Super Neptunia RPG (Nintendo Switch) Review

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My passion for the Neptunia series is something I don’t exactly hide. Since discovering Re;Birth1 in 2015, I’ve been hooked on the self-aware, fourth wall-breaking happenings of Gamindustri through the ages. With this latest entry scrapping the fantastic 3D battle system I’ve come to love, as well as the third dimension as a whole, does this game do enough to stand proud among its predecessors, or is it riding on the series name alone?

Being the first taste of fresh Nepticious goodness since Cyberdimension Neptunia in 2017, the good folks at Idea Factory International prepared a trailer to get you back up to speed with the main cast. Though I find them really quite unforgettable, it’s something I recommend checking out if perhaps you’ve only played one or two games many moons ago. For somebody new entirely to the series wanting to start here, it also provides the bare essentials for you to pick up much of the self-referencing throughout, but realistically I would recommend giving Re;Birth1 a shot before diving in here. As a remake of the first game in the series, you get a fuller introduction to the larger world and its inhabitants, providing a solid foundation of understanding you’ll be grateful for the further you get into Super Neptunia RPG.

Super Nep starts in a way completely unsurprising to me, packed with self-aware humour and the overused trope of an amnesiac protagonist, the ever-idle Neptune. Waking up in an otherwise-abandoned house by an unknown group demanding taxes, she soon joins this definitely-not-shady crew and proceeds to assist in their definitely-above-board activities. Hijinks ensue, Neptune takes far too long to realise she’s with the bad guys, she finds the other goddesses also without their memories, and they all come together. The overarching plot to me isn’t anything special, but I find it rarely is with this series. From game to game you come to understand each character, their motivations, and their actions, and through this knowledge you garner expectations, the game taking these and playing with them. Neptune is motivated by food and lacks any form of common sense. You expect her to do stupid things, but these activities are constantly warped and mocked in such a way as to remain amusing. Just as you think something is a little too predictable, the game either throws a curve ball or acknowledges the fact with a fourth wall break or something similar. At its core, the story, the charm, the humour; they’re all the Neptunia you know and love. The game has an incredibly warm sense of familiarity, starkly contrasting with the playful amnesia of the game’s cast.

While some things remain the same, others are quite clearly different. Perhaps the most obvious of these differences is the genre shift, dropping the third dimension in favour of a beautifully hand-drawn 2D platforming environment. From a solely visual standpoint, I was blown away starting the game for the first time. The world full of such vibrant detail, I felt inclined to stop and just take it in from time to time. Even looking back through screenshots, I find myself appreciating the designs all over again. It’s stunning—at least when it’s still. While each character, each background, each graphic; while each are so carefully and lovingly crafted, the gameplay holding them together is not. Super Neptunia RPG is a game lacking polish, and it isn’t something you’re likely to pick up on until you’ve played it.

Jumping into the world for the first time was an interesting experience. Once the initial environmental awe passes, the first thing you’re drawn to is movement. From a functional standpoint, the game controls fine. You navigate 2D areas, jumping and dashing your way through generally simple but fun platforming challenges. The controls are largely satisfying, but confuse me in the inability to use the D-Pad, especially given the analogue stick’s digital use. There isn’t a gradual speed increase, you’re either moving in a direction or you’re not; I can’t understand why the D-Pad isn’t available as a control scheme when it is so clearly better suited to the task. Moving past this and looking at movement itself, you begin to realise the game isn’t quite as pretty in motion as it is when you were taking in the sights. Though I can acknowledge this as a minor critique, I found movement animations far too snappy. With no transition from stationary to moving or jumping, these so frequently used actions feel jarring and unrefined. These are things you get used to after playing for a little while, but I find it an incredible shame that the player should have to get used to them.

Past the initial tutorials and into the city of Lastation for the first time, you start to find the game opening up, NPCs scattered around to talk to and accept quests from. A completionist at heart, I wanted to try everything I could; if there is a hunting quest among these, I always like to be clearing them naturally as I progress instead of having to come back later specifically for it. To this end, I talked to everybody and accepted everything. One quest wanted me to hunt an enemy, another wanted me to donate money, another find some items, and another talk to some NPCs. Everything felt relatively standard and by the book, something that isn’t necessarily a bad thing so early in the game. The dialogue and snippets of backstory for each NPC wanting my time kept me engaged and eager to seek out more to do, at least until I finished my first quest. Where each NPC will say a few lines to introduce their request and have something to say while you’re in the middle of it, completing it simply replaces their dialogue with “…”. Every NPC that has a quest; it feels as though the more I progress, the more the world is drained of life and charm. It’s fine, it’s minor, but adding a single repetitive line of “Thanks for helping me!” or even despawning the NPC, physically draining the world of life, would have felt more natural. I did enjoy the quests I could complete, but going back to the raw feeling of the game, it feels as though little consideration was put into their delivery.

