Monday, July 6, 2015

Ben's Corner - Giving Games a Chance (Neptunia)

Every once in awhile a game or game series will come along that you will just not like. Maybe the gameplay doesn't look good to you, or the screen shots were enough to kill interest, or maybe you're even put off by what others tell you about it. Whatever the case is, you'll either see or hear something about the game, and instantly your brain will begin processing the information, and you'll form some kind of opinion. It's something we as humans do every single day with the food we eat, clothes we wear, music we listen to, books we read, and shows we watch, and it's something we will continue to do for the rest of our lives. The thing is though, sometimes our first impressions of something lie to us.

While some people may try to keep an open mind when it comes to things, a lot of us tend to play it safe. We stick to what we know we like, and avoid taking risks. If food looks good to you, you'll eat it, but if it looks or sounds bad, you will stay as far away as possible. But what if you try it? Until you actually eat the food yourself, can you really say that you hate it? The answer is no. Unless you actually put that food in your mouth and give it a shot, you will never actually know if you like it or not. Sure, it may taste similar to other foods you don't care for, but it also may be different enough that you do like it. In other words, if you never give anything a shot, you will never know for sure if you like it or not -- including video games.

During events like E3, game trailers are shown off to let us know about the upcoming releases. We watch these trailers, we decide if we are interested or not, and then we go on from there. Ones we don't like, we ignore, and ones we want to see more of, well, we see more of. But, is this really the right way to judge games? Yes, maybe in some cases, but what about the games you may just look at and instantly not care for? Maybe because of the art style, or the story, or possibly even the fan base whom may annoy you? Should you just throw them to the side as well? I'd say no. Unless you try it for yourself you'll never really know, and when you do give it a chance you may be surprised. It's a lesson I've learned for myself time and time again, and just recently it happened again.

In the past I've told the stories of how I got into games like Assassin's Creed despite feeling that I'd hate them, but just lately it happened to me again. Now sure, in general I try to keep an open mind about games, but this one in particular just turned me off in so many ways that I thought I'd never give it a chance. So, just what is this game? Hyperdimension Neptunia, that's what.

When I first heard about the series, I had no intentions of trying it. The front box showed an all female cast, it seemed to be loaded with fan service, and it appeared to be a generic turn based RPG with dungeon crawling elements. None of that appealed to me, and the more I read and saw about the game, the more I realized just how much I wouldn't like it. It wasn't the type of game I'd enjoy, and because of that I stopped following it's news. After that point, the only thing I ever heard about the series was that Inafune would be involved with the second in some way, and I would continue to see fan service artwork being posted online (both official, and fan works). Really, the more I saw of this, the more I began to "hate" the series, but it really wasn't until the fans started speaking out that it truly began to annoy me.

What was once an RPG series I wasn't interested in, soon became one that was shoved in my face constantly. I'd see people hyping each release to no end on forums, there would be discussions about "waifus," and I'd even see flame wars break out over why the games were so good. Sure, this is the type of thing you see with nearly every fan base out there (some can be worse than others), but when you see this sort of thing going on in a series you already don't care for -- the fans can really push you away, and make you dislike the game even more. While I never actually hated the series, nor did I ever make fun of it like many out there, it was one I wanted to completely avoid, and I constantly told myself that I'd never try it... Until I played Fairy Fencer F.

By the time Fairy Fencer came out (which used the Neptunia engine), the Neptunia series had changed a lot, and most of the original complaints I (as well as many others) had with the game were fixed. The battle system was refined, dungeons were simplified, and a great deal of care actually went into the games. While many games by Compile Heart and IF suffered from a lot of issues just as Neptunia did, this time the developers were learning from their mistakes, and they were willing to do whatever it took to fix them. They improved on the formula, incorporated it into their other game series, and when the time was right, they went back to completely remake Neptunia in the form of the "Re;Birth" series. This is when I finally decided to give it a go.

Although the Re;Birth games have been out for a couple of years now, I'm just now getting around to trying them out. Of course I didn't jump into these games expecting to love them -- I still wasn't sure how I felt about it being a parody game filled with fan service and an all female cast, but I figured that at least the gameplay may keep me going. While I wasn't hooked on Fairy Fencer F, I liked it enough to give another game with the same style a chance, and the fact that Re;Birth was on a handheld also meant that I wouldn't be tied down to play it. So, I took a chance, bought the digital release (for full price right before it went on sale...), and jumped right in. Needless to say, I was shocked.

The game wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Sure, the gameplay had been changed from the original, but the characters and story are what actually caught me off guard. Again, the characters themselves turned me off, and I was never sure how I felt about it being a parody story of the gaming world, but the moment I started up Re;Birth1 and saw Neptune, I instantly started to care about her as a character. I liked her personality, her and the other character's voice acting was spot on, and quite a few of the references each one brought up would make me smile. Of course some of it felt forced, and there was some cringy/stupid dialogue at times, but for once I felt that it added to the game's charm rather than taking away from it (of course a lot of it was done on purpose). Although the game's main story wasn't anything that great (which I never expected it to be), the characters themselves kept me wanting to see more, and the gameplay had me hooked (unlike in Fairy Fencer F). Before I knew it, my playtime had passed 30 hours, and I was nearly at the 100% completion mark.

Since that moment, I've decided to give nearly the entire series a chance. I completed Re;Birth1 (and got the Platinum trophy), I ran out and got a physical copy of Re;Birth2, and I'm already looking into buying the spin offs, and the newly released Re;Birth3. Looking back at how I felt about this series as a whole is quite shocking to me, and I'm still having a hard time to believe that I like it so much. Now, is it the "best thing ever?" No, not by a long shot. What it is though, is a fun little game which has a lot of character, and can easily keep almost any JRPG fan busy for hours. While for many it may be hard to get past the whole anime girl "waifu" thing (as it was for me), I've learned that if you manage to do so, you most likely wont regret it. Of course even with the improvements it won't be a game for everyone, but I am personally glad I gave it a chance.

Keeping an open mind can be a challenge, but if you don't close yourself off, and take that risk -- maybe someday you'll discover something great.

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