Diverging from the environment exploring Role Play Game style of the main Neptunia series, Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies finds itself in the action battle arena style areas previously seen in Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed. Not only does it deviate from the play style of the main series, but even the setting is different in this story. Rather than taking place in the land of Gamindustri, where the majority of the series takes place, this game takes a familiar anime trope and sets the game in a school going by the name of Gamicademi. Does Blanc have what it takes to make a film to save her school from closing? Will she find out where those zombies are coming from? Stay tuned!
Developer: IDEA FACTORY, COMPILE HEART, TAMSOFT
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Genre: Hack ‘n’ Slash
Release date: 3 October, 2016
Type: Single Player, Online Multi-player, Online Co-op
Before getting into the game, let’s explore the characters a bit for those not familiar with the series. The main series setting of Gamindustri is divided into four nations based on real life video game consoles: Planeptune (Sega Neptune), Lastation (Sony Playstation), Lowee (Nintendo Wii), and Leanbox (Microsoft Xbox). Each one of those nations is protected and ruled over by a CPU (Console Patron Unit): Neptune (Goddess Purple Heart), Noire (Goddess Black Heart), Blanc (Goddess White Heart), and Vert (Goddess Green Heart) respectively. If playing Massive Multiplayer games have taught me anything, the armor the CPUs wear when transformed into Goddesses must be very high level gear, especially for Vert! There are also CPU Candidates based on real life handheld game systems as well. Besides the CPUs and CPU Candidates there is generally an assortment of regular non-drastically transforming characters available to help you as well. The entire playable cast is female and that has been pretty much true since the very first game in the series. There is an exception to that rule in a prior game, but he is a DLC character… and a fish so not even entirely sure if he counts. In Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies, the characters temporarily step down from their Goddess duties and take on common student roles at Gamicademi.
Now that we know a little bit about the series as a whole, let’s take a more in depth look at the second game in the series to not directly feature Neptune as the protagonist. Blanc takes centre stage in this action beat-um-up game. For those that played previous games, you know that Blanc considers herself a writer although sometimes she is short on inspiration. Blanc is mostly a loving older sister however she also has a very short temper, prone to getting enraged and is rather foul mouthed. What better person to take on the role of writer and director of a school film! Neptune, the other titular character is the usual protagonist of the series. While she still has a more major role in the game than the other CPUs and characters, she really is taking a back seat to Blanc. Neptune this time around actually doesn’t seem to mind too much about not being the only protagonist this time. She complained heavily about not being the protagonist when it was Noire’s turn to be the star of a game. In previous games even when she was the main, if she felt her position of self entitled “Protagonist of Protagonists” to be at risk she would begin to complain about not getting enough attention in the game. It’s part of the dynamics of the series that I enjoy so very much. The characters all have their own personalities and other than when their voices randomly change (because the voice actress wasn’t available) it almost feels like they are real people.
Now that I have spent about a page talking about the game’s background it is about time we talk about the actual game. Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies as mentioned, is an action beat-um-up which is quite a difference from the normal RPG the series fans are familiar with. I must say I still prefer the RPG series better than the action spin-offs simply because the action battle sequences feel like they are getting in the way of a visual novel’s story. Rather than say, exploring a cave and finding the monster/items you are looking for, you are teleported into a closed battle arena where a large number of monsters appear and continue to spawn until the clear conditions are met. Once the clear conditions are met you are teleported back out of the arena and the story continues on. There are no real story elements directly tied to the battles, they are just there for the gameplay. With each Chapter or “Scene” change, there is a larger story element focusing on the characters making the movie and finding the source of the Zombies. Prior to each “cut” (the arena battles) there is a shorter story revolving around the actual plot of the movie they are making. The characters take on roles of the characters in the film and act it out. Once that is done, they shoot an action sequence. This action sequence is you, with your characters of choice, battling it out versus the zombies for a little while, before going back to the menu to select your next scene or cut. These action sequences are typically done with the same basic backdrops, so there isn’t much variety there. The creatures are mostly the same as well. They are for the most part, the familiar Neptunia enemies, however this time around they are covered in stitches, patchwork and other zombifing touches. Familiar enemies and areas are nothing new to the series, and a fan of the series should have come to expect that. It really helps keep Gamindustri feeling like a real place, since the same enemies and areas are available in each of the installments. And since Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies is set at on the island that contains Gamicademi and the fact it is a low budget student film, it makes sense for the visuals to get recycled.
