Getting Meta in GameDev Neptunia Game Maker R:Evolution Review

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Neptunia Game Maker R:Evolution is the latest spinoff in the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. It stars “older” Neptune from Megadimension Neptunia VII, who, to put very briefly, is an alternate version of the main series’ protagonist from a parallel universe.

Game Maker has a storyline of its own and doesn’t require playing the other games to understand, but it does have many references to its other games. I would recommend for newcomers to the series to play the first three mainline games via its remakes Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1-3 along with Megadimension Neptunia VII.

Unlike other Neptunia spinoffs which only have a Japanese dub, this game has an English dub and it sounds amazing, especially Melissa Fahn who has voiced Neptune over the years. The English dub really manages to capture the whimsical nature of the characters. Usually English dubs sound too serious, but the voice actors in this title genuinely sound like they’re enjoying voicing the characters and having fun banter.

Unfortunately, after half an hour of playing through the game I encountered a main story cutscene that wasn’t voiced in English (when the game switches back to “Present Day”). The game lets you access the menu to change sub/dub at any time, so I changed to Japanese dubbing and the cutscene was now voiced whereas it was unvoiced in English dubbing. This game has a lower amount of main story cutscenes voiced in English than in Japanese. I would understand if it was generic battle lines or generic dialog that was voiced only in one language, but there were main story cutscenes being voiced in one language but not in the other. This has happened in previous games in the Neptunia games as well and is one of my biggest pet peeves.

I would strongly recommend playing this in the Japanese dub to avoid long stretches of cutscenes without dialog. The Japanese voice actors do a terrific job as well, and is even more over the top than the English dub. I just would’ve preferred for the English and Japanese dub to have the same amount of voice acting. There are also optional blue subevents that are unvoiced in both languages which add extra plotlines to the characters.

There is an option in the audio settings to lower the soundtrack when characters are talking. Many older Neptunia games had very heavy soundtracks blasting while characters were talking, but now you can easily hear the characters easily when they’re talking. If you buy it on the Nintendo Switch for portability, you can listen to the characters during the cutscenes while you’re out and about.

This is a game that has a lot of emphasis on having fun characters and cutscenes. The cutscenes are all done in a visual novel style along with illustrations, but what separated Neptunia from other games was that it had an animation style to make it look like breathing characters were on the screen rather than just static 2D image stills. Neptunia characters could even be considered a precursor to Vtubers. One artist at Compile Heart, Fukahire, worked on the video game Monster Monpiece and later went on to do the character design for the popular Vtuber Inugami Korone.

Most of the cutscenes in this game are about poking fun at the video game industry and video game development. Just be aware that the cutscenes are long even for JRPG standards, with some scenes lasting easily half an hour or more between chapters, so that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Unlike other Neptunia games, this game is an action JRPG rather than turn-based. You can mash attacks with characters, defend when an enemy attacks, use items, and use abilities when a bar fills up. Most of the other gameplay elements are the same as in other Neptunia games, such as buying new weapons, bracelets, and accessories to upgrade your stats. You unlock new regions and dungeons by using CP currency obtained from the game development minigame, and you can also find sidequests and NPCs in dungeons rather than NPCs only being in menus in the old games.

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As you progress the story and gain more CP from the game development mini-game you can unlock more regions to explore from the world map. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

The gameplay does feel somewhat unrefined at times, often feeling janky, but it is fun as well at times. The real-time action gameplay does feel like a jankier version of the gameplay you’d see in a “Tales of” game but it’s not necessarily bad or frustrating.

You control 1 character and your party consists of 4 characters of your choice. You’re able to freely switch between any of these characters using the directional button and you can get prompts to use links to do combos with your characters, also increasing the amount of damage you deal. It’s not the fanciest gameplay, but it’s fun and it’s refreshing to see a Neptunia game experimenting with gameplay styles other than turn-based.

The AI party members are generally not that good. This game is different than turn-based Neptunia games because you can only control 1 character at a time in real-time combat and the other 3 have to be AI controlled. The AI controlled party members will ask for permission to use healing items and you can change their AI tactics in menus to make them more or less aggressive, but in general I used them to soak up damage while the character I controlled did all the work.

I’ll only explain the first hour of story to prevent spoilers and I’ll keep the points vague. You play as “older” Neptune (who I’ll just refer to as Neptune from now on), who is an alternate version of the original Neptune, the protagonist of the series. In the Neptunia series video game consoles are represented by goddesses who rule over and sell games in their lands.

