The ever expanding Neptunia franchise takes on the beat ‘em up genre in Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, the action-centric spin off from the main series. Developed by Tamsoft , the studio that worked on Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, it’s easy to see some of the shared DNA between the titles, but Neptunia U is much more than Shinovi Versus with a Neptunia-themed coat of paint.

Taking place in another alternate continuity setting, Neptunia U is quite light on story compared to the main games, focusing more on hack ‘n slash action and destroying hordes of various monsters. Introducing two new playable characters,  Gamindustri Journalists Dengekiko & Famitsu (based on Japanese gaming magazine companies), the story basically involves the CPUs & CPU candidates completing various quests from their citizens in order to create an interesting story for an article.  Also, their clothes can become damaged and torn in battle just like in Senran Kagura (because revealing pics are probably a great way to make an article interesting ). So you’ll likely see something like this on a regular basis, unless you’re able to get through all of the quests without letting enemies land a critical hit on you while playing.2015-05-16-175355Throughout the story mode, you can select any of the available quests to complete in any order you choose, giving a more open approach in how you can decide to progress. Each quest has a recommended level in the info assigned to it, so there will be some quests you’ll have trouble finishing if you try take on ones that are aimed at higher levels.  While some particular quests will be accompanied with an event scene related to the main story, or a scene involving the characters, most just throw you straight into the battle area and start spawning monsters for you to take down.

To complete a quest, certain conditions need to be met such as defeating a boss monster, or killing a certain number of enemies, while some less common quests, known as irregular quests have a secret condition that must be met in order to complete them. The irregular quests are quite interesting to play since you aren’t given the win requirements upfront and need to figure it out (or just kill everything and hope you trigger it somehow). Luckily, the girls can give you a bit of assistance in figuring out what to do if you have trouble with these quests.

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The meat of the game is the quests and fighting monsters, so there are luckily several layers to what the characters can do in battle, most of which can be customised to your liking for different combinations. Quests are generally taken on in pairs of two, with each character also being able to activate HDD Mode when the EXE Drive has been filled to a certain level to boost their stats and performance. Even the two human characters, Famitsu & Dengekiko, have been given the ability to activate something akin to HDD Mode thanks to special amour sets provided by their company. As you fight with the characters, you get a feel of how each one behaves in battle; for example, some are better at ranged attacks or may be quicker at chaining normal attack combos while others might have attacks more effective at clearing out a group of enemies at once. The differences in the different play styles of each character you the opportunity to try them out and decide which ones you prefer to play as. For most quests, barring specific story or character event quests, you’re able to choose which characters you want to select to complete it, so you’re free to choose your favourite one to battle with.

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Borrowing from the main HDN Games, SP Skills also can be used, with space for up to 3 SP Skills to be assigned to different button combinations. The Lily system is also carried over from the other games in the series, which can give your characters specific stat bonuses and effects depending on the level of their relationship with each other. As you progress, you can also unlock items and weapons to equip to the characters to augment their stats and abilities, as well as assign different skills. There’s no store to buy items or weapons in this game, but instead you can unlock new upgrades for the girls’ stats or equitable items and weapons by defeating monsters and collecting medals (which you can then redeem for prizes). Although, even though you have the ability to equip weapons and skills, you aren’t really given a large variety of alternate choices for you to choose from. It seemed kind of a waste to be able to change your weapon or skills but only have a couple of options to choose from.

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With most of the enemies in the quests simply mindlessly charging at you (or just leisurely wandering towards your general direction), just mashing the attack buttons can allow you to preform automatic combos and defeat most of the enemies the game throws at you, rather than needing to put too much thought into strategy or planning. Once you get further into the story and begin to get longer quests, you’ll soon be scoring hundred-hit combos and dealing thousands, if not millions of points of damage as you just slash through all of the monsters on the battlefield, which is remarkably satisfying seeing all those sets of numbers continue to go up while you keep dealing damage. Even when there are dozens of enemies surrounding you, the framerate holds up very well on the vita, keeping the game running smoothly.

Outside of the quests, you can view event scenes with the characters at certain points throughout the main story campaign and view news broadcasts from the two journalists about the CPUs. As always, the writing is filled with references and meta humour while characters casually break the 4th wall over and over again, so if you’re into the brand of humour the Neptunia series is known for, you should have a good idea of what to expect. References to real world games, past HDN games, in/famous online movements can be found within the dialog between characters. Several more subtle references are also incorporated into the two new characters, with Dengekiko’s attacks based on Dengeki Bunko properties like Sword Art Online and A Certain Scientific Railgun.

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The main story portion of the game has loads of quests for you to dive into, with even more content waiting after you complete the main game. Two additional secret modes [mild spoiler], a 1v1 arena battle mode called Gamindutri Gauntlet and the seemingly endless Neptral Tower mode, are unlocked after completing the main story, which you can challenge to continue battling new foes, grind levels and win special items and gear for your characters. It’s a shame that a multiplayer component like Shinovi Versus didn’t make it into Neptunia U, as it would have been fun having 1v1 or 2v2 battles with other players online or even locally.

Review Summary

Overall, Neptunia U is a fun take on hack & slash games which retains the style and humour the series is popular for, between doses of fast paced monster-slaying action. It may not have a particularly deep story, even by HDN standards, but it does make beating up hundreds of thousands of monsters surprisingly enjoyable, considering I would have assumed it to become boring and repetitive at first glance. It's definitely a game you don't have to think too much to play but just relax and continue to fight through hordes of enemies while you watch the action taking place.