Good afternoon everyone! It’s been a particularly busy day today so it’s another relatively brief Rice Digital Friday Letters Page today, but this regular opportunity for our readership to express themselves is important so ahead we go regardless!
Don’t forget you can contribute to the Rice Digital Letters Page at any point in the week, either by filling out the form at the bottom of this page, on the Letters page on Rice Digital, or by replying to the Rice Digital Weekly Digest. We love to hear from you, because as today’s letter shows, sometimes you have plenty of interesting things to share that others might not have spotted!
So let’s just get right on with it then, shall we?
…because no reviewers mentioned them
Here are some things you didn’t know about Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars, because no reviewers mentioned them.
First, there’s a very significant version difference. The Switch version in docked mode looks almost identical to the PS4 version, but it plays *much* slower. Like a third slower. It’s still fun to play it in slow motion, but if you played the PS4 version first it’ll feel like everyone’s wading through molasses. I don’t know why no reviewers or even *players* have noticed this.
EDIT: After closer inspection of both versions of the game, the Switch version appears to actually play at the same speed in terms of attack animations. I probably just thought it felt slower because of the frame rate.
If that doesn’t sound like much fun, but you’re still thinking of picking it up for the physical extras (or to have the full cutscene and CG gallery in your handbag), you *can* use the new adjustable difficulty to set it to Easy and breeze through as quickly as possible. I’m personally enjoying the chance to play through it again on Normal, though.
Second, the games industry satire is pointier than ever this time around. It depicts a continent of Japanese game developers suddenly invaded by the Steeme Legion’s interdimensional battleship, and their leader, Yoh Gamer — a Japanese-language homonym for “Western Gamer.” That’s right; if you’re reading this in English, you are the villain.
To understand why, we need to look at what Japanese PC gaming culture was like not too long ago. Physical media and boxed sets were very common, just like they are for console games. With so many people living closely together in cities like Tokyo, events like Comiket let doujin game circles distribute games on CD back when it would have been harder to sell them on the internet.
(The anime Magic of Stella had a really good portrayal of the doujin game dev scene, as experienced by high school girls, even if the Flash games on their website are no longer compatible with modern PCs.)
Steam was a really tough sell, to this crowd that already had a thriving indie game distribution network. And in Neptunia x Senran Kagura, we get to see what it’s like for mid-tier Japanese devs like Compile Heart and Marvelous to get completely blindsided by Steam’s meteoric ascendancy. Suddenly the Western Gamer (and her Headshot Style of ninjutsu) is a force to be reckoned with, and “Steeme” is aggressively, even forcibly recruiting people away from their lands and villages.
This is a Neptunia game, though, so Yoh Gamer’s portrayal does not come across as insulting. If anything, she is an utter badass, voiced by Chiwa Saitō in Evil Queen Tamamo-no-Mae mode and staring down all four of the goddesses (and Senran Kagura shinobi) at once. Even her speech affectations, like using “me” for her first-person pronoun along with English phrases for emphasis, just reinforce her image as the hypercompetent foreign invader. It helps that Saitō-san’s English is pretty good!
By the time we find out more about her and Tetsuko’s tragedy — and what happens if one goddess ever reaches 100 percent Shares in a given dimension — the two of them are fully fleshed-out, sympathetic characters. And the solution the characters come up with to save their dimension is kind of prophetic, when you realize that Valve announced the Steam Deck just before this game shipped.
I personally loved Neptunia x Senran Kagura as both a hack-and-slash and a visual novel, and have actually been giving the Senran Kagura series a second look after getting to meet the characters in this game. My initial impression of that series was very negative — the fanservice and sexual harassment seemed to drown out everything else — but then, I was confused by Neptunia too at first, until the gamer goddesses won me over. So I’m planning to give it a shot… once I’ve beaten Bullet Girls Phantasia, another game I was initially wary of.
tl;dr I don’t understand why reviewers don’t get this game on any level, and haven’t mentioned literally any of this.
Or the fact that “Virtue Nation” is just called “V Nation” in Japanese, and is led by “Princess R,” who has “V R” hairpins. Which leads one to wonder if Dayuu Youtsubo, who kidnaps her, is supposed to be Meta.
Hi again Tama, and welcome back to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page. And thanks for your comprehensive analysis of Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. I really enjoyed this game back when we reviewed it a while back — in my case, I deliberately avoided too many story spoilers in the article specifically because I figured the game as a whole was reasonably short, and I didn’t want people to feel like we were giving too much away!
Your analysis is helpful, though, because it’s brought a few references I hadn’t thought of to light. In deliberately satirical games like Neptunia, it can sometimes be tricky to track down the exact source of a particular reference it’s making — especially if the reference is unique to a particular culture and might not be as obvious or well-known to an overseas audience.
The thing I’ve always liked about Neptunia is that it’s a series which can be enjoyed on a variety of levels. You can take its narratives at face value and have a good time — but you can also look on them as satirical allegories of things that have been going on in the real-world games industry over the years. The team at Compile Heart has an uncannily sharp eye for all manner of different things that have been going on across the world in the games business, and each Neptunia game acts as an intriguing snapshot of what was going on at that time in history.
I was particularly fond of Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, which was the most explicit acknowledgement of the growing mistrust between gaming enthusiasts and game journalists that I’d seen. Of course, I’d seen it discussed online at length — that game came out at the height of “Gamergate”, after all — but to see an actual game developer acknowledging this part of the whole culture war felt oddly powerful. After all, they’re the ones making the games that everyone’s arguing over.
As for why a lot of reviewers don’t mention some of the things you describe — sad to say that due to games like Neptunia’s status as “mid-tier” or even “low-tier” games, a lot of reviewers simply don’t give them a lot of priority and don’t put the time in to explore them in their entirety.
Part of this is down to the ridiculous pace that the modern mainstream games press is expected to operate at these days — there simply isn’t time to play absolutely everything and write about it in a “timely” manner — but it can also be attributed to a lot of publications simply not taking titles like this seriously, even though both Nep and Senran are well-established properties at this point.
For my part, before writing about something I try and play all of it. Or, if that’s not practical, I do something like I did with Atelier Sophie 2 and Full Metal Daemon Muramasa, where I pick it apart a bit at a time, saving discussion of the narrative until I’ve experienced all of it. Not every publication has the luxury of being able to do that, of course, but our status as a niche interest, specialist publication puts us in a good place to be able to do that.
I honestly think games deserve much better quality writing online than they currently get, and we’re doing our best to try and be a bit different to the rushed, clickbaity stuff you’ll find elsewhere online. (Of course, sometimes we can’t resist sticking our oar in on a hot topic, and we make no apologies for that; your Editor still has KPIs to occasionally court, after all!)
Oh, and yes, give Senran Kagura a shot. If you like how Neptunia has become a formidable “ensemble cast” over the years, you’ll adore the Senran girls. They’re one of the most well-realised — and enormous — groups of characters in all of gaming, and I will defend them to the friggin’ death.
Aight, that’s that for this week. I’m off for a much-needed bath, a stiff drink and probably a nap. Have a thoroughly pleasant weekend and we’ll see you again on Monday!
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