This is getting ridiculous


HIGH This Easy Mode stacks!
LOW The combat is the worst it’s been since the original Hyperdimension Neptunia
WTF Why does Noire have a boyfriend?

I’m officially tired of this franchise.

Six years ago, Hyperdimension Neptunia began as a parody of real-life console wars, cheerfully imagining game companies and consoles as women duking it out for humanity’s love. There were game-related in-jokes galore, and developer Sega made fun of literally everyone—especially themselves. Not only was the writing funny, I loved the characters and was always excited to unlock visual novel-like “Events” because watching the ladies interact was great.

As much as I enjoyed it, I never expected Hyperdimension Neptunia to become a franchise. It was, after all, a videogame about videogames—how much more niche could it get? And while the writing was strong, the combat was awkward as hell and the production wasn’t great, technically. Yet, I was wrong. With two sequels on the PlayStation 3, one on the PlayStation 4, several ports and spinoffs on the Vita and now ports to Steam, there have been more than six Hyperdimension Neptunia games in six years. Some things have been improved over time, but many of the series’ problems have persisted. Plus, these games have been churned out so quickly that even the things I loved about them have lost their shine, and I’ve finally had my fill of Gamindustri.

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a game originally for the PlayStation Vita that’s been ported to Steam. PlayStation 3 Lastation goddess Noire’s powers have been weakened because practically no one worships her anymore. The player’s goal is, of course, to make Noire beloved again by surrounding the socially awkward deity with an army of friends, generals, and a male love interest. (I’ve always liked the homoerotic undertones in these games, so I’m probably unduly bitter about this dude.)

While most games in the series are Action-RPGs, this one is a Strategy RPG. In keeping with this new emphasis on “strategy,” Hyperdevotion Noire‘s stages are laid out like grids, while also adding Pokémon-style paper-rock-scissors system. Fire-based enemies are weak to ice spells, and so forth.

This switch to being an SRPG brings mixed results.

Some stages are filled with traps—things like conveyor-belts that dump players into electrified fences, or fragile ground they can fall in. Avoiding these traps was a little difficult for me, because a character’s walking path would sometimes go right into a trap when I thought I went around it. The game does let the player see a path of travel before executing a move, I have trouble with spatial judgement in general. While my spatial problems aren’t the game’s fault, I thought the puzzles were average at best, frustrating at worst. Players can also take advantage of terrain by climbing on higher platforms, or even by throwing boxes and using them as stepstools. However, jumping down from not-a-great-height causes damage and makes the character unable to move for the rest of the turn. This mechanic is annoying, especially in stages that must be cleared in a set number of turns.

On the other hand, I liked the combat system a little better, especially once I found the rhythm of it. Characters increase their affection by standing next to each other while attacking and healing, buffing or even kissing—at least, giving each other a peck on the cheek. Aside from the emotional bonding, these chaste trysts increase a meter that can activate a “Hard Drive Divinity” mode where a character is much stronger and can float. (This being a strategy RPG, this mode is only active for five turns.) With the meter full, a character can use her unique, uber-powerful move. The flow of battle usually involves positioning one’s units near each other, using special moves to charge up the meter (including elemental moves enemies are weak to), and then activating HDD or blasting a boss with their strongest move. However, battles can be slow; perhaps I shoul’dve played on Easy mode instead of Normal.

There are a couple of bright beacons in this sea of mediocrity, however. One is the addition of “generals”—members of Lastation’s growing army who represent game series. Functionally, they’re no different than any other non-goddess character, but it is enjoyable to guess who they’re they’re supposed to be. (In particular, figuring out what the stealthy Lid represents gave me the giggles.)

Hyperdevotion Noire’s one actual innovation, though, is its “Easier, Please!” option. Upon failing a mission, the player can quit, retry, or choose “Easier, Please!” which puts enemies at 80% of their strength. It also stacks. Whenever I got my ass handed to me in levels that took way too long, I could just make enemies weaker and weaker until I succeeded. In fact, I would shamelessly exploit this feature by retreating immediately after starting a battle and choosing “Easier, Please!” five or six times in a row. I’d like to see other games implement something similar, but to say that my favorite thing about this game is something that makes it less painful to slog through is faint praise, indeed.

Ultimately, I’ve fallen out of love. Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is both too similar to and too different from its parent series to hold my interest. Trying to “fix” the lackluster battle system with more minutiae has only made it less tolerable, and worse, I just don’t care about these characters anymore. I’ve played worse games—far worse—but Hyperdevotion Noire has lost the soul of a franchise I once loved. Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was developed by Sting Entertainment and published by Compile Heart.  It is currently available on PlayStation Vita and PC. This review code was obtained via publisher and played on the PC. Approximately 33 hours were spent in the single player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen and contains fantasy violence, language, partial nudity and sexual themes. There are still-images of the girls nude with strategically-placed objects (like bubbles), as well as Blanc’s fondness for the s-word.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: All dialogue is subtitled, and all mission information is presented in text. I spent many hours playing with the sound off and had no problems. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable controls: The game can be played with a keyboard and mouse or a controller, and controls are fully remappable.

Colorbind modes: Thee are no colorblind modes. Also, some special moves have colored symbols representing what element they are–lightning, ice, fire, wind–and some chests can only be opened by using a move with the same element as the chest.

Tera Kirk
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