If Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed taught me anything about the beat ’em up genre, it’s the importance of audio-visual feedback.
What makes the button mashing madness of 1-vs-100 styled games so satisfying is the spectacle of dashing armies of enemies like leaves in the wind, typically to the tune of roaring rock music complemented by the screams of your fallen foes. Meaty sound effects, kick-ass music, spirited voice acting, and violent, deleterious, larger-than-life attacks are all necessary ingredients for a rousing musou-like experience.
Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, developed by Tamsoft, the creators of the Senran Kagura franchise, perfectly highlights the importance of the individual elements that go into a stellar action game. Unfortunately, it highlights them not by being an example of what can be achieved when they come together, but by demonstrating how insipid a game becomes when they do not.
The Neptunia crew returns for a spin-off that replaces the turn-based gameplay for some unsatisfying button mashing.
In a world far removed from our own, the console wars waged by hardcore gamers is personified with anime aesthetics and a heavy infusion of moe. Video game consoles and developers take the form of technicolor waifus in a land that is a surreal parody of the gaming landscape: Gamindustri.
From the outset, Neptunia U makes it clear that the game is non-canon, and the story is of little consequence to the overarching plot of the series. The cast of cutesy consoles have been called to defend Gamindustri from a growing monster threat that threatens each of their respective realms, and that’s about as deep as the story gets. The game clearly couldn’t give less of a shit about spinning a compelling narrative, instead focusing on the goofy interactions of its characters to fill out the space. Neptunia U never takes itself seriously for even a second, demolishing the fourth wall in the first few moments of the game with tongue in cheeky goofiness.
However, the lackadaisical attitude surrounding the plot seems to have infected other, more crucial aspects of the game.
Mix and match accessories to maximize your tapping effectiveness.
The game is broken up into missions strewn about the different regions of Gamindustri that all involve doing roughly the same thing: smacking around a bunch of enemies, or collecting some items in-between smacking around a bunch of enemies. Players may choose two girls to switch between in a mission, or fly solo with a single character. Each character gains experience depending on how much she contributes to wiping out the droves of enemies in a level, and each girl has a set of stats that increase with each level up.
Defeating enemies may sometimes yield enemy-specific medals that are collected to unlock special rewards, like new stat-boosting equipment and better weapons. Annoyingly, the process requires you to select every single batch of coins one by one to see if you’ve reached the next milestone, making it unnecessarily time-consuming and tedious.
Characters have basic combos that are initiated with a sequence of light attacks and topped off with a finisher that changes depending on when you press it in the sequence. Enemies mindlessly surround you in a perfect circle, eagerly waiting to eat the swing of your weapon. Room-clearing special attacks are at your disposal to drop on a whim. All of the pieces are in place for a decent Dynasty Warriors-esque experience.
Then, you hit the enemies, and the game’s most glaring flaw is made immediately apparent: the sound effects are essentially broken.
Don’t let this screenshot fool you; the “action” is about as lame as it gets.
When the swings of your blade aren’t met with jarring silence, they are punctuated with the most underwhelmingly stale sound effects imaginable. Most attacks elicit all of the impact and fanfare of rapping your pencil on a wooden desk, if that, and the rest is even more piddling – even your biggest, most extravagant attacks somehow manage to feel weak and hollow. Much of the audio in combat is dominated by the irritating wails emitted by defeated enemies that don’t quite sound like yelps of defeat, so battles become a nonstop barrage of the same awkward gibberish from beginning to end, with very little audio feedback between them. The soundtrack isn’t terribly memorable, either.
This issue might have been assuaged by a solid combat system, but the gameplay is starved of any interesting features to make it engaging. A few special attacks, an ultimate attack, and a quick dash is all that’s at the player’s disposal. With those tools, it’s just a matter of mindlessly swinging away at the ever-spawning mooks until the game turns off the AI and declares you a success. The practically nonexistent audio feedback, coupled with the limited mechanics, gives the player all of the satisfaction of swinging a weapon through empty air while dying hogs squeal incessantly nearby.
Clothing damage has been brought over from Senran Kagura, but it’s a shame that what made those games actually engaging didn’t make the cut.
Fortunately, the game looks fairly nice, running at 60 fps on PC. Characters animate as smoothly as they do in Senran Kagura, and the environments are colorful, even if the levels themselves are extremely small. Character portraits in the VN-styled cutscenes are well drawn, and the lip syncing is spot-on for the Japanese dub. When characters take enough damage in battle, their clothing will rip to shreds, triggering a little in-game scene where they recoil in jiggling disbelief, much like they do in Senran.
The particle effects can look nice in combat, and some characters attack with gusto. Sadly, they do little to spice up the dreary boredom of slogging through level after level of muted fighting. Which is a shame, because some obvious care was taken to make the game look nice.
It couldn’t be more obvious that Hypderdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed was made on a crippling budget. The polish and shine of the Senran Kagura games, which Neptunia U apes at every opportunity, is in short supply here. The game simply feels like it was rushed out the door well before it was ready for human consumption. There was potential for a good game here, but atrocious feedback from player input ruins what enjoyment might be had from smacking around legions of dumb enemies. The character interactions can be cute and amusing at times, but they’re only a small diversion from the stale meat of the game.
In short, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is like Senran Kagura, but bad. If you need your Nep fix, just watch the cutscenes on YouTube.