Neptunia Virtual Stars Review
Time has not been so kind to Neptunia fans waiting for the next big mainline entry in the series. Megadimension Neptunia VII’s western release launched more than five years ago, and a handful of spin-offs have flooded the franchise in the meantime with titles like MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies, Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online, and Super Neptunia RPG.
Over the past few years, the Virtual YouTuber (Vtuber) phenomenon has exploded in popularity. These consist of entertainers on YouTube, and now Twitch, internalizing a virtual identity through a moving, stylized anime avatar masking their real appearance on video. This is done either through a Live2D rig setup or 3DCG model with a motion tracker. Their activities range from playing games, singing karaoke, variety programming, or simply interacting with fans in their chat rooms like any other entertainer online.
As fans continue to twiddle their thumbs for a new mainline Neptunia game, Compile Heart and Idea Factory send Neptune and her friends off into the Vtuber realm with Neptunia Virtual Stars.
This isn’t a good game.
The premise seems somewhat novel at a glance. Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert mysteriously get transported into the world of Virtualand because invaders from Obsoletia are attacking planet Emote and making their Content, as their name implies, obsolete via converting its citizens into Antis by turning them into negative Nancies. Of course as we all know, obsolete content equals death. The four Gamindustri Goddesses aren’t the only ones wrapped up in this; two game original Vtubers, Me and You, also got swept into Virtualand as well. Emote’s Goddess, Faira, asks the six heroines to save them by striking back at the forces of Obsoletia. While the internet-laden jargon is fun, it ultimately boils down to a typical, somewhat bland, ‘stop the invasion’ plot.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is an action RPG, though it is a bit weird in how it plays. All six initial characters are in your party, but the Gamindustri Goddesses and the Vtuber duo are distinctly separate in both playstyle and movement. Players can switch between the Goddess or Vtuber groups seamlessly at any time, along with swapping to other party members within each of the two groups on-the-fly too. Later on, another playable pair of Vtubers joins up, and players can choose to send out them instead of Me and You. It feels needlessly convoluted, and I’m not sure why the two Vtuber groups couldn’t just combine into a party of four, like the Gamindustri Goddesses.
Controlling the Vtuber group makes Neptunia Virtual Stars feel like an unsatisfying character action game. Me wields a sword, while You shoots from a distance with a bow; the other Vtuber pair exhibits a similar dynamic of one melee and one ranged character. Combo strings and weapon impacts are floaty and lack a certain oomph. The Vtubers possess a bit more aerial movement options compared to the Goddesses; their dash maneuver can be done mid-air, so some platforming segments can only be done by the Vtubers. Plus, the other half of the Vtuber duo is always fighting alongside players, though they seem to die off quickly if players aren’t constantly keeping them in check. Their lock-on system keeps the camera locked onto targeted enemies and sometimes displays if an enemy is weak to either the melee or ranged character’s weapons.
Meanwhile, controlling the Goddess group turns Neptunia Virtual Stars into an inadequate third-person shooter. Each of the four Goddesses wields a different firearm that exhibits unique traits. Neptune rapidly fires bullets at the cost of low damage; Noire’s shots are the jack-of-all-trade balancing power, range, and speed nicely; Blanc can charge up her projectiles for explosive damage; and Vert’s rifle can fire from afar with a chance to paralyze foes. Unlike the Vtubers, their mobility options aren’t as snappy and have to rely on rapidly sliding around into a dodge roll.
On the flipside, the Goddesses tend to be the safer option in tackling enemies because of their inherent distance advantage and the ability to shoot as they move; the ranged Vtuber attackers have to stop in tracks to start their assault. Only one Goddess is out at any given time, too, so there’s no need to babysit the health bars of teammates. Unlike the Vtubers, the Goddesses’ lock-on system doesn’t keep the camera auto-focused on enemies. Instead, it zooms the camera in and turns their reticles into box-shaped zones and attracts homing projectiles fired by the Goddesses. Players will have to manually position this box to keep enemies inside it. Other than that, most of their playstyle simply consists of circling around enemies firing shots endlessly. There is also a circular gauge that fills as each shot lands that will temporarily incapacitate opponents once it’s filled.
The Vtubers and the Goddesses do share some combat elements. Everyone has special abilities at the cost of MP, though finishing a foe off with a Vtuber ability allows them to do a special finisher attack. One of the four ability slots is permanently bound to slowly regenerating health for each group too. Either the Vtubers or the Goddesses can huddle together and heal their life, but only for the group they’re from.
Each of the game’s stages are structured similarly to each other. All are a series of narrow corridors leading to open battle arenas sprinkled with some platforming sections and optional areas; players have to activate the right order of switches and buttons to proceed through barriers that eventually lead to a mini-boss, the next part of the level, and then the main boss of the stage. The only entertaining part of exploring them is that the imagery in some of the stages is cleverly crafted to fit with the stage’s themes. One of them has oversized sweets and stacks of pancakes as platforms, while another imagines what Twitter would look like as a physical space.
Admittedly, there are a few shrewd moments in Neptunia Virtual Stars’s stages where its pointed parodies across various sectors of the online world today are put together astutely, such as a personified Nico Nico Douga gatekeeping its video content to only paid memberships. A handful of enemy designs also made me chuckle as well, most notably a cynical social media tweet and a violent Nintendo Switch swinging its Joy-Con arms at me. It’s in these moments that Neptunia Virtual Stars displays some spark of cunning self-awareness, though they are far and few in-between to elevate it into something meaningful.