As soon as you enter an area, you have access to most if not all of its available quests, regardless of whether you can actually complete them at the time. An early example of this is a quest given by a mother to find her four children and tell them to come for dinner. The game places three of these children in hidden but accessible locations, providing a small platforming challenge in a safe area, as well as encouraging you to explore the city. It feels as though the quest should be beatable given how it’s setup, the final child visible on the roof of a building. It feels as though there should be a way up there, like the game is trying to show you a neat trick or have you find a secret exit to the roof. None of this is the case, you’re just expected to return once you’ve gained the ability to jump higher. It’s frustrating in how it completely ruins an otherwise fun quest for me, having wasted my time in trying to beat it. Other examples of this I didn’t mind quite as much, such as a quest that wanted me to locate a book in an area I hadn’t discovered yet. Something like that at least hints it’ll be a while until you complete it, but clarity is something the game would have significantly benefitted from. Having quests appear as you acquire the items to complete them, or even saying explicitly you don’t have the right tools for the job, it’s as though the player is just expected to know as if they had a hand in creating it.

This lack of clarity is spread across many aspects of the game, leaving me quite frequently confused. First you have the game’s loading times; they aren’t fantastic, but as a whole they aren’t a dealbreaker. Where I find fault is in the ‘unmarked’ loading times, where the game doesn’t give you a loading screen, freezing in place while it does its thing—and this isn’t some infrequent occurrence, this is for the pause screen! I’ve timed myself waiting up to seven seconds for the screen to load, all with no feedback or progress. Granted it only appears to be the first time the game is paused upon loading a new area, but again, this is the kind of thing that should have been seen at some stage of testing. Perhaps worse than this are the game’s forced-choice selection boxes, giving you the illusion of free choice in the worst possible way.

Where games usually want you do make a choice, they either don’t give you a choice at all, or add some kind of dialogue to warp Option B into Option A. The original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games used the latter of these options well, taking the opportunity to poke fun at your bad choice before putting you on track for the right one. Instead of this, Super Neptunia RPG simply doesn’t allow you to select the incorrect choice. At the start of the game, a defeated Doggoo wants to join your team, and you’re given a choice as to whether you want to allow it. I thought this meant I might encounter enemies at certain milestones that would join me to diversify my party or even provide skills, but when I couldn’t move the cursor off the “No” option, I couldn’t tell whether it was a bug or just incredibly poor design. I continued playing the game irritated with myself because I thought I had managed to screw up somehow, in complete disbelief the game would pull something like that. Only later when an enemy was actually recruited to provide you with a higher jump did I notice the cursor once again locked in place, this time on the “Yes” option. It’s bizarre and quite frankly a horrible design choice. Add to all of this an intimidating UI of small text and questionable navigation and you have a ball of frustration to work through before you can really find the appreciation for the story and characters that actually have a chance of keeping you hooked.

Combat in Super Neptunia isn’t a complicated affair. With each party member stood at a cardinal position, you select which character you want attacking by pressing the matching face button. X for the top character, A for the right, and so on. Each party member is assigned a single skill, with each skill being either physical or magical, and some also being elemental. The system is surprisingly interesting in how it encourages you to mix things up and be prepared for any assortment of enemies. In addition to this, you have four formations available, each one allowing for a different skill to be equipped. With the option to change formation mid-battle granting access to a new set of skills, on paper you have a genuinely interesting system. In reality however, what you have is an incredibly simple button masher. 

Straying from the series norm of turn-based action, battles in Super Neptunia play out in real time. As you wait, you get AP, which can then be burned to use skills. If an enemy is weak to the skill type, you’ll recover some AP after attacking. The depth of the combat system suddenly feels inconsequential when the battles begin to drag. With skills taking far more time than they probably should to start up and complete, you find yourself leaving battles on fast forward, mashing whichever attack is best suited against the enemies. There’s nothing to really motivate you to pay attention; even if you get low on HP, you can just pause the game and use a recovery item, these usable almost-instantaneously and with no AP cost. There are the makings of a fun system here, but are ultimately lost like so much of the game in minor frustrations and inconveniences.

I could go on and on about this game but really it boils down to this: Super Neptunia RPG isn’t something I can recommend to the vast majority of people, but it’s not to say there isn’t a good experience to be found. If you are patient, willing to overlook questionable design choices, and have the stamina to endure button mashing through almost every encounter, there’s a chance you may yet see the light. You might appreciate the classic Neptunia wit, the fun and well-dubbed cast, the beautiful scenery, and the ups and downs of the game’s story. If you think you’re that kind of person, I encourage you to pick up the Re;Birth trilogy while they’re on sale, and wait for this to fall below $20.

