Since last year, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series has been invading PlayStation Vita’s everywhere with a wealth of releases including the two enhanced remakes – Re;Birth 1 and Re;Birth 2, as well as the Idol spin-off Producing Perfection. Now we see another spin-off in the form of Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, a strategy RPG that promotes Noire to protagonist and shifts the action from Gamindustri to the alternate reality of Gamarket.
The setup is familiar enough with the four CPU’s – Noire, Neptune, Vert and Blanc – duking it out for supremacy over the land, until a mysterious visitor causes chaos and the four unite to correct their mistakes. The story plays out like any other Hyperdimension game and is filled with short humorous scenes and enough game references that there’s something to appreciate for everyone. This even extends to the new characters Compile Heart have created for the game – from a female Solid Snake complete with cardboard box skills to a Jill Valentine parody that carries a pet with an umbrella. Characters are rendered in hi-resolution art during events, and in a chibi style on the field of battle – something I initially hated but learned to love.
As an SRPG it doesn’t bring anything particularly new or exciting to the genre, but like its predecessors, the sum of its parts presents a technically accomplished and polished game with only a few concessions. The layout is like any SRPG game, pick a mission from the hub, deploy characters to the field and take turns commanding your team until either the win or lose criteria are met. The game tries to differentiate itself by introducing the Lily Boost mechanic, a form of unit fortification that is manifested by having units in adjacent tiles kiss the active unit. Gaining both a cost reduction and power boost when using a skill – which when flanked on all four sides by extremely liberal female game cliché’s can really turn the tide of battle in your favour. Activating a Lily Boost gives out Lily Points, the bigger the boost the more you get – up to a maximum of one hundred. Using 100 of these points, all characters can use special moves, generally wide-reaching high power attacks with a few exceptions, which again can be influenced by Lily Boost, meaning you don’t necessarily need the full 100 point to perform the skill. The four CPU characters, however, can also use these points to transform into CPU mode, a sort of Super Saiyan affair where movement range, attack power and pretty much everything else gets over-clocked. Lily boosts also have the meta-game of increasing characters relationships with each other, unlocking bonus scenes and other extras between missions.
In terms of character progression, there are no classes, as each character is individual and has their own set of skills and stats – for example, the girl who riffs on Chun-Li has no long-distance skills but can jump up more terrain levels than most characters, while the White Mage plagiarist can hardly move but has great AoE buffs for the party. All characters have their uses though and I’ve been regularly rotating them in and out of play. A useful addition which complements this is the ability (at the cost of Lily Points) to deploy characters mid-battle, perhaps replacing a lost comrade or switching someone in with a different elemental affinity. Another great feature is being able to retreat from missions and keeping all earned EXP and items, which means if you hit a difficulty wall (the game is very well balanced so I doubt this) you can still keep making steady progress to beat that one mission giving you trouble.
There is plenty to keep you occupied here, with side missions aplenty and the ability to replay story missions for better rewards – without the original character deployment constraints! All are handily labelled in the menu with a difficulty rating and the game even tells you what items and consumables you’ll receive upon completion, which is handy as we’ll talk about crafting in a minute.
Missions themselves generally take less than 20 minutes and with the ability to quick save within a mission this game really lends itself to the Vita’s pick up and play hardware.
You’ll spend an equal amount of time in the hub preparing your party for battle and viewing events – there’ a lot to do here! First up is the shop, which rather unsurprisingly, sells the usual assortment of weaponry, accessories and consumables. Each purchase here also nets you Sim Points, a currency used elsewhere in the hub. Next is the Item Dev shop, a place where using plans gained from missions or events you can craft items – which are then available to buy from the regular shop – a handy way of avoiding a grind for items you want the whole party to have. This is where those helpfully labelled missions come in, as you no longer have to use a trial and error approach to find what you are looking for (or a guide for that matter). There’s also a Disc Dev, in which you can create game discs to equip on characters, giving them certain extra talents, such as more credits from monsters or less damage from fire. The meaty part of the hub though – that’s the Basilicom and the CPU hotel. Here you can view events between characters and spend those Sim points earned from your shop purchases. The CPU hotel has a double function – it’s where you go to interact with the majority of the party – but it also acts as a sort of library, enabling you to view past events, play audio tracks and more. The Basilicom is just for Noire though and is basically her apartment. Here you can buy decorative furniture and upgrade the room for powerful crafting rewards and answer requests from Gamarket residents in a bid to win affections (and again, plans and items).
When moving, characters will take the optimum route to the selected tile, and your influence on this is minimal. If you hit say, and electrified floor tile, you’ll take damage and end your turn. It would be great if characters followed the route of the cursor to prevent this, as you usually only get two routes to a destination, and often I’ve had to move to a tile I don’t want to in order to stop this from happening. This is the one thing Goddess Black Heart hasn’t done that other SRPG’s have.
Other small features immediately make up for this though. The ability to skip almost anything is most welcome, whether it’s the skill animation you’ve seen a thousand times or just characters moving through the map (if you don’t play SRPG’s often, you won’t understand how much time skipping this will save you!). It helps getting those materials go quicker and replays or retries are no longer artificially lengthened by repeat viewings of events. Another feature that makes my inner SRPG fan giddy is being allowed to move after an action, rather than being forced to end a turn. It really helps to maximise the Lily Boosts you can pull off in one turn.
All said and done, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a great game, whether you're in it for the Strategy RPG game-play or the Hyperdimension Neptunia story. And even if you're not either of those, it's a great starting place for both – an alternate reality for the story and a well-balanced game for the gameplay. Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is very well polished and it's the small things here that set it apart from other SRPG's.