Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 review
I can't believe it's not kusoge!
The story of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 isn't really anything special. It's ultimately just kind of a generic save-the-world adventure story and the actual substance is in the (comedic) character interactions more than anything else. I don't think I can claim to have loved the story, but I did find it charming in its own way. At least I don't regret reading through it. The English translation seems a bit liberal, but not to a degree that it'd completely ruin the entire thing either.
The combat is surprisingly good. There's kind of a good rhythm to the whole thing, where you first try to get a sneak attack in the overworld, then take turns in the battle to position yourself optimally, chip away at the enemy's shields and then deal heavy damage to them. During boss fights you would also look to optimise the mileage you get out of your powerful EX skills too. It's also fairly fast-paced, with the possibility to skip most of the animations, so you can really charge through your battles.
And boy is it a good thing the combat feels as good as it does since this game leans very heavily on grinding to pad out the game. I don't think there's any way to get through the story without grinding. You just won't get the levels to clear all the level check bosses. I had trouble beating a couple of the bosses, both early in the game and late in the game, and when I searched for tips in case I missed something, most of the advice on the Internet was "grind more". So if there's a way to beat the game without grinding, it went unnoticed by me and seemingly the rest of the Internet too.
The grinding also extends to the achievements. About half of the achievements for this game require grinding, be it for character levels or money. The amount of grinding is pretty mental. Really has this "low budget, must stretch out the game somehow" thing written all over it.
Not to say that there's no aspect for battle tactics and gameplay. For example, I lost to a boss, restarted the fight and then won the second bout. No grinding needed in the between the attempts. However, I'm not sure if the victory game down to skills or just luck. I feel like there's a limited amount of things you can do in regards to your tactics when the boss has the ability to insta-kill two members from your three-member party. It's quite possible that the boss just unleashed less of its wave of death area-of-effect attacks on my party on the latter attempt.
The rest of the game mechanics are kinda lame. The quests feel like they were added to check a checkbox, same as with the colosseum. And the share balancing act that you need to do in order to unlock the true ending or to unlock the little sisters is also not amazing, especially since it'll involve those quests and colosseum. Not massively time consuming thankfully, but still a bit of a mindless grind, doing the same things again and again to shift some percentages around.
Technically the game isn't the best. While I do like the art, despite the fact that the game reuses assets like it's going out of fashion, the graphics felt so bad and blurry at the beginning that I felt the need to install the Neptastic Mod on my Steam Deck. That did certainly help the game look nicer, although the FPS would not necessarily always be a stable 60 FPS. It also felt like the FPS would gradually get worse as I kept the game open as the Steam Deck was asleep. I think I went from around 40 FPS to 60 FPS in the same dungeon by just simply restarting the game. Deck users beware.
But in general, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 does run pretty well on a Steam Deck. Maybe not as well as you'd expect considering that this is originally a PlayStation Vita game, but well enough even with the modding. Combined with the fast-paced combat and heavy focus on grinding, it makes for a pretty decent portable time killer when you have a couple of minutes to do something. Not really sure if I'd ever want to actually sit in front of my gaming PC and play through this game. It just doesn't feel like that kind of a game (quite possibly due to its Vita roots), which is why I played it from start to finish on the Steam Deck. Fairly certain even that I beat most of the game while sitting on the toilet.
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 is a bit of a messy game with good core gameplay loop and enough charm to keep you around. For the couple of euro I paid for it, it did make for some good portable entertainment. Just don't really expect much beyond that from it.