There have been a ton of Neptunia releases lately, but it’s actually been a long time since one has served as a flagship entry. Neptune, Blanc, Noire and Vert have tried careers in pop music, fought on battlefields and even gotten a bit tactical, but this new release, Megadimension Neptunia VII, returns the CPU crew to its role-playing roots.
Megadimension Neptunia VII (pronounced vee-two) is the fourth main-series entry, and the first to release since the first three saw full remakes. It’s also the first on the current generation of consoles. If that sounds intimidating for a newcomer, it is, but don’t worry: the game doesn’t care about its plot, and neither should you. (Or you can just read our guide.)
The thing to know is that this entry is sort of about the game’s CPUs also undergoing the console shift, and also sort of about the Dreamcast. (I’ll talk about that “sort of” part later.) The conceit is that Megadimension itself contains three consecutive games, complete with their own discrete title screens and worlds, but generally just know that these are the big chapters of the game.
As much as Megadimension Neptunia VII is a dungeon-crawler RPG, it’s also a visual novel.
As a result of this segmentation, the huge roster of playable characters gets chopped down into small pieces. You’ll spend most of the game with just two or three fighters, and these character get to interact and follow storylines without being crowded out. The other side of that, though, is that it takes over 20 hours to get to the point at which you’re utilizing the complex eight-person dual-line systems, and it doesn’t give you much time once you’re there to do interesting things with it.
As much as Neptunia is a dungeon-crawler RPG, it’s also a visual novel. It’s a weird fit, given how little it cares about its own narrative, but it makes a lot of sense in Idea Factory’s library. It’s… all about the tropes, though. You have to respect it for going all in on these very stereotypical elements, but dozens of hours of them aren’t for everyone. For the given material, it’s translated very naturally, and when it’s voiced, it’s voiced enthusiastically. You definitely have to give credit to the localization team.
You also have to give credit for iterating on the battle mechanics well. The early releases were… well, rough enough that they have already been remade to fix glaring issues. Battles in VII are a lot faster and smoother as a result of these advances; it’s not an amazingly deep system here, but it feels nice. That said, it doesn’t really do enough with the strategy; unless you happen to be fighting one of a handful of enemies with strong elemental resistances and weaknesses, there’s generally one combination of buttons to hit when attacking to do the most damage, and more effective still is just using up your SP meters by using your most expensive abilities over and over again.
I could go into the full breakdown of what does and doesn’t work in the game’s story and theme, but it ultimately boils down to this: it doesn’t commit to the bit. The idea of lampooning the game industry is a promising one, especially for this game’s given audience. There’s a lot of room to have fun here, and a wealth of jokes you could make. Instead, though, Neptunia makes fleeting, vague references and moves on to some anime trope.
I could go into the full breakdown of what does and doesn’t work in the game’s story and theme, but it ultimately boils down to this: it doesn’t commit to the bit.
There are brief moments that deliver on the promise, but those just serve to make everything else feel empty when they’re over. It’s like it wants to be like Sega Hard Girls, but it’s too afraid of coming anywhere close to actual IP and not clever enough to think of how to do it without them. This has long plagued the series, and I guess I was hoping they’d be a bit braver about it by now.
That, and it has no problem recycling its content. Sure, it’s a lower-budget title; no one’s expecting Final Fantasy production values. The problem is that VII wants to be longer and longer, so it reuses environments and music for hours upon hours, and these aren’t of a high enough quality to stand up to that wear and tear. The occasional dungeon looks nice, but even those get slightly reconfigured three more times until you can’t deal with them anymore.
Megadimension Neptunia VII is the best Neptunia game to date, based purely on its mechanical improvements. That said, if a game is going to be half-visual novel and take 30-plus hours to complete, it really needs to either commit to making believable characters with interesting narrative arcs or have these absurd situations filled with jokes that get to the punchline and land when they do. If you’ve enjoyed previous games in the series despite these issues (and I know you’re out there), you’re probably going to love this one. I just can’t help but think it could be so much more if it could just finally deliver on the promise of its premise.