With the popularity of Hyperdimension Neptunia exploding, it seems that Compile Heart wishes to expand the franchise further. Last year we had Producing Perfection, an Idol simulator, and this year we have Hyperdevotion Noire, an SRPG, and the upcoming Hyperdimension Neptunia U, a Warriors style hack and slash.
Hyperdimension Noire is a spin-off, so you don’t really need to have played a Neptunia title to get into this game. Unlike the main installments in the franchise, this game takes place in Gamarket a similar albeit different place from Gamindustri, ruled by the Gaming Goddesses who represent various gaming systems.
As its title suggests, Noire (the PlayStation) has taken up the position of main character this time and is successfully gaining all the world shares. But after being tricked by a clearly evil women named Eno, the Goddesses lose all their shares and along with it their power. You play as a nameless person who has been appointed as secretary of Noire after saving her from a monster attack. With your support she teams up with all the Goddesses in order to retake the world shares.
The plot is bare bones and it’s not difficult to forget what the group’s goal is, as they are never doing anything worthwhile to fulfill it. The majority of chapters consists of you encountering a new general, beating her to pulp and then recruiting her into your evergrowing army.
It is these generals that you bring into battles and being an SRPG you can expect a large number of them. All the characters are inspired by the video game industry. You will meet Chun-Li, Hatsune Miku, The Idolmaster, Solid Snake and many others.
Despite its underwhelming plot, the gameplay in Hyperdevotion Noire is surprisingly refreshing. It feels very similar to a Disgaea title, but is a lot more accessible for newcomers. Battles take place on a grid where you can issue commands to your units. In addition to your standard commands, such as attacks, skills and items, you can lift and throw boxes to make a path to higher ground.
Positioning plays a vital role in combat. Attacking an opponent from behind or the side will deal much more damage, and if you have high ground advantage you will be sure to lay on the hurt. Some skills even result in a knock back which allows you to position enemies so you can get a better angle on them. This also means that height is key in battles, since some characters can only attack at opponents which are in the same height as them.
The game features a rock-paper-scissors approach with elements. There are four elements in total aside from the neutral one: Fire, Wind, Electricity and Ice. Each character can equip a specific type giving all her attacks elemental damage. This is important for opening specific treasure chests and giving you an edge in battles against various foes.
You never feel under-leveled. I haven’t found a single time I needed to go back and grind. This is partially due to the fact that each command gives you experience points. If you attack an enemy, use a skill or an item you gain experience. This ensures that weaker characters are able to keep up. Even characters who didn’t participate in the battle get experience at the end of a mission, which means all characters are always there at your disposal.
Another interesting mechanic is Lily Boosting, which the girls do by kissing the active character when she casts a spell. The SP requirement for spells drops depending on the number of units nearby which can be a tremendous help during drawn-out missions. There however is a risk reward system behind this. If you clump up units to have cheaper skills they will be a much easier target for area of effect attack spells. Using Lily Boosts has another benefit, it unlocks new events with your generals.
However the gameplay is not perfect. The menu navigation can feel clunky at times, forcing you always select the unit’s direction even when there is no reason to. The pathing can cost you the match if you don’t pay attention. Characters will happily jump off of cliffs and step on electric panels just to have their turn skipped because they took damage mid-way. This means you must carefully navigate around any obstacle, again wasting that character’s turn in the process.
One thing that is amazing in Hyperdevotion Noire is its level design. Unlike the typical defeat all the enemies’ scenarios which are the norm in these games, here each and every mission brings something unique to the table. In one level you compete against another character to see who can kill the most enemies. In another stage you have to save a girl from the onslaught of monsters in 10 turns. There are stages where you need to make it across the river a la Frogger or ride a train. There are times when you fight in an arena with electric walls which deal damage if the enemy shoves you into them. My personal favorite was a mission where you have to take down Solid Snake…I mean Lid, in less than 15 turns and also defuse all the bombs he placed around the arena. I was always excitedly waiting to see what the next level will bring.
Just like in Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 you have something to do in between missions. You can purchase furniture in the Basilicom with points from buying items. It takes some time for your order to arrive so you will be constantly keeping an eye out. Since you play as the Goddesses secretary, you are given requests from various citizens and asked to replay to their mail, depending on your answer you may unlock new scenes with Noire.
From a graphical standpoint this game is perfect for the Vita. The battles are in full 3D, making the whole experience as if you are viewing an adorable small Nendoroid battle. The levels themselves are also varied and ooze with cuteness. Attacks look stylish and can be easily skipped if they ever become too repetitive.
Hyperdevotion Noire is a competent SRPG held back by a few flaws, mostly from the fact that this is the Hyperdimension Neptunia’s first foray into this genre. It is overall a positive experience, great for fans and newcomers of the genre alike and one I am personally hoping makes a return with a sequel.