Consider, if you will, the humble JRPG. Since the “J” in the genre name stands for “Japanese”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that JRPGs necessarily must be developed by Japanese studios to be considered JRPGs. Usually, JRPG franchises don’t leave their homeland, and it’s rare even for JRPGs to be developed by different studios to the ones they’re usually helmed by. That would make a JRPG developed by a Western studio a very rare and curious thing indeed.
Such is the case with Super Neptunia RPG. This is a spinoff in the fairly long-running Neptunia series, which began back in 2010 with the PS3 exclusive Hyperdimension Neptunia. Development duties are usually handled by Idea Factory and Compile Heart, but for this one the reins have been handed over to French developer Artisan Studios. Super Neptunia RPG is the studio’s first title, which is pretty brave; this is a well-liked series with a lot of very dedicated fans.
The question therefore becomes thus: will those fans see something they like in Super Neptunia RPG? At a cursory glance, it’s quite difficult to see any changes at all in the guard. Super Neptunia RPG is chock-full of the same lengthy visual novel sequences and anime characters as its predecessors all have been. There’s a new focus on platforming and 2D movement, but for the most part, this is a classic Neptunia experience, so if you’re looking for that you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s the setup. You play as Neptune, a girl who awakens in a dystopian world with no memory of her past (yawn). Aided by a mysterious book called Histoire, Neptune must discover her origins and the purpose of her life. It’s a lot less dry than that summary, though, thanks to the characteristic sense of humour Neptunia games have. The setting of Gamindustri (game industry, ha ha) is fully intact, and the satire of gaming culture, while being a tad surface-level, is still fun.
So what is new? Well, quite a lot, in fact. Super Neptunia RPG is, rather counter-intuitively given its name, a side-scrolling platformer. Don’t worry, though; this is still very much an RPG through and through. It shares a lot of its DNA with games like Odin Sphere and Valkyrie Profile, with its 2D map exploration segments broken up by semi-turn based encounters necessitating a little more strategy than just “you have to jump on the enemies”.
Let’s talk about those 2D segments. Super Neptunia RPG is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. Koji Igarashi’s newest game Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a 2.5D game with 3D models battling it out on a 2D plane, and it looks a little stiff and uncanny for it. Super Neptunia RPG makes the right decision by opting for pure 2D models, and if they’re not hand-drawn I’ll eat my absurdly oversized anime hat. This is a gorgeous game just to sit back and look at, let alone to play.
It’s a good thing, too, because although those visuals are beautiful, they are essentially depicting some fairly staid and well-trodden environments. There are forests, villages, dungeons, and all kinds of other locations that you’ve seen before in RPGs. This isn’t a game for people who love innovation in their gaming experiences; rather, Super Neptunia RPG is putting itself on the market directly for the fans, and it’s they who are going to get the most out of it.
That said, this could be a good entry point for newbies to the Neptunia series. It’s not particularly attached to the other games in terms of plot, although it does have some nice callbacks and references to Neptunia which I won’t spoil. The narrative and characters here are simple enough that you’ll be able to follow them even if you’re not a fan of RPGs in general, so if you’re looking to get someone into the series or RPG gaming, Super Neptunia RPG could well be your application form.
Unfortunately, that goes for the combat as well. Super Neptunia RPG’s combat simply isn’t as deep or compelling as it likes to think it is. I managed to get through most major combat scenarios without really knowing what I was doing, and although there are features the game forgets to tell you about, it’s never punishing enough to make this a serious problem. Super Neptunia RPG isn’t a white-knuckle thrill ride, it’s a Sunday-afternoon canter through a lovely village.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. If you’re not looking for a deep, engaging challenge and just want to spend time with some cute anime characters without worrying too much about combat, Super Neptunia RPG should more than suffice. It’s not overly deep, it’s not overly morally complex and its story probably won’t stay with you. It’s a gentle, lightly comedic trot through some nice and quiet video game satire, with a fun if shallow combat system to accompany that narrative.
I said earlier that this game will appeal mostly to fans of Neptunia, but I’m not so sure any more. If you’re used to the relative complexity of the mainline series, Super Neptunia RPG will feel like a strange diversion for you. It feels more like an introduction than a continuation. Newbies should apply here and then work backwards to the main Neptunia games if they like what they see. For old hands and hardcore gamers, this probably won’t be much more than a footnote.