Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters Review
I've been a fan of the Neptunia franchise for a decade now, and it's been just about that long since the last mainline title, Megadimension Neptunia VII, released in 2015. Neptunia fans like myself have resigned ourselves to the fact that it's pretty unlikely we'll see another main title unless Compile Heart is about to go under. However, the announcement of Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters intrigued me.
For those not in the know, the Neptunia series has four main characters, called CPUs or Goddesses: Neptune, Noir, Blanc, and Vert. These four have appeared in every game, with series protagonist Neptune leading the way. However, Sisters vs Sisters focuses on the CPU Candidates: Nepgear, Uni, Rom, and Ram. These four were the main characters of the second game in the series, mk2, with Nepgear appearing as the protagonist, and the Candidates have been in a supporting role ever since. In some of the recent titles, they haven't appeared at all. Their return to the spotlight could potentially signal a new direction for the series.
Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters starts with the four CPUs going to investigate strange happenings on the PC Continent, leaving the four CPU Candidates behind. The Candidates discover a mysterious cave on an excursion outside the country of Planeptune, where they wake a slumbering girl in a capsule upon reaching the end of the cave. The girl suddenly shoves the four Candidates into capsules, putting them to sleep inside. Two years later, the Candidates are found and rescued. They are informed of the disappearance of Neptune, as well as the Share energy that powers the four CPUs. This Share energy has instead gone towards a new third-party that is leading the way with smartphones.
Neptune herself is the soul of the Neptunia series. However, when it comes to me at least, Nepgear is the heart. While the story beats of Sisters vs Sisters more or less follow the second game in the series, mk2, that's not necessarily a bad thing. That game's story was my favourite in the series, and it's been long enough since then that a retread isn't the worst thing. Nepgear and the other Candidates are always trying to live up to the legacy of their older sisters, and their coming-of-age story can produce some heartfelt scenarios.
The best Neptunia games can also mix in good humour and more impactful story moments, and Sisters vs Sisters does that pretty well. How would you react if you were to be put into a coma for a few years and you returned to the world of gaming? How different would things be? Try explaining what a live service game or what the cloud is to someone six years ago, or how Pokemon Go changed the world for a year or so. Someone from 2017 might be shocked to see how well a Nintendo "home console" is faring now. The inclusion of the Candidates into any Neptunia will usually lead to a lot more heartfelt moments as the familial love between the CPUs and the Candidates really shines. Anyone that is stepping into the series for the first time with this game, or hasn't been a fan for a while, probably won't see these interactions as anything too special. However, for Neptunia fans, these moments are likely why we continue to play through these games.
For the first time outside of the Tamsoft-developed spin-offs, Sisters vs Sisters is an action RPG. Each character has a basic four-attack combo that they can use, as well as a special that's activated once the gauge for it fills up. Players can equip different specials for different situations, usually depending on an enemy's elemental weakness. Once your character's combo is over, you can "chain" attack by switching to another character, use their combo, and "chain" attack again. Ideally, the chain attacks and attack combos will prevent enemies from being able to move. The combat system isn't terribly deep and usually just relies on you mashing the buttons to execute the combos and chain attacks.
For Neptunia fans, this combat system does feel familiar, since it does resemble the battles in the mainline games just in action form. The battles do feel repetitive after a while, especially against regular enemies. It only really feels like it's working as intended during boss battles. For some people, stunlocking a boss until it's dead may or may not be a desirable outcome for a boss fight though.
One major issue I have with the combat is that it feels a bit stiff. Provided everything goes your way, enemies will rarely be able to attack you after you hit them with a combo. If you don't manage to stun the enemy, there's a problem. Each attack in the combo has its own animation, and it isn't possible to stop the animation once it's started. If you see an enemy about to attack and you hit the attack button, it's a roll of the dice to see if you can manage to stun the enemy before they hit you. Any attacks on your own characters will interrupt their combo and leave you open to further attacks. Some fast enemies can quickly get you in their own combo, and some will take out a quarter of your health bar while you're stunlocked.
Sisters vs Sisters looks all right for a Neptunia game, but the game struggles a bit to keep up on the PS4. There were stutters during combat on occasion, and movement overall feels a bit janky. The worst offender to me was the camera. For whatever reason, the camera has momentum. It accelerates when first moving it, and needs to slow down before stopping, making it extremely hard to find the angle you ideally want to be looking at. Thankfully in combat, it doesn't matter too much, since the camera will lock-on to whatever enemy you're fighting, but it's an annoyance on the overworld.
Neptunia: Sisters vs Sisters is the first Neptunia game in a long time that I really enjoyed playing. Like every other spin-off title, this entry in the series isn't going to convince anyone who hasn't played the series to jump in. However, I believe this game is on the right track for a return to a future mainline entry. It has the feel of one when it comes to its story and portrayal of the characters. Just like mk2, the CPU Candidates have revived my hope for the series once again. For any Neptunia fan, I believe this is a must-play entry in the series. For everyone else not invested in the series, this will likely not do anything for you.