I still have a hard time believing that the Neptunia series has taken off in such a positive way. A concept that initially started as a humorous way to personify the ridiculous fights that occur between fanboys and companies, as well as poke fun at various games in a subtle way, this series has continued to impress me. One of my favorite characters in the series, Noire aka Black Heart aka the token tsundere of the cast, was voted as a favorite in an online poll. As a result, she got to star in her own game. Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart (that is a mouthful, am I right?) is a strategy RPG crafted by Idea Factory, Compile Heart and SRPG master Sting. With a solid translation and tons of content, HD Noire is a strategy RPG I recommend to fans of the genre, fans of Neptunia games and for those that are looking for a long game that can be played on your travels. For those that wish to do it all, however, I warn you that there is lots of tedium ahead of you.
As mentioned, HD Noire is the story of the Lastation CPU, Noire. With gorgeous black hair, long legs and the ability to transform into a busty babe with skin tight clothes and shining eyes, Noire is everything that Lastation needs for a great CPU. The story starts with her accidentally losing all of her Sharicite, the prime source of power in all of Gamarket. Now, Noire needs to recruit the other CPUs and the generals of various cities in order to recover the Sharicite. The story spans nine chapters, but most of the story content in each one is about recruiting the various generals. The generals represent various game franchises which, in turn, make for hilarious dialogue. For instance, Mitsune represents the vocaloid franchise. Lid represents the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Sango represents the Dynasty Warrior franchise. In total, there are 22 characters that you will get to know. When franchises collide, hilarity typically ensues. There are tons of story events and sub-events that combine the multiple characters in fantastic ways.
Character development is something that the Neptunia series has always done well and HD Noire is no exceptions. However, the game play usually divides people. In HD Noire’s case, it should feel as familiar as your favorite pair of jeans or your favorite coffee mug. Outside of combat, you can shop, make items, make game discs and equip your group of chickens for battle. Each character can equip a weapon, a bangle, an accessory, a game disc and an elemental crystal. HD Noire features a slightly unique but also slightly annoying elemental affinity system: wind is weak to fire, fire is weak to ice, ice is weak to thunder and thunder is weak to wind. Obviously, this provides a benefit for enemies, but treasures on the battlefield also have elemental affinities. I’ll talk more about battles later in the review, but treasures that may hold valuable materials for not getting opened due to lacking an element gets frustrating. The game discs that can be equipped contain passive abilities that can help in battle. It’s a basic formula, which works for the game since the battles are also basic.
At the start of the battle, you can deploy your characters and select a leader. Different leaders provide different bonuses for the rest of the combatants, which can sometimes make or break a battle. Like any typical strategy RPG, there is a player phase and an enemy phase. During your phase, you select who you want to move and act. Aside from attacking, using items, or using special skills, Noire and the rest of the CPUs can transform in to their HDD forms. This costs 30 Lily Points, which are acquired by using special abilities when surrounded by other characters. Each character learns five unique abilities. When they use them while next to other characters, their effect goes up and their cost goes down. Furthermore, it increases the Lily Rank with the characters. As these increase, the effects of the abilities increase even more. The early battles are pretty basic, but by the time you’re near the end and have all of the characters, you will have a variety of options that could, essentially, clear the entire battle field in one turn.
Battles are fun and simple by design, but there are a few issues with them. Some battlefields have obnoxious gimmicks that hinder game flow. Platforms, electric panels, switches, and other things require you to wait longer than usual to clear the stage. Furthermore, enemies won’t approach you until you get into their range. This is a common issue with the genre, so it carries the same problems in HD Noire. Finally, and this is something I’ve never seen before until I played the lackluster Gungnir, characters can lose a turn if they jump too far. The game gives you no warning that this will happen. And of course, we have my minor gripes with the elemental affinities. Despite these gripes, HD Noire has plenty of accessibility for folks new to SRPGs as well as those that are familiar with the genre.
Something that might turn folks off no matter their familiarity with SRPGs, however, is the look. Personally, the chibi-looking characters works well given that the special attacks are over the top and the battlefields are highly detailed. Furthermore, the life sized portraits that have been used since the beginning of the series have been included. Still, I can understand folks raising an eyebrow after seeing bite sized versions of the cast. The music has been heard before if you played previous games in the franchise. Your mileage may vary on this. The voice acting is wonderful; both English and Japanese are available.
One of my biggest complaints about the game is that it takes far too long to get everything. I know that side-quests, trophies and the like shouldn’t effect a score, but the game’s “grindy” nature got put to full use for the people that wanted to get everything. The biggest culprits are needing to max everyone’s level and max everyone’s Lily Rank. These two tasks alone can take up to 70 hours. For those that don’t care to do it all, you are looking at 20 hours. The New Game Plus feature lets you carry all of your gear, levels, Lily Ranks and money. There are three difficulty levels and tons of optional battlefields to conquer. Hyperdevotion Noire has a lot to offer if you don’t feel like doing it all but still feel like taking a break from progressing the story. The best part of the game is the writing. The humor and wit put into the script shows that care was given during translation. In order to read all of this, you need to finish battles. For the most part, these are fun despite some of the hiccups in certain battle fields. Fans of the Neptunia universe should check out Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. It may have a different protagonist and may be a different type of game, but it still carries that charm and charisma that the series is known for.