Ignoring the story, which is always the main reason to play any Neptunia game, we will focus even more on the gameplay elements now. In Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies you control one character on the screen at a time. In Single Player (Yes, this game has Multiplayer, which is pretty much a first for a Neptunia game!), you can select up to two characters to take into battle. You are able to freely switch between these characters without any kind of penalty other than the few seconds it takes to transition between them. This is useful when you want to change up your battle style or are trying to protect a weakened character while you wait for your helper NPCs to recharge. These helpers can be configured from the menu, and you can take two of them with you into each battle. They offer a variety of boosts for your characters. They could heal you, give you a defense and/or attack buff or even make you invincible for a short while. After you use them, they will go into cool down for a little while so you do have to use them strategically. Besides the helpers, you can also give yourself an edge by upgrading your weapons either by changing to a higher tiered weapon or by applying patches to it to enhance its abilities. There are also armors you can win and equip as well to further enhance your character both in stats and in appearance.
Besides just adding to your weapons and armors, you can also customize your character. The first way to customize it will be the stats available for it. Other than the base stats that each character starts out with, as you gain experience you can spend that experience rounding out your character however you like. For example, Uni, a gun wielding character. I boosted her power, thus increasing her damage and technique/technic while keeping her defense and hit points low. This meant I had to keep Uni at a safe distance as I obliterated the enemies with her strong firepower and combos. For a character like Neptune, I tried to keep her well rounded. Keeping her defense, hit points in line with her power. This meant she could survive the close quarter combat she often found herself in while chipping away at the enemies. Being able to switch between Uni and Neptune allowed me to keep both of them alive whenever the tides of the battle started turning against me. If Uni found herself surrounded, she would quickly die due to her minimal defense and hit points, but thankfully Neptune was there to absorb the damage while slicing her way free of the encroaching monsters.
There is another way to customize your characters as well. That way is via accessories or costumes. The game boasts quite a number of accessories for you to add on to your character. Giving you several slots and the ability to reposition the accessories however you like allows you to make each character look pretty much exactly how you want her to look. While in Single Player, this is purely a cosmetic option that offers no real benefits, in Multiplayer it lets you tell your character apart more easily from any others on the field. While the aforementioned accessories can be purchased with in-game currency at the in-game store, most costumes must be unlocked. Costumes are unlocked by finding all the parts of a treasure and then opening said treasure. Inside the treasure will be a costume for one or more of the characters. This costume is purely a cosmetic change as well, but it adds to the fun as you try to find all the treasure pieces. With all that said, there are plenty of customization options in this game so you shouldn’t ever get tired of your character appearance.
Speaking of character appearances, many of the familiar faces from the Neptunia series make an appearance in this game. As the story progresses, additional characters get added to your roster of playable characters. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing since you will keep unlocking more and more characters to enjoy and play with, but also by the time some of them unlock they are so under-leveled that you can’t possibly use them straight away. For example, Peashy, who is a strong melee character, joins your team just before the Single Player portion of the game ends. The only way you can really enjoy playing her is either to go back to near the beginning of the game and replay levels with her, or set her to your second character slot and grind later levels until she is strong enough to survive the battles taking place when she joins your team.
