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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Review: Neptunia ReVerse (Sony PlayStation 5)


Review by Matt S.

Of all the many JRPGs that were released on the PlayStation 3, it seems intensely strange to me, even as a big-time fan of the series, that Hyperdimension Neptunia would be the one to get remade... and then remade again. The original was anything but well-regarded, after all. Its Metacritic score is a woeful 45. But, not to be discouraged by what most people agreed was a good idea, Idea Factory went back to the drawing board, and the sequel was much more well-received and successful. That's what kicked off a series that has now hit its 10-year anniversary. Within that time, the original Hyperdimension Neptunia was remade into a much better game for the PlayStation Vita, and now, with Neptunnia ReVerse, we have the remake of that game.


With that intro out of the way, calling this a full remake is probably pushing things. Neptunia ReVerse is a celebration of Neptunia's greatest quality (its characters), and it adds a minigame and a couple of similarly minor bonuses into the mix. It also adds the ray tracing enabled by the PlayStation 5 hardware, and as the first fanservicey game to do that I was rather looking forward to it, though I was ultimately disappointed. The effect on the water puddles in the world is nice but this game is famous for its super short skirts and it didn't do anywhere near enough with the combination. Altogether, these are relatively minor features, especially since so much of ReVerse does still look like an upscaled port, and that's just not what you expect from a "remake."

But then the real appeal of Neptunia has, and always will be, the way it parodies just about everything it touches, and that comes through as strongly here as ever. The entire Neptnia series anthropomorphises video game consoles and companies, so that they become gorgeously attractive girls that, initially, fight one another (the "console wars") but would eventually become friends. ReVerse is where that all started, and through the long narrative sequences, this game pulls no punches in breaking the fourth wall, making fun of the various dramas in the video game world, and even regularly poking at otaku culture, which has always been a delightful quirk for a series that exists entirely due to the graces of that exact same sub-culture. The writers get away with it because it's good-natured ribbing rather than hard mockery (and also because the girls are cute and wear short skirts and that's enough to distract any true otaku), but very few other games would ever think to take such a swing at their own audience.


One thing worth noting, however, is that this kind of topical humour has a lifespan, and the bulk of ReVerse's jokes are nearing on ten years old now (there were a couple of new lines added in for the first remake, but the narrative has remained largely the same). We've not hit the point where the game has become too esoteric to a current audience, but there are lines that come across as long in the tooth. Thankfully they are balanced out with plenty of charming, timeless moments. Neptunia's love of pudding will never go old. Nor will Noire's try-hard tsun act. Nor will the jokes about boob sizes when Blanc's around (they're lovely, Blanc, FIJ!). There's such bombastic energy around the nonsense of this entire series, particularly the main-line JRPG series, and you'll find yourself smiling along with that'll over again in ReVerse. Even if this is the fourth or fifth time that you've played the base game.

In terms of new features for this (re-)remake, the biggest one is the ability to play through it with a whole bunch of the characters unlocked right at the start. It's a mode that is best reserved for veterans (since it completely borks the narrative to have some of these characters show up immediately), but if you are a veteran, being able to play with your favourite girls right from the outset is a nice touch. Secondly, there's a new fishing minigame that has been added in. The fishing mechanic is fairly simple, and there's always the chance that you'll pick up a monster by accident, but it's also a pathway to new equipment and other such things. Despite being able to try different baits and rods to "catch" a pretty large range of things, I didn't find myself too invested in this, but I do think Idea Factory worked harder at it than they'll get credit for, with the various "fish" that you can catch being an amusingly inventive bunch, to say the least.

With the ability to utilise items to increase the difficulty of some of the dungeons, and a range of high-level bonus dungeons being available, I did have a lot of fun messing around with my party from the extended roster. There are over 20 playable party members in total, and they all have different special abilities and combat utility. See, the big, dirty secret that many people refuse to acknowledge with this series is that it has grown to offer a genuinely good turn-based combat system. It's simple and elegant, with battles playing out in a tactical arena, and enemies having a combination of shields and health, with most boss battles requiring that you work out how to reduce the shields to zero before unleashing your biggest damage attacks. You can only take four girls into battle, but each of them can be partnered up with another girl (with greater benefits the closer the relationship), and there are so many different customisation options that min-max players will have a field day tweaking their perfect party. It's not necessary to do so to complete the game - just watch out for the occasional difficulty spike - but the combat system is enjoyable enough that you'll want to see what you can do to break it.


Finally, it has always been an excellent quality of the Hyperdimension series, but it's worth mentioning here, too: the 2D character art, which is used during the visual novel-like dialogue sequences, and then again in CG-like key scenes mid-dialogue, is incredible. Tsunako - the creator of most of these designs - has since left Idea Factory (though there's already been one release featuring the work of a different character artist that has kept the tradition alive), but her work is as resplendent as ever when displayed over the PlayStation 5. The CGs remains amusingly fanservicey, and while there is boob jiggle, I think at this point the critical consensus is comfortable with the satirical spirit that is in those artworks, and judges them in that context. They're a wonderful example of this particular art form.

Neptunia ReVerse is clearly a "first-run effort" by Idea Factory to take the tools of the PlayStation 5 and see what they can do with them. It's perhaps a less ambitious effort than what Idea Factory made as its launch on PlayStation 4 (Omega Quintet), but putting that aside, this is a genuinely good game, worth the time of any JRPG fan, and by its very nature the perfect introduction to the entire series for new players with the new console. The additions that have been made here make it even more complete and also worth a replay for the Neptunia faithful. And if nothing else having an excuse to watch Neptune and the other girls run around in swimwear costumes for a few hours is always worth the investment.



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb


Review: Neptunia ReVerse (Sony PlayStation 5)
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