I’ve played a lot of irritating games, but no game has ever felt so purposefully irritating as Neptunia Virtual Stars.
Despite ditching the series’ RPG roots and leaving the typical setting of ‘Gamindustri’ behind, Neptunia Virtual Stars feels very much like a typical Neptunia game in its tone and storytelling. This time, the Goddesses – Neptune, Noire, Vert and Blanc – find themselves in Virtualand, where they’ve been recruited in order to fight invaders who have stolen all of the world’s ‘Content’. Frankly, I soon gave up on the story; it’s filled with cringe-worthy one-liners and a ridiculous plot line that occasionally meanders a bit too much for its own good.
The action is what Virtual Stars is all about; in the thick of it, it feels very much like a dungeon crawler. You’ll make your way through various maps which become more labyrinthine as you progress, picking up items, fighting enemies and finding your way to the exit. The Goddesses wield guns this time, though they’re joined by “VTubers” You and Me, who wield a sword and crossbow. More characters join the fray later on, too. Whether you want to play the game as a shooter or hack-and-slash, then, is up to you.
You can freely switch between characters and playstyle at any time. It’s likely you’ll find your preference sooner rather than later, though your choice might not be based on who has the better weapon; you’ll likely choose the character with the least annoying voice. Prepare to want to turn your volume way down while playing.
Neptunia Virtual Stars could be the best game in the world (it’s not), but it does one ridiculous thing that deems it almost too irritating to play. Every time your character attacks or jumps, they’ll say a line of dialogue. And, as you can imagine, in the heat of a battle, your character does a lot of attacking. Essentially then, you’re constantly barraged with the same one or two lines of dialogue. Because there’s no English audio and no subtitles on these parts, I’ve no idea what they say. Does that make it better or worse? I’m undecided. I imagine hearing “take this!” or “you’re going to die!” on an endless loop is equally as painful.
That’s not the only thing that makes Neptunia Virtual Stars annoying. Combat, regardless of what character type you’re playing as, just isn’t much fun. It quickly jumps from being mindlessly easy to cheap and frustrating. Around the midway point, you’ll go from one-hit killing most enemies to constantly needing to heal as you’re spammed by ranged attacks. Up to a dozen enemies will spawn at once, several of them firing rockets or bullets at you. And when you’re surrounded – often stood on a small platform – it’s almost impossible to effectively dodge.
It’s situations like these that the game expects you to switch between characters, and while the Goddesses and the VTubers do offer up different experiences, it’s not like either one is superior to the other. As the Goddesses, you can attack at range, and can shoot while moving – but the lack of a real dodge movement and no ability to lock on to an enemy makes it frustrating. The VTubers are more nimble on their feet, can lock on to enemies and have a better dodge mechanic – but their need to get up-close and personal puts them at a bigger disadvantage. Ultimately, it rarely feels like you have an advantage one way or another, so you’ll likely stick with one character with no real reason to switch.
Some of Virtual Stars‘ systems are also needlessly complex. Boss battles, for example, are music based; a song plays, and different sections on the song are represented in different colours on a moving bar. That colour represents whether you or your opponent has the advantage. Supposedly, anyway. But it’s seemingly irrelevant; the tactic of not paying attention to anything and simply laying into the boss as you would any other enemy works just as well.
But it’s not all terrible. If you do care to pay attention to Neptunia Virtual Stars‘ narrative, you’ll likely chuckle at one or two moments of dialogue. It’s not the sort of thing to be taken seriously, and if you’re already invested in the Neptunia universe you’ll likely get a bigger kick out of it. It’s also rather nice to look at, despite not being at the sharpest resolution. It’s bright, colourful, and the character designs are as delightful as ever. There’s a wacky selection of enemies, and the locations – from a universe that rips off Twitter to a world made entirely of sweets – are inventive and fun. Even the soundtrack – aside from the horrendous vocal sound bites – is rather pleasant, with plenty of upbeat melodies and j-pop setting the tone.
Should you play Neptunia Virtual Stars? Unless you’re a fan of the quirky Goddesses, I’d give this one a wide berth. Sure, shooting a range of weird and wonderful enemies is fun for a while, but if third person shooting or hacking-and-slashing is what you’re after, there are way better games to do that in. Ultimately, its annoyances far outweigh its pros, and there’s not much here worth sticking around for.
Neptunia Virtual Stars Review: GameSpew’s Score