The comedian Dave Barry once gave some sage advice on how to write a great essay about Moby Dick. He said, “Anybody with any common sense would say that Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in your paper, you say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland.” Metaphors. The secret to making people think you’re smarter than you are is through the use of obscure metaphors. This kept going through my mind the entire time I was playing Hyperdimension Neptunia PP on the PS Vita. The heart of the story in this game is one giant metaphor.
Hyperdimension Neptunia PP (the PP stands for Producing Perfection) is an “idol simulation” in which you guide the CPUs on their new careers as they transition from gaming goddesses into idol pop stars. Did you get all that? If the premise sounds pretty out of this world, well, you haven’t seen anything yet.
See, in the world of Gameindustri the CPUs’ (Console Patron Units) influence is losing mind share because of the rise in popularity of the musical J-pop group MOB48. This is where the metaphor idea comes in. The CPUs represent the console gaming industry and they feel threatened by “idols” which are naturally the popularity of musical groups. If the people aren’t staying at home and playing on their video game consoles, these four goddesses won’t have any influence anymore. So they decide that the best course of action is to beat the idols at their own game. They will become idols themselves and regain their popularity. The only problem is they have no idea how. They need a producer. And that is where you come in.
You play the role of a person getting ready to spend the summer playing video games. Mysteriously you are summoned to the land of Gameindustri by the CPUs to guide them to musical super-stardom. This is where we meet Neptunia, Vert, Noire, and Blanc, who control the lands of Planeptune, Leanbox, Laststation, and Lowee respectively (not very subtle references to the major game consoles). At first you will have to choose one girl and guide her musical career until she has a hit song and has gained a majority of shares in popularity. You will do this by organizing publicity events and putting on concerts.
Eventually, with time and patience, you will get your girl the popularity she so desperately desires. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s possible to not get your album into first place. I did it and I had no idea how it happened. But I’ll get to that more in a minute.
First, let’s start off with what this game gets right. Um…. Well it…. Hold on, I need to think about this one for a minute. MUSIC! Yes, the J-pop music you play in the game is kind of catchy. What else? I guess the art style is pretty cool. The girls are all extremely hyper-sexualized which can be weird, but that is quite common in this genre of games. Also, the controls work pretty well (mainly because there’s not much going on). It’s mainly just tapping a selection on the screen or using the analog sticks to control the camera during concerts. It’s not much, but it works. So it has that going for it.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about where this game falls apart. Oh, where do I begin? How about with one of the very first screens you see in which you’re informed that this game is not canon in the Neptunia universe. What?? Not canon?! Wow. Way to take the wind out of the sails right from the get go. But that’s OK, because that first screen also tells you to relax and enjoy the game “without thinking too hard.” I took that as a warning sign that something bad lay ahead.
Then there’s the problem of having to choose which girl you want to guide on her musical career. I chose Vert, and no it wasn’t because of her voluptuous breasts, which she does have and which she mentions about every five minutes (in fact the reason you survive the fall into Gameindustri in the first place is because you landed on Vert’s soft chest). No, the reason I chose Vert was because of all the girls, she had the least annoying voice. Instead of having a high sing-songy voice like the other girls, hers was a mature and stoic one that was also devoid of any emotion. It was boring and dull, but at least it didn’t grate on my nerves like the other girls.
Next we move on to the heart of the game, if you can call it that. In order to gain shares in popularity, you need to train your CPU and take her on publicity tours. You have to manage her stress level against her confidence level so that she will be able to put on a good concert. It almost sounds like it could be fun, but it isn’t. If anything, it’s just a lot of waiting around for dialogue to finish up and move on to the next day. You can do one thing in a day, and after you make your decision there is this long drawn out sequence that ends each day. Vert would stoicly tell me “I shall work hard tomorrow too,” and since you spend more time hearing this than actually doing anything, it gets old really (really) fast.
Speaking of concerts, those were supposed to be the salvation of the game. You choose what your girl wears, what song she will sing, and what kind of special effects will go off during the show. Your job is to control the camera during the performance to make sure the audience gets the best show possible. You pan left. Zoom in. Go for a close-up. Pan right. Go for a low shot… wait, am I looking up her skirt now?? No, zoom out and activate the spotlight. Now activate HDD mode. Oh yes, HDD mode is a transformation the girls go through in which their clothes shrink and their breasts grow. I think they are becoming some sort of possessed superhero in this phase, but I could be wrong.
So what’s wrong with all this? None of it means a thing. Just by randomly pushing the sticks and button mashing you are able to put on the perfect show and gain maximum points. Like so much else in the game, it doesn’t seem to matter what you do because you just succeed anyway. In my game I was making my way from event to event and suddenly I was informed that my song had hit #1. I had done it. Somehow in the matter of a day (a day in which I had sent my singer on a vacation) her song went from #20 on the charts to #1. It took me less than 80 days, and a lot of sitting through “I shall work hard tomorrow too.”
Should you find the courage to keep going, you can try it again and select one of the other girls. Or you can have them team up in a group act. You will also unlock the Endless Concert mode which allows you perform those concerts over and over and over again.
And I’m not even going to get into the Viewer mode which lets you select one of the girls, dress her up, and watch her giggle as you touch her in various places.
In the end, Hyperdimension Neptunia PP takes a long time to accomplish very little. There is very little challenge in trying to achieve your goals, and there is very little fun in almost all of it. The anime art is cute at first but starts to feel a little creepy as the game progresses. Thankfully there is the catchy J-pop tunes to provide something worthwhile in this game. That helps to soften the blow against the onslaught of boredom that this game will constantly bombard you with.