Almost inexplicably, the Hyperdimension Neptunia series has been gathering a considerable amount of mileage (and cultish fan support) from its silly anime antics parodying the console wars. The core JRPG mechanics have essentially gone unchanged since the property’s debut back in 2010, adding only slight refinement with each new title affixed to the canon. However, with Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart, the franchise’s second spinoff to arrive exclusively on the PlayStation Vita, developers Compile Heart and Sting have opted to finally shake up the established formula. Not only is the formerly primary goddess Neptune sidelined in favor of the more responsible Noire, but Hyperdevotion Noire represents a shift to the strategy RPG genre, and to mostly positive effect, it allows the retooled combat system’s multiple strengths to dull the impact of an otherwise mediocre central storyline.
Getting past the lame-brained introductory plotting is key to unlocking the hours of entertaining tactical role-playing goodness that Hyperdevotion Noire provides. The setup is simple: Noire’s influence in the world of Gamarket (an entirely separate universe from Hyperdimension’s Gamindustri) is put into jeopardy when a mysterious figure deceives Noire, causing her to erase her CPU shares, and thus limiting her hard-earned power in the modern steampunk-esque land of Lastation. The player then takes on the role of Noire’s personal assistant, managing the titular digital deity and her band of eccentric feminine computerized cohorts.
Like many a tactical RPG, Hyperdevotion Noire dedicates ample time to its outfitting stages, here a drawn-out process that eventually bogs down the remainder of the experience. Countless craftable items can be purchased with credits, which leads to the collection of Sim points later used to upgrade Noire’s digs from dilapidated living quarters to a domicile fit for a proud gaming industry divinity. Additionally, stat-boosting compact discs can be burned, and loot can be synthesized in a lab. All of this is similarly related in an unfortunate case of information overload, tempting to put a damper on the above-average SRPG merits.
Recruiting and implementing a customized team of quirky combatants is, unsurprisingly, the most rewarding aspect of Hyperdevotion Noire’s combat system. Unflinching video-game farce has always been one of the series’s hallmarks, and the tradition continues in earnest. Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid, The Idolmaster, Dynasty Warriors, Resident Evil, and, of course, Final Fantasy are just a few of the popular franchises satirized. Characters representing each series (though not quite infringing on any copyright laws) use their signature skills on the battlefield to frequently hilarious outcome. Lip, for example, clearly inspired by Solid Snake, uses a mix of CQC, box tactics, and grenade launchers to dispatch her foes. Rotating in fresh characters becomes a secondary mission in itself, simply to see what kind of outlandish homage they pay to their inspirational source material. These parodies become the backdrop for action-oriented surroundings as well, incorporating concepts from well-known games into their designs, both environmental and enemy. For instance, the Metal Gear Solid operation involves defusing explosives and stealthily avoiding traps, while the Street Fighter-themed undertaking takes place in the middle of a giant electrified fighting ring.
Heavy-handed harem-centric fan service abounds in Hyperdevotion Noire. Lily Boosting is a contemporary stratagem that combines exterior conflict relationship-building with in-battle positioning. When two specific adjacent offensive units unify during movement, special bonds are formed, resulting in glossy transformation sequences and abilities granted to the player. These scenes often range from the supa kawaii to the downright perverted; if you’re just becoming acquainted with the overtly ecchi Hyperdimension approach, be prepared to possibly take offense.
Unexpectedly, given the game’s lighthearted tone, certain tactical elements can get relatively intense in the heat of a skirmish, like dealing with troublesome status ailments (turning into zombies, tofu, and 8-bit sprites being most memorable among them) and dodging numerous map-based obstacles (pitfalls, laser beams, rushing train cars, etc.) while planning the perfect final turn. Even though much of Hyperdevotion Noire is indeed unoriginal, with its countless caricatures of trendy gaming icons, there’s enough novelty and variety in its strategic battles to keep players, especially fans of the mainline series, interested for quite a while.