Managing Pop Stars in Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection

The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is one mostly known for its JRPG conventions and zany cast of characters. While Idea Factory and Compile Heart have produced a handful of mainstay titles in the franchise, none have exactly caught fire in terms of critical or mainstream success. However, that hasn’t stopped these games from garnering a rabid, cult-like following; and although each installment has been riddled with some shoddy design and implementation decisions, they have nevertheless possessed an undeniable sense of charm. Understanding this, Compile Heart has in turn crated a new spin-off title, Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, meant to maximize the aforementioned inherent charm of the previous entries, through the very small, but growing genre of “idol simulation.” Branching out from the tried-and-true Japanese roleplaying game traditions ultimately gives longtime fans a new way to experience the Neptunia universe; though certainly, Producing Perfection is anything but what folks have come to expect from the series.

Fundamentally, Producing Perfection is very different from other Hyperdimension titles. Where it isn’t all that dissimilar, though, is in its wild story. In this regard, Perfection offers the usual stuff that we’ve come to classify as both ridiculous and hilarious alike in these games. Because this is an idol simulator, the core narrative is centered around pop idols vying for song-chart dominance. Enter the game’s “antagonist”: a brand new idol group by the name of MOB48 — yes, that’s a reference to current Japanese pop-group sensation AKB48. Essentially, this group has begun to grow so vast in popularity that they’re taking “shares” away from the CPUs themselves, disrupting the overall order of the world. Thus, it’s the player’s job to choose one of the four CPUs, and turn them into idols themselves, and through musical performances and appropriate idol management, earn back those shares. How this all translates to gameplay is the unique part of the game.

The primary objective in Producing Perfection is to acquire fans; more fans means more shares, and more shares means the CPUs’ roles in the game’s world are no longer in jeopardy. So players first start by choosing one of the main CPUs to manage — Neptune, Blanc, Vert and Noire are all options here — and then it’s off to the races. Players have control over practically every aspect of their chosen character’s career and must manage these domains with effectiveness should they wish to reign supreme on the charts. One of these domains is the “business” side of pop-star management; scheduling and showing up to events, media shows and other public relation endeavors are the chief way to promote a CPUs presence in the proverbial music arena. From there, players can then condition their characters in a number of fields, such vocal and dance training (just to name a few), and then even give their idols time off from work, so as to manage their stress levels appropriately. After all, a stressed out idol means not performing well in trainings, PR excursions or live gigs. Knowing when to give them a rest is then critical to success. Over time there’s an option to form super troupes with other CPUs too, which further enhances one’s ability to overtake MOB48’s ascendancy.

The real challenge in all of this, though, is in knowing how to plan one’s time wisely. There’s a finite number of days the player has to take their idol from zero to hero. With each training, business or relaxation event taking up a whole day’s time, the player has to be aware of how to best spend their days, for dillydallying can lead to complete failure. This is where Producing Perfection’s strategy comes into play. Wasting a day through meaningless PR or training can have a tremendous impact on the given timeline as well as the idol’s ability to perform at an optimal level. So generating a game plan on how to get the most out of the title’s limited number of days is vital to the entire experience.

All of this training eventually leads to the big dance, as they say. In the case of Producing Perfection, that means the live stage shows. During these segments, players choose a song for their gal to sing, which stage on which she will perform, the stage and lighting effects that will supplement her song as well as the costume and accessories she’ll wear during the performance. Once these items have been chosen, the show goes live. During the actual performance segments, players are in charge of directorial duties, so cutting to certain camera angles and deciding when the special stage effects will go off are all on the player’s shoulders and integral to the venture. How well things go off will decide one’s performance grade, and it’s that ranking that helps gain fans and bump the idols up on the billboard charts.

When all of this comes together, players are privy to a game that feels unique and different. There’s a lot to do in Producing Perfection, and yet at the same time, it would seem that the repetition of training-PR-performing could grow tiresome. Compile Hearts seems aware of this potential burn out, and tries to combat this through random, as well as scripted, talking segments that let the player grow closer to their idol. Earning an idol’s trust and admiration is a sort of mini-game in and of itself, so there are even bits of dating-sim elements tossed in for good measure. Sadly, though, these talking portions are mostly nonsensical. For folks who have been with the franchise for a while, there’s no doubt that they will marvel at and relish in the many references to previous titles and the game industry-commentary that the Hyperdimension games are known for. Those who haven’t played any of the earlier installments, however, may feel left out in the cold and not get as much from the experience.

In the end, Producing Perfection is a text-heavy, action-less game that relies on knowledge of the previous Neptunia titles to fully enjoy and to be on the inside of its many jokes. So understanding this, in addition to knowing that idol simulator games are slow-burn type titles, will ultimately decide who enjoys the game and who doesn’t. The responsibility of winning over fans through marketing campaigns, on-air interviews, elaborate stage shows, alluring costumes and effective training can be a fun, but at times repetitive and even mundane. Still, Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection looks to be the real first attempt at introducing the international audience to a genre that has done very well in the Japanese gaming market. While the title may only reach niche-status here, NIS America’s willingness to localize such an obscure game should be praised by folks wanting to give idol simulation a shot. Although it’s not the usual JRPG endeavor the series is known for, Producing Perfection is shaping up to be an interesting title that, at the least, is attempting to offer something very different at a time when gaming seems afraid to try new ideas.