Neptune becomes the CEO of a game development company and joins Jagaa, Pippih and Reedio, who were considered by everyone to be console failures. Specifically, these characters represent the Atari Jaguar, Apple Pippin and Electron Arts’ 3DO and the game makes many references to their real-life quirks. The Neptunia series relies a lot on meta-commentary and self-referential humor poking fun at the video games industry.

Neptunia Game Maker R-Evolution BAI GAMING screenshot 2
The CGs (computer graphic illustrations) are plentiful and are really well drawn. They add a lot of life to the characters in pivotal scenes. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

It’s a simple premise, but the team of four have fun making games starting with their first game, “Nep Beat!”. The storyline does an amazing job of parodying game development tropes such as crunch culture and not getting sales. Some villains include pirates, the kind of people who steal or copy other developers’ games.

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Not only are consoles represented by characters, but pirates who steal games are represented by characters too. It’s certainly the best personification for the abstract concept of video game piracy I’ve ever seen. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

There’s even some plotlines regarding game exclusivity and there’s a lot of interesting game developer struggles shown such as not having enough marketing budget and having their smaller games overshadowed by AAA games. The storyline and banter between the characters is hilarious and I’d rather you play the game than for me to explain all of the plot. The plot isn’t as strong or serious as the previous game, Neptunia Sisters VS Sisters. Instead, this game’s plot is more lighthearted and humorous until its final portion.

The Neptunia series as a whole is over a decade old, but the recent games do a really good job of integrating modern changes in culture. Now the characters refer to the rise of mobile games as well as streamers and content creators playing their games, whereas this wasn’t a big deal when the series began over a decade ago.

The artwork and character designs are phenomenal. The animations really bring life into the characters. The artwork has improved and reflects Tsunako’s more recent artstyle. I like the bright and colorful character designs and the small details of which console they represent.

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Game development is a new plotline in Neptunia. Usually the games focus on console wars and people pirating games, but watching the cast deal with hurdles in game development is a refreshing change of pace. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

The gameplay loop mostly consists of what you’d find in any JRPG, namely exploring dungeons, fighting enemies and bosses, and watching cutscenes along with a game development management minigame. The game development minigame is really fun and helps to break up the JRPG formula. It’s tricky to explain briefly, but you use a separate currency called CP.

CP is used to spend on buildings and researching skill trees to improve your games in the future. Gold is the normal currency used to buy equipment and items. Since CP is separate from the main gold currency you don’t need to worry about risking your money, or getting too much money either. Yakuza 0 is a game that has that problem where doing a real estate minigame makes you get trillions of yen in the main game as well, making everything trivial to afford.

You hire game developer NPCs, who you can randomly find in dungeons or from even getting an email from. You can make your own games or you can take on jobs from your computer to make specific genres of games.

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The game development mini-game lets you make equippable discs that grant passive abilities to your characters. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

You can eventually make more buildings to make games of more genres and as you keep re-using the same game developers they gain experience and become more proficient at their jobs, but also more expensive.

In general the minigame isn’t hard and even if you don’t try (you can just select the first options in all the menus) you’ll always turn a profit. If you put in more effort and use game developers who specialize in a genre and make a game of that genre and mood they like, you’ll definitely make a better quality game and turn in more profit, but you’ll still get decent profit from just random choosing options too if minigames don’t interest you.

You can also send in your game developers into dungeons to look for key items required for game development skill tree upgrades. If you’re not sure where to get items required to upgrade your development skills or permits to unlock new regions, it’s just as easy as sending your developers out.

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Similar to real life, your game development company needs to have infinite growth for its shareholders. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

I would’ve preferred if the menuing was a bit easier in the mini-game and I wish its mechanics were explained better, but it’s not too bad to understand and there’s generally no punishment even if you do make the worst games. Usually it takes about 6 minutes in real-time to complete a game which can be reduced further with upgrades. I didn’t like this too much because it felt like I was forced to go into the minigame every few minutes to complete a job and then assign a new job to my game developers.

Maybe it would’ve been better if the developers made each job take longer but also reward higher too. Let’s say a 6 minute game makes 10000 CP, instead they could’ve made the mini-game such that games take 60 minutes to be made, and it makes 100000 CP, so that there’s less menu-ing every few minutes. Or give me the option to choose how long to develop games as well. The Legend of Legacy, for instance, lets you charter a ship to gather resources for several real-life hours at a time (about 1, 3 or 5 hours) that you can choose which affects how much pay but also how much you get back.

