Genre: Music-themed hack n’ slack JRPG
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: March 2nd, 2021
Edited by AlexKnight2005
Like any franchise that has had its time in the limelight for over ten years, there comes this expectation that a developer might put out a game to honor that legacy in some way, be it small, yet compact, or large and potentially a new twist on the old formula. Neptunia Virtual Stars is an action JRPG with shooter elements developed by Idea Factory and Compile Heart. Later released by Idea Factory International that tried to mix the crazy antics of Neptune and the CPUs with v-tubers, a mixture that while it wasn’t bad, but needed some refinement.
Starting with a song, NVS as a story takes off in a more traditional flare, though it changes gears and puts the focus on the virtual world quickly. Our story begins with Neptune and the other CPUs being allowed access to a convention of technology and going to try out a VR experience. This quickly leads to Faira, the goddess of a digital planet pulling the girls into her own virtual space, alongside two rising v-tuber stars known as Me and You of Mewtral. Our story is laid bare to both parties involved, and after some rough calls, the two groups join forces to help Faira save not only the planet but Virtualand as a whole. Trouble is always brewing though, especially for evil, and Neptune needs to be ready.
As a story, I felt NVS had some solid core story concepts, and while some of these were executed well enough, more or less some felt tacked on in the end. The idea of Neptune and the goddess gang working to save another world, while it can be a bit stale, aims high at least by trying to infuse v-tubers into the mix, though as I will talk about in the gameplay section, outside of some cutscenes where the girls help and try to save them from becoming lost content, they act more as an enhancement tool.
Shooting to the rhythm of the music, NVS in terms of the gameplay behaves like a 3rd person shooter merged with the more familiar hack and slash gameplay of some spinoff titles. Let us begin with the hub world of Neotube Plaza. While not open right from the start and some shops are locked until further story segments are completed. This location acts as a hub for the player to trade in emotional spheres, the currency of the game, for restoration items, new accessories, and upgrade your open shops for better items. This location also shows prerecorded videos of various v-tubers giving messages of encouragement or funny segments that you might miss otherwise. The Neotube Plaza also gives access to the rhythm minigame called BeatTik Studios, where the players can take their character of choice to become a star on BeatTik for rewards and emotional spheres.
Having left the plaza, it’s time to save the world, and this is where NVS can get a bit shaky. Once in a world, the player either controls a pair of v-tubers or the CPUs, depending on your preference of playstyle. The v-tubers are paired as one melee, one ranged, and can be swapped between the two at any point, as long as they aren’t out of life or knocked down. Each character has skills they can use in combat as well as a forward/backward dash for movement around the field. The CPUs, on the other hand, are pure gun-based combat, with each CPU using a different gun type. They can also be swapped, same as the v-tubers, but instead of a dash, the CPUs get a rocket-type boost you can toggle on and off to move around the map quickly for exploration.
Combat appears zone by zone, with enemies varying from smaller cannon fodder to jailer-type enemies known as hunters, who hold v-tubers hostage. Beating them frees the v-tuber and allows the player to use them as v-cubes, an equipment item that gives stats such as life, defense, and attack to whatever character it is equipped to when on the battlefield. The last thing to note about the gameplay of NVS is the accessories, found in specially marked chests and can be equipped to a specific character for a bonus in combat, like the ability to be flinched or downed less.
As with most games, not everything in the gameplay is spot on, and it does show in NVS, starting with the v-tubers. As a v-tuber myself, I love the concept of showing videos throughout the world or the plaza of v-tubers, giving the player little messages of hope or acting out funny skits, but in reality, their roles get relegated to being an equipment piece for stats in the main worlds, alongside a special attack when you are controlling the v-tubers. Alongside this, the stats system is unbalanced as, without the v-cubes to buff stats like attack, it feels like you are hitting the enemy with a stick if using melee or shooting the enemy with blanks if playing as the CPUs. Finally, the load times between worlds go on a bit too long, ranging anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds in some places. This may be because of the videos that play between the world-changing, but once you have seen a video once, you tend to want to skip it and get back into the action.
Walking around the world, the visuals provided by NVS are unique, if nothing else. Visually, I feel like NVS takes the traditional dungeon crawling design from other entries and up it by one, using each world’s theme as a focal point. A good example of this is Novelia, with its grand library appearance and using items like books and digital prints of pages on the floor. This theme concept is carried throughout the game in each world, giving it an identity no other Neptunia games so far have. The models used for the characters, as well as the creatures you fight, are also top-notch, with most if not all being new designs with some solid animation when looking at it up close. The only complaint I would add is the v-tuber models can come off a tad shiny in some light sources with some visual clipping, as I noticed when a creature would get stuck on a stairwell and stretch the model out.
Bopping with a set of headphones, the sound design behind NVS stands out but can overtake the action around it from time to time. Musically, this is not a normal Neptunia style soundtrack, with many more synth notes and some electronic influence put in to fit the theme better, yet it oddly works in its way. You still get some occasional classical tones from other entries, but it goes out of its way to keep the digital world theme present. The sound effects also have been digitalized for the guns, something that is a nice touch to the world around it, but it can get lost in some worlds, unlike the more traditional clings and clangs of melee weapons remaining untouched.
As the virtual reality headset comes off, Neptunia Virtual Stars does its best to be a fun and interesting spinoff game, that while it can be at times, also falls flat in some places. The quick and zippy gameplay, non-combat element offerings provided a potentially interesting spin on the world-saving story, new and creative character designs, and a heavy focus on digitized sounds make this title stand out but not enough in the long run.
- An interesting story with some twists that can work
- Combat is quick and focused
- Fun optional non-combat elements
- Creative character design across the board
- A solid change of pace soundtrack
- Use of v-tubers as a fun element
- V-tubers felt more like a tie-in
- Load times were slow in multiple places
- Reliance on stats to feel powerful
DarkLunarDude gives Neptunia Virtual Stars a 7.0 out of 10.0 (70)
At the price of $49.99 on the Playstation Store, I can recommend Neptunia Virtual Stars but with a side note that the game can be grind-heavy and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you don’t play as many third-person shooters.