Title: Neptunia Virtual Stars
Developer: Compile Heart
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Genre: Action RPG
The Neptunia franchise does not have the best reputation, to put it mildly, especially in recent years. While the titles have never been particularly stellar from a critical lens, most games have been somewhat enjoyable due to a few contributing factors that prevented the experiences from becoming unbearable. Neptunia Virtual Stars mimics this mediocre design philosophy while also ending up worse than the priorly represented norm. A few specific aspects of this title make it charming and mindlessly fun, but it does nothing to breathe much-needed life into this franchise that desperately needs it.
Neptunia Virtual Stars takes place in a digital world called Virtualand. Within this land lies the planet Emote, which Antis has assaulted, a devastating force of Content destroyers. Kado and HERO, denizens of Planet Obsoletia, lead these forces, with any motivations aside from wholly destruction being unclear from the outset. In a last-ditch effort to hopefully save Emote, the goddess Faira sends out a call to the 4 goddesses of Gamindustri, Neptune, Noire, Vert, and Blanc, alongside two newcomer Vtubers; Me and You. With this group and some others, they all unite to save V-tubers and the planet Emote from this ongoing threat.
Neptunia Virtual Stars’ narrative, like most other titles in the series, is far from a selling point and never develops to become remotely compelling or interesting. The story does a serviceable job at best. There are many scenes describing the overall set of circumstances and the general personalities and relationships the girls all have with one another. However, most of these scenes end up primarily consisting of standard Neptunia humor and not much else, which makes any meaningful emotional investment in this legitimately conceptually captivating story idea null and void.
The characters are all fairly 1-dimensional, even the staple 4 goddesses, which has been a constant in recent titles but is still quite disappointing. Noire is teased for being a loner and a tsundere; Blanc is teased for her diminutive breast size and ineptitude at selling her own novels; Neptune is still lauded as a charismatic leader but is also teased for not being particularly smart with her administrative affairs, etc.
Interactions do not go beyond these gags, making these characters feel like hollow shells that have had their hearts rusted by lack of needed strife and intricate dichotomies. The new characters all follow this same general nature too, which unfortunately makes them and the narrative by extension a dry, monotonous affair that fails to be thought-provoking, comedic, and genuinely entertaining as a whole.
Various real V-tubers are featured in this title, which is a rather appealing novelty, especially for V-tuber fans. While I only know a handful of them, seeing them influence the combat via giving items and altering stats is a nice touch. Additionally, the loading screens include brief skits from them as well.
These inclusions, while minor, elicited some smiles from me as they are all incredibly wholesome and genuine with their efforts to be entertaining. They did not help make the core of the game any greater, but they were an undeniable morale boost to see as I progressed through this game’s tiresome content.
In regards to gameplay, this title falls short in almost every conceivable way. Combat is real-time and is both a third-person shooter and slasher, with certain characters fulfilling those particular roles. Now, I could describe the combat mechanics in detail, but they are not necessary to understand whatsoever, to be completely honest. You do not need to know the mechanics to progress at all.
At its core, you can easily get through Neptunia Virtual Stars by just spamming attacks and dashing around. Healing items are also modestly priced, further aiding how effortless it is to face tank every obstacle in your way with little to no thought. Combat itself is also uncomfortably clunky and unfun due to how stiff and slow the normal movement is.
There is a dash that makes progressing through stages and spamming shots more bearable, though it is more akin to a band-aid solution rather than a legitimate fix. This becomes especially apparent when controlling a slasher character as it always felt as if the game was not designed for this style of combat due to the long-ranged and distant nature of most enemies.
The developers should have just stuck with shooting as that at least fits the confines of combat far more than the out-of-place slashing. Even if that were the case, this combat is mindless, with nothing going for it in practice. I even fought a super boss that I was likely not intended to fight when I did, but I still managed to beat it in the same nature I fought every other enemy in the game.
The level design in this title is surprisingly adequate. It is not superb or the like, but the stages require lite platforming and occasional dash jumps to complete. These areas being strongly visually different from each other does make them feel relatively distinct and unique in an aesthetic sense. However, combat’s mindless nature is too fundamental of a fault for any apparent quality in these stages to really shine through.
The localization of this title is extremely qualitative. There were a handful of lines that came off as slightly awkward, but as a whole, this script was clearly given much time and dedication, which I can highly appreciate. The lack of an English dub has not impacted this score, but it is a disappointing absence that fans of the English dub should know of before purchasing.
While I am a fan of the Neptunia series, I can not lie and say I enjoyed this game. Aside from the unfun gameplay, which has plagued the majority of the latest entries considerably, the superficial characterization and interaction, lazily done narrative and lack of evolution make Neptunia Virtual Stars yet another mediocre title in this franchise that refuses to modernize and overhaul its systems.
While variety is said to be the spice of life, Compile Heart needs to learn that if they want to make genuinely engaging titles, they need to take a step back and try to make these games more fitting of modern hardware and just more fun to play instead of pumping them out at breakneck speed to appease fans’ on a surface level. Diehard and dedicated fans of the Neptunia franchise who want more of the same may derive enjoyment from this title, but otherwise, you are better off staying away.
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