This game helps by showing a notification when a game development job has been completed, but I found it annoying because if you’re doing it right you’re getting a pop-up almost every 5 minutes, even during the main story cutscenes.

Progressing the game development mini-game is also somewhat required because you do need to produce a high quality game of a certain genre in the endgame and you do need some CP from the minigame to unlock regions required for story progression.

I found it odd that you can’t make a game of any genre you want at any time. You need to switch the building to change genres. For instance, you can unlock the RPG and visual novel buildings. When you go to make a game, it won’t let you just choose between RPG and visual novel when making games. You need to change to the RPG building to make an RPG, or you’ll need to change to the visual novel building to make a visual novel. You don’t need to re-build or spend any extra materials once you’ve constructed the building, but it felt very inconvenient to me. I would’ve preferred a map with all the buildings I constructed and the game just letting me choose a genre I want to make from a single menu.

Making games in the mini-game also lets you make discs, which are equippable items for your characters that carry bonuses or passive abilities. This side of game development is fun and it’s essentially a remade system of how discs were made in older Neptunia games.

It’s very easy to break the game using the discs, but this is true in most Neptunia games. For example, you can equip 3 discs to each character and if you use the same passive it pretty much becomes a guaranteed effect. I equipped 3 discs granting a critical up ability to my character and all of her moves, whether it be regular attacks or abilities, would always result in a critical attack no matter what!

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You can break the game by stacking abilities on your characters such as critical up abilities. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

You can increase the rate at which you earn currency, experience and more using discs. You unlock more characters as you progress (the other Neptunia characters such as the goddesses and their younger sisters) and they do have different move-sets. One boss fight even has you make 4 teams of 4 to fight 4 bosses in a sequence.

One downside is that a lot of the maps in this game you explore are recycled from the previous Neptunia game, Neptunia Sisters VS Sisters. Recycling content is nothing new in the Neptunia games, but it is a bit unfortunate because I was hoping to see more new maps to explore or at least a change in the map design with re-used assets, but the map and its map gimmicks such as pressing the exact same buttons to disable laser fields is identical. That game came out 2 years ago, but when I’m playing Game Maker today I was still able to remember how to finish the puzzles in the explorable regions from muscle memory alone which alone shows how much recycled content there is. The regions you explore somehow have a habit of feeling bland, even compared to the older Neptunia games.

Some maps are very narrow and have very aggressive enemies, especially compared to old games, meaning that in smaller cramped maps you have to fight or run from all the enemies, even if you’re already leveled and just need to get through it quickly. The game does let you use Neptune’s motorbike, but because most maps are cramped the motorbike keeps clipping with the edges of the maps or there won’t be enough space and you’ll still hit the enemy. The steering just doesn’t control well at all. I checked the upgrades for the motorbike but they didn’t help out.

Another game that implemented vehicles far better with more open areas is Trails into Reverie. I would’ve preferred if more of the maps were open so that you could make better use of the motorbike. Certain stages let you compete in time trials with the motorbike. I enjoy racing games a lot, even if it’s just a mini-game and not the main focus of the game.

Sadly, because many maps are cramped you’ll just keep getting caught on a tiny edge in a map like a rock sticking out, reducing your speed to zero and making you lose the race. Racing on Monaco in Gran Turismo felt like racing in a sprawling field compared to this game. The motorbike in this game makes you feel like a bull in a glassware shop!

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The motorbike is a great new addition, but unfortunately many areas are extremely cramped and hard to navigate in. (Image Credit: Idea Factory & Compile Heart)

The game is generally on the easier side as long as you exploit the disc mechanics and know the basics of attacking when the enemy is weak and defending when they’re unleashing attacks. You can even get counterattack after blocking if you have the right discs, and some discs let you upgrade your dodge dash or add more dashes.

Strangely, the bosses have much higher levels than the enemies in the surrounding region. I thought that maybe the developers wanted to make the bosses a bit more challenging to compensate for the easy gameplay (the regular enemies will never give you any trouble) but it also feels like the developers didn’t plan putting appropriately leveled enemies in the region well.

Some dungeons were very egregious with this, having a level 60 boss but the enemies would only be level 20-30. Even with experience-increasing discs I’d still only be able to get to level 40’s, so I kept fighting bosses far below their level. It’s not necessarily hard and the game thankfully doesn’t scale down damage if there’s a level difference.

