Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 Review

The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is one I have held a lot of appeal for after finally playing the original series last year before doing my review for Neptunia Victory. With its unique plot hooks and fourth-wall shattering referential humor that tapped into some real inside baseball for nerds everywhere, I feel that enough can’t be said about how well-made the script is.

The original Hyperdimension Neptunia made some unfortunate design decisions that makes it difficult to go back to. The visuals fall on the weak side, the pacing is slow, and the battle system - well, it’s a pretty confusing one, consisting of the player having to pour points into skills that only increases the chances that someone like Compa will heal your character, leaving everything to a roll of the die even in the most intense of battles (you can’t heal manually).

It was more annoying than the Gambit system in Final Fantasy XII since you had far less control over the flow of battle. It was this confusing mess of setting item percentages and arranging combo strings that really detracted from the overall experience.

The writing has always been a big draw for me.

Thankfully, with the developers willing to go back to the drawing board with Neptunia Re;Birth 1, a lot of the issues that plagued the first title in the trilogy have almost all been washed away. Gone is the infuriating battle system, replaced with the one featured in Neptunia Victory which did its job well in that entry. For those of you coming into the series for the very first time, this is a very good thing.

The story closely matches the original with some important, distinct differences. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the world of Gameindustri where the series takes place is made up of continents, each identified by the console they are meant to represent: Planeptune, Lowee, Leanbox, and Lastation.

All four land masses are governed by what are called CPU Goddesses whose power is controlled by the number of Shares they receive, otherwise known as their religious followers. The more followers they have, the stronger their influence over their land and more importantly the world itself (represented in game by giving a boost to that CPU’s base stats). It is this conflict, called the Console Wars, which has been the main story arc of the entire series.

After being ganged up on, Neptune finds herself cast out of the holy land of Celestia that hangs above all else and ends up crash landing into the land of Gameindustri below, waking up to find that a nurse-in-training, Compa, has brought her back to her home to be treated, and that’s where Chapter 1 begins.

There are some important differences that have been made which will make this version of the game a lot different. For one thing, some of the supporting cast of characters in the first iteration (like 5pb) have been removed and others have taken their place. There have also been some script changes and improvements made to the translation in order to make the story much more coherent.

As mentioned, the combat system in Neptunia Re;Birth 1 gets a much-appreciated replacement with the one from Victory. Instead of the traditional format where party members line up in a row and attack one by one, players have the ability to move around a large circle, allowing them to line up their shots thanks to a glowing box or circle representing the action’s area of effect. Not only does this allow for careful planning by allowing characters to spread out, but if done properly, can allow one to attack more just a single enemy with every swipe of their weapon during a normal attack.

A modified version of the Neptunia Victory battle system is welcomed here.

The same Rush, Power and Break moves make a return which can be customized inside the game menu. The EXE Drive is perhaps the most important inclusion; a system illustrated by a gauge that fills up with each attack that is made inside a dungeon which is carried from battle to battle. By filling each bar inside the meter, powerful attacks can be delivered at the end of a normal combo. Special EXE Drive skills can also be unlocked as party members level up, which lets you deplete one of these bars in order to unleash what can be a devastating attack when it’s needed most.

I don’t know if I was going crazy, but Neptunia Re;Birth 1 felt a lot more challenging than what I was used to with the series, with a steep difficulty curve that came in early leaving me a little shaken. Of course, the game does follow the traditional trappings of the genre where you can overcome any challenge by simply grinding your way to the higher levels.

However, it simply wouldn’t be fun if that was all this title had to offer. In what can only be described as a mash-up between the Item Synthesis featured in previous games along with Nippon Ichi’s recent use of the ”Cheat System”, Neptunia Re;Birth offers a “Remake System” which lets you make meaningful changes to the gameplay.

By talking to NPCs around the map and picking up from different harvest points inside of dungeons, Plans can be obtained which offer many opportunities to craft new items, weapons, and equipment, along with unlocking new dungeons which in the late game can deliver a pretty substantial amount of experience points to lessen that grind. Certain modifiers can also be implemented, like altering the items inside a dungeon or making the enemies inside tougher, or even making the EXE Drive fill up a lot quicker.

Systemic changes can also be made by letting you make all of the enemies in the game easier or allowing you to escape from wherever you’re standing inside of battle (normally, you would need to be on the very edge of the area of combat). There’s even a Coliseum to unlock that lets you fight it out in a variety of battles where there are no penalties for dying, but plenty of rewards for winning.

One of the more annoying “features” of the original Hyperdimension Neptunia was how you had to wait for another CPU’s continent to rotate back around during scheduled times before you could make your way across, meaning there was this awkward period of downtime that made little sense. That is now gone, replaced by the normal map navigation that is featured in mk2 and Victory. Thank goodness.

Even minor NPCs get their own character portraits now.

Probably the most significant improvement here has been the visuals. Character models are far more detailed than they used to be, besting their PS3 counterparts and makes everything look really sharp look on the Vita platform. There’s a lot of neat touches here, like how the NPCs now have actual portraits to replace their original silhouettes. It gives them a lot more character even if we as the player are looking at still images - it still makes a big difference.

Where it was easy to criticize the other games by commenting that the Neptunia series wouldn’t look out of place on an older system, everything feels right at home on the handheld and arguably makes the experience much richer as a result. Given how the dungeons were always a little bit on the small side, it’s easy to spend a few minutes jumping in to a few fights, gain a couple levels, then quickly escape to the map and save. The only downside here is that the dungeons aren’t any more elaborate than they have been in the past as you’ll be visiting the same locales many times over.

In many ways, Neptunia Re;Birth 1 is arguably the best the series has been thanks to its long list of improvements and how it has cherry picked all of the best systems and mechanics used in the previous entries. Both the Japanese and English dub are as solid as they have been, the visuals have been given a nice bump, and there are plenty of extras here to offer a healthy dose of replayability - even the technical performance of the game has been vastly improved over the original, with little to no framerate issues to speak of. This game not only serves as a great entry point to the series for newcomers, but offers plenty of new mechanics to keep veterans entertained.