Then I’m reminded, once again, that this game is just boring to play. Every boss encounter takes place in the exact same dull combat space. Neptunia Virtual Stars tries to spice bosses up by incorporating vocal songs that give various buffs to either you or the boss at different parts of the song, but my strategy hardly ever changed at all for the entire game. After bosses withstand a certain amount of hits, crystals will pop out of them. Shoot these, and you'll fill up a gauge to enter Resonance Mode. Continue dealing damage for crystals to pop out again and shooting enough of those will initiate super Finish Drive attacks with the team. Usually, there are enough resources to just continually loop these attacks consecutively until the boss dies.
There isn’t much reason to engage with the combat system too deeply. I discovered a character and strategy early-on that worked universally and had little incentive to change it up - both for regular mobs and bosses. It’s not like switching it up constantly would make the game any more entertaining either because moving around felt terribly unpleasant across the board.
I suppose part of Neptunia Virtual Stars’s charm lies in the novelty of incorporating real Vtubers as guests into the game. Interaction with them is very limited though. They’ll pop up in loading screens and some of them have a nice cute skit for the occasion. Certain types of enemies across stages trap these guest Vtubers; rescued Vtubers allow them to chime in once in a while either at the corner of the screen or on video monitors across stages. Due to the nature of this Neptunia entry, there’s no English audio track offered, though at least all of their messages are fully subtitled in English.
VTuber cube equipment are also labeled with guest Vtubers on them, though they’re merely flavor text for HP and attack modifiers. Up to five of them can be equipped to a character at once. Players can also collect and buy MoE accessories to decorate their heroines with; they also unlock passive bonuses as well. The game lets players be quite flexible in customizing their appearance on characters from position, size, and scale allowing for some goofy scenes and interactions.
Perhaps the best utilization of the guest Vtubers in Neptunia Virtual Stars is when players accept side quests from them. Instead of the usual text descriptions detailing what they want, the game plays unique video clips from the Vtubers themselves introducing the side quest to players.
Aside from that, they don’t really quite play a role in the main story, nor do they interact with the other Vtubers much at all. I imagine this is a tricky thing with some red tape between the different organizations represented, but it feels significantly disjointed as a result. The only “guest” Vtuber with any sort of relevance is Compile Heart’s own Ileheart.
The heads-up display in Neptunia Virtual Stars becomes a real annoying issue, as elements of the user interface clutter the screen constantly. Vtubers will be having their little spiel on one end of the screen, while the other is listing down the dozens of items you collected on the other. It becomes egregious during special Emotional Overdrive sequences that litter the screen with visual effects, damage numbers, and slots that trigger follow-up attacks. Screen real estate is already somewhat scarce during normal gameplay, but it dials it up to a ridiculous degree often that distracts me in the middle of battles.
Neptunia Virtual Stars also contains a bunch of other auxiliary features to coat its monotony. There’s a virtual plaza that allows for some light base building and upgrading mechanics to buy consumables, enhance Vtuber cube equipment, and purchase MoE accessories. Players can also engage with a shoddy rhythm mini-game to record music videos riffing on TikTok. Special coins allow players to either discover new Vtubers in previous locations or roll an in-game gacha for guest Vtuber collectible cards. Yep.
At a certain point late in the game, there is an irritating collect-a-thon to top it all off where players will have to meet a certain threshold of discovered Vtubers in order to proceed to the final stretch of it, so there’s a hefty amount of backtracking too. Luckily, the game doesn’t take too long to complete rounding out at roughly 15-18 hours to complete its main story. If you’re a completionist and want to complete Neptunia Virtual Stars’s multiple catalogs of collectibles, expect to put a lot of hours treading through the same environments over and over again.
Performance, even on PS5 backwards compatibility, is disappointing with gameplay sections capped at 30fps. Dialogue interactions seem to unlock that framerate with noticeable 60fps movements from the character models bickering with one another. There are some very minor graphical issues too that pop up here and there, like one of the tips of Noire’s pigtails twitches sporadically at times.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is largely unsuccessful at being a captivating product meant to represent Vtubers. The story is bland. The gameplay is boring. The character interactions are largely uninteresting. Some of its environments and storytelling bits shine momentarily, then drag players back to the reality that it is a repetitively dull experience. Compile Heart and Idea Factory tried to throw so many components and ingredients into Neptunia Virtual Stars that the resulting stew has no flavor at all; no single aspect or element quite stands out and is ultimately forgettable.
I think the novelty of featuring real Vtubers is cool, though they are utilized in a very limited, somewhat disappointing, fashion. It was neat to see some of the more popular ones make an appearance here, like Inugami Korone, Houshou Marine, and Shirakami Fubiki, but I think the real value that Neptunia Virtual Stars offers is giving a spotlight to the more lesser-known Vtubers to a largely untapped western audience from their perspectives. Since all of their dialogue is subtitled in English in this game, there is a real possibility that this game could gain them some new followers and I suppose that is valuable in its own way.
As for the game itself, well… Neptunia has seen better days.