Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart Review
The strategy RPG subgenre is by all accounts my favorite category of video games. Titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea are high on my list of favorite games. I have a lot of appreciation for a composition that puts so much emphasis on developing tactics to adapt to battle conditions, relying on elements such as choosing the right party for the right environment.
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, as its name implies, marks the first time where the usual heroine Neptune steps to the side and gives fan-favorite Noire a chance at the spotlight with her very own game.
Instead of going with another traditional title, Hyperdevotion incorporates tactical game elements where battles take place in an isometric grid where Noire and a large group of her friends fight the forces of evil in a turn-based format.
After becoming victorious with the help of her generals by gaining the majority of shares (or adoration among the populace) in the land of Gamarket, a separate world from Gameindustri, Noire meets a mysterious hooded woman who promises an end to hostilities between her and the other CPU goddesses.
Risking everything for her true intentions, she discovers she has been deceived and is left severely weakened after the source of her power, the Sharicite, has been drained.
You play the faceless “Self-Insert” protagonist, a stereotypical lame duck that wouldn’t be out of place in a harem anime, showing up in the right place at the right time to sweep Noire off her feet and wind up in her good graces. He works as her personal “secretary” by performing menial labor, ultimately assisting her in getting her generals back on her side and rallying the other CPUs to go over this evil hooded figure that threatens the well-being of Gamarket.
When he’s not busy impeding the other characters, his blissfully unaware behavior means everyone loves him - basic anime logic. This draws a close parallel to Neptunia PP where the contrived role also makes an appearance.
It would have been nice if the game allowed you to custom create a male party member to use in battle and maybe a 2D portrait that can be the size of a postage stamp to at least warrant their raison d’etre. He doesn't really detract from the experience as its obvious over the course of the story that he plays a role as a love interest for Noire and a couple other characters. Otherwise, he's just kind of... there.
Other than that, the overall arc is serviceable, though the build-up to the final boss is a little murky because not a whole lot of attention is given to the antagonist's motivation (other than being evil, of course). It would have been nice if the developers were more original with who they choose the gang to go up against.
The gameplay in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series has never put much emphasis on exploration, instead focusing on running around inside of small dungeons; otherwise, you’re staring at static screens all day, so it makes sense this would work far better in a game that is almost entirely those things.
Players will need to consider things such as tile elevation like if a character will be able to jump on a ledge taller than they are; the direction the enemy is facing as attacking from the sides and back are more advantageous; and much like a game of chess, be forced to plan ahead of the enemy in order to come out on top. Statistics such as the amount of damage for a given attack and the rate that it will hit versus the damage and rate at which an enemy will counterattack you is also present.
The game also introduces an Affinity system. Players can select from four different crystals to assign to each party member - Ice, Wind, Lightning, and Fire - which follow a rock-paper-scissors cycle in that same order. This unlocks elemental attacks that can be used in battle, and play an even larger role towards the end of the game where planning ahead can mean the different between life and death.
Item development makes a return, allowing you to craft all sorts of items and equipment that can be unlocked for repurchase in stores. There is a huge amount of blueprints that can be unlocked given the right materials. Disc development works in the same manner, allowing you to forge modifiers for party members with Idea Chips that have certain characteristics, such as built-in resistance to certain attacks or damage boosts against enemy types.
Players can also visit the Basiclom and have the ability to upgrade Noire's abode with different furniture using sim points that are acquired by purchasing items at the store. By unlocking new furniture and reading requests that ask for a suitable response from Noire, this has the potential to unlock special cut scenes to acquire new items.
A unique feature to Hyperdevotion Noire is the Lily Boost system. By performing an ability with a party member adjacent to the character, it can reduce the SP cost by a significant amount depending on the number of friends around you.
This also has a positive impact on its effectiveness, all represented by a girl giving a peck on the cheek to each other. By performing these moves in these circumstances, a gauge at the top of the screen fills up. Once a threshold is reached, special moves can be triggered that are unique to each party member.
The thing I most appreciated about Hyperdevotion Noire was the variety in its cast. For most of the series, we have been dealing with Neptune, Noire, Blanc, Vert, Nepgear, Rom, Ram, and Uni. Now there are over a dozen new characters with the generals, as referential as they are, each with their own personalities and mannerisms.
They’re all given the same level of development, getting their time to shine in almost every scene that the generals are involved, ranging from cute (okay, they all are) to the absurd. Their designs are unique, with different hairstyles, clothing, and body shapes.
That’s the thing I like most about strategy RPGs - finding a certain party member you can become attached to and rely upon based on their design and stats (that person was Blossom Aisan).
The visuals really shine in Hyperdevotion Noire and everything just clicks well on the small screen. The 2D portraits themselves are much more animated than ever before: characters move in and out of the screen, the camera pans around, the expressions are much more varied - it’s all done exceptionally well. Everything runs smooth as well, with no noticeable framerate drops during my entire time with the game thanks to Sting Entertainment’s excellence in engine development.
Inside of battle, superdeformed chibi characters are intricately detailed down to having their own particular idle animation, such as Sango doing her haughty Noblewoman’s Laugh (you know the one) to the way Saori gyrates side to side as if her lovey-dovey personality is trying its best to stay contained. Even certain status effects can be borderline hilarious with party members being turned into pixelated shapes, zombies, and even blocks of tofu.
There’s even a higher quantity of intriguing map designs filled with traps and other obstacles, each with different themes present like a wrestling ring or a soccer field. One of the biggest issues that the Neptunia series had in the past was its paltry map selection, so I'm glad that wasn't the case here. Enemy variety is better than it usually is, but there is plenty of recycling going on from the previous games. Along with the different abilities that can be learned and performed, things come together so well it creates a better-than-expected presentation.
Hyperdimension Neptunia continues to be the only game series where I stick with the English voice option even if dual audio is available. The voice casting is amazing - not only are the four CPUs as great as they have been, but many of the generals pull off strong performances.
I recommend giving them a listen even for the purists out there (though Rie Tanaka is hard to beat). Music is mostly recycled from the earlier games along with some new tracks including the lovely opening and ending songs. Not a knock against it, though, as I have always liked the soundtrack.
To me, Hyperdevotion Noire represents the pinnacle of the series. You have a script that's never been as entertaining and enjoyable until now; a very nice breadth of characters with strong voice acting to help push them forward; appealing visuals that work well within the confines of a handheld; and an all-around highlight in the Playstation Vita’s library, especially when you consider how few strategy RPGs there are for the platform.
While I do harbor some contempt for the Self-Insert protagonist and wish things were flushed out a little more in terms of replayability (though the game does arguably have the most length in the series), I really enjoyed the dozens of hours I put into the game and recommend it to both fans of the series and newcomers who are attracted to the anime design. I hope that Idea Factory and Compile Heart become more willing to work outside their comfort zone as a result, and would love to see a new strategy RPG from them again in the near future.