Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Nya-hello~~, and welcome to another Neptunia spin-off review. This time we’ll be taking a look at Neptunia Virtual Stars, or VVVtune if you were following the JP release. This time around we’re taking a bit of a step out of the usual genre parody that the spin-offs have been and are getting a lot of guest characters. Let’s see how many you know of.
The plot this time around is that Neptune and the three goddesses from the main series: Blanc, Noire, and Vert, are taken to a digital world where the planet of Emote is being invaded in an attempt to make the digital content obsolete. Nep and friends are joined my You and Me (yes those are the actual names), who are part of a Vtuber duo called MEWTRAL. If you aren’t aware, a Vtuber is basically a streamer or youtuber that uses a virtual avatar instead of their real selves. Nep and the Vtuber duo must then go out restoring the planet of Emote by defeating Antis and restoring wholesomeness to internet culture. Now I could make a list of Vtubers I may or may not have spent my CERB on (like the tsundereaper), but you’re probably not here for that. Needless to say, there are A LOT of guest Vtubers in Virtual Stars, so you’re probably bound to find a few dozen you’d like.
So how’s the gameplay in the new Neptunia spin-off? What genre are we going for today? Well, we’re going with a combination of 3rd person shooter and hack and slash. The gameplay sees you take control of the four goddesses and a duo of Vtubers. The goddesses play in the style of 3rd person shooter while the Vtuber duo are the hack and slashers.
The goal is to defeat the enemies and make your way to the boss of the stage. Rinse and repeat through the game. Each character has their own unique weapon and…mostly separate stats. Let’s start with the goddesses first. Each goddess has a different type of gun: Neptune has a high fire low damage assault rifle, Blanc has a charge cannon, Vert has a long range rifle, and noire has a wide range “sword slash” type gun. Combat is 3D terrain based movement, and there isn’t much of a lock-on, so I hope your aim is decent.
You do have an “aim” mode that gives small bullet correction, so feel free to use that though. The goddesses can walk and jump, and they also have a skating dash that lasts about five seconds where you can power slide around. This ends either by pressing dash again, having the five seconds run up, or jumping. The dash will end in a dodge roll if the first two options are used. In addition to your standard fire, each goddess gets four skills that you either start with or learn. These skills consume MP and have…varying usefulness.
Let’s take a look at Neptune as an example of goddess play style. Her gun is rapid fire but low damage, meaning it’s useful for Tokemeki attacks. Essentially, the higher your TMK value, there’s a gauge around an enemy that will fill up faster. Once full the enemy takes damage and is stunned for a while. After some time passes, they can be stunned again. Neptune’s skills consist of a sort of grenade shot, a physical kick, some ricochet bullets, and slow drifting mines.
Not going to lie, only the ricochet skill really saw much use with me, and even then it was pretty useless in open areas with no walls. In enclosed areas though? Hoo boy. Something I noticed is that enemy defence values seem to be rather simple comparisons, as occasionally Neptune would be doing either 0 or 1 damage to some of the tankier enemies. When this happens, you can either try and kill them only with TMK, or you could swap characters. Since we’re goddess focused at the moment, you can swap to any of the other three goddesses at any time in stage or battle by hitting the appropriate button combination.
Goddesses also have this weird shared health pool that works on hits rather than damage done, so 10 health on a goddess means you can take 10 hits from anything other than the rocket launcher birds. The birds are the worst. Thankfully you also have a health regenerating skill, where your characters will huddle around and slowly restore health and MP. This is super handy to use between battles to top off HP, or when a boss has been stunned so you can get some health back without resorting to items.
So how about the Vtuber combos? Well, these duos work on the hack and slash style, with light and heavy hits, special moves, as well as skills similar to the goddess quartet. Instead of TMK, some enemies have a specific Vtuber they are weak to. Attacking them with that Vtuber will activate the stun like the goddess TMK attack. If you finish off an enemy with a skill, you can activate a finisher as a Vtuber that restores some HP and MP.
The Vtubers can also swap between duo members or to the goddesses at any point and have the healing skill, but unlike the goddesses the Vtubers have an actual health pool instead of a damage check. Incidentally, the Vtubers also have a dodge instead of a dash, which they can use mid-air unlike the goddesses. Additionally, the max run speed of the Vtubers carries into a jump, so keep this handy info in mind if you’re having trouble in the bottomless pit platforming sections. Thankfully you don’t lose health from falling off the edge of the map.
So then, what is the common mechanics between them? Well, that would be the emote gauge, healing ability, and how boss fights function. I’ve already covered the heals, so what is the emote gauge? Essentially, it serves two functions. The first is when it is almost full you can summon a Vtuber to assist you. What the Vtuber does is based on who you randomly pull from the pool of saved Vtubers. This can be a buff, heal, or damage to enemies. The second function happens when it is full, you can use a sort of special move where you wail on the enemies and maybe get a few roulette spins. It’s…a little hard to describe really, but it can basically just be treated like a special move.
