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JPgamer: Victory, After a Hundred Hours

Some eight months after its original release -- and 112 hours of gameplay later -- Gamindustri is safe once again. Pete shares some final thoughts on Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory.

Article by Pete Davison, .

There are a lot of games out there where popular perception doesn't particularly line up with critical reception, but there are few better examples I can think of than Compile Heart's Hyperdimension Neptunia series.

Consistently panned by critics for a variety of reasons -- across the three games that have been released to date, their Metascores stand at 45, 53 and 54 respectively -- the series has nonetheless managed to find a significant enough audience both in its native Japan and in the West for Compile Heart to continue making them. In Japan, they've even spawned a spinoff anime series and a variety of merchandise; here in the West, meanwhile, publisher and localizer NIS America is clearly happy enough with each game's performance to continue bringing them to English-speaking territories, and online communities regarding all three games are always abuzz with active discussions about everything from where to find their numerous secrets to which character is everyone's favorite.

I've played all three games in the series now and genuinely enjoyed all of them massively. I can see where the criticisms come from -- all three games are extremely repetitive, technically flawed and awash in fanservicey moe imagery, childish boob jokes and other content that is not to everyone's taste -- but for me, personally, the candy-colored aesthetic, enjoyably fluffy story, eminently loveable characters and excellent translations have actually made them some of my most fondly regarded games of recent years.

The whole gang. Can you spot the personifications of Japanese developers Falcom, Gust and Cave?

I completed the third game, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, this very week. Well, to be exact, I scored the Platinum trophy on it -- something that I only do for games that I really like. It took me 112 hours of gameplay in total, and I've been playing it off and on since April, interrupted along the way by two fairly lengthy RPGs that I was playing for review -- Time and Eternity and Tales of Xillia -- so I think I've got my money's worth. And I came away from it feeling not only very satisfied with the experience I'd had, but also that, as with many other recent Japanese RPGs, it was a lot more clever than people were giving it credit for.

Like previous installments of the series, Victory centers around the misadventures of Neptune, a ditzy, airheaded personification of Sega's vaporware Neptune console. She's joined by her regular companions Noire (a distinctly tsundere personification of the PlayStation brand), Blanc (a foul-mouthed, quick-to-anger personification of Nintendo) and Vert (a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, large-breasted personification of Microsoft's Xbox brand) along with her sister Nepgear (the technology-obsessed, constantly downtrodden, try-too-hard personification of Sega's handheld Game Gear), newcomer Plutia (the split-personality personification of Sega's Saturn successor the Pluto), and a few supporting characters depending on which of the game's three endings you're heading for.

The second game introduced the "CPU Candidate" characters -- sisters of the main cast who represented the handheld consoles. From left to right: Uni (PSP), Rom and Ram (DS, because twins) and Nepgear (Game Gear).

These characters, most of whom have been present since the inception of the series, are where some of the best humor comes from, since their personalities and representations are absolutely in keeping with their real-life counterparts. Neptune's airheadedness and unwillingness to knuckle down and focus on actually getting some work done mirrors Sega's struggles to remain relevant in the hardware race up until the Dreamcast era; Noire, conversely, is the exact opposite, working as hard as she possibly can and never being satisfied until she is absolutely, positively and completely the best in the world -- much like Sony's attempts to dominate the market with the various incarnations of the PlayStation. Blanc, meanwhile, is absolutely wonderful; having the appearance of a demure, quiet, shy girl but turning out to be by far the angriest person in the whole cast mirrors the contrast between Nintendo's family-friendly image and the ruthless business practices the company engaged in under Hiroshi Yamauchi. And as for Vert, while she may look like a token blonde-haired big-boobed bimbo, she's a textbook example of a common representation of "foreigners" -- specifically Americans -- in popular Japanese media such as anime and manga. With Neptune, Noire and Blanc all being based on Japanese systems, Vert's obvious "foreignness" in comparison makes perfect sense, as does her feeling enormously threatened when Peashy, the character who represents the rapidly growing PC games market, shows up.

