REVIEW : Neptunia Virtual Stars (PS5)
The story itself reflects the usual Neptunia suite form with plenty of tension, excitement, and story twists. There is a lot of sentiment from character communications between the Goddesses, Vtubers, Faira and the main opponent, with various views potentially requiring some tissues depending on how connected to the characters the player gets. It is close to impossible not to become invested in Neptune’s stupid experience. As well as being central to the main plot, the Vtubers can be seen in action during loading views. Whether on purpose or solely a coincidence, it took several episodes for the intermission Vtuber to switch from Compile Heart’s October, Ileheart, to shuffle between other Vtubers. Perhaps it is related to the Vtubers who get freed from their prison; as cute and funny as Ileheart is, it can grow boring seeing her frequently perform the same habit during every loading screen.
Long-time Neptunia fans will enjoy seeing Neptune, also affectionally recognised as Neppy and NepNep, in action in a world that feels made for her. Neptune’s go-get-em personality, which often causes her to break the fourth wall, thrives on adoration (and pudding). It will bring smiles and laughter even to new fans who, aside from not understanding the personalities of the four Gamindustri Goddesses, won’t miss out on this being their first foray into the Neptunia series. In the Japanese-with-subtitles gameplay, Neptune and her friends each have a unique gun which remains their only weapon throughout the campaign. The guns level up when the Goddesses themselves level up, and there is no weapon store to purchase more powerful guns which felt a bit strange. The real power, however, comes from V-Cubes, where Vtubers are caught and eventually freed. These V-Cubes can be empowered to raise their various in-game stat boosters: some focus on health while others focus on attack or defence, allowing players to improve the characters according to their playstyle.
In and out of battle, if the Goddesses are being used they can use a feature called Boost, which lets them glide for quite a long period in any direction. This is ideal for avoiding enemy fire or zipping from one area of the map to the next. Boost feels like inline skating and is useful throughout much of Neptunia Virtual Stars. The four playable V-Idols do not have the Boost ability but do have one called Step which looks like the equivalent of a dodge action. If Step is applied in combat at the correct time, Step Charm will initiate, allowing countless MP so special attacks can be used with impunity for a very short time. Both Goddesses and V-Idols have unique attacks that activate once a gauge is filled up; the fancy animations have the Goddesses metamorphose into their Goddess form, known as HDD in earlier entries in the series.
Whereas in the past the Goddesses each had numerous separate special attacks unique to them, in Neptunia Virtual Stars there hardly seems to be one particular attack in this mode. Furthermore, no matter which Goddess is being used as the hero, the special charge always uses a specific order for which Goddess does each action. There is a secondary part to the attack but stimulating it seems random. There is an additional attack mode that uses three buttons corresponding to three types of attack: when activated there may be a component of strategy on which moves to use, but button mashing works equally well for less experienced players.
The explorable areas in Neptunia Virtual Stars are a pure delight to uncover. The level of detail in them is top quality; especially noteworthy are Cookunia, a land full of mouthwatering enormous cakes, brightly coloured macarons, and enormous orange slices to jump upon; Twinia, the social media themed area full of bluebirds both as landscape and enemies; and Novelia, the book-themed land with detailed books creating platforms that will thrill bibliophiles. Even the Safe Areas, where health is restored and Vtubers can be switched between alongside the Goddesses later in the game, are appropriately themed with musical notes and cubic imagery. It’s these details, including various parts of costumes lighting up that add to the overall thrill of the game. Neptunia titles are RPGs but have a visual novel-like aspect with a lot of text communication between characters that explores their personalities. These are never dull. Accessory placement is not the only element of Neptunia Virtual Stars that are not given a full tutorial Beatnik, the rhythm mini-game which can net the player more currency and items to use in the main campaign is available for use after a certain point in the story, but unfortunately, it is not signposted. Its location in the Neotube Plaza can be neglected by less observant players who stick to visiting the numerous shops for items that get unlocked and upgraded throughout the story without looking at the surrounding environment. Once unlocked, though, there is a nice tutorial within Beatnik describing how it all operates.
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