Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Compile Heart/Idea Factory/Tamsoft
If I didn't know that Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection was a real game — if I hadn't played it myself — I might have believed it was made up. I mean, its basic plot sounds like some ban-worthy fanboyism from NeoGAF, not an actual game made by a gaming company in the real world: you've been summoned to Gamindustri by Neptune, Vert, Blanc and Noire (each of whom represent a gaming company), who need your help as a music producer in fighting off the scourge of mobile gaming…er, sorry, make that in fighting off manufactured pop idols known as MOB48, who are stealing away the goddesses'/consoles market share. I know that the whole thing is just an extension of the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, which was a full-length RPG parody of the gaming industry, but still: on paper, you have to admit that it sounds less like an actual game, more like the feverish dreams of someone with an irrational loathing of mobile gaming as a whole.
Obviously, however, the game does exist — and what's more, not only is it real, it's surprisingly good, too. Once you get past the silly plot, you're left with a fantastically addictive management sim in which you're tasked with guiding one of those aforementioned heroines to pop stardom. It's up to you to balance improving your singer's stats versus resting them to reduce their stress, and every so often you get to put on a televised concert where you're in charge of the camera and stage effects.
As you can probably tell, it's not the deepest game, but on the flip side, it does everything it can to minimize its flaws. Where the original Hyperdimension Neptunia received criticism in some quarters for mocking RPG tropes while simultaneously being beholden to them, Producing Perfection seems to understand that the best way to avoid genre pitfalls is to not have them in your game. For example, when it's time to level up your character's attributes, the resulting screens poke fun at the whole training concept by simply saying it happened (you went to a lab and talked to scientists, who told you useful things!) or it didn't (science is boring!). Better still, when it's time for your character to rest, it simply says "Your character when on a spiritual quest or something"…and that's it. No extended cutscene, no long dialogue…just a screen saying it worked. Likewise, there are points in the game where your character does some activity, but rather than making you go through with the hassle of actually going on a fetch quest, there's just a comment about a fetch quest having taken place, and you're on to the next screen.
Some people, of course, might be annoyed by the repetitive nature of it all — but if they are, they're totally misunderstanding the nature of management sims on a portable or mobile device. Much like all those Kairosoft management games — which, come to think of it, are some of the best comparisons for Producing Perfection — this game captures all the core elements of a given job (in this case, pop stardom) and takes away the whole slogging aspect. It's just high points, all the time, and even if those can feel a little repetitive at times, it moves through everything so quickly that you never feel too bogged down in the details.
It helps, too, that Producing Perfection has a pretty great sense of humour. Not only does it poke fun at the tropes, it has genuinely funny dialogue; I challenge anyone to get through a scene where one character is verbalizing peeking around the corner by literally saying "Peeeeeeeeeeeeeeek" without at least a bit of a titter. Likewise, it pokes fun at people with unhealthy anime/pop/Idol obsessions, some of the absurd costumes you find in RPGs…basically, anything that's in the game is either skewering some target or is there to be skewered. It's a nice change of pace from the usual seriousness affected by so many games, and it suits Producing Perfection well.
In fact, that descriptor — "nice change of pace" — suits Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection pretty well as a whole. Alone in the Vita library, it's a casual game that has a bit of depth to it, and it's a Japanese game that doesn't have all kinds of weird sexual issues (though, obviously, it's not without them entirely, as evidenced by the fact you can shoot upskirt camera shots during concerts). It's a light, breezy game that's made for a light, breezy time of year, and it's well worth an investment.