Previously released for PlayStation Vita, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is one of the latest spin-offs from Idea Factory's Neptunia JRPG series. While the game is further proof that the franchise had long ago jumped the shark, it's also proof that its fans are largely fine with that.
Hyperdevotion takes the core Neptunia JRPG experience and tries out some new things. Most notably is that this time the typically-titular Neptune is not the lead. Rather her fellow CPU goddess Noire -- the personification of Sony's PlayStation hardware -- heads this semi-fan-service romp through video game land (aka Gamindustri). After opening the game with a butt-kicking of her Gamindustri rivals, a mysterious woman tricks her out of her high-ranking status and her loyal followers are loyal no more. It's here that the player steps in on a quest to help Noire win back her generals, followers, and her city of Lastation.
Unlike in most of these games where players take up the role of the CPUs, players of Hyperdevotion take up the role of a nameless and unseen male character who is more-or-less Noire's personal secretary. While a nice change away from the usual, the interactions between the player and the characters comes off as awkward. In fact, Hyperdevotion at times has the feel of almost being a dating sim without actually being a dating sim seeing as the unseen player-character has no actual influence on the game or story itself. The closest the player-character gets is assisting Noire sort through random requests by Lastation's citizens in exchange for, well, furniture (we don't quite get it, either).
Further separating itself from most other Neptunia games, Hyperdevotion abandons the franchise's genre-standard turn-based gameplay in favor of that of a strategy RPG a-la Final Fantasy Tactics. The game features mission-based objectives in which players control Noire and her friends on a grid-based map during combat sequences. During each battle, players move and perform actions with Noire and her allies. These actions include basic attacks, special moves, lifting objects, and so on. Once all party members have exhausted their actions, it's the enemies' turn to do the same. Battles go back and forth like this until one side (hopefully Noire's) comes out the victor. While Idea Factory's version of this strategy RPG style gameplay isn't quite as refined as that of Tactics or NIS' Desea series, it's still largely well done and is one of the better features of the game. The fact that it translates well from gamepad (on Vita) to mouse-and-keyboard is a plus.
Outside of combat, the game can be a bit of a yawn-fest. Dialogue sequences can be a bit drawn out and almost pandering to the player a times. There are jokes to be had as is typical for a Neptunia game, but it's pretty clear that despite the title Noire isn't the key character in it all. Neptune and her antics steal the show whenever given the chance. In fact, the simple reality that Neptune for once isn't the main diva of the game is a running joke in itself that comes up throughout. Also, there are times when player really have to grind to get their characters' levels up high enough to get through some missions as there can sometimes be quite the jump in difficulty from one mission to the next.
In porting the game from Vita to PC, Hyperdevotion received quite the graphical facelift. Higher screen resolution and better framerates are both noticeable between the two versions. Textures are sharper, animations smoother, and colors (seemingly) more vibrant. All-in-all, it's a sleeker and nicer looking game.
While not technically an original release, the PC version of Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a nice reminder that a Neptunia game that isn't exactly a Neptunia game can still be a fun distraction from the real world. While not a perfect game by any means, Hyperdevotion is a mildly entertaining experience that Neptunia veterans should appreciate. Those unfamiliar with the silly and almost parody nature of the series, however, might feel that this game -- like pretty much the entire series -- just isn't the thing for them.
Final score: 7.5 out of 10