Hyperdimention Neptunia Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation
Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Platform: Steam, PS Vita
I’ll say it straight out: the story of the first Re;Birth game was an utter mess. Around a fairly standard RPG romp were inconsistent characters, plot points that went nowhere, and constant mood-ruining by the protagonist. Despite being composed of four all-powerful goddesses and eight seasoned warriors, the party still managed to flit between helpless maidens and unbeatable army at the writer’s will, often with no provocation whatsoever. Two particular plot twists, teased all game and revealed right near the end, had exactly zero effect on anything when they should have changed everything.
It wasn’t great, is what I’m saying. Luckily, ‘Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 SISTERS GENERATION’ (Re;Birth 2 from now on) fares much better. As before, the land of Gamindustri is in peril. ASIC, the Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime, holds the land in an iron grip after the sudden disappearance of the four CPUs – goddesses of the land, each embodying a certain game console. Game piracy is at an all-time high, morals at an all-time low, with parents and the government doing nothing to stop their children from pirating businesses to the brunk of ruin. It’s CPU Candidate Nepgear, the little sister of previous protagonist Neptune, who must bring her fellow CPU Candidates together, take out ASIC, and bring their sisters home.
It’s a fairly standard premise, but the neat idea of Gamindustri elevates it to something more thoughtful than the usual anime-RPG fare. Every inch of the world is chock-full of gaming references: CPU Vert, for example, rules over the land of Leanbox, embodying the Xbox 360. Your non-CPU party characters each embody a specific gaming company, their design reflecting that company’s most famous products. Half the fun of the game is squirrelling out all the nods to gaming of old, right down to NPCs being red-hatted men in overalls or guys hiding in cardboard boxes. As a lifelong gamer, it adds a lot of spice to the package, adding that extra level of satisfaction in battle. Why fight boring old slimes when you can have Mario pipes, Tetris pieces and Pac-Man ghosts?
As far as the actual plot is concerned, Re;Birth 2 leaves a little to be desired. Nepgear is an infinitely more likeable protagonist than Neptune right from the get-go. Her nervous but determined attitude is quickly endearing, especially amidst the insanity of her ever-growing battle party. With the clear goal of ‘save our sisters’ always in mind, the plot takes its time to unfurl, allowing newcomers to really absorb the world of Gamindustri. However, there’s a certain plodding aspect on the flipside: in the first two chapters alone, a certain Underling was chased and beaten at least six times, enough for the characters themselves to call it out as boring and repetitive. It’s a massive improvement over the first Re;Birth’s tendency to drop two plot threads for every one it picked up, but there’s a ways to go before I’d call it good. The writers know it, at least, poking fun at their own indiscretions. After a dozen scenes of the party making jokes with monsters patiently waited their turn to attack, it’s deeply satisfying to see Compa draw attention to it in one scene, offering the monsters tea as thanks for their indulgence.
If you’re not a fan of the story, the mechanics may get you through. Re;Birth 2’s battle system relies on a trio of commands: Break, which drains the enemy’s guard, Power, which deals damage, and Rush, which raises the EXE Drive Gauge. This gauge allows the use of EX Finishers at the end of a combo and can be spent on EXE Drive moves – super-powerful finishers that expend the gauge to inflict massive damage. Any CPU or CPU Candidate can also transform into HDD mode, boosting their stats and unlocking special attacks of their own. While some battles can drag on, mostly you tear through enemies quickly and satisfyingly enough to keep having fun.
Outside of battle, there’s plenty to see as well. Diligent exploration nets you Plans for all sorts of items, all of which require monster materials to unlock. Along with Guild requests and Colosseum fights, there’s plenty to do outside the main story, rendered much deeper on this second outing. For extra boosts, defeating dangerous enemies nets you Discs which can be imbued with various buffs to equip on each character.
Overwhelmed yet? We haven’t even gotten to the new stuff.
One of the most notable upgrades from the last version is a mini-game called Stella’s Dungeon. This timed excursion lets you send Stella through dungeons in real-time. It’s a kind of RPG Tamagotchi. Stella gathers stronger equipment, which allows her to tackle tougher dungeons, allowing her to bring back better items for your own use. While nothing special on its own, it’s a nice diversion from the main game. The only other real improvement the Steam version boasts is 1080p graphics, which are as gorgeous as you might expect. It’s no small feat to take something from the small screen of the Vita and make it shine, but Re;Birth 2 manages it with aplomb.
So it’s not a bad time. Despite all its neat ideas, there’s still a fairly standard JRPG under the hood, slathered thick with cartoony graphics and anime tropes. Those of you with a low tolerance for fanservice or silly stories should definitely give this a miss. Even while making fun of otaku culture, Re;Birth 2 knows exactly where its core fanbase is and caters to it. So too should anyone bothered by asset reuse steer clear. Whole dungeons are reused with minimal tweaks, tilesets reappear with startling regularity, and almost every enemy type gets at least three palette swaps before it’s done. Paired with a story that isn’t exactly The Last of Us, it all combines to form something that’s always serviceable, but never inspiring.
Where Re;Birth 2 excels is in scratching that old-school itch with a new-school feel. Grinding levels, beating monsters, collecting materials: it’s all basic, classic, and a thoroughly pleasant experience. It’s a crying shame that more people don’t own Vitas, if only because they miss out on nice little gems like this. Perhaps Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 SISTERS GENERATION (deep breath!) isn’t an enduring classic, but the ride to save Gamindustri is a fun one – and isn’t that what gaming is all about?