Neptune and friends find themselves in a virtual world sustained by Content, on a mission to save the day once again, and a roster of VTubers while they’re at it.
+ The roster of VTubers is incredible, the level of representation across various agencies and individuals is impressive.
+The story is absolutely off the walls, as it usually is, but with a curious amount of relevance to actual issues which plague not just our real lives but our online interactions as well.
+One of the few aspects of the boss fights in this game that shined through for me was the music which you can fight to.
–The gameplay does not evolve past the start of the game, what you see is what you get in the tutorial.
–Despite having playable idols in the game there is little incentive to use them for more than traversing wide gaps.
–Most, if not every fight can simply be brute-forced through, this absolutely includes up to the final boss.
Everybody has what they would call their guilty pleasure. In my case, it’s Compile Heart games. They can be extremely hit or miss but are usually filled with such a level of absurdity I can’t help but love them. My first exposure to the studio was indeed the Record of Agarest War series, from there I branched out into Mugen Souls, Dark Rose Valkyrie, Fairy Fencer F, and of course, Hyperdimension Neptunia. Add to that my recent fascination with VTubers and the culture surrounding them after stumbling onto a clip of one of the members of Hololive, and my interest was piqued. So with that, I dug into this game an equal measure of excitement and hesitation. I may love Compile Heart titles, yet I am well aware of how wildly inconsistent the quality of their titles is.
As always, I tackled this title on the Normal difficulty setting to create a baseline.
Setting the Sound Stage
Neptunia Virtual Stars opens in the way most of the games in this series do, with one or more of the goddesses attempting to abuse their authority in a way that we in the real world would find perturbing. Such as, creating an additional day for the largest gaming convention in their world in which only the four goddesses may attend. Why do such a thing? So they don’t need to stand in lines and can get first access to all the new titles.
The biggest attraction this time around is a virtual reality game, which our heroes are aiming to beeline towards. Once seated, and strapped into totally not suspicious headsets, they begin to feel extremely drowsy. When they awaken, they find themselves in a virtual landscape, called upon by a goddess of a virtual world to help save her world from destruction. It is here that we learn the world our heroines have been transported to is being overrun by the enemy of all that is good on the internet, antis.
Antis, or anti-fans, range from people who are so exceptionally jealous of the success of others to those who feel people liking things they don’t is nonsense. We’ve all experienced someone like this, whether in person or online. I found myself immediately hooked on the story at this point, this all felt so relevant. This again tied back to my recent discovery of VTubers and seeing the harassment of some individuals, particularly of those affiliated with Hololive, had me raising an eyebrow. Unfortunately, the story is truly one of the few things that kept me going.
It maintained its campiness with dashes of satire and scathing commentary throughout, but at the same time reused the same gags in nearly every conversation. The motivations of the antagonist interested me far more than Neptune repeatedly proclaiming herself the protagonist, a fact she never lets us forget.
Virtual World Tour
Each different region you visit centers on a different type of media. A Twitter parallel, food and food reviews, a satirized version of video streaming services and others exist in this world. The level design is fairly straightforward, traverse various obstacles in the different maps of each region defeating a sub-boss, boss, and a horde of enemies along the way.
Progression through the stages is relatively unhindered, once you enter an area you’re free to roam around and massacre waves of foes as easily as the antis lambast all that is wholesome. Some areas may require a small bit of platforming, which can be achieved more easily using the idols as they have access to a mid-air dash, but are otherwise fairly straightforward. Just look for the indicator a cutscene is about to occur and you know you’re on the right path.
Located in each world are treasures you can harvest. These boxes have a screen on the front which cycles through various types of loot, V-Cubes, accessories, and music are a few examples. After claiming your spoils these chests will remain open on subsequent visits unless a specific item is used which resets them for that zone alone. In addition to finding treasures, the enemies you come across are largely generic with some types clearly designed for that area. I have to admit to finding an enemy which is a small blue bird armed with a bazooka slightly amusing.
I can’t say I particularly liked any of the worlds present in the game, as there wasn’t really much to explore and see in them. There are some quirks, certainly, the floors and platforms of the Food world are made of different sweets. There’s a world-themed after literature where walkways are stained glass and certain platforms are dusty old tomes. Each location was so small however that they didn’t leave much of an impact on me.
