Again With The Console Goddesses
Compile Heart is going on one impressive release rampage. While releasing a bunch of ports is certainly feasible in a given year, now we have an entirely new game that takes all the characters and silliness we’ve come to expect from the Neptunia franchise, and turned it into a turn-based strategy game, a la X-Com. Is it as good as that award winning TBS? No. But it’s fun.
Sony Saves The World
Goddess Black Heart, as the name suggests, takes the focus off the Sega console embodied as a cute teenage goddess, and concentrates on Noire, the Sony goddess. A bit of trickery deceives Noire into depowering all the goddesses and now it’s up to her to rally her rivals, fight together and restore order from the bosom-y, pale witch that started all this trouble. Just another day in Gamindustri, then…
The technical side of Black Heart is the same as it is with all the Neptunia games released in the last year; Compile Heart is doing is being environmentally conscious and recycling everything. Voice actors, character designs, menu systems, music, background art… all the things you’ve seen in the other Vita Neptunia games make a reappearance here, which explains how the studio can be so damn prolific about releasing these things. They change stories and even game mechanics, but reuse everything else. If that screams “budget title” to you, then your hearing is excellent. The actual chibi art direction during combat is just about the only really new thing here, but for the genre, it makes perfect sense.
However, the big change is the actual genre of game that Black Heart is. It’s a turn-based strategy in the same vein as console classics like Final Fantasy Tactics. It borrows liberally from mechanics of the JRPG series, with “burning discs” with properties that affect elements of the game from character stat bonuses to enemy behavior.
These elements are grafted onto a functional turn-based strategy game with a decent—but not enormous—amount of depth. As is usual for this genre, placement/direction of characters and timing is important. You have to sit back and watch how the enemy reacts when their turn comes up, so this is really an elaborate version of chess, where a key tactic of winning is to be able to predict outcomes from a few moves ahead and adjust actions appropriately. As with other TBS team based games like FF Tactics and X-COM, characters in the party level up as they survive battles, and a collectathon ensues adding new characters to the mix. Advances in the story introduce new features in the battles, such as elemental exploits, squares on the grid with different properties like healing or damage, and, of course, the ability for CPU characters to transform into “HDD mode” and be super-versions of themselves with better stats, movement and attack options. Everything here is functional, just don’t expect the game to innovate the way its predecessors did, it’s more concerned with presenting a working experience full to the brim of silly jokes. And that’s really the key to understanding any Neptunia game.
Because this is yet another addition to the Neptunia franchise, most should be aware of whether this game is really for them or not. Good natured silliness, ecchi fan service, and ribbing at the games industry and surrounding culture are all fixed characteristics of this series, and if those things don’t appeal to you, you should stay far away from this game. However, if you’ve got a Vita and you’re jonesing for a Final Fantasy Tactics clone that is not too deep, and incredibly silly, this is the game for you. It’s a no-frills TBS game with an absurd sense of humor, but how many additions do we get to this genre? Especially on handhelds?