Super Neptunia RPG Review
Even in 2D, Neptunia is still Neptunia
When Neptune had no direct control over when she could use items, got killed by her little sister, became friends with a dominatrix, and met her predecessor, I was there. Even when she became an idol, got wrapped up in a zombie apocalypse at school, had to fight her way out of a video game, and transformed into a motorcycle, I was there right beside her.
Needless to say, it’s been a crazy eight years — a period marked by tremendous highs and lows. And now in 2019, I’ve borne witness to the craziest thing to happen to Neptune yet: she’s had a game developed by a western studio. Meet Super Neptunia RPG, the first commercial release by Canadian developer Artisan Studios.
Admittedly, I had my reservations when Super Neptunia RPG, or the infinitely superior Brave Neptune: World & Universe! Pay Attention!! Ultimate RPG Declaration!, was first announced back in 2018. As any fan will tell you, Neptunia is a JRPG series unlike any other. The jokes, as well as the idiom, are distinctly Japanese and often don’t translate well into other languages. And considering the track record of similar games (DmC: Devil May Cry and Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City), there was a genuine fear that what made the series so special would be lost in translation. So how did Artisan Studios do? It did indeed capture the spirit of Neptunia — for better or worse.
On the surface, Super Neptunia RPG is everything a fan would want out of Neptunia title. It’s funny, there’s plenty of references to other games, and Neptune is as dumb and quirky as ever. Perhaps the only thing to be disappointed with at the start was the game’s premise, which relies on the cast’s inability to grasp their current situation to move everything forward. Yes, Neptune has amnesia again. This plot device can be effective in making certain revelations and discoveries more meaningful, but that significance hinges heavily on the audience’s knowledge. Who are Neptune and her friends? Not humans, but goddesses. Why do they have amnesia? Because they got beat in a fight. What’s the secret behind the mysterious tome, Histoire? The tome’s true form is that of a cute, but incredibly stern fairy.
The game spends ample amounts of time working towards these reveals, but they lack impact because we already know all of that. Meanwhile, the aspects of the plot that are genuine mysteries, such as the motivations of the oppressive regime, Bombyx Mori, or how the new character, Chrome, ties into everything, are so far and few in between that they’re almost inconsequential. As a result, it almost feels like the story Super Neptunia RPG is playing catch up, as even a casual fan would know more than the characters themselves. Fortunately, while the story itself is lackluster, the world it takes place in is anything but.
The world of Gamindustri has undergone various changes over the years, but never has it looked so beautiful. Masterfully handcrafted, from the characters to the environments, if there is one aspect of Super Neptunia RPG that stands out above all else, then it would be the captivating artwork. It’s not quite on the level of Vanillaware, but what Artisan Studios managed to do here is still very impressive. And what I appreciated the most about this art direction, is that it gave the developers leeway to take a new approach to exploration, which is now more interactive and immersive than ever.
For instance, not only are there now actual towns, but you’re free to explore them. That’s right, towns now serve as genuine hubs where Neptune can wander around to find hidden treasure, enter buildings to shop for items or new equipment, and chat up NPCs to receive various sidequests. This mantra further extends to the game’s areas which resemble something out of a Rayman game. To put it simply, you’re basically playing a platformer whilst out in the field. There are a variety of coins that can be collected and later exchanged at a hidden shop for special equipment, as well as several hidden rooms that can be discovered by those whose platforming skills are up to par.
This departure from established Neptunia norms was deeply appreciated, not just because it worked, but because it was actually fun. The world’s layout kept me engaged even when I wasn’t in combat, and you’ll never get any complaints out of me when you have some areas inspired by Super Mario Bros. And if only the rest of the game mirrored the exploration, then I’d have little to complain about.
Back when I reviewed Dragon Star Varnir, I mentioned that one of the biggest weaknesses of Compile Heart-developed titles is they’re tendency to be so deeply flawed in one or two areas that the whole products gets marred as a result. More often than not, this is the result of developers trying to do too much at once, so poorly-tested ideas end up making the cut. And amusingly enough, this Canadian-developed Neptunia, continues that trend in the form of an uneven battle system.
Up to four characters participate in Super Neptunia RPG’s battles, with each being bound to one of the four face buttons. You press the right button, and the appropriate character will use an ability unlocked via the AP earned at the end of a battle, a la Final Fantasy IX. At this point, you’re probably thinking this design sounds similar to Valkyrie Profile, and the comparison is apt until Formations come into play.
There are five formations focusing on different roles, and your party’s capabilities and active technique will change depending on which one you’re in. For example, Neptune’s formation is Strike, which focuses on physical attacks and increases their efficacy, while Blanc’s formation is Heal, which focuses on recovery skills, and steadily restores the party’s health as time passes. On paper, this design should allow for strategic play, requiring the player to constantly switch formations based on the situation. In reality, however, this only applies until you get
Lonely Heart Noire.
Noire’s formation is Magic, and magic abilities are pretty busted. Not only are they more effective than their physical counterparts, but higher tier ones are more readily available. In addition, due to the way attack animations work, you can easily keep enemies locked down before they get a chance to pose any real threat. To top it off, it’s so strong there’s no impetus to transform — which might be a good thing because it takes so long to unlock those, anyway.
