, the levels would easily blend into one another. You’ll even start to anticipate where the enemies are going to pop up; hint – that will be any open space whatsoever.
Neptunia Virtual Stars definitely flips the script with its combat. You don’t kill the Antis, you ‘charm’ them into submission by… either stabbing or shooting them. Rather than have one character with multiple weapons, the Goddesses and VTubers are each assigned their own weapon. The controls are a tad convoluted but anyone can be called using a combination of buttons. Nep and the gang are assigned the firepower while“Me” & “You” face off with blades and fists.
Playing as Neptunia or one of the Goddesses has one major advantage: the boost. By tapping the ‘Circle’ button, the characters activate rocket shoes allowing you to zip around enemies and the map and due to the enhancements in speed, most of my time was spent playing as Nep. Although she is highly annoying shouting something every fifth shot, she is the protagonist and I put up with it in exchange for the speed boost. Silver linings..
Neptunia Virtual Stars really shines with it’s characters, particularly the Goddesses. They know they are in a video game and are constantly making fun of each other.;Neptunia is constantly reminding you she’s the hero of the story, and all of the characters bounce off one another really nicely. The anime artstyle is gorgeous too.
Environments are themed on popular sections of the internet; a world made of pancakes and sweet things for the food review channels, or certain bluebirds wielding rocket launchers for the social media section. Our main heroines pop on the screen, even supporting characters are designed to be memorable. Yes, there is an element of fan service with the costumes to unlock (or buy as DLC) but the personalities of all of the characters still manage to shine, even though the overall plot is a somewhat by-the-numbers affair.
Utilising real-world content creators is a great idea, but unfortunately the only playable VTubers were created solely for Neptunia Virtual Stars. The game does have established VTubers, and it would have been nice to have them playable with unique abilities relating to their backstories. Instead, they are pushed to loading screens and flash their support when a powerup is activated. This felt like the big selling point of Virtual Stars was nothing more than a Stan Lee-type cameo; great for the people who were in-the-know, but it doesn’t add anything of value to anyone else.
I’m not in the best position to speak about how Neptunia Virtual Stars compares to the rest of the series, having not played another entry. I can say however that, underneath the fan service and incessant yammering during battles, you have a mindless, fun dungeon crawler that’s full of wit and charm. Yes, the environments and plot are stale and it can feel like a slog at times, but the self-awareness and comedy of the script acknowledges these issues constantly. This is perhaps why I kept playing. It may feel like a cheap solution to acknowledge your flaws so brazenly without attempting to fix them, but for the most part, I have to admit that it works. Overall, I’d say that, in spite of the repetitive levels, the gorgeous art style and the characters are enough to keep you invested until the final credits roll.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.