Neptunia Sisters Vs Sisters
This is my fourth Neptunia title in three years, and along with thinking I’m getting a dab hand at the dungeon crawling RPG, I think I’ve spent more time in this franchise in the last few years compared with my entire experience of 3D Sonic games. For those unfamiliar with the series, I’ll bring you up to speed – the Hyperdimension Neptunia series takes place on the continent of Gamindustri, a world split into four lands that represent each of the big console manufacturers, Laststation (Sony), Lowee (Nintendo), Leanbox (Microsoft) and Planeptune (Sega), and each country has their own Goddess to look after the citizens. Published by Idea Factory from their in-house developers Compile Heart, Neptunia Sisters Vs Sisters is a standalone title that mixes up the story, as well as a few of the main characters.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Great cast of characters|
+ Surprising story
+ English voice acting option
|Negatives||– Bland and repetitive dungeon design|
– Annoying battle cries
– Quirky visual choices
|Price (When Reviewed)||£49.99|
|Our Playtime||30 Hours|
|Available On||PS5, PS4, PC|
Neptunia Sisters Vs Sisters starts in much the same way that previous games have. The four main Goddesses that we’ve come to love and cherish – Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert – are battling against a new threat that has launched an attack in the PC Continent. Whilst they have left their posts, it’s up to their younger sisters, the Goddess Candidates, Nepgear, Uni, Rom and Ram to protect their home of Gamindustri. After an epic battle, we quickly find out that things didn’t pan out in the way you’d expect and in the direct aftermath, it’s up to the inexperienced Nepgear and her team to find out what went wrong, what happened to the Goddesses and save the entire world.
Sidelining Nep and the team right from the start is a bold move by Idea Factory, and it does mix up the formula I’ve come to expect with the series. This allows a new focus on characters who have often been relegated to supporting roles the chance to shine, thanks to some nifty character building. Nepgear is presented as a doting sister – that is rational in her thought processes, and unlike her big sister, doesn’t rush headlong into battles, or scream that she’s the ‘protag’ every five minutes.
One big change worth noting – because we’re dealing with the younger sisters, fan service has been thankfully cut back to a minimum, with Idea Factory leaning into the kawaii-style of Japanese culture rather than the slightly more provocative. Of course, aspects still remain as-and-when the plot focuses on established characters, but for most of the time, the game doesn’t feel as if I need to draw the curtains or play in a darkened room to save my embarrassment. Sisters Vs Sisters still retains that Neptunia wit throughout, with references to the games industry as a whole, such as Lowee bouncing back after a few tough years thanks to their mobile sensation, Pocket Monstrosities, which is a clear slight over Nintendo’s troubled Wii U era. There’s other references including the heavy subjects of crunch culture and abusive workplaces, but it’s handled with a wry sting rather than hamfisting it into the game-proper.
This approach to character development and humour does change the feel of the story, as characters prefer to talk and work out their next steps rather than rushing from one dungeon to the next like a parent trying to keep up with a hyperactive child. I’m deliberately not going into spoiler territory with the story as it’s far different than what I’ve experienced in the series so far, although I will say that during my time with the game, the new way of telling the story firstly moves along at a by-the-numbers pace, but introducing a different narrative angle allowed Idea Factory the room to evolve the plot into something altogether more unexpected.
While the story may have a different slant on the proceedings, Idea Factory have taken a “if it ain’t broke” approach to the gameplay. For Sisters Vs Sisters, there are two main mechanics within the game – dungeon crawling action and visual novel storytelling. All of the plot points are told through almost static panels that depict our Goddess Candidates, which are fully voiced in Japanese or English options. Unlike most visual novels, there aren’t any paths to choose with text, so you can flick a button, set the scroll to auto and just watch each scene playout. You can -if you’re a monster- skip all of it and just power through to the gameplay, and while it’s your prerogative to do so, missing the anime-style voiceovers would be a crime. Most Japanese-style games tend to have less than adequate voice acting, but in Sisters Vs Sisters, the English version is pleasantly acted and compliments the vibrant visuals nicely – even in the few moments where Neptune has control over the mic, she isn’t as irritating here as in previous games, yet still retains her humour.
The storytelling components are engaging and well designed, which is just as well since they make up about 60% of the game – the rest of the time, I was thrown into a world map where dungeons gradually unlocked. These are large areas that are fully explorable, filled with monsters to fight and items to loot. You’ll control a party of three, with characters you can freely swap with the tap of the shoulder buttons. Hitting one of the enemies roaming on the map will initiate a battle, where the team pummels a number of critters by button mashing either Cross or Circle until they are done. Initially the battle system caught me off guard; you have to assign a chain of attacks to either button which are then carried out sequentially, but after learning how it works and experimenting with different combinations, it was rather fun to execute a raft of enemies in quick succession. The baddies themselves are rather unique in stature, ranging from brutally tough mechanical warriors to what can only be described as a cross between a warp pipe from Super Mario and a Chinese finger trap.
Sisters Vs Sisters again tries to mix up the gameplay with the introduction of an explorable Planeptune. About halfway through the game, this area unlocks and allows players to venture through the streets of a place that has so far been relegated to static scenery and it was exciting to run around an area that was previously just a list of options on a menu. Some buildings can be entered, including the all important weapon shop, as well as a battle arena that’s used for enemy practice. I could even talk to a few NPCs, and while they didn’t offer anything of interest, still felt like a step in the right direction for fleshing out Gameindustri as a whole, rather than keeping it hidden in menus. If Idea Factory expands on this for future Neptunia games, this could be another exciting direction for the series.
The trouble with the dungeon crawling is that it quickly becomes repetitive and sadly, downright boring. I found myself grinding each dungeon multiple times to level up, as experience is only doled out for battle wins. After a while, the levels start to blur into one and with only a handful of options -field, cave, building and more caves- there is not much variation within the individual levels. And despite playing the game on PS5, the visuals felt like a step back from Neptunia ReVerse. Rather than the oversaturated brightness in last year’s remake, each area had the same, flat lifeless backgrounds, with only a slightly different layout each time, and even though they reuse the same assets as previous games, the absolute worst issue came with Nepgear and her team’s awful battle cries. After thirty hours of gameplay, I can still recite “If you want to go past me, you have to go fasterrrrr”, as it was repeated with such frequency and had no way of turning it off. The lack of care and attention to these levels is a wasted opportunity. With such pretty artwork that’s seen elsewhere in the world, it would have been nice to see a bit more thought go into these sections, though I will say that the DualSense vibrating in sync with every step was a nice touch.
Neptuinia Sisters Vs Sisters feels more accomplished and, dare I say, more grown up than any of the other games I’ve played in the series. The humour remains as cutting and irreverent as ever, taking every opportunity to send up the video game industry and often hitting the mark. Likewise, the gameplay is just as repetitive, and although there is less of a grind this time around, I still felt fatigued after playing through some of the levels. At this point, Idea Factory certainly knows what they are doing when it comes to the series, and with over a decade developing Neptunia, they are still finding ways to surprise and delight players. I’d have preferred more varied environments to explore, though there are signs that future titles will look to take cues from the groundwork laid here. What took me by surprise is that the story is a more genuinely mature (and not lewd) affair, for a series that has often leaned on the fanservice aspect to hide its shortcomings and did make for an enjoyable experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.