So let’s talk a little about the boss fights. Every boss, and mini-boss, will start the fight with a Vtuber themed background song. Each song has “strong” and “weak” sections, which will lean the battle in favour of either you or the boss. During the “weak” portions, the boss will get stronger and new aspects get added to the attacks. During the “strong” portions you get rained with crystals that you can break for various effects. If you manage to push the “resonance gauge” in your favour by performing well, you can enter a special field where you get song bonuses and can use a special attack. As you use the songs in battle more often, they will level and get better buffs and effects. The only issue is that what song plays seems rather random, or at least I couldn’t figure it out. To give you an idea, by the end of the game my first song was level 5, and every other song was level 1. This meant that on the last boss, depending on the song playing, I was dealing either 200 or 2,000 damage per hit with a powerful attack. Just something of note.
As you travel through the planet Emote, you will come across some specific types of enemies with little play cubes on them. These enemies may be guarding a captured Vtuber. By rescuing them, you unlock their support as well as a cube that you can equip. These cubes provide stat boosts and can have passive effects. The cubes come from levels 1 to 50 by standard, and can be upgraded if the correct shop is unlocked. In addition to the cubes, you can also equip vanity accessories, like serval ears, which you may or may not see in the screenshots. These have a “moe point” value, which, to my understanding, affects TMK attack, as well as points earned in BeaTik.
Right, so shops and minigame. After clearing the first area, you unlock a hub where you can drop some cash in order to open up different shops, as well as find the BeaTik and Video Butler services. Despite having unlocked Video Butler first, it requires BeaTik, so I’ll cover that to start. Essentially BeaTik is the most bare bones rhythm, I hesitate to call it a minigame, I’ve ever seen. Any button will act as a “hit”, and you just need a moderate sense of timing to complete. The more you do, the more points you earn, which can then be exchanged for items in the BeaTik store. If you turn on the recording mode, you can save a video of your performance. You can then take this video to Video Butler and drop some video coins to turn it into items. Videos don’t disappear when converted to items, and the number of coins you use to convert dictates what item you get. You will always get the same item from the same video though, so don’t bother dropping a lot of coins hoping the item changes.
Fun note, you can get cards form Video butler that increase goddess stats, and cards from the request kiosk that increase Vtuber stats, both permanently. The request kiosk has the mentioned cards that you can gacha on with Pona coins, as well as common requests from random plebeians in the game, as well as friend requests from the rescued Vtubers. The common requests are usually something along the lines of “perform [action] as [character]”, whereas the friend requests from the Vtubers get an intro and concluding video, and are: collect items, beat enemies, find specific items. Item collection can either be from killing certain enemies or are specific points located in a set area, which you will be notified of, and are visible with a beam of light overhead, although not indicated on the minimap. Yes I spent 20 minutes looping an area trying to find a stupid dumbell for a peanut Vtuber before I figured this out, shut up.
So, graphics are a bit of a weird thing in Virtual Stars. They look pretty fine in combat and wandering areas, the animations on the 3D models are pretty good as well, especially the goddesses. Props for actually matching movement speed to foot movement, having a specific leg movement animation for side-to-side movement while aiming, AND matching the step sound effect to when the foot actually touches down. Outside of combat, all scenes are performed with the 3D models, including any costume changes or Moe Accessory you’ve added. Thankfully you can turn off appearance for the accessories if you just want the points and effects, but don’t want to see them. Unfortunately the lip syncing is… a little poor on the main characters. On the other hand, it seems like the Vtuber guest stars all used their original models, so you can really see a difference there.
Also of note is that the soundtrack is pretty decent. This is really a big focus when you’ve got the same four tracks repeating on endless loop during the boss fights. Point and case is the final bonus boss. That thing took me so long I’m pretty sure I can recite the lyrics for the first, third, and fourth tracks by heart now. At least they were catchy, and the ones I wasn’t a fan of steadily grew on me.
Actually that seems to be the theme of Virtual Stars: the longer I played the more it grew on me. There are tons of references to stuff, such as “totally not Twitter”, “NeoTube not YouTube”, as well as a ton of questionable business/service practices that people have spoken out about. About halfway through, I realized that the game is literally about beating up people who say mean things on the internet, and after that I enjoyed it a lot more, not because the game started getting better, but because I stopped taking it as seriously.
Combat took a while to get used to, and the mechanics behind the boss fights were super confusing and poorly explained at first, but as I started easing into how stuff worked, it started getting a lot more fun. Except the rocketlauncher birds. Screw those things. I also appreciate the fact that you can go back and fight the bosses again, and they will get stronger each time up until the fifth time at which they stop growing. Makes experience farming and practicing the boss fights a lot better, and I’ve always enjoyed coming back for an overleveled grudge match.
Virtual Stars does fall short in some areas however, as the enemy “great 8” does not actually consist of 8 bosses, one of the bosses is just a reused palette swap, gameplay will get a little repetitive after a while, and if you’re consistently doing the friend requests, you may start getting a bit fed up with traversing the same areas over and over for items you may never use and don’t have a sale values. The skills can be incredibly useless sometimes, enemies are usually either pushovers or world champion fighters with no in between, and when you start doing 0 damage it may scare you the first time (pro tip, Blanc does massive damage at full charge). There is a line in the game about “love for your creations really shining through”, and while I can see that it’s there, it feels almost like they ran out of time or budget, and the game should’ve been bigger and longer.
That said, it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it. I played it, beat it, got the platinum trophy, and didn’t curse about it once, so that’s a pretty solid statement right there.