Only 1 boss gave me a lot of trouble, who had a powerful attack that would stun-lock you within under a second and do the same to all your other party members, but otherwise most bosses are generally easy. This game unfortunately recycles its bosses too, which became tiring at points. Without mentioning spoilers, the final boss has a really huge level spike, so I had to keep grinding experience off of enemies in the final dungeon for a few hours. This title does have a lot of palette-swapped enemy designs too which do become tiring.

The dungeon design is decent and the developers have learned from previous games. Unlocking a save point in a dungeon lets you warp straight to the save point, so if you missed any collectibles you can go back and find them easily, or if you can’t defeat a boss you can reload then warp out to quickly buy new weapons and accessories then warp back in.

There’s always save points before boss fights except on the world map and the story events are always clearly marked unlike the old games that would accidentally trap you into a boss fight. Many dungeons also have shortcuts too that unlock as you are close to finishing them. The dungeon puzzles are fun too, such as matching colors of coal with a furnace and you transport the coal using a trolley in mines.

The game autosaves, but it’s not that useful. I’d recommend you to manual save, which can be done in the world map (warping out of dungeons at exit points or save points). The big issue with the autosave that made me dislike it is that it autosaves you immediately before a boss fight with no chance for the player to back out (there’s only 1 autosave slot that overwrites itself). This means you could potentially get soft-locked if you were under-leveled or had bad equipment before a boss fight.

Although most other Neptunia games have varying good and bad endings based on how you play it, this game instead have routes where you choose certain characters to hang out with more. I prefer this more because many old Neptunia games didn’t give clear indication requirements for the true endings and sometimes it was possible to lock yourself out of the best endings if you didn’t know the requirements beforehand and overwrote your saves. I liked being able to choose routes and to see more scenes with my character of choice and it offers better replay value rather than only going for a different ending scene. The routes combine and split off again at various points, so you don’t need to worry about one route ending earlier than the rest.

I criticized the game a lot, but it’s very pleasant to play. It took us 30 hours to complete the story. There isn’t much side content as the quests are usually generic “kill X number of enemies” or “find my friend in the zone” so your playtime will be similar whether you choose to only do the main story or if you want to do all sidequests. No matter what you’ll have to grind a little to beat the endgame bosses which pads the completion time somewhat.

The game is janky, but it makes up for it with its story and dialog. It has many references to video games, not just the video game industry but even to game development in general. It genuinely feels like the developers of this game were explaining how difficult game development is by having Neptune be the CEO of a game development company and showing the conflicts with pirates.

The main cast characters that are introduced represent older consoles such as the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO, but from their dialog in-game you can tell the game developers played on them back in the day from all of the correct references they make. I really liked all the old references they made, and for the first time in a while it felt like the main cast of characters were old and experienced rather than having young characters predominantly seen in JRPGs.

My only big gripes were the recycled maps from Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters as well as recycled enemy designs. The great characters and story make up for it and it’s a really fun franchise to get into if you’re a fan of JRPGs and want to see jokes regarding the video game industry.

If you’re not familiar with the Neptunia series and want to learn more about its other games, we have reviews for its many spinoffs:

Neptunia Game Maker R:Evolution

Our Score: Excellent

Pros

  • The real-time action gameplay is simple, but addictive. The battles are faster than turn-based gameplay.
  • The character designs are extremely well done and are fun to watch during cutscenes. The new characters introduced in this game are especially great with many references to consoles that were considered failures and financially unsuccessful.
  • The game development mini-game is fun and offers a change of pace. You can use it to create equippable discs to customize abilities for your characters.
  • The dialog is hilarious and the game has many references to older consoles, game development, and the video game industry in general.
Cons

  • Many maps are recycled 1:1 from the previous game, Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters with same puzzles and all. Enemies are mostly recycled as well from previous games.
  • Although the motorbike and races seem like it would be a great addition, the maps are too cramped and you’ll always hit the walls. It’s thankfully optional, but isn’t a good addition.
  • Many maps are too corridor-like and make it difficult to avoid enemy encounters. Enemies are more aggressive than previous games. Going back to previous dungeons feels repetitive due to too many enemies in corridors.
  • Many bosses have difficulty spikes. Regions don’t have consistent enemy levels, so although the enemies might be level 45 the boss in the same region would be level 75+. There is a big level grind required for the final boss.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on the PS5

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.



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