Idea Factory's PS Vita game Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is actually better than you might think.
The often silly Neptunia series has had a clear separation between the traditional RPG focus of the main games with the spin-offs running going off into all sorts of directions such as idol simulators and action games such as with like the recently-reviewed 'MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies'. One nice things about the spin-offs, though, is that they tend to focus on characters that are less prominent in the core games. In Sega Hard Girls, the headlining role is given to IF -- a playable character from the first two core games who has since been relegated to background and cameo roles.
Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls takes place in an alternate future with the in-game world of Gameindustry in absolute shambles. The once prosperous and prestigious land has been reduced to a barren wasteland thanks to years and years of fighting and negligence. IF is an adventurer in search of a legendary history library (a location referenced in the original game) who rescues a mysterious woman falling from the sky. The two reach the library only to discover that the contents of its books are disappearing. With the help of Histoire (the librarian), the two travel back in time to keep history in line by stopping the Goddesses and Sega Hard Girls from ever combating one another.
The game crossover story with the anthromorphised video game console characters from the Neptunia series and anthromorphised characters based on SEGA specific video game consoles a-la the anime "Hi-sCool Seha Girls". Concept wise, it's a match made in heaven. Execution wise, Idea Factory pulls it off fairly well. Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is loaded with humor of varying levels as well as references to other Neptunia games (though players don't need to have played any of them to enjoy this game). There's a lot of poking fun at the core game cast and the fourth wall gets broken so much we hope it's under warranty.
Although it's a spin-off game, this game does suffer from the same sort of cut scene overload of the other Neptunia games. Players can expect to spend just as much time watching (or skipping past) the vast number of lengthy dialogue sequences as they do in actual gameplay. While story progression is important and these cut scenes are where the games get much of their personality, it would be great if Idea Factory could cut down on these darn things.
Getting into gameplay, it's more-or-less split into a couple of parts. First comes the world map in which players find the game's menu complete with chibi versions of the game's characters. It's here that players can do things like altering a character's equipment and buy items. Missions take on the second part and there is a nice assortment of main and side quests for players to take on. Thirdly, players also have the opportunity to catch up on the game's lore and converse with various characters. Thankfully, conversations aren't just for chit-chat as they can also unlock the occasional extra mission.
As far as the missions themselves go, things are a bit different than in previous games. One of the most striking differences is that quests are now timed (though the time isn't exactly enforced). Combat parties also have access to formations which dictate what bonuses characters get. Character classes also get introduced into the series with this game and players can change each character's abilities, though this aspect of the game doesn't reveal itself until well into the thing.
Dungeon crawling doesn't stray to far from in previous games. Players traverse them in a third-person view and can wander around, jump, climb, break boxes, crawl through passageways, and so on all in real time. Also, bad guys are visible. That means that there are no random encounters. Turn advantage goes to whomever is able to get the drop on the other.
While dungeon crawling is a fairly familiar experience, combat in Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls is rather different than in past games despite how similar it looks. While characters still have a certain attack radius and only so much time with which to do things, actions now take away from an energy meter. Run out of energy whether it be from movement, attacks, spells, or something else, and that character's turn is over. Energy management is important, by the way, as exhausting the meter can have detrimental effects in battle.
Presentation-wise, Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls looks almost exactly like the other Neptunia games out there. Characters are modeled well and nicely animated and the art style of this new game falls right in line with that of other Neptunia games. Things aren't always running smoothly, however, as there were (at times) frame rate slowdowns as the PS Vita would sometimes really have to chug to get the on-screen action to move along during dungeon crawling. It thankfully never really gets in the way of gameplay or the overall enjoyment of the game itself. Audio is crisp and clean. There is the option for both original Japanese and English dub voiceovers so players can choose their preference.
When all is said and done, Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls doesn't really break any new ground outside of the major tweak Idea Factory gives the game's combat system. It has a lighthearted story with a fun presentation and it checks off most of the boxes for a market-standard JRPG. The game's visual novel cut scenes do detract greatly from the game's overall enjoyment, however, and franchise veterans will find that the game looks and sound very familiar to previous games. Also, those wanting a deep RPG experience will likely be left wanting. That said, the game (albeit far from perfect) is still pretty fun.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
Idea Factory supplied a copy of the game software for the purpose of review.