Victory runs with these ideas even further by taking a wry, sidelong glance at the history of the games industry, with its narrative stretching from the NES vs Master System era right up to the end of the seventh generation. The girls' costumes for their powered up "Hard Drive Divinity" form change accordingly as the game progresses, too; Blanc, for example, begins the game in the red and white of the Famicom, progressing through the light gray of the Super Famicom, the dark gray of the N64, the deep purple of the GameCube and the brilliant white with glowing blue highlights of the Wii. Vert, meanwhile, begins in a rather revealing black-and-green number and eventually graduates to a beige-colored costume with glowing red lights all over it. (In the first game in the series, she was also rather prone to getting too hot and having to rest for a while, though this particular character trait has been toned down somewhat in the subsequent installments.)

Blanc's costume reflects the changing face of Nintendo hardware through the ages -- from left to right: GameCube, SNES (Super Famicom), NES (Famicom), N64, Wii.

It's not just a visual change as the game progresses, though; the way these characters interact with one another changes over time, too. As goddesses (or, in the game's parlance, CPUs) of the setting of Gamindustri, the girls' various struggles mirror real-life things the games industry has had to deal with over the years -- rampant piracy; the rise of the PC as a viable gaming platform; concerns over whether or not video games are "good" for society as a whole. Indeed, the eventual revelation of the main villain's true identity is, I think, the only time I've ever played a game where the great industry crash of 1983 has been leveraged as a plot point in a fairly convincing manner.

Humor and references abound outside of the main plot, too: sidequests will often put in sly digs at well-known game franchises (one quest called "Negotiation Failed" sees you hired by a guy who just calls himself "Devil Summoner" to deal with a mythological beast he failed to tame, for example) and the enemies consist of sentient dating sims, Pac-Man ghosts and pipes from Mario among other, more conventional monsters. Even the repetitive nature of the game's dungeons could be interpreted as an oblique reference to Sega's own Phantasy Star Online, which constantly recycled the same environments with very slightly different layouts for its various quests.

And this isn't even getting into the series' trademark special attacks, which range from summoning a giant laser-spitting battleship with Keiji Inafune's face on it to an attack that consists entirely of Plutia throwing down her plush toy weapon -- whose various incarnations include references to everything from Dragon Quest to Gundam -- on the floor, then stamping on it repeatedly. (When she switches to her rather more dominatrix-like HDD alter-ego, however, the innocent and amusing stamping on a soft toy is replaced by the rather more sadistic grinding her heel into the enemy's nose with a look of pure glee on her face. You don't mess with Plutia.)

Some of the adorable -- and oddly familiar -- foes you'll be pummelling over the course of your adventure.

I could go on, but I'll restrain myself. I'm sure we've all come across games that just "resonate" with us, regardless of how the rest of the world seems to feel about them. For me, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series falls very much under that description; I certainly don't expect anyone to feel quite the same way as I do about these three peculiar, flawed little games and their impending Vita follow-ups and remakes, but I'll always love them, and, for me, they'll remain a highlight of my own personal gaming library.

JPgamer is USgamer's regular round-up of topics regarding Japanese games, published every Wednesday. You can read previous installments here. JPgamer will be taking a break until the new year -- see you in 2014!

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for cscaskie #1 cscaskie 3 years ago
    Congrats on your accomplishment Pete. I haven't been able to dedicate myself that entirely to fully exploring a game since FF7 and the first Wild Arms when I was in high school. It feels sooooooo good to know a game you love inside and out.

    I'm just getting into this series thanks to your recommendation, but I'm enjoying what I've sampled so far. It's sweet and pleasant and cute, and it really makes sense for me in my life right how. I really appreciate our conversations about the series - I was less afraid to make the plunge despite the poor critical reception that the the games have suffered.