Experience in this game is only granted to the characters that actually battled. This leads to one of three unfortunate scenarios. The first being, you end up using the same two characters throughout most of the game, just because they are your only characters strong enough to survive the battle or at least strong enough to ensure a high rank on the mission. As an alternative, you end up swapping your characters around, leaving you very under leveled later in the story making it much more difficult on yourself. Lastly, you can use only one character as your main battler and just hitch a random one in the second slot to gain some experience, leaving you with only one really useable character and the other just running around and surviving long enough for your main to respawn. While it is entirely possible that the option is available and I simply overlooked it, it would be nice if you could add patches to the weapons of characters to enhance their experience gains, or even better, allow them to gain experience outside of battle. That way you would be able to quickly get any character you want into a battle ready condition without the need to grind endlessly until they are strong enough. This grinding does serve a couple of purposes though, the first of course is to raise the level of the weaker characters, but it also helps raise their Lily Rank, which is directly related to their mighty combined attack ability mentioned later on in this review.
Redoing levels in this game is encouraged though, so perhaps that is the reason why the level up system in this game works the way it does. You are able to select any two characters you want to take part in a “cut” and it will launch the default sequence of events. However, if you choose of the specific pairs that the game wants you to select, you will receive the same sequence of events, but the characters you actually chose will be playing the key support roles in the sequence rather than the default characters. Some “cuts” require you to play them more than twice just to see each “cut” team variation. Additionally, playing with the correct characters on some “cuts” also unlocks the “Backstage Talk” story sequences. The Backstage Talk sequences feature the characters in a more natural state, talking freely amongst themselves about various things. These go outside of the main story, but still fit within it. These are also oddly only available in Japanese voices so it can be quite shocking the first time one of them plays when you were expecting them to talk in English. The subtitles are still in English though so you can still know what they are saying. These Backstage Talks are incredibly easy to miss, so it wouldn’t be in the least surprising if you found yourself going back to find them. The game makes it easier to find all hidden/special conditions sequences by giving you hints in the Event Viewer. The Event Viewer shows all the cutscenes you have previously seen. Mixed in among them are placeholders for the ones you have yet to see. Looking at where they fall in the list, and reading the clue generally tells you which “cut” you have to redo and with which characters you need to do it in order to unlock that particular variation.
Now that we have discussed the nuts and bolts of the game, let’s talk about the combat. The basic combat moves involve you pressing one of two buttons. There is the normal/light attack and the generally chargeable heavy attack. You could, in theory, go the entire game just spamming the normal attack button and do quite well in the game. However, if you want to get more enjoyment out of the game, you can also string together combos. Combos vary between characters so it is a matter of memorizing the button sequences required to pull off the combo you want. Your ability to perform combos is actually tied to the customization options. The more experience you spend on your technique/technic, the better the combos you can pull off. If you don’t want to spend your precious experience on enhancing your combos, you can also use your characters abilities. I played the game using a gamepad, but the theory here should extend to those playing it with the keyboard and mouse as well. Character abilities are utilized by holding down one of two buttons (the lock or block shoulder buttons on the gamepad) and the selecting a second button (such as the heavy attack button). By pressing one of the two button combo, your character will do one of a number of things. One she might transform into or away from her HDD mode (Goddess/Power-up mode), she might switch with your other character, the backup character might come onto the field and join in for a team Lily attack or she might cast a spell or ability. These abilities were pretty much unique to each of the characters so it really helped make it fun to play each of the characters and spam their abilities as much as you can. Regardless of your preferred attack style, be it stringing combos, spamming abilities as often as you can, or just using regular attacks, the combat in the game is the same regardless of the monster you are fighting. Hit it until it is dead while dodging or blocking any attacks coming your way. Depending on how strong your characters are, it is entirely possible to be finished an arena in under a minute. The game actually wants you to finish the arena in under a minute most of the time as well. The faster you complete a level, the higher the rank you will earn for it. Trying to earn a higher rank on earlier missions is a great way to level up your characters that may have fallen a bit behind as well as raise their Lily Rank.
