Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is another PC release of a Neptunia game that previously debuted on the PlayStation Vita. Hyperdevotion is notable for attempting a few things differently than its predecessors : it’s the first Neptunia game to feature another CPU as the main character (not counting Neptune’s sister Nepgear, who is in fact a CPU Candidate).
The heroine in this game is Neptune’s rival/best friend Black Heart Noire, who is the living personification of Sony’s PlayStation brand, in case the name of her city wasn’t a big enough clue. As Noire sits atop the ongoing feud between herself and the other CPUs, a mysterious woman tricks Noire into making a bargain that dethrones Noire of her status as well as causing her loyal generals to mutiny. With her dominance shattered, Noire must rely on Neptune and the others to gather her generals back up and win the city of Lastation back from the mysterious woman.
The unique aspect to Hyperdevotion Noire is the shift from traditional turn-based RPG gameplay to a traditional turned-based Strategy RPG; similar to classic SRPGs like Disgaea, Hyperdevotion features mission-based objectives where players control Noire and her allies on a grid-based map to accomplish specific objectives, usually in the form of eliminating every enemy on the opposing side. The player selects a party member, where they are then given a limited number of moves followed by a single action, be it an attack, a special move, lifting objects, etc. Once all party members have taken their turn, the opposing side follows suit. As with most SRPGs, positioning plays a huge role and can make all the difference between victory and defeat, which is why it’s a good thing that Hyperdevotion lets players re-position themselves as many times as needed until they end their turn.
It’s just too bad the rest of the game mechanics aren’t as great. Hyperdevotion Noire has some choice decisions regarding its controls; for one thing, the right analog stick can only be used to zoom in and out of the map, but does not allow for camera rotation. Camera rotation would have made perfect sense. When changing the position of a party member, two buttons must be held down before finalizing the action. Most frustrating of all is the inability to highlight enemies to see their individual ranges of attack, which makes one mission involving long-range cannons feel especially infuriating. Even worse is the inability to leave a mission in order to grind more levels/items elsewhere; should players overwrite their save during a battle, they are stuck in that battle until they finish. While the game does allow the option to restart battles in an easier setting, this is nowhere near as useful as being allowed to leave an outclassed objective entirely.
Where the game shines is with the characters and their mannerisms. If you’re familiar with the characters based on earlier series entries, you’ll be happy to know that the change to an alternate universe doesn’t change them at all. Blanc is still a soft-spoken and serious character, while Neptune remains the kind of person who spouts random things and heads into a situation without thinking. With the focus on Noire this time around, you get more insight into her character and her somewhat lone-wolf nature, but don’t expect any deep analysis or revelations. Having her front and center just makes her more available to be part of the shenanigans.
Some of the staples of the series also make it to the new battle system but in slightly modified forms for the genre. The Lily Rank system that determines the relationship affinity between characters is now an active ability. To increase it, you have to set characters next to one another and have one use a special attack. The rank increases, but you also lessen the cost of the attack. Performing these moves also feeds into a meter that gives any one character the chance to unleash a major attack against multiple enemies. The HDD system is here but is very limited in that you can only use it for three turns, and it can only be activated once per character per fight. You gain added strength when unleashing attacks and the ability to easily hover over the terrain, so it’s useful during specific situations.
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart also adds some other changes that make it better. The first is that you can spend points to bring in any reserved characters if you fall in battle. This prevents characters from being useless, since they might be able to unleash the killing blow if one of your starters dies on the field. Also, the game ensures that everyone on the team scores XP equally even if they didn’t fight, preventing users from having to grind too much to level up.
While Neptunia games have benefited from higher resolutions and frame rates when ported to PC, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart fails to improve much from its handheld origins. The texture quality may be a little sharper, but its ultimately unnoticeable from the simplistic super-deformed art style. What is noticeable, however, is the lack of 60 frames per second. Instead, the game hard locks at 30 fps, but even that can fluctuate occasionally. Frame rate speed may not be as big a deal for some, but it would have resulted in a significantly smoother looking game. Much more infuriating is the ever-annoying PC port that leaves its mouse cursor on the screen even when playing with a controller, and Hyperdevotion has an even bigger annoyance where creating discs through its disc development shop forces players to name the disc with a keyboard. It’s rather upsetting that to this day, many publishers still haven’t fully grasped the concept of PC gaming through a controller.
The Hyperdimension Neptunia series has never been considered a graphical powerhouse, but it’s not terrible in this department, either. The backgrounds are rather basic, though a few elements keep them interesting. The character models for the enemies in Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart are fine but recycled from the previous games, and the special effects are fairly pedestrian. The heroes, however, are more interesting because they’re displayed in a chibi style while still retaining some details. Their expressive nature is certainly endearing. The cut scenes, while usually impeccable, have more than a few instances where the mouths simply refuse to move while a character is speaking. For a game that is mostly about cut scenes, this oversight can be bothersome to some.
Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart does very well in the audio category. The music is mostly recycled from the older games, but it still sounds good, and the scant new material blends in nicely with the rest of the soundtrack. The voices are also well done for both Japanese and English tracks, so fans on either side of the dubbed/subbed debate will come away satisfied. More importantly, the delivery of each line by just about everyone ensures that even the worst jokes don’t fall flat. The sound effects are also good, so the game is a delight to listen to.
All in all, Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a decent sidetrack from the standard Neptunia games, but it could have used a bit more streamlining and quality-of-life mechanics to bring it up to current SRPG titles. It also fails to take advantage of the PC platform to improve its performance, with a few controller-unfriendly quirks that hinder it further. The story may be straightforward, but the characters and their personalities make things enjoyable. The gameplay may not bog you down with too many systems and minutiae, but it remains fun. Still, fans will no doubt be able to look past the technical annoyances to enjoy more slapstick and fan service with the Neptunia girls, while the rest of us may be better off looking elsewhere.