    I was sad to read that Peashy represents the PC in the English version of the game, because from what I understand she is the representative for my beloved PC-Engine (Turbografx in the West) in the Japanese version. Oh well. It'll be a while before I encounter her anyway - I'm just getting started with Mk.2.Edited December 2013 by cscaskie
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #2 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    These japan sections are so much better than what kotaku can muster
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  • Avatar for cscaskie #3 cscaskie 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k Amen. I don't want to hijack Pete's article and turn things into a Kotaku-bash, but I migrated to this site as my game site and community of choice as soon as I could - and I was a dedicated commentor on Kotaku for like 6 years. I couldn't be happier with my decision. USgamer is such a more positive place to be in terms of both professional article output and community interaction.Edited December 2013 by cscaskie
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #4 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k@cscaskie

    I second that. When I first came to U.S. Gamer, I said to myself "finally".
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #5 Dogislander 3 years ago
    @cscaskie@Stealth20k It's so damned REFRESHING to actually hear support and appreciation for a genre that deserves a lot more respect. I've just finished up the second game after US Gamer making me aware of it (Thanks, Pete!) and I'm definitely ordering the first and third.

    It's remarkable how people can just IGNORE the fantastic writing and personalities in this series. They go beyond some cheap parody of gaming tropes and invest them with real charm and personalities. It's really fun to just laugh along with the plot and dialogue while at the same time analyzing the symbolic meaning as well. Some of it's a bit on the nose, but it never loses it's sense of FUN, something most Western RPGs seem to forget about...

    Anyways, love the series and love the sense of positivity this board is building.
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  • Avatar for cscaskie #6 cscaskie 3 years ago
    @Dogislander You mentioning the writing and character development made me laugh. I remember this review I read recently that bitched about how these games lacked character development. All I could think was "I'm an hour and half into the 2nd game and there's already loads more character development that 3/4 of the game I've played this generation." It's sad/hilarious how closed minded journos write the phrase "no character development" when what they mean to write is "character development that I didn't care for." They're not exactly the same thing. The point of these games is character development - and just because the story on display didn't resonate with you doesn't mean that it's not there. These games are so charming.
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #7 Dogislander 3 years ago
    @cscaskie Right on. What I love about this series is that it does what JRPGS have done so well over the years:embracing both the outsized drama and the silly minutiae of their universe. Yeah, I just kicked some giant robot ass, now I'm gonna watch 5pb sort through radio listener mail. Then I'm gonna smash somebody with my Inafune blade...what's not to love?
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #8 pjedavison 3 years ago
    @Dogislander Oh God. I love 5pb so very, very much. I'm sad she wasn't in Victory.
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  • Avatar for Lync #9 Lync 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k I like Brian Ashcroft but he's rarely avoided the same depth as we get here, he's good when there is the opportunity to expand.
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  • Avatar for Timobkg #10 Timobkg 3 years ago
    Hyperdimention Neptunia does a lot of interesting things with the setting and personification of hardware, but it also marries it to ecchi character designs and some of the most boring combat I've ever seen.

    When we're waiting for the video game industry to grow up, stop pandering to teenage boys, and be taken seriously as an adult entertainment medium by non-gamers, it doesn't help to have games with cover art that I'd be embarrassed to have an acquaintance find on my shelf. At best, I could pass it off as my daughter's, reinforcing the view that games are for kids. At worst, it makes me look like a pervert or pedophile.
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #11 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    I've really enjoyed these columns, since it's caused me to reexamine my opinion on some of these games.

    I remember when the Neptunia series was first announced and I was interested in the idea of a console wars satire. During the runup to the game I started to hear more about the questionable technical qualities of Idea Factory that dampened my enthusiasm. Plus I was also an anime fan in decline at the time and I was getting a little tired of the moe aesthetic, which made me wince at the character designs. So by the time it actually came out and got bad reviews I figured it was just another bad game and moved on.

    As time passed, whenever I saw a new story or preview about the series I wondered why they kept getting coverage. I mean it's cool to see Keji Inafune's face on battleship shooting a giant laser, but didn't everyone agree these games were bad?

    So when I saw the first few columns with Neptunia images in the headers I will freely admit that rolled my eyes and skipped over them. As I kept revisiting the site and enjoying the writing I decided to go back to those early entries and see what you had to say on these and other otaku games. I was impressed with your honesty and enthusiasm in handling a genre of games that is often marginalized by gamers.