Now that we have the basics of gameplay and what the single player is like, let’s switch gears and talk about the Multiplayer. I actually would have had this review up about a week ago had it not been for the Multiplayer element in this game being such a novel concept for the series that I just had to give it a try. Unfortunately, the Multiplayer component did not work entirely well at launch, leaving me unable to play it for a while. Now that it has received a few patches, the Multiplayer element is working just fine outside of a few annoying bugs I will mention in a bit. The Co-Operative Multiplayer basically lets you control one character and teams you up with up to four other human players in an online arena as you complete quests unique to the multiplayer mode and gain new and powerful items to use in your game (both Single and Multiplayer mode). Your levels and equipment carry over from your Single Player or Multiplayer adventures so you are better off playing the Single Player first at least a little bit anyway just to get yourself some starting equipment and levels. The game makes no attempt to set you up with people of your own level. This means if you are in with some high level people, doing a high level mission, you will often find yourself dead more often than alive. You might also find yourself on the flip side, being too high of level for the rest of the group so you mostly just carry the team. Either way, it is still fun to play online. Now that I am finished the story and unlocked every scene, I will be spending my time on the Multiplayer aspect trying to unlock the remaining achievements and enhancing my game play experience.
The Multiplayer is not without its faults however. When it first launched, it was almost impossible to play it. Frequent crashes and other bugs marred the experience. Now those bugs have been mostly squashed under Blanc’s mighty hammer, the Multiplayer works about 95% of the time. There is still one game breaking bug that occurred frequently when I was trying the online component. If a player left after the Leader launched the mission, the game would spam non-stop that “Player [Their Name] has left” and then “Player [Their Name] has joined” and then again that that player has left and joined doing that same sequence over and over again. This would cause the mission to load, but never actually start. This happened in about 20% of the matches I played.
The Multiplayer revival system could use a little work as well. If a character falls in battle, three things can happen. If all other players are currently dead, you get game over. If the respawn timer hits 0, you will automatically revive at full health. Lastly, another player can revive you. Here is the issue. Sometimes, when your timer is about to hit 0 anyway, someone will revive you. The problem is the fact had they waited the extra 2 seconds for your timer to hit 0, you would have revived at full health, but instead you are revived near death due to them being out of energy when they revived you. You tend to die again almost instantly, resetting your respawn timer. It would be nice if it gave you a prompt saying “a player is trying to revive you, accept or cancel” that way you could ignore the revival if you know they are out of energy and just let the last few seconds tick by. In one of the matches I played there was a player who did nothing but revive other players. Quite the nice act! Perhaps, but unfortunately they seemed to either not understand how revival works, or they were trolling a bit. I say that because they would wait for the timer to be almost up then drain their energy reserve and revive the fallen player with no real hit points. Consequently, this action pretty much made that player perpetually dead.
So should you get Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies? If you happen to have played Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed it is basically the same game, just with some new enhancements and a few old features dropped. The costume break system is gone which is a little disappointing because it added a bit of challenge to Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed. In a nutshell, the character’s armor gets damaged if they take too many hits. Damaged armor loses much of its defense potential, but it also enhanced the characters ability to fight (I’m guessing due to the armor being broken, it gave them more flexibility and freedom of body movement). The random healing and support items that drop from enemies are not in Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies either. Instead you have Helpers which can heal you or give you the Stat boosts. If you are a fan of the previous Neptunia games, the characters you have come to know and love are mostly all back in this game with a brand new story for you to experience. The story is a little weaker than say Megadimension Neptunia VII, but it is still interesting enough to keep you playing the Single Player to the end. If you have no idea what the Neptunia Series is like, then I wouldn’t suggest this be your first foray into the series. For that, I would suggest Megadimension Neptunia VII (despite being a later game in the main series, it is still a great starting point.) Lastly, if you like games that let you mindlessly spam attacks or chain combos without the need to explore a dungeon, then this would likely be a game you would like. Overall, Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies is a great new addition to the Action series of Neptunia games, but I still prefer the Neptunia RPG series best.