Neptunia Virtual Stars does not present itself as difficult by any stretch of the word. More than challenging, boss fights can be more time-consuming than anything else. Any tremendously powerful attack which may be considered undodgeable or unblockable that a boss throws your way can be essentially reset if you enter Resonance Mode at the right time. The mechanics given to you make it entirely possible to trivialize all the bosses.
There’s another aspect that makes battles even less of a threat. The goddesses have a maximum health pool and lose one health per hit. Capping out at thirty, this means that no matter how destructively powerful an attack may be against the Idols who have a more traditional health system, it is little more than a fly bouncing off a goddess. This can be slightly offset if you are facing groups of enemies which all have rapid long-range attacks. Looking at you, legally distinct bluebirds.
The core combat itself is, let’s say underwhelming. The goddesses use camera guns which function in different ways. Neptune uses an assault-style gun to lay down relentless fire on enemies while her compatriots use a gun that fires blade projectiles, a pulse rifle that will miss the cast majority of shots if you don’t aim and quite possibly my favorite gun being one which you charge up to and release to instantly defeat enemies. Or at least heavily damage them. As you lay down fire on enemies, assuming you aren’t strong enough to have defeated them already, a gauge will slowly fill. Once full it will put the enemy into a downed state, or do enough burst damage to finish them off. The idols you take control of in this situation wield a sword and a bow.
To say there’s no finesse to their use is a bit of an understatement. The only aspect which can slightly change up how you attack is using special skills in between your single combo. For what these controls are, they’re as solid as they can be. Movement feels good, and using Blanc to delete an enemy is admittedly hilarious the first few times you witness it.
Your stats are augmented by both leveling up and equipping V-Cubes, the remaining manifestation of VTubers you have freed. These V-Cubes also grant a bit of a special ability of their own as you defeat enemies you may see in the corner of your screen a prompt to use Live Mode. This will trigger either a special attack or support skill or a mini-game where you press different face buttons to take down enemies.
Let’s talk about Resonance Mode for a minute. On paper the idea is fantastic. Attacking bosses during different parts of the song yields different effects. They can aid in absolutely melting through the boss’s health, or make it so your damage is only a fraction of what it should be. In practice, however, you can simply restart the song so you never get to the phase where your damage is cut, effectively abusing the system and removing any real nuance.
As stated before you can obtain more songs for use during Resonanonance Mode. These songs will grow exponentially more useful, or broken, with use as they increase in level and gain bolstered effects. I have to admit, I discovered this by complete accident because I had gotten quite tired of hearing the initial song you obtain for Resonance Mode and by mistake started that same song over. I was quite surprised, I knew of the option to change songs but never had I imagined I could just cycle the same song at will.
As I shut down Neptunia Virtual Stars for the final time, I was left feeling slightly unsettled. Try as I might, I was unable to find a single thing I could call fun about the game, outside of a single aspect. That unsettling feeling became that much worse as I identified what that sole aspect I found fun was. Discovering VTubers during the loading screen and looking at their channels to broaden my horizons. The guest roster of VTubers appeared on every loading screen, which inspired a sort of revelation in me.
As much as I liked the story, the lack of well-crafted gameplay in combination with the ever-present nature of these personalities; whether in monitors located throughout levels, during load times or even as equipment to augment the stats of the characters led me to a single conclusion. This wasn’t so much a game, as much as it was an advertisement for dozens of content creators with a price tag attached to it.
Neptunia Virtual Stars
Platforms: PC and PlayStation 4
Versions Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: Available Now
I wished to have more positive to say regarding this game, but sadly I do not. My final opinion on Neptunia Virtual Stars is such. Despite the effort made by the developers, this title lacks any semblance of heart, which puts it in stark contrast to the inclusion of personalities such as Shirogane Noel, Asacre Peace, Inuyama Takami, and so many others. Should such a concept be tackled again, I wish the team undertaking the process the best of luck.
Our review is based upon a retail version of the game provided to us by the publisher for the review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Kennard Daniel Prim isn’t just your average gamer, he’s a die-hard fan of the single-player genre, specializing in imported games from Japan as well as his love for everything RPG-related.