Entering the Nepiverse
Going into MegaTagmension (MT) as a newcomer to the Neptunia series, I was thinking that I would be playing some sort of visual novel with hyper-sexualized content under a metaphorical cloak of story progression. Or maybe something with such prolific fan service that I’d have to worry about someone walking in through the door. Little did I know that I was getting myself thrust into a world bathed in 14 different flavors of cuteness. Maybe I’ve been playing way too many outlandish anime games, but this VN fused with action elements managed to show such a refreshing sense of originality and style that I couldn’t help but swoon at its characters. At its core, MT is a fully voiced VN with a little bit of beat em up/hack & slash thrown in, not too dissimilar to the Dynasty Warriors/Musou series. These battle sequences are relatively short and aim to enhance the story’s sense of credibility, but ultimately plays a backseat role in expanding Idea Factory’s Neptunia universe.
In this newest release, a small band of girls who seemingly represent their entire academic population are uniting to save their school, Gamicademi, from closing down. In the opening scene, Blanc overhears her sisters being attacked by ghoulish zombies. To her surprise, the zombies are actually actors cast by Neptune in an effort to create a high profile movie with the hopes that it’ll be the school’s saving grace. Naturally, Blanc decides to join in on the fun and direct the movie herself; however, in a rather ludicrous turn of events real zombies end up getting involved, even if they are neglected between shoots. It is now up to these heavily equipped Powerpuffs to make sure Gamicademi lives to see its grand return to the spotlight.
Now saving Gamicademi may be of the utmost importance to Blanc, but some part of me did not allow myself to proceed without first changing all of the girls’ outfits to their torn counterparts… Moving on, I began to notice important personalization options other than cute costumes and accessories. Japanese and English voice options are available, to my surprise, helping me solidify my stance to support the original dubbing. For the non-purists out there, the English VAs are actually much better than the average folk employed in domestic dubs, and I even found it to be less cringy and sensual than usual. Either way, I definitely liked the ability to pick audio languages, and feel a need to commend whoever was responsible for that decision. Delving further, MT also lets players have a choice in who they cast for each scene event or fight. This ends up creating “alternate cuts” depending on who you cast, as the resulting scene’s dialogue and special events system follow your decisions to an extent. This responsibility puts you in Blanc’s shoes, creating the story direction of your choosing in a much more immersive manner.
Regarding MT’s Warriors/Musou-like combat system, various aspects regarding its design makes it to be the weakest mechanic of the game. Really poor camera tracking impedes fluid movement and makes positioning more difficult than it should be. Worse is when there is a boss around that can fly and perform diving maneuvers, compounding to create a slightly debilitating combat experience. Furthermore, most of these battle sequences will be completed within a handful of minutes, requiring very little variability to overcome. As the game progresses, combat ever so slowly feels like tedious exercises in mindless button mashing. It’s a big shame since advanced maneuvers are incorporated, such as taking advantage of animation cancelling, invincibility frames, or aerial combo strings for evasion, but they aren’t necessary at all to beat the game. MT’s tag-team mechanics, plentiful amount of unlockable combos, and visually appealing SP/EXE Drive skills help make up for the combat’s grievances and keep these portions slightly enjoyable, just much less than ideal.
MT’s combat oriented multiplayer aspect seems to be the game’s biggest wow-factor when comparing it to other Nep titles, as MT is the only game so far to contain such a system. The ability to group up with 3 other players online in a mode featuring new enemies, bosses, arenas, and VN events not seen in the campaign, add major play value. There are tons of quests separated by Star difficulty, providing rewards and experience to level up character stats that carry over to the story mode. Also, unlike story mode, the multiplayer aspect unlocks every character and transformation from the beginning for use, along with changing some of the combat controls to incorporate online player joint attacks. Strangely, I found the multiplayer mode really enjoyable, even while playing solo along with the fact that the multiplayer combat system is the same as the story mode’s system. It’s most likely attributed to the lengthier and tougher quest challenges, unimpeded by tiny segments of dialogue. Unfortunately, MT’s multiplayer mode seems to have been plagued with connection issues for many players ever since launch, but since I haven’t seen any such problems myself, the only experience I have in multiplayer is a fairly positive one.
Although the story was a bit absurd, it seems to be what defines the style of the Neptunia games. Plenty of funny jabs at the girls’ own ridiculous situations closely flirt around breaking the fourth wall creating a neat sense of relatability, and Blanc’s “extortion” scheme in obtaining MagiGirl Idol’s support is comically hilarious. What started off strong ended up petering out throughout the second half of the game, as the story essentially kept walking around in circles without introducing any real major changes. A new character here or there with a backstory blended in with something zombie related is the extent of MT’s narrative. It’s a bit of a shame since the game is much shorter than its RPG sister titles; so stretching MT’s story thin is pretty problematic. Worse is the alternating nature of the VN and battle sequences. When you get involved with the VN’s story, you’re forced to fight 2 minute battles, just to watch a 2 minute dialogue and repeat the process (up to four or five times in one scene with multiple loading screens for each transition). It’s hard to get attached to either aspect when the game switches gears so often.
Regardless, as a casual fan of anime and visual novels, I didn’t find the newest installment in the Neptunia series too eccentric to take in, or alienating as an entry point. There weren’t too many inside jokes or references, and the iconic song and dance summarizing previous important world aspects is present. After wrapping things up with Blanc and friends, I still found myself wanting to delve more into their world, especially as I only seemed to have observed them in such a confined environment. If you are a long-time Neptunia fan, I’m afraid that my verdict may not be very enlightening or relatable from my perspective. Just know that MT is much, much, shorter than the main series games. But for those that are weary of this as an entry point into the series, I can say that MT seemed to be rather welcoming, and is definitely enjoyable as a VN experience all on its own. There is a desire for improvements in the combat realm, but the multiplayer and VN aspects proved to be commendable enough to make checking out MT, or at least other Neptunia games, rewarding, especially during one of Idea Factory’s deep publisher sales.