Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 reminds me of a glory day PlayStation 2 RPG, and I mean this in a far better way than it probably sounds. It’s not that the graphics are terribly dated (an aspect that most people are referring to when talking about the PS2 era), or that it’s overly obtuse or complicated, but it just has the feel of some of the better RPGs to come out during that period of time when the PS2 was really gaining traction around the world. It certainly isn’t the most modern RPG, and has some pretty odd quirks, but at the core of it all is a legitimately decent, funny RPG that fans of the genre can learn to enjoy.
In Re;Birth 1, you control Neptune, a goddess of Gamindustri that fell from a rather high height during a battle a subsequently lost her memories. After being taken care of by nurse-in-training Compa, the two set off to try to restore Neptune’s memories… which quickly leads to a clearly evil Arfoire and unusual game Discs that are spawning monsters all over the land. With that, Neptune impulsively decides that, since for some reason she can transform into a ultra powerful form, she’ll travel Gamindustri to find and destroy these Discs, and possibly find her memories along the way.
The story never takes itself seriously. Every scene from beginning to end is heavily laced with humor; whether that will amuse or grate on a player’s nerves really depends on if Re;Birth 1‘s comical style is to your liking. Since the goal of the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is to create a parody of the video game industry and the on-going ‘console wars’, so the game is packed with industry references and jabs at games in general. It is usually witty and funny, but it the humor can also get a bit tiresome during longer cutscenes.
However, battles in Re;Birth 1 are anything but cute and funny. This remake ditches the original game’s battle system in favor for the Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory system, and it really is an improvement. You can move around the field during your turn (limited to a certain range depending on your Mov stat), and execute a combo of normal attacks or unleash a skill. All of these different attacks have different ranges, and if you manipulate the hit box you can even hit multiple foes. This adds a strategic element to every battle, as positioning is very important in ensuring you do the most damage and not take too much damage yourself in turn.
There’s also the important aspect of the Guard bar. When an enemy still has its Guard bar, any attack you do will do far less damage. The best way to defeat an enemy effectively is to quickly whittle the foe’s Guard bar quickly with certain types of attacks, and then bust out the skills and powerful attacks once the bar is depleted. This tactic becomes especially important in boss battles, where their wealth of HP makes it so that battles would last significantly longer if their Guard is left unchecked.
There are actually many more layers to the battle system, as well as unique mechanics for exploring dungeons and quests. EX Finishers, skills used by linking characters, Plans, Shares, customizing combos, Hidden Treasure… the list goes on for far longer, and I’m sure it’d make for a boring review to go over them all. The problem is, not all of these many mechanics are appropriately explained. It’s Re;Birth 1’s biggest downfall: There’s simply too much going on, and while not all of it felt necessary in the first place, you need to understand and utilize most of these mechanics in order to progress smoothly throughout the game. For example, if you ignore quests and don’t go to extra dungeons, you won’t have enough materials to make Weapon and Armor Plans and will be short on funds to buy expensive recovery items. It can make Re;Birth 1 feel a little tedious at times, though the level of depth the battle system itself can make the grind a bit more fun.
Given that, you can see that Re;Birth 1 is a challenging game. You can’t simply glide through the story without opposition, and the game is not afraid to beat you down with normal encounters if you’re underleveled or back-to-back boss encounters if you failed to stock up on items. This can be a bit frustrating, given the time it can take to work through a challenging boss battle, only to have to try and succeed again with a weakened party, but overall Re;Birth 1 is just calling back to a genre norm that has mostly been underused in recent years. Of course, they could be just a frustrating back in the day as they are now, but really the overall challenge is welcome for genre veterans.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 isn’t perfect. It’s absolutely drowning in extraneous gameplay mechanics, and the game’s brand of humor is not going to hit it off with everyone. But, it’s a wonderful addition to the Vita library for RPG fans that enjoy a lot of silliness with their plots and dungeons (even if said dungeons repeat upon themselves visually). If you are an RPG fan, Re;Birth 1 worth is looking into… and if you’re a Hyperdimension Neptunia fan already, this remake improves upon the original game’s issues enough to warrant a purchase and another playthrough.