Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is the latest entry in the Neptunia series of video games. Much like MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies, this game is a spin-off from the main series of game, and also serves as a crossover with the Sega Hard Girls franchise. Unlike the main series games, rather than Neptune being the protagonist, IF and newcomer Segami serve as co-protagonists. Felistella previously worked on the Neptunia series creating the Re;Birth remakes of the first three main series games. The publisher, Idea Factory International, released Megadimension Neptunia VII on PS4, and MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies on Vita earlier this year. As is the norm for Idea Factory International, this release is available both digitally and physically. Unlike some recent releases by Idea Factory, both the Japanese and English language options are already in the base game and do not require free DLC to unlock.
The game starts off in a post-apocalyptic Gamindustri, though it is an alternate universe to prior games, but the cause of this is not explained at first. While looking for a library containing all of the world’s history, IF sees, in true Neptunia fashion, a girl falling from the sky. This girl is Segami, a girl representing the entirety of Sega. While wrapped up in a case uncovering where all of the world’s stolen history has disappeared to, IF and Segami come across the Sega Hard Girls. Much like the goddesses in the Neptunia series, the Sega Hard Girls are anthropomorphised versions of video game consoles, though specifically of the Sega variety.
Rather than the linear progression of events popping up in dungeons, and accompanying quests, that are the norm in the Neptunia series, this game utilises missions, given by Histoire, to progress the story. You can have one active mission at a time, though you can retire this mission. Retiring a mission results in it disappearing and having an effect on history proportional to the number of stars it is allocated. Non-active missions have a counter that decreases as you play, reaching zero results in the mission disappearing, as above.
The inclusion of several Sega-themed eras allows for freedom in so much as you’re not following a linear path; these eras, Dreamcast, Game Gear, Mega Drive, and Saturn, all ooze charm that is appropriate to the console’s relative position in history. You’ll run into a Neptunia character and a Sega Hard Girl in each era, and will be able to add clones of these characters to your party, while Segami can use the Sega Hard Girl’s data to transform into her during battle. Fan-favourite character Neptune both joins the team as a clone and also becomes a motorbike, but the details of that are best saved for when you play through the game.
Cut-scenes are visual novel style as we’ve come to expect, and the combat is similar to that of Re;Birth but with some changes. Characters are still moved round a set area and are then able to use an attack, skill or consume an item, but gone is the EXE drive. Instead, attacks build up the Fever Gauge; reaching 100% allows you to activate Fever Time by grabbing a gem that appears on screen. Other gems appear during battles that have an effect on health and other stats when collected. The ever-familiar Lily Ranks return as well, though they’re based on formations this time, which are unlocked as you progress and link different characters to each other to improve lily ranks and enhance attacks alongside providing an additional effect. The biggest new addition is the Action Gauge; everything you do in a turn fills some of this gauge, so you can max it out using items and attacking, or leave some of it empty in order to reduce how long it is until that character can next attack. The class system that was introduced is also a nice way of keeping the game fresh; each character starts with a base class, but more are unlocked as you progress. Levelling up a class adds skills to characters, that can be used outside of their originating classes.
The part of this game that makes it unique compared to other Neptunia games lies in its time loop mechanics. You run into the boss relatively early on for a JRPG, and lose in a pathetic attempt to defeat it. Rather than a game over, you get a cut-scene and loop back to earlier on when Segami joins your party. This unlocks the time loop mechanics in the game; you’re expected to keep completing missions as Histoire dishes them out, Completing missions prevents the boss, the Time Eater, from eating those parts of history and amassing more powers that make him harder to defeat. When you retire from a mission or a timer reaches zero, the game will let you know how it has enhanced the boss’ power. You can challenge the boss at any time from this point, though being defeated results in another time loop starting so you can continue to level up your characters and unlock further skills.
Superdimension Neptune is an incredibly enjoyable entry in the Neptunia series, and it's great to see the Sega Hard Girls co-starring, and producing the best character roster yet. The game retains enough similarities to earlier Neptunia games so as not to alienate fans while mixing things up enough to provide a game that feels new and keeps you coming back for more. The time loop mechanic may have been done before, but, for me at least, it's relatively fresh. Superdimension Neptune is probably the best game I've played this year, and I look forward to seeing what's next for the Neptunia franchise.