Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters Review – A Burgeoning Franchise Comeback

    Title: Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters
    Developer: Compile Heart
    Release Date: January 24, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Idea Factory International
    Genre: Action JRPG

Neptunia is a franchise I have a mixed history with, especially in recent years. So, with the release of Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters, I expected more of the same sparse quality. Instead, however, I was stunned to experience one of the series’ best outings, being the strongest game since Megadimension Neptunia VII.

For those unaware of how this franchise’s world, Gamindustri, operates, there are four primary nations, Lowee, Lastation, Leanbox, and Planeptune, each not-so-subtly representing a gaming company in our real life. Planeptune is the most out there, as it’s a reimagined version of Sega, while the others are expectedly Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, respectively.

Additionally, the leaders of these nations are the Goddess CPUs, who, except for the CPU of Leanbox, each have sisters called CPU Candidates. Nepgear, the sister of Planeptune’s CPU, is the protagonist of this venture, making this her first focused entry since Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2/Re;Birth2.

After the introductory events comprising the CPUs being sent off to investigate a mystery occurring in the PC continent, Nepgear and the other CPU Candidates find themselves entering a two-year sleep and waking up to a completely changed world. Neptune has vanished, and the world is in intense disarray. The citizens of the various nations have become shut-ins, living their day to day via their phones. Monster attacks dubbed Trendi Outbreaks are common, and faith in the Goddesses has drastically plummeted.

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As a result, Nepgear, and the other CPU Candidates, Rom, Ram, and Uni, pick up the slack of the remaining CPUs in an effort to bring the world back to its former state. New friends, Maho and Anri, play substantial roles in this work, quickly becoming close friends with Nepgear. While this may be difficult to believe, especially for newcomers to the series who haven’t followed it for long, the narrative in this entry is fantastic. The pacing takes things slow in the first half, but it picks up significantly in later parts, boasting high stakes with character growth and interactions that are in line with the rest of the franchise.

Discussion of the story requires delving into spoiler-related material, so I’ll refrain. What I can say, though, is that those familiar with the older titles will have a field day here, as there are callbacks and plot points that can only be fully appreciated if one has seen certain events in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2/Re;Birth2. Unlike the recent spinoffs, this new entry feels like a direct continuation of previous games, helping create a sense of progression, not simply a self-contained venture.

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Further, the tone here is a solidly struck balance of grave seriousness and wacky hijinks characteristic of the IP’s identity. The main story has its fair dosages of banter you would expect from the returning cast, and the new prominent characters blend in well, both narrative and dynamic-wise. Nepgear is a fantastic protagonist, contrasting her lackadaisical older sister. In fact, I’d argue her focused presence is the catalyst for what makes this game’s ambiance tenser since the writing isn’t primarily built around Neptune’s sense of humor. And, man, as absurd as this may sound for a Neptunia game, the Normal and True Endings got me smiling from ear to ear with bursting gratification.

Regarding silliness, several optional sub-events contain clear references to developments in the real world’s game industry. For instance, there’s a Pokemon Go parody called Pocketed Monstrosities, a joke concerning the negative reception of “Senmu 3,” and even some usages of modern lingo that have sprouted following the brief time skip where the CPU Candidates were in their deep sleep.

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Considering the context of Gamindustri, these references obviously make sense, and they’re embraced far more here than they have been in recent memory. Another case of this regards the growth of Lowee, the Nintendo parody nation since it has developed hardware that is essentially just the Switch. In fact, censorship from Lastation(PlayStation) is brought up in one sub-event, with some citizens of that nation even yearning to move to Lowee as its standards aren’t restricting certain games.

I know I shouldn’t stick to talking about references for so long, but my absolute favorite is how there’s a supporting character straight-up called Higurashi who acts like Rena from that series. She has her own dedicated scenes that hone in on her similarities to that source character. Anyway, it’s evident that the scenes and characters of  Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters excel, being stellar in their own right, even without being compared to its predecessors. However, there are notable gameplay stumbles in place.

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The battles this time around can be seen as an action-ified version of the turn-based combat seen in the Rebirth trilogy and Megadimension VII. Encounters occur when interacting with an enemy symbol on the map, with preemptive strikes possible if the foe is struck beforehand. Then, players use customizable combos to fight, comprising Power, Rapid, and Break attacks. Each typing has benefits, such as Power being best for raw damage output and Rapid prioritizing speed. Further, the characters can perform powerful techniques dubbed EXE Drives that can help in a pinch, amplified by Goddess transformations illustrated by a gauge. A form of familiar synthesis is present as well, letting players craft Discs that offer a range of benefits.

Apparent strategy is emphasized by the characters having AP (Action Points) that run out as maneuvers are made in combat. So, frequently switching between the three members in the field is necessary for the fights’ pacing and flow to feel adequate. It definitely sounds like plenty is happening within these systems, but unfortunately, no actual thought or strategy is ever required. For as addictive as Sisters vs Sisters’ combat and stat growth is, it’s entirely mindless. Levels are gained humorously quickly, to the extent that doing the side content can smoothly max out your growth in little time.

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Still, I must emphasize how truly fun the combat feels. In a different manner than the Senran Kagura crossover game, strikes against foes provide satisfying impact, and the movement feels great if a tad limited. Even when I maxed out the cast’s levels, I was yearning for an incentive to keep fighting because of how enjoyable progression is. This easiness extends to the post-game content, consisting of an Arena and a 100-floor dungeon, where a few simple item usages negate any semblance of difficulty.

The other two areas where Sisters vs Sisters suffers are its presentation and map repetition. The latter should be no surprise, given the series’ extensive history with such a flaw, and to be fair, it’s only prominently pronounced in the 100-floor dungeon, which is really just made up of random rooms from other maps in the main game.

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However, there is a shocking exception to this map issue. At a certain point in the story, Planeptune becomes explorable, and I have no idea why, but it’s absolutely massive. You can actually walk around a pretty well-realized depiction of this nation, even given the meager graphical quality. Further, you can walk into some realistically designed buildings with multiple floors, as well as the rooms where Neptune and Nepgear presumably live and hang out.

It astounds me that such a map was implemented, and unless I’m forgetting a game, this is likely the first time such efforts have been made. If other nations were explorable to this level, that would be the dream. Granted, Planeptune does not make up for the map flaws seen throughout the rest of the title, but it impressed me and left me with faith for future projects.

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Sisters vs Sisters also marks the first time in quite a while that an English dub has been added, much to my delight. Several familiar voice actresses have reprised their roles, and I felt pretty nostalgic at several points. The vocal delivery is phenomenal from both the returning cast and the new members.

Moreover, everyone’s enunciation is stellar, and their personalities shine through remarkably well. Even if you’re a player who tends to stick with the Japanese dub, I recommend giving the English dub a try here because it really is outstanding. You should also have no worries about the text, as there were no typos I could recall or anything of the sort.

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Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters does suffer from familiar series faults, notably its lackluster presentation and, save for Planeptune, an overabundance of recycled maps. Yet, even so, its gameplay systems are compelling, and both its character and narrative writing are unironically exceptional, being near the cream of the crop of the franchise. Still, you’ll have to be a veteran fan for particular points to hit their marks effectively.

If you’ve been waning on the Neptunia series recently, this one is worth picking up. While it doesn’t necessarily redefine the series as we know it, its distinct strengths can be used as a building block for future games to flourish consistently.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.