Game Review

by Heidi Kemps,

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart

PS Vita

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart
A spinoff of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series with strategy-RPG gameplay and a shifted focus onto the character of Black Heart Noire.

My experience with the Neptunia franchise hasn't been the greatest: I played the first and second games in their original releases on the PS3 and would choose to describe them as “aggressively mediocre.” Even as someone who nerds out over all manner of gaming history, I found Neptunia's attempts at parody consistently fell flat, and the dull-as-dirt gameplay didn't help matters much. The announcement of a spinoff game based on the Sony-symbolic goddess Noire intrigued me, however, mainly due to the development team behind it: Sting, the creators of numerous delightfully original takes on strategy and RPG titles like Riviera, Knights in the Nightmare, and Gungnir. Perhaps this would finally be the Neptunia game that I actually had fun with.

Well, the good news is that Hyperdevotion Noire is undoubtedly the best Neptunia game I've played. The bad news is that it still isn't all that great.

Hyperdevotion Noire is something of a parallel universe story, taking place in a new world of Gamarket. The four CPU goddess units who rule over the populace – Vert, Blanc, Neptune, and Noire – are simultaneously BFFs and constantly fighting for more control of the world. They're moe representations of various game console manufacturers, you see. Things go to hell in a handbasket when Noire has tea time with a suspicious character who promises a way to end the fighting. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything, really, as the whole of Gamarket turns into a war-ravaged wasteland. Or it would if the various generals previously under the CPUs' command weren't engaged in a bunch of dumb squabbles with each other.

Anyway, you stumble into this fine mess as a player-insert character (who is unchangeably and clearly male) who is made Noire's new secretary, and you're charged with helping her gain the aid of her fellow CPUs and generals and figure out how to put down this madness. Oh, but you also get to repair and furnish a room for her and help her answer emails, and by doing a good enough job, you might be worthy enough to go shopping with her!

Really, the story of Hyperdevotion Noire is a flimsy premise that basically acts as a vehicle for three things: wacky character interactions, bad game industry jokes, and fanservice. I'm all for goofy sidequests that add character depth humor to a game's story, but Hyperdevotion Noire spends so much time spinning its wheels with quests based around character comedy that you begin to wonder just what the end goal of this game is. Maybe it'd be better if the interactions were amusing, but much like the previous titles, there are a few mildly amusing bits buried inside piles of C-grade gaming humor.

But how is the rest of the game – the parts where you're not listening to a bunch of gaming parodies blabbering about whatever absurd objective they've set themselves upon? Well… it's pretty standard strategy-RPG fare. Sting might have a reputation for making weird and experimental takes upon the genre, but clearly the Compile Heart/Idea Factory crew gave them instructions to not go hog wild with this one.

The game plays out in standard strategy/RPG format: move your crew of characters around a grid-based arena and use attacks and skills to beat foes and accomplish whatever the stage's objective is. You've got the usual array of stage gimmicks and traps to take into account, plus the occasional out-of-left-field victory condition to keep in mind, but there's nothing really noteworthy as far as core gameplay elements go. There's not even a class system, which seems outright mandatory for a modern entry in the genre.

That's not to say that combat doesn't have its nuances. Synergy is a big thing: when executing skills and special moves next to one or several other characters, the surrounding allies will smooch the attacker on the cheek. This has three effects: it ups the skill's power, decreases the skill's cost, and fills up the Lily Points meter. (“Lily” of course being the English equivalent of “yuri.” GET IT?) Characters can then spend Lily Points on super-strong special skills, including temporary transformations into the extremely powerful CPU forms for the goddess units. It's not a bad system, though it's downright eyeroll-inducing in that “We'll do the safest 'MAYBE THEY'RE LESBIANS!' pandering we can without making the male hugpillow-buying fanbase feel like the girls are inaccessible to them” sort of way.

Initially, combat feels a little bit slow, but once you find the option to speed up animations and turn off certain effects it moves at a much more tolerable pace. What's far more irritating is the game's bizarre difficulty spikes: you'll coast through a battle only to have the enemies in the next one completely mop the floor with your goddesses and generals. You can either go back and grind for levels and gear-making materials in optional fights, or restart the battle at a lower difficulty after you Game Over (at the cost of battle spoils and your dignity. I only managed to scrape by by the skin of my teeth a few times: most of the fights were lopsided one way or the other. For a genre where a hard-fought team victory can feel extremely satisfying, Hyperdevotion Noire's general wonky balance makes fighting into busywork: it's not awful, but there's no feeling of really accomplishing anything beyond moving on to the next batch of zany dialogue scenes.

There are a few other noteworthy bits, like a crafting system that ties into earning points to rebuild Noire's room (and curry her favor), but as a whole the game just left me feeling nothing. I didn't absolutely hate it, but at the same time, I couldn't help but think about how much more fun I would have had if the creativity Sting has shown in some of their other titles would be allowed to bloom here as well. It's not bad, but considering the many, many excellent titles – including several of Sting's other games – sitting in the PS Store's combined PSP and Vita strategy/RPG library, there's really no reason why you'd want to pick this one.

Overall : C
Graphics : C
Sound/Music : C+
Gameplay : C
Presentation : B

+ Cute art and solid presentation
Does little interesting or noteworthy, feels like a grind at times

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