Much like MegaTagmension Blanc + Noire, Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is set in an alternate history from the rest of the series. The cast is present, but the characters don't know one another. They take on different roles as the game sees fit. In this case, IF is still her adventurous self on the lookout for knowledge.
Things start off in a pretty rough spot. Gameindustri has transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While it isn't immediately explained how exactly that happened, it is clear a war has destroyed the once beautiful scenery. While searching for an ancient library said to contain every piece of the world's history, she sees what first appears to be a shooting star but is in fact a person falling from the sky (sound familiar?).
Soon after rescuing the girl, she gets wrapped up in a case where all of the world's history has been stolen so she must travel through time in order to repair it. You know, anime stuff. Or Back to the Future stuff?
Sega Hard Girls does the exact same thing right down to literally being referred to as goddesses. Both are filled to the brim with fan service including a host of references, some of which are deep cuts that I loved.
So it was only matter of time until these licenses collaborated together. Throw in Tsunako's recognizable character designs and everything molds together into the same universe well. They're all quite a likeable crew and it just made me want to watch the Sega Hard Girl anime (Hi-sCool! SeHa Girls) sometime.
The game's mission-based structure is different than what fans are used to. Histoire is once again throwing tasks your way. However, next to each mission is a countdown. As you clear other missions, the timer will start to count down. If the timer reaches zero, the mission will disappear completely. Each mission holds a level of importance in context to its effect on history on thus the type of ending one will receive.
The game provides a good degree of freedom. You aren't forced onto a linear path and instead given the option of visiting one of the several Sega console-themed areas of the world. And this is where a lot of the game's charm comes from. You'll be visiting the Dreamcast, Game Gear, or Mega Drive world and experience a huge amount of references that just left this dumb smile on my face having grown up in that era. And this game gets incredibly more self-aware once Neptune turns into a motorcycle - but I won't ruin it for you.
Combat closely resembles previous entries in the series. You move the party member around a set area, then proceed to attack, use a skill, or consume an item. There are also gems scattered around the field that you have to jump up to collect, such as health recovery items, which can be very useful when cornered in a boss fight.
Performing an action fills an Action Gauge meter. It is important to manipulate the Action Gauge by either performing several actions or just a few to decide how long you must wait until your next turn. This works the same for enemies.
By landing hits on an enemy as a party, a Fever Gauge will fill up. Once it's full, a Rainbow Gem will appear that activates Fever Time (in place of the EX Gauge). This causes the entire party's stats to increase by 10% and stop enemies from getting a turn. EXE Drives (special attacks) can also be used. Once a turn is over, the amount of Active Gauge used will deplete from the Fever Gauge until it's depleted, ending Fever Time.
Both of these systems throws a dose of strategy beyond simply mashing one's way through rounds. The only downside to the combat is that you are no longer able to line up enemies in a set area when using normal attacks - now they only hit a single target.
IF even has her own HDD Form with her "Flame Awakening" state which causes her stats to increase dramatically. All of these mechanics helps make battles more dynamic, even if it can all be a little confusing at first. It's a welcome change to what is quickly becoming a worn-out formula for Compile Heart.
Production-wise, the game is not too dissimilar from the rest of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. While the UI has been tweaked and new music has been added (much to my delight), a lot of the layout is identical to previous entries down to the familiar sound effects and level design. You run around, break objects, open treasure chests, and get into random encounters.
That isn't to say there isn't still a heavy amount of recycling going on. While there are certain maps where IF can climb around, a lot of the levels are plucked wholesale from other entries. That includes monster designs - don't expect much originality in those two departments for this game. It isn't surprising given the history of the series, but I appreciated that Compile Heart at least made the effort to keep the game relatively fresh.
The story can be a little hard to follow at times and Compile Heart once again recycles a lot of old assets, but there's a whimsy about it I appreciated. There also isn't a whole lot there for newcomers - I'd recommend trying the Re;Birth games or Megadimension Neptunia VII if you have a PlayStation 4 or a capable PC.
Fans of either series will find plenty to enjoy about Superdimension Neptune. Not only are there a ton of references to scratch that nostalgic itch, but the gameplay is more than satisfactory to help it stand up as its own entry, even if there's a fair amount of recycled content and concepts. Fans of the series probably know exactly what they're getting into here.
A lot will ultimately depend on whether you dislike IF as a character, but as far as I'm concerned those people that don't like her don't exist - so give it a try.
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.