    While it hasn't convinced me to go out and play through Neptunia, though part of that has to do with the fact I need another 100 RPG like I need a hole in my head, I has convinced me I judged the games a little too quickly, and I look forward to reading more of it in the new year.
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  • Avatar for docexe #12 docexe 3 years ago
    I didn’t really care about this series before, but I have to admit the way you describe it makes me curious. In particular, the cast of characters sounds like rather clever interpretations of the companies they represent, rather than just mere “moe anthropomorphism because, hey, cute girls”.

    I suppose I will give it a try if I have the chance, although I wonder if the clever in-jokes about the game industry will make up for the flawed mechanics (that’s really the controversial element of the series that worries me the most, as moe and fanservice don’t necessarily bother me).
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  • Avatar for TK-Flash #13 TK-Flash 3 years ago
    Deleted December 2013 by TK-Flash
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  • Avatar for timhuang99 #14 timhuang99 3 years ago
    @Timobkg

    I never let the look of a game be a reason for being ashamed. It's the same as not being ashamed of playing "kiddy" games like Mario or Pokemon, or "nerdy" games like Final Fantasy(to the dudebros, every game that isn't an FPS or sports is nerdy)

    My girlfriend and her sister played this game and they found it cute. They play Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 5 and all I've gotten from them were chuckles at the exaggerated boobs. Then again, they do like to ogle Siegfried and Jann Lee so equal opportunity, I guess

    That being said, the battle system for this game really is bad. I played this game for like 15 hours and then the next big AAA game came along and Neptunia was promptly forgotten. At this point I imagine it'd be better to watch a Let's Play to experience the story than have to play it myself.Edited 2 times. Last edited December 2013 by timhuang99
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #15 Critical_Hit 3 years ago
    I really hate Moe, but I've been fascinated with this series' fandom for awhile and I'm glad I read this, as it's intelligent and detailed. I think I'll still pass up this series though :) And I'll continue to hate moe - sexualizing little girls is just pretty messed up. Either be cute, or sexy; do not blend the two, Japan. You guys gave us Hello Kitty and Faye Valentine; blending the two results in a monster imo.

    Also, in that one paragraph that began: "These characters, most of whom have been present since the inception of the series, are where some of the best humor comes from..." - you know that, while you see some parallels to the different gaming first parties over the years, you also described some very obvious, well-worn anime archetypes, right? A character who's unfocused and airheaded? One who's really driven and competitive? One who alternates between quiet & shy and also ruthless? And the blonde bimbo foreigner? You just described probably hundreds of characters throughout anime in the past decade.

    Regardless, good piece anyway :) In this year of Ninokunis, Tales of Xillias, Realm Reborns, Etrian Odyssey games, Shin Megaten, Pokemon X & Y and more, it's been a great year for JRPGs and it seemed all too easy to ignore the efforts from the smaller niche games like this, that have quietly been keeping the JRPG torch going for the past few years.
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  • Avatar for Timobkg #16 Timobkg 3 years ago
    @timhuang99 Maybe it's where I'm coming from, as a husband and father to a daughter, but while I'd never be ashamed to be seen as "kiddy" or "nerdy" plaing Pokemon or Final Fantasy, I would be ashamed of this.

    The Western Victory cover is actually fine, but can you look at the covers for HN 1 and Mk2, or the Japanese cover for Victory, and not say that they're using sex to sell the game? And since they're selling it based on sex, they can skimp on unimportant things such as gameplay.

    This industry does enough pandering to horny men already without supporting such blatant marketing, and there are plenty of better JRPGs.
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  • Avatar for CountZeroOr #17 CountZeroOr 3 years ago
    I tried renting the first Hyperdimension Neeptunia game from GameFly, but I found the game to be somewhat of a pain to play, particularly with the dungeon crawling. I was interested in getting further into the game so I could see more of the story (and to see how far they lampooned the game industry), but the gameplay itself was too much of a mess to make me want to go further.

    That said your article is enough to make me want to rent the game from GameFly to see how much of an improvement it is (or isn't) on the gameplay front.
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