My 2011 In Games: Hyperdimension Neptunia And Being Terribly Embarrassed

My 2011 In Games: Hyperdimension Neptunia And Being Terribly Embarrassed

While game news is light and we’re reminiscing on a gaming year gone by, I thought I’d take take a leaf from Mark’s book and reflect on a game that made an impression on me in 2011. As Mark has written previously, the games we’re discussing aren’t necessarily considered to be classics, the best, or even the worst. Today I am going to round off the series with my own piece about a rather unusual game: Hyperdimension Neptunia. Here’s a sensation: embarrassment. Of all the times I’ve held a controller in my hand I’ve experienced exhilaration, excitement, shock, fear, boredom and tedium — I’ve boldly played incredibly violent and saccharinely sweet games in front of friends and family — but this was the first time I was constantly looking over my shoulder through fear that someone would walk in on me playing. If my television screen had been more reflective, I would have seen that my face was probably the colour of a cranberry. I was playing Hyperdimension Neptunia and, good lord, I was embarrassed.

The premise of the game showed so much promise: four goddesses, each the embodiment of a console (Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, Sega Neptune) are at war with each other over the land of Gameindustri. Cute, eh? It would be, if the writers had more of a clue as to what they were doing instead of figuratively stroking each other in a boardroom over how clever they thought they were being.

Quirky as Hyperdimension Neptunia may be, it lacks direction, it lacks purpose, and it lacks good game design. With such an amazing theme to explore, the writers have chosen to rely on game industry references to drive the humour and to poke fun at genre conventions for amusement. One such example is when a character by the name of Green Heart — the Goddess embodiment of the Xbox — declares: “Breast are symbolic for both my maturity and fertility. The size of my bust equates to my aptitude as a goddess!” She is indeed a busty goddess, and I am left wondering how anyone showing so much under-boob would keep them so perky. I conclude that there are puppet strings attached to them.

My 2011 In Games: Hyperdimension Neptunia And Being Terribly Embarrassed

The game relies too heavily on the player’s existing knowledge of the games industry to provide entertainment — there is simply no substance: no engaging story line, no clever or meaningful interactions between characters, no levels or maps worth exploring, and no interesting or even novel mechanic. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth the developers had been thinking to take a concept with so much potential and churn out a piece of entertainment so disengaging. Here they were handed a gorgeous piece of stretched canvas, ready for magic to happen, and rather than consider how they could make a game out of it they decided to throw up a bunch of industry lols all over the pristine surface.

With no worlds or towns to explore I was left to wander through uninteresting dungeon after uninteresting dungeon, fighting repetitive battles that I often skipped through. I kept forgetting what my character was meant to achieve or where the story was even going. I had no idea why I had to keep running around in dungeons. There was so little consistency that it was unclear what was guiding the game’s direction. The game industry theme could only take the game so far. At one point I had to mute the game because so awful was the music that I was certain that everyone within a mile of me was judging me on my taste in video game music.

I am used to being judged on my taste in music (I hear it is horrible), and I don’t mind people seeing me play a poorly-made game. I was not embarrassed about either of these things. What often made me shift uncomfortably, hoping that no one would see me playing this on a screen, was the way the female characters were represented. The problem wasn’t so much that they were scantily-clad, it was that they looked like children. They looked like overly sexualised 11-year-olds. Portrayed as ditzy tweens with frivolous concerns and ample bosom, I felt that something was amiss. Here was a brilliant concept that could have been clever, irreverent, with fascinating level design and mechanics and all I was seeing was female characters sounding like whiny, vacuous children who had phenomenal levels of ditziness to boot. Case in point: “Compa”, the character who represents Compile Heart, introduced herself by saying: “Hello. I enjoy arts and crafts, and I am good at math. I know I don’t look it, but it’s something I’m quite proud of.” Huh. Maybe they could have tried to make the characters more interesting. Every console is different and as consumers we all perceive them differently — maybe they could have made the Xbox goddess a massive body builder with buns of steel, or perhaps the Wii goddess could have been a white chipmunk. Or maybe that wouldn’t sell. Hey, I tried.

