Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is a strange game. It's a JRPG that looks and plays like JRPGs are supposed to, but it's also very streamlined, focusing less on deep gameplay elements and more on an almost convoluted storyline that slowly starts to make more sense the longer you stay with the game. Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is also a great game. But it's not great for a lot of the reasons that many JRPGs are great–it's great because it boldly tries to do different things, and while it doesn't always succeed, it's still a completely exhilarating experience thanks in large part to its video game awareness.
You play as a group of young ladies destined to protect their home land of Gamindustri from the evil Arfoire Syndicate of International Crime, or ASIC. While the first Hyperdimension Neptunia was based on the video game console wars, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 revolves entirely around piracy in the video game industry. It's an interesting plot idea, but unfortunately, it can be a bit overwhelming and confusing trying to understand everything that's going on in the game.
The main issue with Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is that character dialogue drags on for way too long. This is problematic because it can get boring having to read walls of text. The strange thing is that I switched to the Japanese language option for one dialogue scene and noticed that the characters were speaking, but when I switched back to English and watched that same scene, I had to read a bunch of text due to the lack of voice acting. The fact that some of these scenes feature spoken dialogue while others force you to read is strange, and it really is a bummer that the entire game doesn't feature English voice acting.
Despite that inconsistency, and the fact that the story in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 can be overbearing and uninteresting due to its delivery, there are several reasons to care about a lot of the characters showcased during the game's plot sequences. Some characters are more entertaining than others, but the most interesting are incredibly enjoyable to watch. Nisa (named after developer NIS America) was my personal favorite, and hearing her over-the-top delivery as she professed herself the heroine of Gamindustri made for some truly enjoyable moments. There was also IF (named after developer Idea Factory), who struggled to deal with the fact that she was working alongside a bunch of loonies and emotional saps. These are just two of the many fourth wall-breaking characters that made the story in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 fun to sit through, warts and all.
Gameplay and progression in JRPGs is usually pretty straightforward, and this is definitely the case in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. Still, it should be noted that this game is far more linear and streamlined than most other titles in the genre. The game's overworld map will always point you to your next direction, no level grinding is necessary at all throughout the story's entirety, and customization is incredibly simple. Some JRPG enthusiasts may not take too kindly to the simplistic nature of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, but I found it refreshing as I always knew what to do next and never got tied down to any one stage due to grinding.
Dungeons are small, and getting through them doesn't take more than a few minutes at a time. There are conveniently-placed save stations, so you know when a major boss or cutscene is coming. Ingredients that you can use to craft items are scattered throughout these micro dungeons, and there are even hidden health items that you can discover by pressing the Circle button to locate any nearby treasures.
Enemies are seen roaming the dungeons, and while many of them are easy to get around, you'll want to battle them to ensure that you're leveling up and obtaining new skills. Battles are turn-based, and you have a number of attacks at your disposal. As you increase in level, you obtain attacks that act as combos, which you start by pressing a specific button and then string together by pressing different buttons as indicated by your attack menu. There are also special attacks you can perform, and these are highly damaging ordeals that are especially effective against stronger foes. You also have healing commands and items at your disposal, and as you encounter stronger enemies, you can bet you'll be using everything to your advantage.
Of course, you can't just spam away at your attack menu and expect to get by. You have an SP meter that decreases as you unleash combos and special attacks. It should be noted that battles never get too tough, and taking out enemies becomes a bit easier once you figure them out, but the SP meter does create a nice balance so that battles aren't completely one-sided in your favor.
By JRPG standards, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 isn't a very long game. It can easily take about 15 hours to play the game from start to finish. There is a guild where you can take on sidequests, but all of these are pretty mundane and require you to either fetch certain items or defeat a set number of specific enemies. It's nothing too imposing, really, but it isn't all that interesting either. It's a bit of a shame that you're forced to complete these if you want to view the game's different endings, but if you really want to see everything Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 has to offer, you'll have to tough it out and get to fetching and hunting.
Visually, this is your standard JRPG fare, which is to say that Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 doesn't look bad, but its graphical presentation isn't all that excellent either. It simply gets the job done and provides different dungeons for you to explore and some anime-style story sequences. The same can be said about the game's soundtrack, which has a few decent songs, but nothing too impressive. Thankfully, the character dialogue is great (when they're actually speaking), and though the story is too convoluted for its own good, the voice acting is at least pretty great.
It would be easy to say that Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is just another JRPG that plays great, looks OK, and sounds decent, but in reality, the game is much, much more than that. Yes, that's a pretty basic breakdown of its built-in "game-ness," but there are plenty of elements that make the game stand out, and they're all rooted in how well it parodies other video games. Whether you're encountering a mouse named Pirachu who constantly shouts out "chuu!" much like the iconic Pokemon mascot, battling Mario-inspired green pipes, or taking on a giant head that's very similar to that dude from Brain Age, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is rife with awesome, "holy sh*t!" moments.
The game doesn't just parody other titles, though. References to video game consoles are everywhere, too. Whether you're visiting the towns of Lastation, Lowee, or Leanbox (which upon doing so causes one of the characters to remark that she better hold on tight to her purse because she doesn't want to get robbed), Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is an abundant little bag of enjoyable video game references. That said, the game makes it a point to parody aspects of pop culture, as well. Chirper, for example, is the game's version of Twitter, and you can see what different townspeople and even your teammates have to say. Also, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune is totally on Chirper as a cameo character. And in case you're wondering, it's as awesome as it sounds.
Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is a great game that would have probably only been a really good game had it not been for its awesome awareness and video game parodies. As it stands, the game has all the tools to be an enjoyably paced JRPG that's a bit on the short side and fairly streamlined. But it's all of those references–from Mario to freaking Twitter–that really make it stand out amongst the crowd of overly saturated, poorly constructed JRPGs out there. This game is something special. If you give it a chance, be aware that it will likely take about two hours for things to really pick up, but when you get through that barrier, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is an outstanding little JRPG that's both fun to play and hilarious to witness, and it should not be missed by video game aficionados and fans of the genre.
Oh yeah, Inafune's also a freakin' special attack in the game!