The Neptunia series, throughout its various shifts and different gameplay styles, see Action Unleashed for hack and slash, re;Birth for turn-based RPG and even a strategy in Hyperdevotion Noire, has always retained that charm which has made its way into the hearts of its fanbase. This is one of the things which has given the series its own identity, and in a world where commercialization dictates so much of what a studio produces, it feels quite good to see developers keeping the personality of what makes the Neptunia games so unique. Needless to say, Virtual Stars is no different.
Neptunia: Virtual Stars, as all recent titles from the Hyperdimension Series, stars all four CPU Goddesses we know and love, but instead of the action taking place in Gamindustri, they are “summoned” to a faraway land, as a last-ditch effort to save the Planet Emote from disaster. Upon being briefed by the Goddess of Planet Emote, Faira, the journey of Neptune, Noire, Vert and Blanc kicks off. The mission tasked to the four goddesses is to save the planet from the attack of Planet Obsoletia, who’s only objective is to render all the content of not only Planet Emote but all of Virtualand obsolete. In the process, you are also tasked to save a number of real-world Vtubers who were kidnapped by the bad guys as well, some of which are quite commonly known such as Sakura Miko or Inugami Korone.
As with most Neptunia titles, Virtual Stars introduces two new girls into the fray – Me and You, two real-world VTubers who are also the performers of the intro song of the game. The duo, self-called MEWTRAL, is not experienced in combat but with the power given to them by Faira, gain the ability to fight alongside the much more experienced Gamindustri Goddesses. Contrary to normal Neptunia games, Virtual Stars gives Nep and co. ranged weapons, with different forms of “guns” to the four.
Neptune has a sort of auto rifle that fires very quick rounds with little damage, Noire has a disc-gun that shoots slower projectiles but more damaging ones. Blanc has a charge-gun, which makes her gun potentially the strongest if you hold the fire button, while Vert’s somewhat resembles a sniper rifle because of its shape and range. On the VTuber’s side, Me has a melee style reminiscent of Neptune games of old, while You has a bow which makes her a ranged fighter, similarly to the Goddesses.
The fighting in general feels weird when compared to how fluid the combat feels in other Neptunia titles. In the beginning you do barely any damage, so you will sit for minutes chipping down at overlevelled enemies, but at least as you progress through the game you will get better damage and make short work of most of the enemies which spawn throughout. Another thing which feels iffy (pun not intended) is that enemies will keep on respawning every time you pass upon a certain location or part of the map, and with the game not being the best at indicating where you need to go, you may get a tad irritated at the constant spawning of mobs while you try to make out where you need to go.
Combat permits changing on the fly between each group among itself and even between the Goddesses and the VTubers, so there is a good number of strategies one can implement to take down even the toughest of enemies. Each character also possesses up to three special abilities, activated with R1 + Square, Circle or Triangle, which can help turn the tides of battle – and these can be equipped and interchanged in the menu screen as one desires.
These abilities require mana points to execute, of which you will have an always-regenerating amount. R1+X, on the other hand, is a handy heal button, which when held will slowly restore the characters to max HP. Healing through this method is not very reliable in battle, but once the fighting is over, it’s surely the most efficient way to get the party back up to full health.
Enemies in the game will also feature a circular gauge, which will slowly fill when being fired at. Once full, this gauge will trigger a Tokimeki Flash. This means that the enemy is knocked out for a couple of seconds, leaving them unable to attack and open for you to finish them off with your abilities. Normal enemies will be eliminated quickly, but this mechanic is useful when tackling overlevelled monsters or boss fights, as it gives you time to get some valuable damage in without having to deal with incoming attacks.
Another element in Virtual Stars’ combat system is the Guest Connect system, where a VTuber at random will lend their powers to you. The power may be of a support nature or offensive, and can be activated with the touchpad button on PS4. Eventually, the Guest Connect mechanic can also turn into the Live Start attack, where the group of characters you control get access to a barrage of attacks to finish off big waves of enemies in a flash. This helps getting rid of the majority if not all the enemies, especially when in a bit of a pinch. There is also a roulette which is activated at random during this mode, and stopping the symbols correctly will get you a nice, damaging hit to the current target. It serves as a small break while getting a good chunk of damage in.
Virtual Stars also features MV Battles, which are the game’s take on boss fights and take place inside a video screen. Inside this space, the battle will have its own take on momentum through a bar appearing to the left of the screen, where the momentum will shift downwards in your favour or upwards in the boss’ favour. The momentum will be in the advantage of whoever is getting the edge of battle, meaning the better your attacks and your dodging, the more chance of getting a healthy lead on your opponent.
Once you clear the first chapter out of the way, you will unlock a base of sorts, where Nol, your trusted number one stan, will be ready to help you along your adventure. In this base you will be able to restore shops which have been rendered unusable due to the invasion from Obsoletia by spending credits, known in-game as Emote Spheres in Base Revive. Reconstructing the base will help you further in your journey to save the different locations you are sent to, by enabling you to purchase items which would not be available otherwise.
If the combat and story in Virtual Stars is nothing to shout about, the cutscenes and music pieces are the best bit. The music in the game is very good, and given its importance throughout the different types of battles, it is quite important. You will find yourself buzzing even to the opening track from the protagonists themselves MEWTRAL, unlimited, let alone to the other tracks found while playing.
Cutscenes then are the usual Neptune-style visual novel dialogues, and it would not be a Neptunia game without dialogue breaking the fourth wall, as usual. It has become a staple in the series how self-aware the whole cast is, and all the jokes they pull on one another, and I for one can’t get enough of it.
As a whole, Virtual Stars brings nothing new to the Neptune formula except a clunky third-person shooter-style game which makes players miss the hack and slash of the usual titles. The cast of Vtubers taking part in the game is a surprisingly deep one, with plenty of recognisable and fan favourite VTubers and VIdols appearing in the game. The story is not bad but nothing new, with Neptune and the gang fighting to save the day once again, with the usual humour that fans of the series all know and will love for sure.
Neptunia: Virtual Stars is out TODAY on PS4! Grab a copy through the Iffy Store!
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