Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfectiong taught me about gaming outside of my comfort zone

Whether we prefer JRPGs, first-person shooters, open-world adventure titles, or twitchy, casual-friendly smartphone timewasters, we all have our gaming comfort zones.

Given my druthers, I'll pick a pixelated old school RPG 9 times out of 10 - but I'm not opposed to branching out every now and again.  I had the opportunity to branch out professionally when an oddball title landed in my review queue - Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection.

I was only dimly aware of Hyperdimension Neptunia before this game - and had heard that NIS America was localizing some off-the-wall idol simulator, so I tidied up some free space on my Vita, fired up Wikipedia to see what I've been missing with Neptunia, and set to work on it.

What I couldn't have predicted was how much freaking fun I had with the game.

So, some quick background - Hyperdimension Neptunia's a franchise which follows the antics of the last-gen consoles (Wii, Xbox, PS3) and a fictional Sega box called the Neptune.

Each console is represented by a CPU (Console Patron Unit) goddess, all of which take the form of coquettish anime ingénues.

The Neptunia games themselves are meta-RPGs, but Producing Perfection is a non-canonical idol simulator...which basically means that it's a rhythm game, only without the rhythm component.

Thus, instead of matching beats or engaging in turn-based battles, all you really need to do in Producing Perfection is train your idols to sing and dance a bit better, make sure they don't have a nervous breakdown (seriously, there are trophies for letting them snap), and help them earn some fans along the way by arranging PR events.

During the concerts that you inevitably watch the idols perform, your job is to juggle camera angles and time special effects to max out the audience's happiness.

Note: actual audience happiness does not need to be impregnated

What was truly bizarre about the whole experience was how silly and compelling it was.

At no point can I say that I genuinely cared about my idol's health and well-being, but I got a flash of anger and resolve whenever I saw her single drop down a single spot in the weekly rankings.

That said, Producing Perfection is not a terribly difficult game by any stretch, and its visual novel format makes it an easy one to skate through while eating breakfast.  Without trying too hard, I breezed my way to the good end on my first playthrough in about five hours.

So what made it so good, then?  It delivered a gaming experience that I had no idea even existed.

Rhythm games certainly have their appeal, but idol simulators are a much rarer sort of game here in the west.  Sure, they have their import-happy fans - but for the most part, it's a genre so niche that few gamers are even aware of its existence.

The thing is, I was so stuck in my comfort zone of games stocked to the ceiling with healing potions and unhelpful NPCs that I stopped appreciating the broader appeal of games as a whole.

Producing Perfection was a reminder to me that there's a whole wide world of games out there that I've never tried, and thanks to it I'm now signed up to lose hundreds of hours of my life to Animal Crossing.

I'm not saying you need to pick up a Vita and Producing Perfection right this minute - the game was fun, but certainly had its flaws - but what you absolutely should do is head to your game source of choice be it Amazon, Steam, GameStop, or the App Store and poke around for an interesting game in a genre that you're not typically into.

Better yet, browse around a little for a type of game you've never even heard about - a game like Gone Home for example - and wait for a sale on it.

When it drops to a price you can justify, grab it, set aside some time for it, and approach it with an open mind.

It's the same basic advice your parents gave you when approaching a plate full of new but ostensibly healthy vegetables, sure, but this time it's with video games.

And like vegetables, a diverse and healthy gaming diet is good for you.