Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is... good.
Pardon the italics, but surprise is a tough emotion to convey in a written review and I did not have high hopes for this one. In my experience, spinoffs of fanservice-focused Japanese franchises tend to just be excuses for diehard fans to spend more time with their favourite female characters, meaning that gameplay is an afterthought and quality suffers badly as a result. After all, many will pay to virtually hang out with their waifu whatever the cost, so why bother putting in the effort?
To be clear, Hyperdevotion Noire definitely is an excuse to get more intimate with Noire and the Hyperdimension Neptunia girls in some very compromising situations, but there's much more to it than that. It's a full-fat Strategy RPG created by Sting, an SRPG developer of considerable repute, that's powered by solid mechanics, handsome visuals and strives to be a good tie-in first and foremost. And succeeds, at least, more than enough to be taken seriously.
As per usual, Hyperdevotion Noire is a parody of the videogames industry, set in a colourful Sci-Fi fantasy world in which warring nations are console manufacturers battling for market share, lead by powerful (if very moe) female warrior goddesses. Noire heads up Lastation, Vert fronts Leanbox, Blanc represents Lowee and previous protagonist Neptune inexplicably still champions Planeptune despite SEGAs questionable relevance, and their fierce rivalry for fans and shares is still going strong. However, a nefarious plot ends up stripping them of their powers, forcing them to band together under Noire's leadership to reunite their scattered generals and save Gamarket once and for all.
Once again, the game is full of references to classic and modern videogames, with enemies based on characters from familiar franchises and fourth wall-shattering gags aplenty, but Hyperdevotion Noire takes things one step further and seizes an opportunity that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2 couldn't be bothered to explore. Not only are the four main characters well-observed homages to the console manufacturers in terms of art design and personality, but all of the generals you'll fight, meet and recruit are all very clever personifications of Japanese gaming franchises.
From Metal Gear Solid to Final Fantasy, Resident Evil and Dragon Quest, these peripheral characters all act and fight like their obvious inspirations, whether hiding in cardboard boxes, calling on summons or squabbling over whether their franchise is the best, calling the long-term rivary between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy to mind. You'll also encounter plenty of cameos from legally-distinct versions of gaming characters, whether The King Of All Cosmos or even Famitsu magazine.
The writing isn't as sharp as it could have been despite sterling translation work, meaning that a great many references aren't fully developed into actual jokes. Pointing out that Solid Snake likes hiding in boxes may be accurate, for example, but it's not intrinsically funny beyond basic brand recognition. Thankfully there's enough brand recognition to ensure that you'll be smirking quietly throughout, while dialogue flows well and is as frothy, bubbly and enjoyable as you'd expect.
Prepare to be shocked and amazed: there's also plenty of fanservice. No-one? Fair enough, since Compile Heart's games are always ridiculously heavy on moe and sexual imagery and Hyperdevotion Noire is no exception. On the one hand, the fact that you'll actually assume the role of Noire's unnamed secretary lets you directly get closer to her and the rest of the cast, whether helping her sort out issues with her fanbase, decorating her apartment or enjoying a great deal of innuendo as you enter a sort-of-Tsundere sort-of-romance while the other characters egg her on. It's sweet and earnest, if a bit cloying and obvious. Less tasteful, though, is plenty of nudity and sexual situations that push for an 16+ rating, which will either be a selling point or a dealbreaker depending on your tastes.
I'm not here to judge... well I am, technically, as a reviewer... but I'll leave this one up to you. Personally, I enjoyed it in a slightly self-loathing kind of way. Perhaps that's because I'm more of a Vert fan myself.
Now let's talk gameplay before I get a stereotypical anime nosebleed.
Once you've selected a mission, you'll deploy your characters onto a grid-based battlefield that functions much like any SRPG you've played before. Units can move a set number of spaces and attack or use a skill once per turn, which is basic stuff but very well executed. Facing and elevation is incredibly important in terms of attack damage and counters, there's a huge number of offensive skills and buffs to consider, units can be lifted and thrown around to access higher platforms (a nod to Disgaea, methinks) and the all-important numbers are laid out at-a-glance, letting you make informed decisions about your strategy.
The RPG side of things is also incredibly robust, drawing directly on Re;Birth 1's selection of OTT special moves, in-depth stats and craftable equipment. As such, the action is strong, capable, enjoyable and challenging as your enemies become tougher and more numerous, brought to life with a charming chibi aesthetic that makes the cast subconsciously resemble pieces on a chess board, perfectly fitting the gameplay.
Some missions also introduce terrain hazards and obstacles such as moving platforms, electrified barriers or mines, adding an extra
hyperdimension to work around and providing some light puzzling. At best, it works well, but it can also lead to many battles dragging on for far too long as you wait for the right conditions to advance and then painstakingly move each of your characters individually through the danger zone. This leads to sluggish pacing and repetition, a problem compounded by a number of design decisions that look good on paper but don't quite work in practice.
Units can accumulate Love Points by triggering special moves when standing next to allied units in adjacent squares, which decreases the mana cost of the skill, deepens their relationship with one another (much like Fire Emblem) and grants resources to trigger some of the more devastating abilities. By kissing each other, because... Compile Heart. A nice idea that, in reality, encourages you to slowly advance as a group rather than experimenting with more risky tactics.
There's also a frankly stupid number of status effects that will debilitate and hobble your party, which theoretically adds an extra challenge but instead just provides an extra layer of aggravation and forces you to stock up on an obscene clutch of consumables. Coupled with the fact that each individual enemy cycles through their turns even when idle, many of the battles ask for more of your time than really ought to be necessary.
And then we come to the grind. Thick, gloopy, triple-strength globs of the stuff. Like the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, you'll have to continually and replay levels to push your squad through difficulty spikes and find random ingredients to assemble into the best gear. This might have been fine given the strength of the core gameplay, but falls short of the mark here due to the fact that you'll find yourself in the same environments over and over again, fighting the same bosses until they finally drop the item you need, and all in battles that take too long much of the time.
But at the end of the day, one man's grind is another fan's content, and I'm content with what Hyperdevotion Noire brings to the table. That sounded smarter in my head, in fairness. What matters is that, while never quite managing to be truly great, what Sting and Compile Heart have accomplished is more than worth buying if you're into the genre and especially if you're into the CPU of Lastation.
- Solid strategic gameplay backed up by robust and detailed RPG systems
- Well-observed characters and referential parody humour
- Loads of content, crisp and adorable chibi visuals
- Fanservice on lock
- Sluggish pacing due to ridiculous status effects, map hazards and slow enemy turns
- Grindy and repetitious
- Lots of references, but fewer actual jokes; sexual imagery will deter some players
The Short Version: Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is a surprisingly competent strategy RPG with solid mechanics, great stylised visuals, plenty of content and well-observed videogame parody humour. Not to mention an extraordinary amount of risqué fanservice for those who love Hyperdimension Neptunia.
Though pacing issues and other concerns hold it back from being truly great, what's here is still very impressive and well worth considering for fans of the genre or franchise -- and essential if you're a fan of both.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Platform: PS Vita (reviewed)
Publisher: Idea Factory