The History of Neptunia: Hyperdimension Neptunia U – Action Unleashed

In the same year as Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart took the Neptunia series away from conventional RPG-ing and into the strategy RPG space, another spinoff title launched, kicking off a subset of the franchise as a whole that is still going strong today. Yes, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed was the first ever “action Neptunia” game, eschewing the conventional RPG structure in favour of something that hewed closer to Senran Kagura.

These comparisons were not surprising, since Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed was developed in collaboration with Tamsoft, who were the original developers of the Senran Kagura series. Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed even features a “clothes break” system similar to that seen in Senran Kagura — though interestingly, despite the Neptunia series being regarded as mildly ecchi by some, this element has not since returned as a gameplay mechanic, despite “ripped clothing” sometimes being available as optional costumes.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

Like the other games in the Neptunia series, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed features a satirical story. Here, the action unfolds in a non-canonical alternate dimension during the peacetime following the “Console Wars” of the original games, and the focus is on how the various goddesses seek to raise their own profile through press coverage. Yes, this is a game that directly addresses the often strained relationship between the people who make games and the people who write about games.

Interestingly, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed’s 2014 release date plonks it slap-bang in the middle of the “GamerGate” controversy that, depending on who you talk to, was either about the ethics of games journalism or harassing women out of the industry, with absolutely no middle ground in between, no no no. Entertainingly, the game feels like it pokes fun directly at the whole situation with the way that characters often find themselves misrepresented over the course of their various coverage.

The narrative isn’t as strong as in previous Neptunia games, but it’s still got some pleasingly biting satire in there, particularly if you remember how unpleasant it was to be involved in any sort of online gaming-related discussions around 2014-2015 or so. Instead, the focus is very much on the gameplay side of things, with a host of playable characters, each with their own movesets, and the ability to level everyone up independently from one another.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed mostly unfolds as a series of missions, some of which advance the story and others of which are simply there to provide rewards and perhaps some amusing scenes. Like the Senran Kagura series, each mission tends to involve battling against hordes of weaker enemies before taking on stronger boss-level enemies. Exploration of stages is minimal, as most are arranged as a sort of “arena”, though the various different locations do have their own unique terrain elements to bear in mind while fighting.

Combat again follows the Senran Kagura mould, with each character having a series of combos that can be performed by pressing the weak attack button a number of times, followed by a strong attack button. These attacks are supported by aerial combos and the ability to switch between paired characters, as well as the series’ iconic EXE Drive attacks, the equivalent of Senran Kagura’s Ninja Arts.

Most of the game’s missions require that you simply beat all enemies in a stage, but sometimes there are specific conditions required to clear, such as obtaining drops or surviving an onslaught. You can also tweak the experience to your liking through your choice of character and the equipment you bring to each encounter; in the latter regard, there are a number of rather interesting possibilities, including items that massively increase characters’ attack power while simultaneously making them extremely vulnerable to damage.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

All of the characters — including the guest characters Famitsu and Dengekiko, who represent two popular Japanese gaming publications — have the ability to transform in combat, and their transformed incarnations have their own distinctive movesets that are a lot more powerful. Some might argue that a few of these are perhaps a little too powerful; Nepgear’s basic weak attack combo in her goddess form absolutely rips through enemies, for example, making her a reliable choice to clear pretty much the whole game with.

Upon clearing the main story, a number of additional options open up. Firstly, there’s a tournament between the various goddesses, which unfolds as a series of one-on-one arena fights between your chosen characters and other members of the playable cast. After that, you unlock “Neptral Tower”, a recurring series feature, which features 50 floors of stages to clear, with a reprise of the final boss at the top.

Further longevity is provided by the game’s trophies and achievements, which task you with clearing everything in the game as well as grinding everyone up to their maximum level and capping off their “Lily Rank” relationship values by fighting in pairs. Honestly, trying for these trophies is more of a slog than anything and doesn’t really add anything worthwhile to the gameplay, so unless you’re one of those people who thinks Platinum trophies have actual value, you’re best off just playing the game “as designed” to get the most fun out of it.

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed is probably one of the weaker entries in the Neptunia series overall, but that’s not to say it’s a bad time. The moment-to-moment gameplay is a lot of fun, and the Senran Kagura-style action is smooth, slick and enjoyable. Probably the most noteworthy thing about it, though, is that it brought Neptunia’s combat into real time, which is something that the series has continued to explore in a variety of different games ever since.

Initially, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed was followed up with the quite similar MegaTagmension Blanc+Neptune vs. Zombies, but this then led to more ambitious action-based titles such as Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online and Neptunia Virtual Stars, as well as the Tales-esque combat of Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters.

It’s safe to say that while Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed may not be the very best Neptunia has to offer, it was nonetheless an important entry in the series that acted as the jumping-off point for some of the franchise’s better installments in more recent years. And if nothing else, it deserves our respect for that!

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Pete Davison
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