I found this representation of female characters as stupid and shallowly offensive, and the level of fan service made me want to cover up my television screen more than once. Almost every cut-scene involved an image still of a girl in a compromising position — the camera would then slowly move to and zoom into the part of the screen that features her crotch. It would then hold it there for a few seconds. In an early scene when Neptune was being bandaged by Compa, the bandages somehow managed to only cover the most private of her body parts, leaving everything else on display. In the background, we hear her squealing. Every time Compa falls over, the camera also ensures we get to see what colour her knickers are (white).

I wasn’t sure what to think of the game. I understood it was adhering to certain anime conventions, but did that make it OK? I tried to argue that perhaps the fascinating world and interesting storyline made up for the lack of game design, but then I remembered that there wasn’t much of a world or a story. Was this all a joke? If so, was it meant to be funny? Because rather than take a meta approach and be intelligently self-reflective, the game had a strong undertone of “Hurr… video games… durr” and what felt like an inappropriate way to represent characters. It could have been funny, but it wasn’t. It was tacky and kind of gross. I was embarrassed about playing the game and I would have glowed a terrifying shade of red had someone caught me in the middle of a cut-scene.

Hyperdimension Neptunia was an interesting idea, but it was executed in such a poor way that it fell flat on its white knicker-covered arse and stayed there, waiting for the camera to zoom in.


    • I got several hours into it before I felt that I had a good enough grasp of where it was going. I played it for review, so I played it for much longer than any human being should have to.

      As for precise number of hours, I don’t remember. This was early 2011.

    • I don’t know. There seems to be a hefty dose of morbid fascination here. Of I was playing, after a little while I’d just be wondering if it could worse.

      At least that way you are only disappointed when it marginally improves. Which seems unlikely.

  • Hahaha, ‘behold my raging spear!’. Wat? Kudos to you for managing to give the game more than five minutes.

  • “Hyperdimension Neptunia was an interesting idea, but it was executed in such a poor way that it fell flat on its white knicker-covered arse and stayed there, waiting for the camera to zoom in.”

    And just like that, you’ve made my day

  • lol a Japanese game with all female character has a lot of fanservice? Why am I not surprised! xD

    This article was useful, I had considered picking this game up because it looked interesting, and to a degree fanservice in a game is alright but if it’s that bad looks like I’ll give it a miss.

    In any case the game seems to have been popular enough for them to make a sequel.

        • At least the first two was just innuendo….

          The 3rd one went above and beyond innuendo.
          *cough* Purge System *cough*

      • Yeah, that’s probably the one comment I was going to make – while Hyperdimension is undoubtably skeezy and crap, it was produced by at least one developer reknowned for skeezy crap.

        We own all of those, because the mechanics behind Ar Tonelico are cool, but yeah. Ugh.

    • Wow, that’s amazing.

      PS: Check out the little icon in the bottom right hand corner every time they speak, too!

    • Apparantly during FFVII they were worried that Tifa and Cloud getting out of a barn together the next morning was too risque, look at how far we’ve come.

    • Ar Tonelico. Good times. I’m playing through Ar Tonelico II at the moment. Hyperdimension is getting high on my list of backlog games to play next. The LE has been sitting on my shelf for some time now 😉

    • Ar Tonelico is a whole different kettle of fish though, at least the first two. It’s mainly innuendo and it’s generally aware of how stupid it is. Plus it actually has an interesting plot and characters (especially II, if you can get past the botched localisation and make sense of it) and fairly reasonable gameplay. A lot of the stupid fanservice stuff is actually integrated with the plot in interesting ways. Plus the music is straight up amazing.

      Ar Tonelico 3 pretty much lost the subtlety though. Literally the girls’ magic power is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing they’re wearing at the time. So during battles they progressively strip off layers to power up and achieve critical mass when they’re in their undies (presumably if they went further the entire world would explode in an enormous mosaic censor)

      • I’ve never played the game. But my understanding was that the dialogue was hammed up for the sake of laughs.

        • Well yes, depending on what you mean. The dialogue and everything else is deliberately a bit silly, and the innuendo is mainly for laughs. It actually has some substance to it beyond the laughs though. Specifically the main girls are fundamentally broken. Getting to the endings involves supporting them as they work through their issues and committing to a lasting relationship with them (!).

