The Neptunia series has already come a long way from being the low-key JRPG with tons of gaming-related references to its parody-filled narratives. And over the past decade, we’ve seen Neptune and the gang get sucked into a multitude of other worlds and dimensions. But whether they’re bonking baddies with their wooden swords and toy mallets in turn-based RPGs or even musou-styled adventure games, there’s always a sort of charm that only our favourite fourth-wall-breaking protagonist of all protagonists can pull off.
But this time around is probably where Compile Heart’s ideas went a complete 360. Because if there’s a buffet for game genres then Neptunia Virtual Stars has definitely been put together from that pile. Unlike previous titles where there’s one cohesive idea, Virtual Stars is a mix of a third-person shooter, a hack n’ slash and a rhythm game that didn’t become anything other than average. Now while that isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a particularly good one either. So let’s talk about it…
Now, Nep and the gang of goddesses just like every “isekai” anime protagonist gets transported into another world. But for Neptune, that’s just like a morning greeting which is a good excuse to slack off in her duties as Planeptune’s goddess. And along with V-Tubers that got isekai’d like Me and You from Mewtral they’ll be tasked with saving the world yet again just like every isekai anime that isn’t titled “KonoSuba”. Although it’s a bit disappointing that there’s not a lot of that fourth-wall-breaking antics that I kind of feel like I didn’t become part of the story like I used to be from its previous entries.
But while the fourth-wall-breaking antics has been put to a minimum, the characters themselves retains their funny nature which fans of the series would definitely appreciate. And aside from Noire getting stabbed with the usual loner jokes, each new character is equally fleshed out and a blast to have. Pukorine, sorry I mean, Vice has her demon lord-like skits that easily falls off as she messes up from time to time while others like Ileheart despite not being a playable character often leads to some pretty funny moments as she gets tossed away when the gang doesn’t need her anymore. There’s definitely a lot of things that I could point out but long story short, this is where the game and Compile Heart really shines the most.
It’s the gameplay like I said previously could use some work though. To put it into perspective, players have two separate types of gameplay modes as I would like to call it. The Goddess portion of the game has players shooting enemies with each of the goddesses’ unique camera guns like Neptune’s full-auto rifle or Vert’s sniper. However, the V-Tubers acts as a duo where both characters are active unlike when playing with the Goddesses where you only have one character in the field at any given time. However, V-Tubers also has a different playstyle, a character like Vice will focus on melee attacks with her scythe while Licht has her staff that does range attacks. Another difference here is their HP bars where V-Tubers has separate health bars while the Goddesses has shared HP Bricks… emphasis on the word brick.
“What do you mean brick?” you may ask. These bricks are kind of like Legend of Zelda’s HP hearts where you have a couple of bricks that range from 1 to 30 depending on your equipped V-Cubes that acts the same way as accessories or armours in different RPGs. But because it’s a shared HP Brick, you can end up focusing on just one character with high attack stats regardless of how high the negative stats to HP becomes then you can simply counteract that with the other three goddesses to stack additional HP. This in turn leads to some balancing issues where Neptune can mop the floor with pretty much everything especially with her cone-based skills that can easily defeat a horde of monsters in one or two shots but still having enough survivability to tank through multiple hits.
This is further brought down by its level design where each of the unique nations in the digital world is slapped-together rooms being connected by long winding hallways and corridors. This in turn makes it a bit awkward with its shooter centred gameplay as each room would spawn mobs as you enter and they despawn once you’re at a certain distance away from them which means sniping them with Vert is actually not a viable option and doing charged cannon attacks with Blanc isn’t that great either. The only saving grace to its combat is its boss battles that while it doesn’t completely fix the issue, it at least makes it fun to have the exhilarating music play in the background.
And if you’re not shooting off the overly reskinned baddies like Wikipedia’s globe or the walking television sets then you could be in the BeatTik Studio which acts as the rhythm game portion that’s mostly about mashing a single button to create videos that you can turn into other items like consumables or V-Tuber cards for your virtual collection. Sure, I guess?
However, visuals are where the game kind of makes it better than previous entries. While it has always taken a great and cartoony look, Virtual Stars went away with the VN-like moving 2D models and went with the 3D models during dialogue sequences which go in line with what a Senran Kagura title might look like including whatever costume or cosmetic accessory you might come up with. This offers some pretty good scenes where Blanc could possibly get all mad and angry for the flatboard jokes but ends up being comical for the kind of accessories you can put on her like Rudolf’s shiny red nose and a horse mask to complete that look.
Neptunia Virtual Stars tries its hand on a new genre for the series’ 10th anniversary and it becomes this love-hate relationship where I love the game yet hate it at the same time. There’s obviously the story that I have always loved about the series for its quirky and comical banters but there’s also the missed opportunity to creating something more than just your average Joe in its gameplay. Its lack of playable characters is also a bit disappointing aside from having little to no challenge in its optional boss battles. Now if you’re a fan of the series I probably don’t even need to tell you anything but if you’re someone hoping to try out the series for the first time, Virtual Stars is an okay entry point but definitely not the best place to start.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is available on PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game which can be purchased here for $49.99
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