In February of 2011, Compile Heart and Idea Factory released the Western version of Hyperdimension Neptunia, a game that had debuted in Japan the year before. It was a combination of visual novel narrative and JRPG gameplay with turn-based combat, and it was there that we met the goddesses of Gamindustri, with Neptune as the main protagonist.
Fast-forward two decades and Hyperdimension Neptunia is now one of the most popular Japanese video game series, still parodying everything related to gaming but now exploring several new genres, from TCG to danmaku shooting, and let's not forget that weird rhythm game that's not really a rhythm game.
To celebrate this twentieth anniversary, they released Neptunia Virtual Stars (aka VVVTune in Japan), a title that features not only the goddesses of Gamindustri but also several virtual YouTubers from the real world—well, if they're virtual, they're obviously not real, but you get the idea...
A Silly Premise That Actually Works (Sometimes)
Virtual Stars takes place on a planet called Emote, existing inside a virtual dimension known as Virtualand. When the evil Anti monsters led by Kado, ruling goddess of Obsoletia, attacked planet Emote, digital goddess Faira had no choice but to ask for help from any entity nearby. And guess who answered that call? You got it, Neptune and friends, but they are not the only ones summoned by Faira!
Although playing as Neptune, Vert, Noire, or Blanc is possible, there are several playable Vtubers, like Me and You—those are their names—from idol unit MEWTRAL. Later on, you can unlock more characters, but there's something you need to know: the girl you choose also defines how the game is played. Neptune and friends use guns, all of them with different fire rates and charged attacks, whereas Vtubers use melee weapons.
2 Flawed Games in 1
This is basically a 3D dungeon crawler with RPG mechanics (leveling up, gears that improve your stats, collectible items, etc.), but it's strange to see a game that changes so much according to your preferred character. Playing as the goddesses of Gamindustri and killing all enemies from a distance feels like cheating; on the other hand, going for a melee-focused run with the Vtubers is a frustrating endeavor that somehow feels more rewarding and more in line with the setting. When you reach a boss stage, it's the exact opposite, as melee weapons are not even viable in some fights.
In fact, weapons are not the only thing that changes. Gamindustri goddesses' life bar uses a chunk system, meaning you can only take 10 hits before dying. Vtubers, however, use the good old HP system. This not only affects how enemy damage is calculated but also how you spend your healing items, but since you can swap characters as you go, it's not like you can concentrate on just one mechanic; some items only work for Vtubers, some only work for the goddesses, and some make much more sense to be used on one group than the other.
Unfortunately, it won't take you long to notice that both styles are flawed. Some games are optimized for a specific character and playstyle but still give you options as an extra feature, and that's fine, but Neptunia Virtual Stars' messy gameplay never actually clicks. Maybe some people will find it fun, and we know Neptunia games never take themselves too seriously, but why couldn't this game follow some basic rules?
Is This Digital World Worth Saving?
Some levels actually look nice, like the colorful second stage, inspired by sweets and cakes. However, the first level design is so dull and uninviting that most people won't even finish it. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if they leave thinking that all levels are as bad as the first one. And they won't be that wrong, because reaching the third area destroys your expectations again. Not only do most dungeons look hideous, but they're also tedious to explore. Enemies are no better, with awful design and abusing of lazy palette-swapping and resizing to simulate variation.
For us, planet Emote is not worthy of exploration, but that's just our opinion. In the end, Hyperdimension Neptunia games have never been about great game design or fantastic graphics, so maybe some fans will like it?
Another thing you need to take into account is your knowledge and passion for Vtubers. In Japan, there are hundreds of virtual stars, and some of them are pretty famous. For us not in Japan, these characters will probably mean nothing as they're not familiar to us, so we won't appreciate all these cameos. For what it's worth, Virtual Stars features loading screens starring over a dozen of Vtubers from Hololive, Game Club Project, Horror Academian, Aogiri High School Game Club, ReVdol!, and many more.
With so many defects and being so centered around Japanese Vtubers, we can't really recommend this game to anyone that's not a fan of the Neptunia saga or would play it just to see their favorite virtual idols in a game for a few seconds. If you still want to give it a chance, it's already available on the PS4, with a PC version coming to Steam at the end of the month.