          If that comment was specifically directed at the ‘botched localisation’ I mentioned though, then no. Ar Tonelico II wasn’t hammed up, it wasn’t translated properly. Whole swathes of the plot make no sense at all because of how poorly they were translated. Characters have mistranslated or over-localized names. Elements are left in Japanese text. Other stuff is just off, like it was translated by multiple people working in isolation on chunks of stuff, but no one edited their work or checked for internal consistency, voice, consistency with the previous game etc. Also the localisation introduced a framerate lag issue during some animations in the battle system and a game-crashing bug.

    • While Ar tonelico does often rely on cheap sex jokes, I don’t think it’s really fair to compare it to Neptunia. Ar tonelico games have always had original and fun battle systems (if At3 had the whole awkward undressing thing going on) and amazing music, along with likeable characters and good stories. I can look past the somewhat overly frequent cheap sex jokes when all that is there to support it.
      Neptunia doesn’t have such things to fall back on, though.

  • I remember this review. You gave it a 1/10 in Hyper. Thank god this is a PS3 exclusive and I own an Xbox

  • I love this game. I’m one trophy away from the platinum, then I can say I’ve totally completed it.

    I already have the NISA store special edition of MKII on pre-order. 😀

  • Compa isn’t representing ‘computers’, she’s supposed to be the mascot character for Compile Heart, the developer (just as IF is for Idea Factory, Gust is Gust, and Nisa is Nippon-Ichi – the four collaborated on the production). Plus the game is targeted at the Japanese otaku niche, so unfortunately everything you mention as a bad thing is actually a deliberate feature or selling point.

    I’d possibly have given it a pass for the fan service if the game had made up for it in other ways (I’m probably part of the target demographic anyway, sadly). My main problem with it was that the actual game itself is crap. The controls are bad, the battle system is awful (eg healing abilities only have a percentage chance to activate so a bad run with the random number generator can have you wiped out through no fault of your own) the characters are uninspiring and the plot completely lacks any real hook to make you want to keep playing. I stopped playing within a few hours so I guess I didn’t have enough time to feel embarrassed by it.

    • The healing system isn’t that bad.

      If you assign 100 points into any given skill, then as long as you meet the criteria for that ability it has 100% chance of triggering. It was annoying at first, but gain a few levels and you should never die unless you are under-leveled.

      I can understand most other complaints, the battle system was needlessly complex and shallow at the same time, it would have been better if they adopted the Cross Edge battle system, I really liked that one, it was simple and worked.

      The characters were fine (except Compa, moe is just too irritating for me), they were obviously shoe horned into specific Japanese character archetypes, while not exactly original they did serve their purpose for the tongue in cheek attitude the game has.

      The plot is weak until the very end and everything is explained (No excuse, I agree), but I mainly played it for all the old game and anime nods and references, it was purely fan service which is how it was advertised, that’s what I expected going into it, that’s exactly what I got.

      • Re: fanservice etc, I knew exactly what I was getting – I have the LE. I was kind of hoping for a better actual game though. And I apparently don’t learn my lessons because I have the sequel ordered. 🙁 It was always my intention to go back and finish it but I never got around to it. Too many better games demanding my time.

        The assign 100 points thing is still a problem, because it only works on specific triggers. Eg the character goes below 20% health. So even if you have a 100% chance of it activating (I was under the impression that even with 100 points in the skill, there was a chance for it to fail? Maybe not) if the character is on 1 hp and they have to take damage before they decide to heal themselves, you’re basically screwed since there was no way to manually tell them to do it. Unless later on you get the ability to heal if you hit the guard button or something?

        On paper it was a cool idea, but in practice it takes away crucial tactical elements from the player for no good reason.

        • I have the LE of the next one pre-ordered off the NISA store too. The trailers make it look like they have fixed the battle system complaints, at least.

          That situation should never occur, if you got hit hard enough to take you to 1HP then the ability would trigger, restoring your health after that hit, meaning you would have more than 1HP when next hit. It is a bad system, I agree, but not as bad as most people seem to think it is.

          I enjoyed it, keep in mind that it was Compile Heart’s second foray into 3D games, Trinity Universe was the first and game play and visual wise HN is definitely superior. Growing pains are to be expected, especially from a niche JRPG developer.

