Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls, which released in the US today, places us in an alternate universe from the main story where we find that our favorite goddesses are living in different time periods, unaware of one another as opposed to being affiliated with Gamicademi, but don’t let their apparent disassociation fool you. Their antics are still in full force for this entry in the series. Our story gives the helm to IF, who is a wasteland Traveler in this story. She is searching for a magical Library which is said to contain the world’s history. Her quest is interrupted by a girl who falls from the sky and, as luck would have it, happens to also be amnesiac. Shortly after we discovered that the world’s history is being erased slowly by an unknown entity. So, she and the mysterious Segami, take on the task of restoring history.
Prior to this game I had no idea what is Sega hard girl was and my Neptunia experience is limited to Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies, which was another alternative universe title. To her credit, IF is a much less boring protagonist than Blanc was.
The game ‘s events are mostly voiced in English (Thank God), or Japanese for all you puristst out there. While I did enjoy the acting and the life that the actors brought to their characters, I found myself skipping through the dialogue as I could read much faster than the characters could get to their respective points.
The sound effects and music left a bit to be desired which often when combined with my speed reading of the dialogue resulted in me having the volume turned down. I’d like to note that my low volume gaming stints may also be a product of me playing the game in bed in the middle of the night.
The gameplay is divided into 4 core perspectives: World Map, Dungeon Crawling, Battle and Event. The world map is divided into eras such as the Game Gear, and the Dreamcast eras; as well as the library where your missions are handed out, items are purchased and character classes can be toyed with. The maps that represent the eras are a bit of a spoiler, so I'm not going to go into them in any specific detail, but I will say that scattered throughout these maps are characters who come and go after dispensing some random knowledge or perhaps something as simple as a one liner. Many of these, I figure, are relevant to the Sega Hard Girls franchise while others seemed merely like references retro games in general.
The short dungeon calling segments feel like little more than filler with linear goals such as “Kill 3 Dogoos”, or “Find out what's up with so-and-so”. In short, some missions have specific criteria for completion, after which you return to the library, and the other is reliant on finding an event icon on the map which will lead you into a story event and possibly a fight.
Strewn about each dungeon are collectible medals, which if all of them are collected in a dungeon, higher level items are unlocked for purchase from the item store in the library. I’m not sure if I’m just bad at RPGs, but initially I didn't want to bother with this seemingly tedious passive fetch quest. Soon I found that upgrading my equipment was essential when it came to a point where I couldn't win all my fights by charging up my fever gauge which transforms all my characters and then beating the holy hell out of them.
Each Mission that you take on has a timer next to it that counts down with every other Mission you complete. if a mission timer gets to 0 it is erased from history if this occurs with a non-story Mission, the final boss, a Lavos-esque leviathan called the Time Eater gets stronger as he continues to eat all of history like it was a pizza left in the lunchroom of an office. If all of the timers on the available missions hit zero, you are forced into a battle with the "big baddy", which will inevitably result in you getting your rear handed to you. The game forces the first time on you to introduce the concept. Fortunately if this occurs more than once, you go all Edge of Tomorrow and are thrust back into the beginning of the adventure. But don't worry, all of your completed quests are still done, thank God. Also, any incomplete quests that you didn't get to finish reset so you can complete them all, so all you completion-ists can save your inevitable Vita wall rage-throw for another game.
Let's talk about fights for a moment. Or several. Fights are turn-based, with a twist. Your character can attack, use items, or transform a certain amount of times per turn. If you attack or perform too many actions within that turn, you will run out of SP which will result in your character having to be sidelined while you get pounded by the enemy, and not in a good way. This encourages you to think on your toes and not put all of your SP into a single bout of attack, unless you are sure that you can eliminate the target within that single turn. Battle mechanics are explained by way of confusing tutorial screens that meant nothing to me until I discovered the option myself and figured out the mechanic myself. The same thing happened in VS. Zombies. You are spared random encounters and prompt battles by running into them. If the enemy spots you, they will chase you. If they get to you before you have a chance to escape, they will have the advantage of a sneak attack, which is a fairly common mechanic in RPGs that utilize the on-screen encounter. You, adversely, can gain the upper hand by attacking the enemy in the world map by pressing square. This is dodgy, however, as numerous times I had been certain that I was the master of my domain, only to find a difficult enemy now had run of the mill for attacks. And my goodness, they take many many turns when this happens.
You can actually run through an entire dungeon without fighting a single enemy, however it's often not recommended as is the case with many RPGs. Eventually you will meet a boss or some other difficult enemy and will get wasted. Anyone who has played an RPG in the last 20 years knows full well you are required to level up your character lest you swept away by the raging winds of poor planning.
Now, I had a bit of a problem with experience distribution. Very early in the game, the “Last Blocks” dungeon had me scratching my head looking for the way out. I can’t even tell you how many times I had to hear IF say “Jump!” every time she jumped, or “Here we go!” and “Whew!” when she grabbed onto a climbable surface. But, that’s not why I brought this place up. See, this dungeon offered more experience per fight than a boss battle, or even a dungeon several hours into the game. In fact every time a new character was added to my roster the grind turned into a formulaic circle of visiting the last blocks level to power up, which thankfully the game mercifully levels up characters not in play as well as your dream team so you never have to feel like you're neglecting anyone. As a casual gamer this limits the frustration level and ups the fun factor as it allows me to breeze through the story without getting too frustrated with it, however hardcore players looking for a challenge may be disappointed.
At an estimated play time of 25 hours, Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is a delightful, if not sometimes annoying, RPG adventure that offers bite-sized missions, amusing writing, great voice-overs, and above all else; a gateway to a series many people may not know existed, which is basically why crossovers exist in the first place. Yeah, we see you back there, CSI: Miami.
Disclaimer: A copy of Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls was provided by the publisher for Nerd Theory to review.