While the Neptunia series is largely recognized for its steady stream of JRPG releases, Action Unleashed is a new frontier for the series. Bringing on Tamsoft, the developer infamous for their busty-ninja-brawler series Senran Kagura, this side-story is not just a breath of fresh air, but what I hope will become the first of many Neptunia U’s to come.
A third-person brawler more akin to Dynasty Warriors than Final Fantasy, Action Unleashed puts you in the fray as you take on episodic missions filled to the brim with enemies. You can form teams of two from eight different characters, each with distinct fighting styles and abilities. The four main CPUs – Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert – are joined by their proteges Nepgear, Uni, Rom and Ram, as well as Gamindustri journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu.
The world of Gamindustri is still the campy parody that it has always been, and the story is equal parts B-movie goodness. Monsters are appearing in excessive amounts, and a mysterious foe is threatening to destroy the CPUs and their nations. The plot is really just a vehicle to set up cool areas to fight in, but the writers seem acutely aware of that fact, opting for gags and laughs rather than feigned drama.
Taking these hordes of monsters on comes in the form of Quests, ranging from having to kill a quota of enemies or special bosses to the more obscure. Mystery Quests have unspecified objectives, and while those are sometimes easy to suss out from the description or once the mission has started, others are muddled even with the hints given. Puzzles are fun and can provide interesting change-ups in gameplay style, but it gets frustrating repeating the same mission several times because you can’t figure out why you aren’t doing damage to the enemies.
With both a rating and medal system, Tamsoft wants you to replay and excel, getting the best possible rank in each mission – luckily, the combat is so addictive, that this isn’t a tall order to ask. Alternating between light and strong attacks, as well as a few special abilities, Action Unleashed’s combat is a striking mix between simple and fluid. While not as complex as other brawlers, the simplicity of inputs still allows for interesting mix-ups on the fly – while light-light-strong might be a quick flurry attack, light-strong-strong might be a nice knock-up-into-ground-pound combination, which you could then follow up with a special attack or transition into a new combo.
That’s just one example, but the fighters are so varied and interesting that you’ll find yourself switching between playstyles fairly often, and movesets vary even more when you factor in HDD transformations. Combos and body counts fill up your Drive gauge, which you can use to transform into a more powerful HDD mode. Dengekiko, for example, is a balanced mid-range fighter with a long-range special parodying Misaka from A Certain Scientific Railgun.
When she transforms, though, she becomes lightning-fast, turning into a ball of lighting that zips around the screen annihilating foes. While all your moves and abilities are souped-up in HDD mode, sometimes you need to wipe the screen of enemies, and by expending the rest of your Drive gauge you can use your Super move, a massive damage-dealing attack that will thin the horde down to nothing. You can also tag out to your second fighter, if you don’t want to keep burning your Drive gauge, and let them handle the fighting while you build up more Drive for your HDD-enabled companion.
There’s a lot of ways to take down the hundreds of enemies you’ll encounter; whether a Space Invader, walking sunflower or evil personification of a dating sim they all fell under the blade, and at the end of each Quest my KO count often numbered over several-hundred downed. Don’t take that for granted, though, as the difficulty spikes pretty fast once you’ve passed the early stages of Action Unleashed. One of my biggest gripes with the game is that it takes so dang long to get to the good stuff, with the first chapter consisting mostly of power-levelling your ten characters against pretty easy enemies. When the difficulty jumps, it will probably surprise you – you’ll go from taking out missions at first glance to having to prep, consider equipment and determine what team you want to use.
When you get slapped silly by the sudden surge of enemy strength (and trust me, you will), you’ll quickly become accustomed with one of the more regrettable mechanics of Action Unleashed: Costume Break. Tamsoft’s Senran Kagura lineage shines through brightly in that, once you’ve taken enough damage, your clothes rip into tattered pieces, barely clinging on to your fighter’s frame. These cutscenes are skippable and there are “unbreakable” outfits you receive as you work through the first chapter, but the downside is that Costume Break is actually beneficial to your fighters. Their stats increase, and you gain health and Drive back, meaning that often in harder missions, I would purposefully take hits to be able to reactivate HDD form.
That visual aside, though, Action Unleashed is surprisingly gorgeous for a Vita game. The visuals are bright and colorful, Super abilities are huge spectacles of lights and explosions, and characters look fantastic. The tradeoff is that there is a load time between pretty much any screen, but they’re still surprisingly quick loads, never making me wait longer than about ten seconds.
The areas you fight in are varied, but they tend to be contained dungeons rather than large expanses. Most will often be one sequestered room where enemies spawn, which doesn’t really let you go hunting for objectives but allows for a huge number of enemies to be displayed on-screen. I was a little disappointed that the areas were essentially backgrounds, though, and I would’ve liked to see missions involve the area a bit more in their objectives.
When you aren’t beating the baddies down in those bright, colorful arenas, you can switch out character equipment, purchase upgrades with medals, and watch quick skits between the characters that sometimes open up new Quests. There’s a fair amount of customization options, and plenty of upgrades to earn to help ease the difficulty of later missions.
Action Unleashed also has a ton of replayability, in the form of both New Game Plus and a special arena-style mode with challenges to overcome. There are medals to earn and even a forced-level-1 difficulty setting to conquer, so you’ll likely get plenty of playtime out of this handheld brawler.
More than anything, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed just had me craving more. More missions, more customization options and weapons, more fighters, more everything. Tamsoft has proven they can not only port their formula to the Neptunia universe, but that the melding of the two created one of the best Neptunia games I’ve played. Action Unleashed opens up the series to a lot of players who wouldn’t have tried a Neptunia game otherwise, and hopefully Compile Heart will continue working with Tamsoft to build this new venture up into the future.
By the way Tamsoft, since you’re now doing parodies of gaming outlets, I have a few Gaming Trend mock-ups to send your way. Hit me up and we can chat weapons and movesets.