A few months ago when I reviewed Neptunia VIrtual Stars I nonchalantly mentioned that I had never heard of the franchise before but it was playable enough to pique my interest with the series. The publisher, Idea Factory, seemed to have enjoyed this comment maybe a little too much as before I knew it, Neptunia ReVerse was kindly offered for review.
At A Glance
|Positives||+Self aware and funny take on the console wars|
+Decent Action-RPG mechanics
+Simple and easy going
|Negatives||-Starting to show its age|
-Odd battle initialisation
-Little control for early portions of the game
|Price (When Reviewed)||£44.99|
|Our Playtime||30 hours|
Neptunia ReVerse has a beautifully complicated path to existence but in essence it’s a PlayStation 5 remake of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, a PlayStation Vita title that was released in 2013, which is a remake of the original Hyperdimension Neptunia for the PS3. While this might sound muddled, and that’s without me even dipping into the PS4 port, I will say that Neptunia ReVerse is a retelling of the first game in the series, with a decade of experience that developers Idea Factory & Compile Heart have built into the game. But more importantly – the perfect jumping-on point for anyone who has an interest in a dungeon crawling RPG full of humour and charm.
The premise of Neptunia ReVerse is much easier to get to grips with than the game’s history. Purple Heart has been battling the three other Goddesses of Gamindustri, a world that heavily riffs on the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 era of video games, in what has become known as the Console Wars. She’s defeated and falls to the ground in her normal form – Neptune. When she regains consciousness, she’s forgotten everything and sets off to recover her memories in, as the game itself puts it, the typical “protagonist has amnesia” storyline. What unfolds is a quest full of humour and pure randomness, not often seen in a video game. Throughout her quest to recover her memory, Nep seems to worry about eating as much pudding as she can possibly muster, and the small task of ending the Console Wars once and for all. That’s not an exaggeration either – at more points than I care to remember, Neptunia ReVerse focuses more on Nep’s obsession with tasty desserts than the main plot of the game.
Neptunia ReVerse is an RPG that plays out in front of you like a visual novel. You have control over the party when exploring dungeons, but the bulk of this game is told through a story using on screen animations rather than exploring the world freely. Towns are represented by menus, so you are simply limited to walking around when in one of the game’s dungeons. This might seem like a lot of faff to begin with, as there is a lot of story to tell and with characters being introduced at pace, but as things settles down, more freedom is given to move around the map and there’s still a lot of game to be explored in an experience that will last upwards of 30 hours.
With there being so much horsepower in the PlayStation 5 and a somewhat static game, you’d expect the visuals to be top notch… Right? Well, for the most part they are – the characters appear crisp, clear and suitably high definition, and while the static backgrounds are clean enough, they look as if they’ve been revamped rather than remade and are starting to look a little aged. Unfortunately this continues into the exploratory portions of the game too. Areas appear flat and bland as you navigate them and feel almost like they have been ripped straight from the Vita version and simply blown up to 4K. It’s a little disjointed and feels like Final Fantasy VII, with a blocky Cloud Strife running around a pre-rendered background – that was fine on the PS1 in 1997, but a little odd in 2021 on the PS5.
The look of Neptunia ReVerse might present a mixed bag, but once you’re out of the many, many menus, the gameplay is remarkably simple and fun. As per typical RPG rules, a team of four characters make their way through a dungeon, and when they encounter an enemy, take it in turns to bash them until they grind out the win. It’s the standard turn-based setup but Neptunia ReVerse mixes the traditional with action-RPG elements. During their turn Neptune and her team can be moved around the battlefield and, depending on what weapon is equipped, will determine their attack range; spears are useful for tackling enemies side by side, while magic wielding Goddesses can launch a barrage of fireballs from further away. Once each Goddess has leveled up to a certain point they can unlock their ‘CPU form’ to access more powerful attacks and take on those pesky dungeon bosses – these forms are akin to the Power Rangers but the clothes are less armour and more fan-service.
Neptunia ReVerse runs as smoothly as the gameplay too, with minimal load times and an almost instantaneous load into new areas. Although, it’s a little too quick in some places – namely the battles. As you walk into an enemy, the camera zooms in and you’re shown the battlefield (exactly how older Final Fantasy titles initiated their battles), and I imagine the PS3 & Vita versions needed the one or two second delay to access the information. The trouble is that the PS5 manages it in milliseconds, which results in a rough cut from one scene to another with no gradual transition from one to the other- it’s like looking at a picture of an ocean for it to suddenly change into a forest without explanation. It feels odd criticising load times for being too short but having a longer fade into battle, or simply having more enemies on screen at once, would feel more natural in an age where load times are negligible.
If you happen to have played any of the older versions of Neptunia ReVerse, there are a few new elements to help draw you back for another playthrough. A new fishing minigame has been added to the proceedings which is fine; it’s an optional minigame that unlocks extra items or helps out in grinding those levels with the occasional monster encounter. The fishing is OK and while it does make use of the adaptive triggers on the Dualsense, its not really breaking any ground. On the other hand, there is a new feature, ‘Arrange Mode’. Arrange Mode mixes up the gameplay by unlocking every playable character from the outset, which slightly breaks the story in exchange for adding an additional layer of challenge to the game by mixing up the items found in dungeons and offering an increased difficulty of enemies, which massively leaps over the default setting. Triggering harder enemies early on in the game felt like going from Yoshi’s Island straight to Dark Souls with no pitstop along the way, and definitely provides a challenge to an otherwise easygoing RPG.
Much like how THQ Nordic trots out Darksiders for every console iteration, Neptunia ReVerse feels more of a test of how the PS5 hardware works for Idea Factory & Compile Heart rather than providing players with a new experience, and after ten years the game is starting to show its age. References to the bygone era of PS3 & Wii, cut scenes being given a spit and polish rather than recreated, and the issues with a sub-one second load between battles just gives the impression this is an aging port and not a modern day enhancement. The game is very self aware and the core game is still pretty fun to play albeit with repetitive sections and a little bit of a grind to cope with. Arrange Mode offers up a challenge and remixes the dungeons and items found within but overall Neptunia ReVerse suffers from typical “first game in the series-itis”; there’s a lot of good building blocks which have since been fleshed out and better implemented in the newer titles. I think that’s the danger with ports of games – a decade old video game presented as something new is still a decade old video game at heart, and even after only playing the newer Virtual Stars earlier in the year, I can see how far the series has come, and unless this is your absolute first experience with the series or you want a nostalgic trip down memory lane without having to dig out your Vita, then this probably isn’t one for you.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.