Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart Review
Reviewed on Sony PS VitaAlso available on Sony PS Vita
It’s sad to sit and think about it, but it’s extremely likely that some of your favourite games never got a sequel. Standalone entries in the annals of greatness, each one of them providing a window into a world that you never got to see through new eyes, a world destined to forever remain the same as it was when you left it. And then there are other games – take the Hyperdimension Neptunia series for instance. An entire franchise born from mediocrity, in recent years it seems you can’t go five minutes without tripping over a new entry - and once again the Vita plays host to the adventures of the four goddesses.
But, shock! Horror! This latest entry attempts to freshen up the proceedings by making a suite of changes to the previously accepted norm. There are still four goddesses, and they are still (essentially) satirically anthropomorphised versions of our modern consoles. Well, apart from Neptune – she’s based on a cancelled Sega machine. The ‘alternate dimension’ trope that each of the Hyperdimension games has going on has continued, and this time the action takes us to Gamarket instead of Gamindustri- don’t be too concerned though, the goddesses still begin the game fighting for control of the whole world. The main catch? Noire’s the main character now, and the genre’s shifted and become a SRPG. Welcome to Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart.
However… in a move that might disappoint some franchise fans you don’t actually play as Noire, but rather as her unvoiced, unseen male secretary. Essentially you as the player are meant to project into this blank slate, putting yourself in his position as he assists Noire in her attempts to reunify Gamarket and convince the other CPUs and characters to join forces with her. Such a character was clearly not needed in the previously released mainline games, and can sometimes come across as feeling forced here. A side-game exists (of course) to help develop the relationship between the player/secretary and Noire, but it’s so divorced from the actual story you can’t help but wonder why they bothered at all.
As with any good SRPG there’s a wide array of supporting characters, and as this is a Hyperdimension spin-off all of them here are linked in with videogames in one way or another – if you’re a fan of games in general you’ll easily spot the origins of a couple of them, but you’d need to be a true master of the Japanese gaming scene to place them all easily. With party sizes of up to seven you’ll find that you use each one of these supporting characters a lot more than you perhaps would have in either Re;Birth1 or 2, which is a good thing really as the cast lists there were arguably far too bloated.
And another thing - you’ll want your party members to get along. There are all sorts of benefits available to you within the combat sections that you can gain with a little friendship. Performing a special move with a character when they are standing next to another character will award you with some Lily points, as well as increasing the Lily rank between those two characters. These Lily points can be spent on various things, such as switching out a character in battle with one you’d initially left behind, or even on performing a character’s superdooper move and hopefully kicking some monster bottom. Further encouragement to make use of the system is found with effect boosts and skill cost reductions when standing next to allies, although with each character only able to move once per turn before or after they take their action you won’t be constantly whizzing around Disgaea-style.
The only caveat to all this is that each and every time you perform an action that gives you Lily points you’ll have to sit through a picture showing the girls involved kissing the action taker on the cheek. This kissing rather quickly becomes incessant – luckily you can turn it off in the options. The same can’t be said for many of the unlockable scenes that you’ll encounter throughout the game – the fanservice feels like it’s been dialled up a notch for this one, and while the chibi battle characters just about get away with flashing knickers as they move, the detailed anime stills fare less well.
Some of the main critiques on the Neptunia games centred around the fact that it was far too easy to stuff a party full of your strongest characters and then ignore around 80% of your potential party members, so a particularly nice move here is that the HDD mode for the CPUs (think super transformation form and you won’t be too far away) is now limited to a maximum of three turns, once per battle. Combined with the ability to switch characters out mid-fight and you suddenly don’t feel corralled into stacking your battle force with the main CPU gals – indeed, if you had to pick one thing that Noire managed to deliver better than the main Neptunia games then you’d have to go with the way that it manages (most of the time!) to keep all of its supporting cast relevant and useful as you progress through the story.
However, none of this really addresses one of the main underlying weaknesses of the game, and that’s the fact that far, far too often you can cakewalk your way through battles by plonking Noire (or another character with a decent special move) in the middle of four other characters and slowly making your way through the battlefield. After the initial bump it’s difficult to be really underlevelled here (especially if you’re trawling through the additional maps unlocked as you progress) and fights that provide enough enemies with decent area effect attacks are rare enough that you can use this as a default tactic for much of the game.
Another thing that doesn’t quite fall into place is the split between main story missions and side quests. Grinding requirements may have been subtly hidden behind an array of side-missions that you’ll want to play through to unlock desired equipment or crafting materials but they still exist, and players wanting solely to play through the storyline will be forced to endure many, many additional battles as they gain experience for their characters. Indeed, the game gives you the ability to replay any story mission you may have already beaten, offering new items and recipes, so it’s likely that by the time you finish the game you may well have actually played all of the story missions at least twice already.
And yet, as you do come to the end of Hyperdevotion Noire it’s difficult not to think that it’s taken a slight step ahead of the Neptunias. While there still feels as though there are a few too many characters, at least this time around they all seem to be fully fleshed out, and supporting combat mechanics mean there’s a good chance that you’ll find an excuse to actually take them into battle and use them. Noire provides a different, perhaps more traditional leading lady to the game, and helps balance some of the randomness that the other characters demonstrate. It’s a fun enough ride, and franchise fans will lap it all up, but maybe it needed to go even further to demonstrate some wider appeal.