A while back, I spoke to one of my close game development friends about a game I had just bought: Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1. When he asked my thoughts my experience thus far, I told him “[it has] really fun characters; pretty dry gameplay though,” to which he responded “[that is] far too common from Japan, and the inverse is far too common over here.” At first I thought the wording was severe, but in time it really made sense to me.
Many of the games we strictly label as Japanese are those heavy in fanservice and anime styles, and the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is no different. Yes, there have always been innovations in the series with dynamic combat and various resources to manage, but at the end of the day the gameplay only had to be serviceable; all the grinding and repetition was made worth it by seeing the protagonists interact and be themselves. That’s all well and good for an RPG like the mainline Neptunia games, but how well does this concept apply to the mussou genre?
Let’s take a look at Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed.  

Game Name: Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed
Platform(s): PC

Publisher(s): Compile Heart, Idea Factory
Developer(s): Tamsoft
Release Date: 3/21/2016
Price: $29.99

The land of Gamindustri is in peace, all thanks to the four guardian CPUs that preside over the nations and their sisters, the CPU candidates. In this time of peace, Gamindustri journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu set up an audience with our heroines. For what reason? To write a feature article of course! Each hoping to impress the public as well as their sisters, our heroines put their best foot forward and take on a slew of quests to defeat dangerous creatures and protect their home and people (though gaining some popularity wouldn’t hurt either).

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Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is, as was previously mentioned, a mussou (Dynasty Warriors-style game), which is a bit of a departure from the series’ JRPG roots… or so it would seem. There is no denying that the turn-based combat of a JRPG is not at all like the crowd-clearing character action combat of a mussou, but certain design choices give an air of homage to the core series. As one would expect from the genre, combat in Hyperdimension Neptunia U  revolves around using a character to defeat large hordes of enemies. With that said, the balance in combat is seemingly swayed in the favor of the monsters; damage taken from attacks is quite high for a game of this style, though it it mitigated through healing items being dropped at a fairly high rate. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this as poor balance, but it begs a question as to why damage values and the effectiveness of status effects weren’t simply adjusted to make the game fall more in line with its peers. Some may call it overuse of the benefit of the doubt on my end, but it feels as though this system was meant to mirror combat in mainline titles, like this game is not meant to take the characters outside of their element, but to provide a more “in real time” feeling to the game’s flow. 
Consider this: when exploring a new dungeon in an RPG, fighting large numbers of enemies will take their toll on your party and cause you to need to use healing items. Now, how would this situation look if fights were not turn-based? For starters, we’d have to assume that the characters would be taking fewer hits, they’re trained warriors after all. To compensate for this, we would have to assume any hits that are taken must be more damaging to create the same need to heal up.

Otherwise, the gameplay is straightforward: the player chooses one or two of the game’s 10 playable characters, each with their own unique combos and special attacks. From there, they must work towards finishing a quest, which most often means defeating a set number of basic enemies and/or bosses, but occasionally collecting items or progressing towards a waypoint. Characters can be customized with different pieces of gear collected along the way, and in time are even given additional special moves to switch between. However, in a broad scope, Hyperdimension Neptunia U does little to innovate in the genre. Character transformations and the ripping of clothing to increase damage (and fanservice) and lower defense are interesting mechanics, but they already exist (in a more refined form at that) in another series by Tamsoft: Senran Kagura, compared to which Hyperdimension Neptunia U seems like a stripped down (heh) imitation. 

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 This brings me back to the conversation from before; how important is new and emergent gameplay to a series like this? To be honest, not all that much. Outside of combat, there are a multitude of visual novel-style cutscenes with the playable characters, and it is here that the game truly shines. Each character is a bit of a caricature, such as the lazy and easy-going Neptune or sassy tsundere Noire; they fall a bit heavily into tropes, but that’s what makes them so charming. Every moment is filled with personality and every character has something meaningful to add to each scene they’re in; honestly there were few if any cutscenes which I did not verbally react to, be it from surprise, laughter, or just to make a quip of my own.  
With all that said, depth of gameplay isn’t as important to the appeal of this game as it might be to others. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but at the same time it’s fast-paced and competent enough to keep the player engaged between story segments.

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On the technical side, Hyperdimension Neptunia U is a bit of a mixed bag. On a basic level the characters and settings are colorful and pleasing, but due to having been scaled up and retouched from the PS Vita version, there is less detail on characters and some textures become somewhat pixelated around the edges. The score is full of memorable, catchy tunes from the main series, but often times the player will be stepping into  a heated battle with easy listening dialogue music. Other sounds are all over the place, with high-quality voice acting, disappointing impact sounds, and enemies screaming their own names like a pokémon throwing a temper tantrum. By and large though, the game is generally pleasing aesthetically.

As with most games of this ilk, Hyperdimension Neptunia U is not for everyone; it takes certain tastes to find the emphasis on a comedic visual novel over an innovative combat game palatable. However, those who like comical anime stylings and especially pre-existing fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy here.

And remember: always, always, ALWAYS equip fanservice-free costumes to Rom and Ram.

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Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed
  • Tasty as pudding

I'm gonna Nep U all up

What can I say? It's all the same Nep, just served up a different way; like ordering something different than usual from Taco Bell.
If you like anime, video game references, and beating stuff up, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is the place to be.

Pros:

  • Lovable characters
  • Varied combat styles
  • Nep

Cons:

  • Lack of innovation
  • Occasional poor choices in sound design
  • Flimsy plot
3.5

About The Author

Adriel Rangel

Adriel has been an avid lover of games and anime for near all his life. Hailing from Chicago where he is currently pursuing a degree in game design, he greatly prides himself on using both his gained knowledge from his schooling as well as his life-long experience as a gamer to analyze and express his love for games. As far as Anime goes, he likes all sorts, but loves dramatic action; his favorites being Fist of The North Star and JoJo's Bizarre adventure. Fun Fact: Adriel's favorite genres of games are Fighting games and Shooters, but his love for his reckless playstyle keep him from achieving greatness.