Neptune and the gang are back and this time they’re bringing their antics online.
It’s hard to imagine that the Neptunia series has grown to the media powerhouse that it is today considering its dark past. Debuting on the PlayStation 3 in 2010, the first game was met with lukewarm reception and it seemed like a sequel was out of the question. However, Compile Heart and Idea Factory refocused their efforts, stepped up their game and has been giving its loyal fanbase a constant dosage of Neptunia goodness with a healthy supply of releases and spin-offs ever since.
I consider myself one of those fans and I have stuck with the series through thick and thin. But since I’ve been with it so long, I couldn’t help but feel like the series became stale over the years: time after time, Gamindustri is in danger and the Goddesses must stop goofing off and work together to save it.
Though the recent set of Tamsoft-developed spin-offs helped to satisfy my desire for a fresh take on the series to a degree, it wasn’t until the release of Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online that I feel like that desire has been thoroughly fulfilled.
Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online takes the story to the online realm where the Goddesses, Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert, are beta testers for a new online game called 4 Goddesses Online.
Everything starts off fairly innocuous as there’s nothing at stake — after all, it’s just a game. All Neptune and Co. have to do is reawaken the four in-game Goddesses so they could defeat an encroaching evil that seeks to throw the virtual world of Leanverde into chaos. However, things soon goes off the rails when someone starts tampering with the game from the real world, rendering it near unplayable. As a result, Neptune and Co. must defeat this new threat before they can resume the main story.
The one thing that you have to keep in mind with Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is that it’s designed to be like an MMO and for better or worse, everything in this game is structured as such.
To start, progression Cyberdimension Neptunia is done by completing quests. These can range from collecting items to defeating a boss, and upon completing enough of them, your guild rank will increase and the story will progress. With progression being so quest-centric, I was very appreciative of the fact that 4GO allows players to take as many quests as they’d like before heading into a dungeon. As a result, I didn’t have to constantly return to the guild to pick up quests and was able to increase my guild rank in a single outing.
Amusingly enough, I probably wouldn’t have minded going to the dungeons a few extra times since they’re all pretty impressive. To complete their quest, the party will have to travel through dense woods, ancient ruins and even a volcano. All of these dungeons were crafted using Unreal Engine 4 (a series first) and they’re all varied in overall appearance and length. None of them feel like a dungeon in previous entries where the goal was to simply go from point A to point B, they’re all sprawling environments and going off the beaten path usually led to rewards such as new equipment or costumes.
Just like in any MMO, there are enemies of all shapes and sizes littered throughout each of these dungeons. Unfortunately, not only are these enemies not diverse in form (color swaps will be present as early as the second area), but they’re all approached in the same manner: with extreme aggression. Combat in Cyberdimension Neptunia is both simple and shallow, with each character only having one attack string and up to eight equippable skills, as well as only two special maneuvers: a parry that comes after a well-timed block (which will often miss) and a dodge.
Furthermore, you’ll quickly find yourself only using skills to inflict damage. It’s fine for mage characters since that’s how they’re supposed to do so, but melee characters will frequently do the same. Regular attacks really just exist as a means to regain MP and its benefit is tenuous at best since MP recovery items are cheap and plentiful.
Boss fights had the opportunity to spice things up a bit, but they fell flat too. Though I wasn’t expecting Cyberdimension Neptunia to be particularly deep, I did at least hope for bosses to have phases and attack patterns that I would have to learn before I could defeat them efficiently.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Instead, bosses kind of do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of what’s going on around them. And since there’s no rhyme or reason to their attacks, the only thing you can do is wail on them mindlessly while healing yourself (or waiting for someone to do it for you) if you mistime a block or dodge. There isn’t even an option to break certain parts of a boss’ body to alter its attack patterns, which is odd because you could do this in MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies and most of the bosses from that game are in this one.
Don’t get me wrong though, outside of a few bugs (getting momentarily stuck in blocking animation or inside enemies), everything runs well and the combat is fluid…it’s just incredibly simple.