All this results in a battle system that is so far removed from balance that I’ve probably insulted the term just by mentioning it here. You’re free to spam, especially if you’re using an enemy’s weakness due to 1:1 AP refunds, and you’re actually rewarded for doing so. The Neptunia series has never been known for its difficulty, but Super Neptunia RPG takes the cake and then some. However, despite this flaw, the battle system still at least works — something that can’t be said about the quest system.
Imagine someone sending you out an errand without telling you where to go or how to do it — that’s Super Neptunia RPG’s quest system. Whether it’s a hunt or fetch quest, the NPCs are never consistent in the information they give you. They’ll tell you your objective, but rarely do they provide the additional information required to actually meet that end. For instance, one NPC wanted me to collect a Sun Stone from an Ogre, but he never told me where I could find one to begin with. Neither he nor the Quest Log offered any additional info, so I had to resort to mindlessly fighting until I ran into one. In the end, the only reason I ended up finding one (they’re on Poly Island), was because I figured it would be weird for a late-game quest to not have you go a late-game area.
Meanwhile, another NPC needed me to get her a wrench. The problem, however, is that she never actually told me where to go. I spent an hour or so killing enemies in both the quest giver’s room, adjacent ones and entire continent looking for one, only to find it by pure coincidence in a treasure chest when continuing the story. At this point, you’ve probably reached the same conclusion I did at the time: I could really use a Bestiary. But guess what Super Neptunia RPG doesn’t have? A Bestiary. The capacity to see which monsters you defeated and what they drop would have been a huge boon here. Not only would it help determine the classification of a requested item, but it would help track down specific enemies you might have come across earlier in the game. In its absence, we end up spending far too long on tasks that should only take a fraction of the time.
Yet among this game’s many quests, it turns out Elite Hunt Quests are the most egregious. As the name implies, the goal is to hunt down “high-difficulty” monsters lurking around the game’s many zones in exchange for special rewards. But what if I were to tell you the hardest part about these monsters is actually finding them? What the developers actually did was hide each of these monsters in hard-to-reach, often hidden, rooms strewn throughout each area. As a result, you’ll often need to hug the wall of every room in the specified area, as you search for an entry point that may not even exist. And more often than not, your inability to find the room might just come down to not realizing a branch or ledge isn’t part of the scenery.
I wish I could say such occurrences aren’t commonplace, but they are. An inconspicuous door. Missing ceilings. A “pitfall.” These are just some of the many ways Super Neptunia RPG hides these monsters from you. I could have accepted this design if there were some type of hint provided, but you’re forced to guess every single time. None of this is insurmountable, mind you, it’s just…tedious. I don’t know which dimension this game takes place in, but I’m confident that in none of them is it a good idea to feature quests with so much guesswork involved. And really, this speaks to a larger issue Super Neptunia RPG suffers from: a lack of QoL features.
I spent the early parts of this review gushing over how much I love Neptunia, but it’s clear this game doesn’t love me even half as much. Very little in this game is designed for the purpose of making things any easier for the player. In fact, the only thing I can think of that is wholly beneficial is the Fast Travel feature that’s unlocked from the get-go. Beyond that, though? Virtually nothing. Not only is there no proper mini-map, you’re not even taught how to use the actual map until you’ve traversed a significant portion of the first area. Why not tell me before I leave town?
Meanwhile, navigating through your inventory is a total nightmare because you lack the means to filter or look for a specific piece of equipment. With the sheer number of equipment, you’d think there would be some way to parse through it all. It’s already been mentioned, but this game needed a Bestiary something fierce. And if not a Bestiary, then at least a Quest Log that thoroughly details the important details of a quest would be appreciated.
Lastly, the AP cost of any given technique isn’t listed anywhere. I can’t count how many times I gave one character a new move, only to realize in the very next battle that she was effectively useless as a result. There’s supposed to be a patch that addresses at least some of these problems, but the word’s still out on when it will arrive. And before closing out, I should discuss another thing that the patch was designed to address: the bugs.
In its present state, Super Neptunia RPG is riddled with bugs. So much so, that I delayed writing this review in anticipation of the promised patch that I assumed would drastically change my perception of this game. But as I previously mentioned, that patch has yet to arrive. Cutscenes being played in the wrong order, the occasional inability to cancel the use of items, inconsistent animations and a handful of textual errors are just some of the many bugs this game currently suffers from.
I remember back when the Japanese version came out that it received a good amount of criticism, and I assumed it was partially due to xenophobia. After playing through the game myself, however, I now understand those complaints are entirely justified. Put simply: The game might look beautiful, but it runs terribly. Unless you’re absolutely in love with Neptunia, then I’d suggest waiting. Hell, wait anyway — it could make a world of difference.
Super Neptunia RPG is what untapped potential looks like. It has the capacity to be the best Neptunia spin-off to date, but is marred by so many gameplay-related issues and bugs that they often overshadow everything that the game does successfully. Like a lustrous Share Crystal, it’s beauty will shine through if all the dirt and grime is wiped off first. The only question is whether the polish Compile Heart and Artisan Studios applies will be enough.
Super Neptunia RPG
- Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
- Published By: Idea Factory International
- Developed By: Artisan Studios/Idea Factory/Compile Heart
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: June 20, 2019 (PC)/June 25, 2019 (PS4, Switch)
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Super Neptunia RPG is a diamond in the rough. It has the potential to be the best spin-off to date, but is so marred by gameplay issues and bugs that its successes are often overshadowed. Unless you’re in love with Neptunia, then I’d suggest waiting for a patch. Hell, wait anyway."