Tribit X1 Wireless Earbuds (Hardware) Review

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Wireless earphones have always been an awkward affair for me. Never quite willing to drop huge amounts of money on big names like Bose or Sony, I find myself browsing the lower end of the market with mixed results. Be it poor build quality, an absurd overemphasis on bass, or just being damn uncomfortable, I’ve been through pair after pair, none managing to outlast nor outperform my budget wired set. Much to my surprise, the Tribit X1 Wireless Earbuds are different.

The box is simple and contains everything you need to get started: the earbuds, the charging case, an assortment of different tip sizes, a micro USB charging cable, and a to-the-point instruction manual. Pairing the earbuds for the first time is as easy as removing them from the case and searching for them with any bluetooth-enabled device. No mess, no fuss, no awkward holding down of buttons in a manner no human can be expected to remember. When you remove the buds from the case on subsequent uses, the buds will automatically reconnect to the device assuming it has bluetooth enabled and is in range. Messing with my phone, my laptop, and my Walkman, I faced absolutely no issues. Swapping between devices is relatively hassle-free, just having to select the X1s manually by navigating to the bluetooth settings.

Featuring a physical button on each bud as opposed to a more standard touch-sensitive area comes with its own set of pros and cons, and though perhaps to be expected, I feel them worth mentioning. The main strength of using a touch panel is also its main weakness: its sensitivity. They’re great for letting you just tap at your ear for the next song to play, to summon your branded voice assistant, or to stop your music altogether. What this also means is that you may be skipping songs and having Siri listening to you where you didn’t want if you happen to catch it. The X1s don’t have this issue; the cost is the tactile nature of its buttons. Where you would be able to use a single finger with a touch panel, you want to be using your entire hand here. With a single finger, you find the buds being pushed quite uncomfortably into the ear, where using a hand to holding it in place removes this issue. You won’t be hitting these accidentally, but you also need to be putting a bit of effort in to use them. Whether this is better or worse is a matter of preference. As somebody who usually has devices within arm’s reach regardless, it’s a nonissue for me, opting to use the devices themselves for this functionality.

With ‘true wireless’ earbuds, you have two completely detached earbuds with no wires to connect them. By design they’re exactly what I look for: extremely convenient and really quite liberating. There’s nothing finer for me than doing miscellaneous household activities with some great music and nothing to hold me down. Both of these earbuds having to connect as one device, the X1s function as a ‘master’ earbud and a ‘slave’ earbud. The master is the one that connects to your laptop or phone, and the slave connects to the master. If you’re always using both buds together, this system is flawless, but does impose a minor limitation in the fact the right earbud can’t be connected to a device by itself. What this means is that if you happen to lose your left earbud or if for whatever reason it stops working, you’re completely out of luck. Perhaps a quirk of this design also, it’s interesting to see the buttons on each earbud sharing the same functionality. Where you might expect hitting the left earbud twice to go to the previous track, and the right to the next, both will simply advance to the next track when hit twice. Similarly, both will pause and play the music when hit once. It isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame more couldn’t be done.

In my ear, the X1s really do feel fantastic. Though I don’t trust myself to listen to music while exercising outdoors, I found they do an incredibly good job in staying put despite my futile efforts to shake them loose. With three different tip sizes to be put on the buds, I’m fairly confident they’ll be a comfortable choice regardless of your ear size. The plastic body feels sturdy and well-built and has an overall feel of quality, definitely more so than their price may suggest.

When it comes to the audio quality itself, I have to say I was greatly surprised. As I mentioned previously, I too often find cheaper earphones overcompensating with egregious ear-melting bass, to the point of drowning out anything else. Where I listen to musicals and other lyrical audio, the words would be muffled to the point of ruining an otherwise-great track. The X1s are different. My song of choice when testing this kind of thing is Blumenkranz, the antagonist’s theme from hit anime series Kill la Kill. With its heavy bass, assortment of sounds, and softer-by-comparison lyrics, it’s great to find if any particular area is being overshadowed by another. With the X1s, everything is clear, and everything is in balance. Whether listening to musicals, game soundtracks, or classical music, everything sounds as it should, and all in all I’m really quite impressed.

With the X1s lasting around three hours on a single charge, and the charging case providing around five additional full charges, they’re perfect for long journeys or general day to day use. At their £35.99 price point, it’s hard to not recommend them. Between their convenience, sound quality, and build quality, they’re a truly fantastic product.