Because the game is so simple and repetitive, choosing the way you wish to approach combat and picking the appropriate character will be paramount to your enjoyment in Cyberdimension Neptunia. Fortunately, there’s tons of variety in this department since Tamsoft decided to build each character from the ground-up, instead of having them play like they did in previous spin-offs.
For the first time in the series, each character has a clearly defined and unique role in battle and their movesets reflect that perfectly. Furthermore, being the adventurous souls that they are, Neptune and Co. decided to play as roles that they’re not used to. For example, Neptune is now a Paladin with a well-rounded set of moves and a focus in defense, while Blanc is a Priest who supports the party with an array of healing spells and buffs from afar.
It was fun being able to switch my character for a change of pace when I felt things were getting monotonous. If I felt like getting up close and personal, then I could play as Rom who is a Samurai (and personal favorite), but if I later felt like casting spells from afar then I could play as Nepgear who is now a Mage (and my other favorite). My only issue was that there’s no shortcut to switch between party members, so I had to navigate the menu screen — in battle, at times — if I ever wanted to play as someone else.
The characters don’t just shine in battle, they shine out of it as well. The Neptunia series is known for its humor, and Cyberdimension Neptunia continues this trend. The writing, though sometimes on the nose, was quite amusing and I often found myself laughing at some of the nonsense the characters said or got themselves into.
Neptune and Vert, in particular, gave stellar performances. Throughout the game, Neptune will constantly break the fourth wall and pause a conversation to introduce a character (useful for newcomers) or explain what happened. However, the other characters hear her whenever she does this and will question why she interrupted them. Meanwhile, Vert is still desperate for a little sister and has turned most of her attention towards a new NPC, Bouquet, who is left with a nosebleed after their first interaction. Of course, anyone who qualifies as a little sister is fair game, so the other Goddesses often have to keep a close eye on Vert so she doesn’t make a move on their own little sisters.
When you’re not in a dungeon or watching the casts’ antics, your time will be spent in the main town where a variety of shops are located. Like with other aspects of the game, the shops illustrate how Cyberdimension Neptunia was inspired by MMOs, as many of them are run by other users instead of NPCs. These aren’t just any users, however, they’re other characters from the series. IF and Compa run a high-end item boutique, Plutia and Peashy run a clothing shop and Tamsoft runs a forge where you can upgrade equipment.
Though none of these shops are essential (except for Tamsoft’s), it’s nice to visit them from time to time to see the shopkeepers since they’re not a part of the active cast. Admittedly, I often went to the item shop because I missed Compa.
Like mentioned before, Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first game in the series to use the Unreal Engine 4 and Tamsoft did a great job handling it overall. Dungeons have never looked better and the character models are equally amazing, blowing the visuals from previous titles out the water.
Unfortunately, the presence of Unreal Engine 4 did hurt the game in a few areas. Most notably, you’ll have to sit through a loading screen every time you want to start up the game. Admittedly, it’s cleverly designed to look like the loading screen of an actual MMO and it does cut down on loading times during gameplay, but it feels absurdly long at times. In addition, the character portraits during events are static and no longer animated.
Lastly, as the game’s title suggests, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online can be played online with other players to take on high-level quests. However, the online is broken and nearly impossible to play properly. Though it is possible to play by yourself, it’s silly that a game designed to be like an MMO doesn’t have a fully-functioning multiplayer mode.
As a long time fan of the Neptunia series, Cyberdimension Neptunia came at the perfect time for me. I felt the series had become stale over the years and was in desperate in need of something to liven things up — which this game succeeded in doing. In fact, if the battle system was more refined and boss fights were reworked, then I’d be fine with even main entry titles being like this.
That said, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online doesn’t offer enough in the gameplay department to be considered a must-buy for all but the most hardcore of Neptunia and action RPG enthusiasts. But for those who fit that profile, this game will offer the most unique experience they’ve had with the series in years.