  • Man I never get tired of these big eyed boofy haired monochrome 12 year olds derping around in ridiculous outfits….. wait a second….. I’M TOTALLY TIRED OF THEM AND THEIR STUPID IDENTICAL FACES!!!

  • Why has only one of the 4 characters got remotely normal eyes whilst the others look like someone screwed lightbulbs into their eyesockets?

    • They is powerin’ up probably! Gone are the super-saiyan days when all you needed was your hair to go frizzy and glowing, now your eyes must bulge too!

      I’d love to see a parody of that gone horribly wrong actually haha

  • i think if the story was taken and done by western developers something really cool could be made. the game is deffinatley made to sell to the japanese otaku market.

    althought i do imagine if this was done by a western developer we would just see neptune replaced by some muscley guy and it would all be sexual inuendo about him wanting to fuck each of the godesses

  • I remember someone complaining about this game when they reviewed it and the only response that person got were from anime fans declaring her as a stupid female who shouldn’t be playing videogames.

  • Urgh ever since I saw this was coming out and read about the concept I didn’t like it. I think the concept isn’t necessarily clever or intriguing, it’s just lazy and unimaginative and the execution seems to be just as bad if not, worse.

    I haven’t played it and never will, for pretty much the same reason I don’t like FPS’, it’s the same old drivel from a tired, worn out genre that has unfortunately become a parody of itself and thrown away all it’s interesting and innovative traits that could make it playable.

  • Well I’m sure bashcraft loved the Japanese version… Was it Owen that posted the video of the limited ediiton of this saying he got a body pillow in it? Or was that a different pervy Japanese game?

  • After looking at the characters…. uh…. do I contact the AFP directly? Is there a hotline for reporting this…. whatever this “game” is?

    I could never play this game. The characters look like sexualized toddlers. This is….it just feels wrong. On so many levels the game feels very, very, very, very, very, very wrong. Whoever drew or designed the characters should be barred from ever holding a blue card (that’s the card for working in a job that brings you into contact with children).

    I can’t be the only one who thinks this whole game is extremely, extremely creepy. As in, “the-old-man-across-the-street-likes-looking-at-the-little-kids-wearing-bathing-suits-a-little-too-much” creepy. As in, something about this game is SERIOUSLY disturbing.

      • Just be glade they didn’t have any real lolicon in this. Many games that never reach our shores do. Although the Japanese government has been cracking down on lolis for the last few years.

      • “You mustn’t look at child pron, fondle children, or stalk many school yards.

        There is almost nothing odd or disturbing about this, at least not to me or anyone I know”

        just saying, same logic dude.

        • Not quite.

          I don’t recieve any kind of sexual pleasure or arousal from this game or those that I mentioned.

          I see children in the same way as anyone else. Of course if someone were playing this and was provided sexual stimulation from it, there is definately a problem with them, not the game.

          What I was saying may not have reflected this, but that kind or art style and character type is common in those forms of media. Having played the game entirely there is very little sexual themes in the game, there are much worse out there (Dance in the Vampire Bund, for example). If there were, how did it get a PG rating?

    • Now dude calm down a bit. Firstly, how do they look like toddlers? I honestly don’t see the connection. Perhaps it’s due to different tastes. As an anime/manga fan, I can tell you they look perfectly normal at least from a Japanese animator’s perspective. If I had to assign ages, the top 4 I’d go with 20, 25, 20, 18. You might ask how I come to that conclusion, and I guess it’s just experience with anime/manga. They are typically drawn with larger heads than is anatomically correct, true, and that does give that “childish” impression. However, the emphasis in Japanese comic art is not in that (except some seinen works which are intended to look “real” – ghost in the shell is a good example). The emphasis is in the eyes, facial expressions, and 2ndary sexual traits (bust for women, muscles-outa-nowhere for men (or men are simply made more anatomically realistic).

      This doesn’t make sense from a western perspective – after all, our art comes from classical tradition, and our comic art characters are made to depict that image of a classical (greek, roman, norse) god (heck, Thor IS one :P). But in Japan, the clean characters, free of any complications, enlarged faces and body features are products of their own artistic sensibilities (and the artistic sensibilities of those who subscribe to such pop culture, like myself).