RetroTINK-2X (Hardware) Review

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If you wanted to pull out the SNES and play Super Mario World, it used to be simple. You’d grab your console, plug it into the mains, hook it up to the TV, and get right into it. As times and, perhaps more importantly, TVs, have moved on, this once-simple process has become painful. Whether struggling for the lack of compatible ports, horrid built-in deinterlacing, or an incompatibility with the common 240p signal, it’s often easier to just leave the hardware in the closet and grab something newer. The solutions to these growingly common issues tend to sway between keeping hold of an oversized CRT or finding yourself an upscaler, the latter of which we’re looking at today.

When it comes to viewing your games in the best light, there are two names you’re likely to see time and again: the Framemeister and the Open Source Scan Convertor (OSSC). Both of these are powerful tools rich with features and options, and both come with a hefty price tag of around $300 and $200 respectively. For those on a tight budget and willing to put up with input delay and miscellaneous quirks and qualms, you can also find countless cheap upscalers littering Amazon and eBay. Sitting somewhere between these options is the RetroTINK-2X.

Where the Framemeister and OSSC look to offer a multitude of settings and configurations, the 2X has one job and does it well: line doubling. Taking a 240p signal via one of component, composite, or S-Video, it outputs at 480p via mini HDMI; no mess, no fuss. The board itself is housed in two plexiglass plates you’re expected to assemble yourself. Though mine did come pre-assembled, it seems a simple enough process of putting pieces into place and securing them. With that, you’re good to go! Plug in your micro USB power supply, plug in the mini HDMI output, and plug in your input of choice and play away. The 2X requiring only one amp of current, it’s perfectly happy to be powered by a TV’s USB port, or really any kind of phone charger you might have lying around.

Though the device aims to keep things simple, it features two hardware buttons: one to toggle the display mode, and one to switch between inputs, both of these illustrated by small lights on the board. It’s worth noting that while you do have to manually select the input, it isn’t advisable to have multiple devices connected at the same time as their signal will still be processed to some degree. I noticed this when switching between S-Video and composite inputs recording footage, the image becoming far brighter with both connected together. As for display modes, I found myself pleasantly surprised despite the expectedly limited offerings.

The 2X mode does exactly what you’d expect, doubling the 240p input for a nicely scaled 480p output. Having tested it on a number of different devices, I had no issues in displaying this image across TVs and monitors, it also playing nicely with my capture card after I figured out the resolution it was outputting (720×480 for SFC and 720×576 for N64). While the image displayed fine, I did notice it was stretched to a 16:9 aspect ratio on one of my monitors, something to perhaps be aware of if the device you plan to use it with doesn’t have the option to force an aspect ratio. That being said, it’s a feature you’d expect of any modern TV.

Of everything on offer, the filter was the biggest surprise to me. As a general rule of thumb, I dismiss filters as sins against pixel purity, but with it being an option, it’s something I was eager to at least try. After some playing around it may be no surprise to hear I stand by my ideology, but I have found an appreciation in certain scenarios.

The video above goes through a number of Super Famicom games with and without the filter. Of the games played, Yoshi’s Island stood out to me. Its hand-drawn aesthetic is the perfect style of game to appreciate being smoothed over. To some degree, the same is true for Zelda: A Link to the Past when looking at the diagonal paths. Whether this will be of use to you will likely be a significant point of preference, but where I found the filter really in a league of its own was when using composite input.

Where with S-Video and component you have a clean picture with defined pixels, composite is naturally worse. Giving an overall muddier image, smoothing is a perfect way to hide these blemishes.

It’s something you can really appreciate if you lack expensive component cables, or struggle to find S-Video compatibility as I did for a number of consoles. Despite how common it may be in the US, it’s far more hit and miss in Europe. If you want the best quality out of the 2X, you should be aware of your consoles’ limitations. For example, my Ice Blue N64 doesn’t agree with S-Video where a grey variant would be fine, and PAL GameCubes replaced support for RGB Scart, something not supported by the 2X. If you’re in the US, this is nothing to be concerned about, but if you’re somebody just getting into high quality retro experiences, do your research. The 2X is the perfect device to act as a gateway into this brilliant world, and it’s interesting to see it has use even if you do later decide to upgrade to the more costly OSSC. Where the OSSC has plenty of features, it lacks ports for S-Video and composite input. Using the 2X’s passthrough display mode, the image is delivered in its original state to then be processed and upscaled by the OSSC. 

All in all, I think the 2X is a fantastic product. Easy to setup, easy to use, and with the added benefit of microseconds of added input lag, it’s the perfect device to get you started on your retro gaming adventures. What it lacks in features, it more than makes up for in nailing what it sets out to, filling a gap in the market at its $100 price point. It’s more expensive than the miscellaneous upscalers you might floating around the internet, but delivers a quality image with no compromise to the gaming experience.