Super Neptunia RPG is the next big spin-off to a popular franchise featuring the chirpy purple goddess Neptune along with her console-inspired friends like the tsundere Noire, to the voluptuous Vert and the flat as a board Blanc. Yet being the first game in the series to be co-developed by a western studio, it grabbed my attention and almost took my wallet with it.
Thanks to the help of Artisan Studios currently based in the city of Quebec, it reimagines the franchise in gorgeous 2D hand-drawn artistry filled with the vibrant colors of its environment and the storybook feel of its narrative. It feels like a nice mix of brush strokes from the mossy tree trunks and flowery petals showering the vast sakura road with the crisper look of the characters that respects the source material.
Our hero, the amnesia-stricken, pudding-loving Neptune, wakes up from a nightmare of being fed eggplants which she dreads her entire life only to be drafted to Bombyx Mori, an organization that forces their citizens to produce 2D games and captures anyone who tries to create something that isn’t part of the two-dimensional scale. But similar to any other neptunia game, the core campaign acts as a standalone without any particular ties to previous games. Going back to its story, it’s well-paced without providing the extended cut of an already extended cut of the game. There’s not a lot of exposition to drag the story either which is a plus. But it isn’t without its flaws, in fact it has quite a few of them.
The combat system which feels like an amazing attempt at something new felt more of a nuisance. Unlike traditional turn-based RPGs, the battles are done with an active-time system as the game generates action points continuously which is okay, but sadly the poor implementation of how the game flows is another matter altogether which I will get into later.
From the basics, there’s action points which is a shared resource among all your compatriots which you can use to initiate a weaker skill with less resource cost or sponge up a few blows until you can unleash a stronger one. Characters will need to be equipped with abilities and skills and the amount or type is dependent on how many characters are in your party or which one of them is there. With a grand total of five… fecking FIVE characters, you can use up to four of them at once which in turn gives you 16 total slots of skills while still being dependent on the type of skill it is. Each character is also tied to a specific formation type like Neptune being Strike meaning only skills with the specific type can be used or equipped when Neptune is on the frontline. On the other hand, your party can mostly use healing abilities when Blanc is up front and center with exception to a selected others that can be used like Neptune’s unique ability Big Bang.
The game’s battle flow falls apart however when the rock paper scissors mechanics of elemental attributes take into play. Putting the hurt on the enemy with an element that it’s weak against give a lot of advantages with little discredit. It gives you additional AP which in turn can be used to a second attack which adds up as you spam the hell out of it leaving the enemy dead in its tracks without ever fighting back. While there are some that doesn’t have weaknesses, they are however only a limited few, most of which are easily dealt with a high-damaging magic spell. It never had the sort of challenge until you get to the last few optional bosses when enemies can change attributes for a limited time or the final one which resists all elements including physical. However with the many skills you can master from the vast number of weapons and equipment you can find or buy, it was just a matter of strategizing when my team just shy of lvl 70 can defeat a dragon at lvl 100. Which is probably the biggest highlight of the game’s battle system for me. There’s not a lot that makes you rethink how to approach a certain boss nor is there any bigger threat after that.
Artisan knocked the design and art right off the park. Although it doesn’t however save the game from a home run with all of its imperfections. Once booted up the game has a long up time before the menu can pop open the first time but second attempts are faster in comparison. Icons like the berry would often show a whited out rectangle like it’s been cut out by a five year old for his school project and the extra-large maps would fail to show the area where you are and instead center on a blank area of the map. Now with the many equipment, abilities and skills, it can be a daunting experience especially without a sorting method and this is where it really ticks me off. Spending a good few hours, 25 to be exact to play the game in its entirety with only a handful of optional quests to be done, I’ve mastered most skills for my party already but it was an annoying experience so to speak as I scroll through so many while keeping my eyes peeled to find something that hasn’t been mastered already.
Super Neptunia RPG looks gorgeous as a 2D side-scrolling RPG. Its references to real world and other games alike is what I really love about the series as well which we can find no lack of here. The core narrative tackles an interesting topic which is a great plus for me and gamers alike. But when it comes to everything else, it doesn’t feel that great. It felt unfinished and unpolished. It seemed as there were content that was meant to be there but wasn’t. Having gone up through level 108 and I see nothing worth doing even more so with the lack of multiple endings and new game plus to go back to it and experience it anew. If you’re looking for a laugh, Super Neptunia is the medicine for that however it doesn’t have the kind of splendor that the main series has when it comes to its combat mechanics and is only worth half the price and not the $49.99 it’s offering.
Super Neptunia RPG is available on the following platforms PlayStation 4 / Nintendo Switch / PC