      Firstly, these characters are aimed at a male audience (a geekish one at that), so they have male sensibilities in their design. They emphasis the Japanese “female characteristics” the most, which as I’ve said before is basically the face and gender-specific body features. They are given a much flatter/rounder face, there is barely a wrinkle around their eyes or eyelids, and their bodies, separated from their head, are actually much more anatomically correct in proportions (minus the bust which tends to be enlarged for fanservice’s sake). *(I was just thinking about head size – even male characters like Dr. Oak from pokémon has a massive head. He does however have bushy eyebrows, spikey hair, and a triangular chest, which help create the same diminuatively drawn yet old male effect).

      This abstract, in some ways minimalistic way of drawing the comic anime woman (at least the shounen/younger-seinen type) contrasts heavily with the classically drawn western woman, where a LOT more detail is put into body-wide proportions (a fascination fortified in the renaissance), and all the little dimples, creases of the skin, shape of the skeletal form (skull, back, shoulders, hips).

      If you’re only used to one of these art directions, the other will always feel wrong. I have to admit my time with anime and manga has made me find many classical depictions of women too complex, too overanalysed, with not enough emphasis on the face and eyes.

      This however DOESN’T translate to real life though at all. Part of getting used to anime and manga is seeing correlations between anime characters and their real life counterparts or the closest thing, thus why those characters up the top, to me, resemble my peers at uni more than they do what you’ve described. On the flipside, if I was to think of an example of what you’ve described (a toddler) and show you (minus the abhorrent thought of oversexualisation), you’d think I was showing you a picture of an anime baby (or some sort of unborn stage of life).

      There are other concepts that come into play too. “Chibi” is one of them, where the head is ridiculously big compared to a very diminuative body. Think of these as western analogues to bobblehead characters.

      Anyway, sorry if I lectured there, but misunderstandings like this grate on me (to me, it’s like two people are speaking a similar language but due to words that sound the same but mean different things, keep on getting offended by each other). I think you need to know more about what you’re commenting on, rather than trivialising this and turning it into something it isn’t. Jumping to an uninformed conclusion, like “these look like kids”, basically calls those who think contrary to that “wrong” and tells us to change our artistic ideas. I could say “well wonderwoman looks like an old granny”, but that’d be equally close minded.

      The fact is, when it comes to artistic representation, you’re dealing with different cultural standards. What might seem juvenile to one group might be seen as a mark of maturity in another, and it requires looking from their point of view to see what’s actually going on. Sometimes different viewpoints are wrong – if I saw “loli” (actual objectional content) characters here, I’d be just as put off as you myself. That’s because that actually is designed with oversexualising youth. But you learn things like that through knowing the cultural backgrounds, and you learn to go “well, this seemingly innocent picture here has a lot of bad intended vice behind it, I’m repulsed”.
      /tired japanese pop-culture-aficionado rant over

      I will agree though, the picture of that 5th character implies more youth than I think is right, combined with too higher level of sexualisation, compared to the other characters shown above. If they were consistent, then I could overlook it thinking of Lucky Star for example (which depicts very simple, diminuative 18 year olds in a very diminuative world), but the lack of consistency makes it jarring.

      PS, don’t misunderstand me when I describe Japanese art – it’s vary diverse, in some ways confusing, and the best way to get to the core of it is to investigate it yourself and understand what their cultural values are in their art – from their depictions of shinto spirits, to their folklore (Tanukis are a hoot), to modern day art.

      Sorry if nothing I’ve said makes sense, but anime and manga and their perceptions from those not into those sorts of things is something I am concerned about.

      • I might add that one thing about the ambiguity and abstract, simplistic depiction of japanese anime/manga/video game characters is to make them more relatable to the player/reader/viewer etc. By removing more complex ways of establishing background, race, age, physical traits (laugh lines etc), they basically make the character a clean slate for the audience to relate to and bring to their level (imagination required but not needed active basically). So naturally, I assume the above 4 characters are around my age (and view them as the same “race” even though A) they’re made in japan and B) gods or computer game consoles or something? How do they even have race??) since they have no tell-tale traits that give them a bias.

