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The Sexy Anime Games that Make Fun Of Gaming Harder Than You Can Imagine

The Sexy Anime Games that Make Fun Of Gaming Harder Than You Can Imagine:

In 2011 I played a brand new Japanese game called Hyperdimension Neptunia. It was about four women characters who were the personification of game consoles—three represented the big systems of the day, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and the Wii, and the fourth stood for the long-ago-scrapped Sega Neptune. The world of this game was called “Gamindustri.”

Hyperdimension Neptunia was a parody, one that lampooned the real-life game business and all its weird baggage. Five years later, Neptunia is a franchise that refuses to relent, having somehow spawned eight other games since 2011 (including this week’s Megadimension Neptunia VII) with two others on the way. I’ve played a bunch of them, but it was only recently that I understood just how deep its jokes at the expense of video games ran.

Every Neptunia game has been sharply written and funny. Like, really on point, particularly to a curmudgeon journalist like me. Here’s a fairly typical example of one of the series’ jokes, from Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed (an action-oriented spinoff title):n the characters discover that for the first time ever their outfits will tear and become super revealing when they take damage in battle.

This joke has everything: breaking the fourth wall, complaining about “fan service”—a term that describes when a game or movie or other fictional media gratuitiously sexualizes female characters, for example by making their clothes tear during a fight—and even directly speaking to the game’s publisher about issues the characters have with the way the game is designed. Neptunia games are full of this kind of stuff, and I love it.

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However, the games in this franchise have all been kinda shitty to play. One could chalk this up to budgetary limitations, or how often publisher Idea Factory churns them out. But over the holidays as I played Hyperdimension Neptunia U for the first time, another possibility popped into my head: maybe these games are shitty on purpose.

I remember the reviews of the original game, which was mostly about wandering through randomized hallways meeting monsters in tedious bouts of Final Fantasy-style combat, complaining about how the those hallways were painfully monotonous mazes. And that’s true; you’d go around these tunnels that had the same textures copied and pasted along the floors and walls like gaudy wallpaper with only a handful of variations in style, and after 50 hours of looking at it you’d be liable to go crazy.

The first spinoff in the series was Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, a game that purported to combine a visual novel with a Japanese idol simulation. That is to say the bulk of the game is the stuff that Neptunia does so well (hokey storytelling and jokes) with our heroines occasionally performing concerts in a twisted new phase of the console wars.

In a normal idol sim, like The Idolmaster, you’d have to play a rhythm game during the concert parts. In Hyperdimension Neptunia PP you just sort of produce a video of the show by moving the camera around and cutting to various shots. It only barely matters what you do, though, to the game’s story. Rightfully, some folks wondered why they even bothered with the pretense of gameplay. I was just happy the game’s focus was squarely on what I considered the best aspect in the series (the jokes).

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With Hyperdimension Neptunia U, the sexy anime lady versions of two well-known Japanese gaming magazines, Dengeki and Famitsu, are writing stories about our sexy anime game console lady protagonists. They want to see the goddesses in action, so they ask them to go do quests. Any quests, whatever, who cares, just do stuff. What this involves, on the player’s part, is fighting in a bunch of large scale battles, typically in arena settings. They aren’t dungeons, and there’s no storytelling while you’re in them, and the quests almost always just involve killing X number of monsters or a boss. These fights aren’t difficult at all, and button mashing will get the job done, and every so often you’ll get a story scene.

After hours and hours of this mindless repetition, you get to the final boss, which was an old discarded console prototype who just wanted to play games with the others and the only way she knew how to do that was by seeding the world with monsters. She just wanted to be a gamer. Our heroes respond like, “ oh, huh, that was weird and dumb and pointless, huh.” And that’s when it clicked.

THE PUNCHLINE

Throughout the game, the joke was that Neptune and friends were doing quests basically for no reason other than so game journalists could write puff pieces about them. After they’ve been doing them for a while, they start wondering why there are so many quests to do in the first place. In the end, they realize it all happened for dumb video game reasons and none of it really mattered. And that’s the joke through the whole series.

Characters regularly remark on the quality of the writing from the (actual) developers of the game. In Producing Perfection, each of the four main characters has a shower scene—Neptune remarks that she understands why the writers would insert that kind of fan service but they can’t show much because it’s a T(een)-rated game.

So why not assume the humor, when it’s that pointed, extends to the gameplay itself? This is a series in which some off the monsters you fight are stereotypical depictions of nerds. Characters joke about quirks in the translation of their dialogue from Japanese to English. Vert, the character who represents Xbox, has a lot of great ideas for games that could feature shoehorned-in motion controls (referencing the Kinect camera that Microsoft pushed so hard for years). There’s even navel-gazing jokes in the PlayStation Network trophies you get from the games, like this in Neptunia U:

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It goes on and on like this, always looking inward at the game industry and games culture for comedy fodder. The idea that the gameplay itself is part of the joke isn’t an outlandish prospect.

The developer of Neptunia U is a company called Tamsoft Corporation, and what they did for the battles in this game was seemingly copy and paste almost exactly from their Senran Kagura franchise. No, really, go watch gameplay video from a Senran Kagura game side by side with Neptunia U gameplay and if you didn’t know what you were looking at you’d probably think they were the same game.

The next game in the franchise, coming in March, is another spinoff called MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies. That game is also developed by Tamsoft. It also has the exact same gameplay as Senran Kagura. Somehow, though, the plot is about the four main characters of the series as high school girls trying to raise money to keep their school from closing by making a movie.

It’s hard for me to look at that, from here, and think of any way strapping endless hack n slash nonsense on that story could be anything other than a punchline.

I can’t wait to play it.


Phil Owen is a freelance journalist and critic based in Los Angeles. He tweets for free at @philrowen.


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