Did you ever play Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart? It’s one of my favourite PlayStation Vita games, though it subsequently made the jump to PC. It is also, by far, the most friendly and accessible tactical RPG I’ve ever played — and I’d love to see more like it.
For the unfamiliar, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart was one of several games from a period where Neptunia series developer Compile Heart was experimenting with putting characters other than the eponymous Neptune in the lead, as well as collaborating with various other companies.
Eventually, we ended up with a number of interesting games as a result of this project — Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune vs. Zombies was a hack-and-slash title with elements of Monster Hunter; Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online was an enjoyable “simulated MMO”; and, of course, we have Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, created in collaboration with Department Heaven and Dungeon Travelers 2 developer Sting.
As the name suggests, the game primarily focuses on Noire, goddess of the Lastation region and personification of the PlayStation brand — but unusually, you don’t play as Noire herself. Instead, you play as “yourself” as you interact with Noire and her friends, command them in battle and purchase increasingly lavish furnishings for our goddess’ home quarters.
Compile Heart tried this approach of a participant player-protagonist in just a couple of Neptunia games — the other was the idol management sim Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection — and it had a somewhat mixed reception from the fanbase, so the idea was eventually abandoned. At least part of this likely stemmed from the fact that the Neptunia series had always been all-female up until this point, and a distinctly “male-coded” player-protagonist didn’t quite feel like it fit in with all that — particularly as Neptunia has also been very heavy on the nudge-nudge-wink-wink implied yuri, too.
Of course, you can always argue that since Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart unfolds in a different dimension to the other Neptunia games, it doesn’t have to follow the “rules”. This is a very convenient excuse that Compile Heart has used numerous times to date, and even made a plot point of in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory and Megadimension Neptunia V-II, so it’s certainly in keeping with the rest of the series. And, to be honest, it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much.
The game unfolds as a series of turn-based tactical battles in which you command a series of units as you attempt to complete objectives — usually simply defeating enemies on the board, but sometimes involving reaching particular locations or activating certain items. As with most games of this type, units are able to move and attack during their turn, and each unit has its own loadout of special abilities that makes it particularly useful in certain situations.
What’s cool about Hyperdevotion Noire is the fact that a lot of the battlefields are designed with obstacles and traps around the place as well as enemies to deal with, meaning combat is much more than gradually approaching the enemy so you’re spread out enough not to get hit by their area-effect abilities.
In one fight, for example, you take on a foe in an arena where the walls and certain parts of the floor are electrified, meaning that knockback attacks take on a whole new importance. In another, your main enemy is supported by two large, heavy damage-dealing cannons that you need to avoid the line of sight of while approaching. And in another, your rival is on the other side of a huge chasm that can only be crossed using a rickety railway carriage.
The battle settings are consistently interesting, and things only get better when you add all the playable characters to the mix. Rather than Noire’s forces consisting of generic units, every single character is unique. Besides her comrades Blanc, Vert and Neptune from the main cast, she gradually acquires an army of generals, each of whom embodies a particular game series, just as the main cast embodies particular gaming platforms.
Noire’s generals are a diverse bunch, including characters who reference Metal Gear Solid, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, The Idolmaster, Pro Evolution Soccer, Pac-Man, Resident Evil, Yakuza and even Opoona.
Each character’s name, outfit and behaviour pays delightful homage to their source material; the Yakuza-inspired character Ryuka’s name refers to both the series’ Japanese title Ryu ga Gotoku and the middle syllables of its protagonist Kiryu Kazuma, for example, while sporty girl Wyn takes her name from a couple of sources: the first syllable of Pro Evolution Soccer’s Japanese name Winning Eleven, and also Japanese footballing manga hero Captain Tsubasa; the literal translation of Tsubasa is “Wings”, which isn’t a big leap from “Wyn”.
The best thing about this huge cast of characters is that they’re all useful. Some of them have handy healing abilities; others have wide-ranging area-of-effect attacks; others still are able to pick foes off from afar. Because they’re all introduced to the player so gradually — usually by you fighting against them before they join Noire’s army — you get a good opportunity to understand their capabilities and how they might useful, and before long you’ll be making sound tactical decisions about who to deploy, even if you’re usually as terrible at strategy games as I am.
Oh, and those concerned that the male-coded player-protagonist might put paid to any yuri funtimes, fear not; girls kissing is a core gameplay mechanic in Hyperdevotion Noire. Yes indeed; place two or more units next to one another and they will support one another with a kiss — this enhances the attack or ability that is about to go off as well as adding to a meter which can be expended on powerful special abilities such as goddess transformations for the main characters. Prime strategic play in Hyperdevotion Noire, then, comes from arranging your ladies in such a way that they can kiss as much as possible as often as possible. Much more fun than boring old war.
If all that sounds like fun, I strongly recommend nabbing a copy of Hyperdevotion Noire for either PlayStation Vita or PC. It’s not only one of the most accessible strategy RPGs I’ve ever played, it’s also one of the best Neptunia games to date — but sadly one that doesn’t get talked about all that often. I’d love to see a sequel one day — but until then I can always revisit the original!
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