        The 5th one though in her own picture looks younger though because for the genre, and comparison with other characters, her proportions look “more youthful” – how young of course is blurred by the fact that the median, being depicted by the above 4, don’t actually conform to any age in form – they are “average” basically by anime standards – normal eye size, normal body size, etc.

        Some Seinen and Shoujo (girl’s manga/anime basically) prefer to assign visible traits such as age, race, genetic quirks etc though, the latter genre I don’t understand why mostly since I don’t read it. I guess they have more specific audiences than “OTAKU!!!!” 🙂

        I guess it’s why many movies try to cast people in their 20-mid30’s, since that age bracket is equally ambiguous and many people from it can relate to each other easily.

        Finally, I haven’t even bothered with sexism, largely because I don’t care much. That’s a topic that I think is left in perpetual anarchy given how both genders seem intent on dominating the other these days, provided leaving it unchecked no one gets directly hurt.

        Final final note – I haven’t even watched the video link because I can’t be stuffed, if that actually does have some sort of objectional content I’ve been missing, meh, shoot me (gently :-/). I’m assuming the arguments here all apply to the easy to see pictures.

  • I have to say I had pretty much the same reaction, Tracey. I grabbed it thinking it would be a well written and humourous game taking jabs at the game industry, while having a decent gameplay as well.
    Instead I got one of the most boring turn-based battle systems ever conceived, rubbish graphics, AWFUL music, technical issues (mainly regarding absurd load times), awkward and plain unfunny writing, and overly sexualised, boring and unlikable characters.

    Now, keep in mind that I generally like anime, and can deal with games like the Atelier series, or Ar tonelico, which are light on plot and heavy on cute girls. But they have other things to support them. They have fun gameplay, interesting worlds, charming writing, and good music.

    Neptunia was just an exercise in how bad you could make a game if you just chuck sexualised anime girls in there and call it a day. I still have the game in my drawer because I can’t bring myself to trade it in or give it away to anyone out of shame.

  • I don’t see what’s wrong with this. In japan, everyone gets to enjoy whatever they want as long as the market exist. This game may not be as good as it could be, but there’s no need to crucify it.

    Before casting the first virtual stone, I’d like to see how all of you girls and fake male feminists explain these classic gems.

  • I knew nothing about this game untill I saw this article. I would assume others did too, because not 20 minutes after reading this, a customer came into my store and asked me to order it for them. I actually ordered tow copies, I feel compelled to play this game myself. I am probably getting into a bad thing here, the only justificstion I have is that my partner would probably think all of these ‘poorly dressed’ characters are cute. I will probably have to hide it from my mates though.

  • You can tell you’ve watched enough anime and read enough manga to sink a battleship when characters like that seem normal!

    Seriously, while I’d still be embarrassed playing it with non-anime fan people watching, I think because I’m so used to it and the character designs, my mind auto-adjusts what I see and voilà, there’s a whole bunch of people in their 20’s (my age group) wearing normal clothing! Add wrinkles? They’re suddenly in their 50-200’s! Take away the hypersexualisation and make them ridiculously short with gigantic (by anime standard) eyes? They’re kids! Add facial hair to male character, he’s probably between his 30’s to (insert any higher age here).

    So, all that out of the way, the art doesn’t really bother me – it makes sense to me, the characters translate into “real” standards like breathing in my mind. Which is sad, since before I read this I could just assume that because I liked the art it was, well, good. Oh well! Knowing me I’ll probably see it cheap one day and try it out just to see how bad it apparently was!

  • This game is awesome. I got the Platinum trophy for it and I plan to do the same when I finally get my hands on the 2nd game! 😀

  • I bought this game out of curiosity and I regret nothing! I absolutely love the characters, moe and tsunderes, as well as the dialogue and humor. I must admit that dungeons do get a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t do much damage to the game itself. My only problem is that some of the events have no dialogue. A shame since watching these characters talk/joke/interact with each other as well as the many references are a big plus in the game.
    After enjoying the first one, I jumped on the second one, mk2. Gameplay is improved in Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2. And now, I am anxiously awaiting the North American release of Hyperdimension Neptunia V.

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