A Role-Playing Game That Makes You Pay For Your Party Members [Update]

During my play through of role-playing game Hyperdimension Neptunia I am delighted to welcome a new character into my party, but the NIS America-inspired Nisa won't fight with me or gain experience. She just sits there, until I pay.

Nisa is one of two game developer-inspired characters (along with Gust) that join your party on a pay-to-play basis in Hyperdimension Neptunia, a role-playing collaboration by some of Japan's top RPG makers for the PlayStation 3. After running into the characters on several occasions, both eventually decide to join up, accompanied by one of every RPG fans' favorite phrases, "XXX has joined your party."

But they aren't actually joining. Sure, they're both listed in your party roster, but you can't do anything with them until you go to the PlayStation store and buy their activation packs for $1.99 apiece. Until then they sit in your start menu, not doing a damn thing.

Once you pay the fee for Nisa or Gust a file is downloaded to your console, likely containing the skill and equipment information needed to integrate them into your party. Restart the game and you can add them to your line-up, outfit them in the latest equipment, and start lugging them around while they level up (they both start as level one characters.)

I understand that NIS is somewhat downloadable content crazy. Each new release is followed by piles of character enhancement packs, costumes, new missions, and other such game-enhancing fluff. They even release new missions free-of-charge as a service to their devoted customers. This is just taking things a bit too far.

Gust and Nisa are not hidden characters. They show up on the back of the game's box. There are wallpapers of them at the official website. I was under the impression that both were playable characters in the game. Not a pair of placeholders filling spots inn your group roster until you drop $1.99 to set them free.

Sure, Hyperdimension Neptunia is just an obscure role-playing game for the PS3 aimed at a very narrow audience, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Square Enix already loves to nickel-and-dime players with downloadable content (its WiiWare titles are some of the only Wii games with DLC). How long before we have to pay to unlock new characters in Final Fantasy?

I've reached out to NIS America for comment on this story, and will update should they respond.

Update:An NIS America representative responded to my inquiry with the following statement:

"Unlocking characters through DLC is nothing new to our games. The difference for this time is that the additional characters are already in the game. Having these characters already in the game will help players attach to the characters, and if the players would like to play the characters they have options to download the DLC to unlock them.
Having these characters in the party is like a tease."

So yes, basically they are in the game to urge you to purchase them. That doesn't help the situation feel any better, but at least we know the motivation behind it.