The Neptunia franchise is back with a brand new entry! Neptunia Virtual Stars comes out soon for the PlayStation 4 and a few weeks later for PC players on Steam. It’s fully backwards compatible on the PlayStation 5 as well, which is the platform we tested on.
The Neptunia games, with their blend of meta-commentary about all things videogames, anime and genre mashups, have been surprising us for years now. Part of that is that each entry in the series tackles a different subgenre of videogaming, each with its own specific twists and mechanics while staying distinctly “Neptunia” in the process. It’s what kept the series fresh, and why we were looking forward to this latest entry as well.
Of course part of what keeps all these games recognizable is that key elements are consistent throughout the game universe – the stories take place inside a world called “Gamindustri” (gedit?), characters are based on famous companies and mechanics and narratives often borrow heavily from gaming tropes in order to then parody them.
Neptunia Virtual Stars is no different in that sense, as it brings four familiar protagonists to a game convention (remember those?) where they’re hoping to take a few upcoming games for a test drive. As you can probably guess from the title, one of the games they end up trying is a VR title – and it ends up sucking them into an alternate dimension where a new adventure kicks off inside “Virtualand”.
Rather than focus on familiar VR topics like control schemes and performance, Neptunia Virtual Stars actually uses its premise to focus on a more social use of virtualization: youtubers who use virtual avatars for their broadcasts. The steady stream of content they produce is what keeps Virtualand alive, so in order to save your new environment our heroes have to join forces with these Vtubers, as they’re called.
As per the norm in a Neptunia game, the narrative doesn’t take itself too seriously, and your struggle against the “Antis” is fairly lighthearted despite plenty of combat. In Virtual Stars, this unfolds through third person shooter-type confrontations where each character has their own unique weapons and abilities. You can play as one of the main protagonists, or enlist the help of some Vtubers – which actually is a bit reminiscent of mech combat in that it’s a bit slower paced with higher-powered weapons and attacks. I’ve been having fun with both, but I’m wondering if it’s mostly because of the setting since focusing on the gameplay itself makes it feel somewhat formulaic (in a crowded third person action world).
The emphasis on social media/video content rather than VR is at the heart of the adventure, as everything from viewer comments to different types of content gets featured – and the Antis represent the dark side of all that, focusing on things like trolls, scams and other things that hurt the world of online content creation.
While the actual game mechanics, from the third person shooting to the JRPG-style upgrades, generally feel underwhelming, the setting and how it’s been implemented is the star of the show here. Even if you’re not a follower of the Vtuber craze, the trends and issues mentioned all feel easy to relate to even when the narrative itself can feel hard to keep track of at times. The Neptunia series aren’t focusing on a game genre here, but on a social phenomenon surrounding the industry – and it’s a leap they’ve successfully implemented.