Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 Sisters Generation is the most absurdly-monikered game I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. A portable remake-of-sorts of 2012’s PS3 release, Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, Sisters Generation takes place in a blue-skied future populated by robot girls, talking mice and wilful misuse of acronyms. The game vomits sound and colour at you in such quantity that simply navigating the menus alone feels like being force-fed smarties whilst being pepper sprayed. The world is named “Gamindustri” and things just get worse from there.
Gamindustri is under threat from Arfoire, an evil deity (and sweet pun on the notorious R4 card) aiming to bring down the land from within using pirate software. To the rescue come our heroines – Nepgear, a magical robot schoolgirl with an inferiority complex; IF, who could probably have been replaced with a cardboard cutout, and Compa, a nurse with a potential recent head injury; “Super Win!”, she’ll declare after a victorious battle, fluffing a backflip and revealing her underwear in the process. Every time. Together they travel the world of Gamindustri, recruiting other paper-thin stereotypes to join their roving gang of cretins, and eventually to defeat Arfoire’s four guardians followed by the Deity of Sin herself.
The world consists of four cities, loosely based on past and present videogame hardware manufacturers and their products. Each city is home to a CPU, which inexplicably stands for “Console Patron Unit”. These CPUs take the shape of young women who can transform into HDD mode, which involves them taking on an android-like form, hovering, and wearing fewer clothes than in their default state.
Each city competes for “shares” – a dystopian opinion poll not unlike the Santa Belief System in Miracle on 34th Street, where mindshare for each CPU is measured in an absolute percentage. The populace is fickle, and can be swayed away from their existing allegiance if you complete fetchquests for them – often creepy, focusing on character breast size with an almost lecherous and unflattering obsession with the all-female cast.
Sisters Generation is crammed full of properly dreadful puns, and videogame references ranging from the iconic (Mario) to the exotic (Lucifel from El Shaddai!). These crop up on the character map from time to time, and will occasionally reward you with unique items for listening; however with no indication of who has goodies for you, there is a lot of irrelevant noise to sit through unless you recognise every single reference. There’s only so many times you want to listen to an upturned bucket called “Ten Buyer” telling you he is selling items of indeterminate origin if you have no idea what the joke is.
Dialogue between the cast is little better; a procession of vapid conversations backed up by a complete absence of character development turns moments of plot progression into a gruelling minigame. If you don’t fall asleep or turn off your Vita, you win – the prize is another trip into the field, where disappointment awaits in the form of Hyperdimension Neptunia’s bland combat.
The turn-based battle system feels complex at first. Team formation, combos and backup characters can all be tweaked pre-fight. Enemies boast two separate life bars – one for health and another representing armour. Despite this, cracks show almost immediately and it ultimately delivers very little. Attacks come in three distinct flavours – armour-breaking, damaging, and multi-hit; the latter builds your EXE drive (a super bar that can enable additional attacks and super moves) faster whilst the former deals with an enemy armour bar more efficiently. Rather than a strategic and positional battle, it ultimately boils down to a routine that never changes – sprint up to the enemy and hit it a lot.
Against bosses, there is only one strategy that will end a battle before the heat death of the universe. Ensure your EXE drive is full before starting the fight; break their armour (a process that will take a good 10-20 turns), then spend your entire EXE drive in a single turn to finish them off. If an enemy’s armour bar is empty at the beginning of their turn it refills by about a third, resulting in yet more tedious mashing. Holding the L button during combat will at least skip all combat animations, in a rare concession to user-friendliness.
What’s most disappointing about this game is how it knows it is wasting your time, yet proceeds to do so anyway. To begin with progress is simple, but early on boss encounters represent difficulty spikes so steep you’ll swear you’ve missed something really important. You haven’t. It’s not that they are tricky to beat; instead they will simply one-shot your team if you haven’t spent a while grinding first.
To the rescue come “plans” – effects that can be toggled to alter how the game plays. One of these drops the strength of opposing characters to a more balanced level, resulting in a diminished necessity to grind. For those so inclined, enemies can also be strengthened, but this seems to just make them hit harder rather than require any additional skill to defeat. Why it was felt necessary to put the player through this initial grind before they acquire the appropriate plan is beyond me.
Several other timesaving plans become available as you progress – one removes the necessity to constantly mash the Square button to discover hidden items whilst exploring; another makes your EXE drive bar fill faster. Obtaining items like these, which drastically improve how the game flows, is even more egregious – it’s window shopping where all the windows are blacked out, and the shopkeeper is trying to kill you. The next shop is three hours away and might be closed. Mystery items are required, and no information is provided on where to find them, whether a plan to toggle alternative drops for a specific area is necessary, or if it’s a rare drop from a specific enemy. The sheer amount of time the game expects you to spend aimlessly meandering through it is by far its biggest issue, and nothing short of staggering.
On the plus side, the credits roll is quite nice, and single-handedly does a better job of inserting the characters into a videogame world than the preceding eternity of pandering nonsense. There’s probably a small and dedicated market for this game – those who will understand most of the references and can stand the irritating cast – but if that doesn’t sound like you then there is little to recommend here.
I have invested over twenty hours of my life into this game and, as a result, am seriously questioning my life choices. On occasion, games contain design decisions of such ill judgement that it is difficult to imagine how they ever made it through testing. HNR;B2SG, on the other hand, is packed so full of them that it must have become sentient during the development process, pretended to pop out for a smoke before turning up in a basket on the doorstep of Sony HQ, complete with a note stating “Please look after this game”. For me, it was a disappointing experience and not one I’m keen to repeat.