Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation Review
Sony PS VitaAlso available on Sony PS Vita
Why play one turn-based JRPG when you can jump into two back-to-back? Following on from the release of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 over here in the West, Idea Factory International have worked to keep the momentum up and bring the second Vita release in the franchise, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation, to these shores. As with Re;Birth1, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation is a remake, this time of Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2. It’s a sequel to the first game, but not actually a direct sequel – being set in an alternative dimension means that the general backstory and characterisations flow between the games, but also that there are enough differences to make Re;Birth2 more standalone than direct sequel. This time around Neptune and the other CPUs are relegated to bit-part players, and their younger sisters, the CPU Candidates, take over as the focus of the story. Neptune’s little sister Nepgear is the star this time, and she couldn’t be more different to her sister if she tried – gone is the random amnesiac and in her place is the girl next door, conscious of her shortcomings and yet willing to work to overcome them for the good of her friends.
In fact, it’s a little worse than we insinuated for Neptune, Noire, Vert and Blanc as not only have they been relegated to supporting cast, they’ve all been taken prisoner – as a risqué image involving light tentacle bondage makes abundantly clear near the beginning of the game. Held in the Gamindustri Graveyard they are powerless to stop the rampaging forces of the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime (or ASIC for short) from spreading piracy and other evil gaming-related things throughout the nations of Gamindustri. With the CPUs all tied up it’s down to Nepgear to assemble a motley crew of CPU Candidates and assorted hangers on and take the fight back to ASIC.
Unlike the massive improvements seen in the transition from Hyperdimension Neptunia to Re;Birth1, the differences here are more subtle – apart from the whole characters disappearing and new characters appearing thing. That’s pretty major. There’s a new ending to find, which is always nice, and the technical issues apparent on the earlier PS3 version seem to have all been resolved. You’ll also find that certain ending requirements have been changed; all told, it’s not quite the sea-change that we experienced with the first remake, and Re;Birth2 is much more of a different interpretation of the general story of Mk2, rather than trying to be a definitive version.
If you care to compare Re;Birth2 with Re;Birth1 then you’d certainly find some improvements; the immediately noticeable one is the fact that you can now have four characters in your active party, and each one of those can be buddied up with another character through the coupling/lily rank systems. This party expansion feels extremely natural, and if you play Re;Birth2 first then you may well struggle to return to the earlier games. Thankfully the additional party member doesn’t have to just cause melee bunching, plenty of options for ranged attacks exist, allowing you to form some structure in how you arrange your party member in battle. Another nice touch is that healing duties can be shared between several members of the team for many fights; you’ll still want a proper dedicated healer *cough*Compa*cough* for tough fights, but at least you don’t feel as though you’ve lost a third of your party spaces because you always have to drag along the one person who can heal.
Combat is exactly the same system used in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory and Re;Birth1, taking the form of a 3D turn-based system. Much of the SP system used in Mk2 has been dropped then in favour of the additional streamlining and accessibility of the newer functionality. Each enemy has two bars, a guard bar and a health bar. Imagine the guard bar as a kind of damage shield, and that pretty much covers what it does. Using a break attack against an enemy will reduce the guard bar, and once that’s gone heavy attacks will rip through the monster’s remaining health – although in many cases it can be faster just to beat down with heavy attacks from the off if all you’re looking for is to kill a normal enemy quickly. A final attack type, rush, exists that generally focuses on the number of hits, but more importantly also increases your EXE meter – fill it enough and you can use an additional attack after your standard turn, or even blow chunks of it on impressive EXE attacks.
Another nice evolution is that skill and dungeon progression tweaks has made it harder for you to accidently massively out level the story progression. Gaining the powerful EXE attacks, for instance, are now nearly all linked to a story event rather than arbitrarily handed out to party members who reach a certain level, and this provides a real skill buffer to some of the tougher optional beasts you can encounter early on. If you take the choice then in Chapter 2 to run around and kill every optional monster you can while chugging healing potions and other buffs then you’ll only have yourself to blame when you spend the rest of the game rolling over boss battles. The tweaks aren’t quite complete however – certain characters still gain access to their powerful attacks early (for example, Red) and suddenly become mainstays in your party, the set-up transformed to have three characters rush attacking to build the EXE meter for the one heroine that can unleash it.
The remake system also makes a welcome return, although you have to start to question whether some of the elements initially locked away there should be accessible from the off. Basically, as you progress through the game you’ll find various plans that you can then exchange specific monster drops or dungeon finds to unlock. These plans can have various effects – they can change the way a character’s eyebrows look or they could add more powerful enemies to a dungeon that you’d outgrown long ago. As fun as it seems at first, various plans cause you to question the whole system – locking changes in difficulty behind plans seems unnecessary, while placing functionality that could have a direct effect on player fun (such as the plan which means you don’t have to run through every dungeon spamming a button trying to find a hidden treasure) just seems mean. Plenty of aesthetic options are available, but the level of materials required to unlock costumes means that many players could complete the whole game without even seeing one of these unlockables – and that’s a shame, as you know many fans of the niche would fall right down into this rabbit hole, spending time to ensure that all of their heroines were dressed in outfits with matching cat ear hats.
Yet, away from these more hardcore niche fans, many players are going to encounter a real issue going into Re;Birth2. The first game was full of anime girls in skimpy clothes, sometimes with heaving bosoms and other times with bosoms that looked like they were about to burst out of comically inappropriate clothing. This time round you almost feel as if the producers sat down after the release of the first game to talk about improvement points, and the most important factor that they could come up with was that the main cast of Hyperdimension Neptunia were too old. The whole cute little sister heroine trope is quite common in modern Japanese media, but the boundaries are pushed in Re;Birth2 by a couple of characters. The overly-lolicon styling of Rom and Ram (especially when they are in HDD mode) combined with some of the events they are forced to endure will sit outside of the taste boundaries of a fair few people unfamiliar with the kind of niche in which Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation resides.
By the end it feels as though Re;Birth2 has taken two steps forward and then two steps back. Fans of the franchise will still love it, and the gameplay tinkerings made after Re;Birth1 are enough to hook anyone that played through that – although, to be fair, that could have been achieved just by chucking the extra party member in. Annoyingly, other painful problems have been left untouched – for instance, the variety of mystery ingredients required to unlock plans that have no easy way of actually finding out where to get them – or even whether they are available to you at that time. Too many little issues remain to set Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 apart as a good game, and the iterative improvements seen in this second remake are held back by the less accessible subject matter and the insinuated sexualisation of the younger members of the cast. But, who knows? Maybe they’ll nail the format with Re;Birth3.