Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online Review
As a series fan, I was shocked when I saw the first screenshots for Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online. This is because they apparently switched to Unreal Engine 4, a first for the company, and the results really showed. It was a much-needed overhaul from what people have come to expect graphically.
Cyberdimension does away with the typical turn-based hooks. Instead, it embraces an action RPG approach with a far more kinetic pace than what the series is traditionally known for outside of spin-offs. Yet, the game is plagued with some issues worth going into, making this a bit of a rocky start.
Oddly enough, the game starts by letting you know that you are prohibited from sharing the software illegally. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that before outside of reading some usage agreement legalese. It goes right into a long “Loading Data” sequence which involves watching pretty numbers flash across the screen like you’re in cyberspace before getting a chance to play the game properly.
I was confused at what exactly this was all about. I then realized it does this sequence every time you start up the game. Not only do you sit through all the studio logos, but you have to watch a loading screen that takes a couple minutes to complete. This is followed by yet another loading screen with the character sprites dancing around. After that, you reach the opening cinematic leading you to the Start menu.
I timed how long it takes for you to get to the start game from a cold boot on the PS4. I clocked in at just over four minutes. Four minutes! I suppose it is doing the Grand Theft Auto thing of trying to load everything up at the beginning for quicker load times later. Even with this boot sequence, load times in the game are still considerably lengthy. I guess you can blame it on the new engine with the higher-res assets, but this game is not optimized in certain areas - that much is clear. Thank goodness for Rest Mode.
Anyway, let’s talk about the story. The four CPU Goddesses - Noire, Vert, Blanc, and Neptune - have all been selected to beta test a brand new online game, 4 Goddesses Online (or a new entry, since it existed before in the Neptunia universe). Since the protagonists created avatars, their roles have been rearranged somewhat. Neptune is a Paladin, Blanc is a Priest, Noire is a Black Knight, and Vert as the Enchanter.
Set in a fantasy land of Alsgard, the guardian spirit Bouquet tells the story of how the world came to be. A long time ago, four Goddesses left the Divine Realm and created the planet while vowing to protect it. Leanverde, the Tree of Life, gives the domain its magical power.
As always, there’s always someone around who is up to something sinister. An evil invader known as the Demon King Jester now threatens Leanverde’s existence as he tries to steal its magic essence. Before the four Goddesses returned to the Divine Realm to recover, they left Sacred Treasures containing their blessings.
So, in classic JRPG fashion, since the world is now in danger, the “Chosen Ones” must now rise to stop the resurrection of the Demon King Jester. To do so, they must gather the Sacred Treasures and revive the four Goddesses. It is their destiny to save the world.
As anyone who has been following the series may have noticed, many of the English voice actors for the main characters changed. First, it was Vert, and now Noire has been replaced by another actress, and it’s noticeable. This goes to show why sometimes it can be difficult wanting to stick with an English dub considering how contracts tend to be on a per-game basis. Regardless, the voice acting for both Japanese and English is pretty good, so those who enjoy either tracks will be satisfied the performances.
This goes hand in hand with the script. It doesn’t chart new territory and instead leans heavily into the standard tropes with a lackluster antagonist. However, there’s still plenty of appealing moments throughout the game including plenty of that fourth-wall breaking fans have come to love. Anyone who has enjoyed Neptunia knows how much it likes to poke fun at everything with light-hearted candor, and that perpetuates the entire experience.
I still found the overall plot to be weaker than in Megadimension Neptunia, but it was a relatively harmless adventure. Just don’t expect it to break new ground - not that anyone comes to the series for that as a factor. The fact the story takes place inside a MMORPG means the stakes are low, so the drama hooks are never quite there.
Let's get back to the positive aspects. One of the biggest qualms I had with the Neptunia franchise up to this point is how it continued to reuse old assets from years ago.
Nowhere was this more evident than with the maps. I could distinctly remember an ice cavern that’s been around since the first game appearing in Megadimension. With the change in engine, the development team was forced to create assets that were entirely new (or at least remade).
Every facet of the game has gone through a dramatic transformation from a technical perspective. From the character models and animations to the maps and 2D assets, it’s a real treat for fans. Just seeing the game in motion, one can tell just how significant this is, putting it on equal footing with other games around a similar budget. I experienced no technical issues, either; the game ran smoothly almost the entire time.
While it won’t win any awards, this is obviously the best the series has ever looked. The only knock I have against it is that people no longer animate during the 2D dialogue. Instead, their portraits just move in different directions. So don’t expect that familiar breathing affect or moving lips like in the past. It's sort of a picky statement since they still interact fairly well.
Being an action RPG, the battle system is fairly straightforward. You can attack, build combo chains, use different abilities, and more. Elements also come into play with monsters being susceptible to certain types. This can deal critical damage and sometimes inflict status effects. The user interface is laid out like any traditional MMORPG. You can see your character’s vitals on the left, an item bar in the middle, a battle log on the right, and a mini-map in the top corner.
Unfortunately, the combat itself can be underwhelming. Yes, it’s great how frenetic it can be, but there’s no sense of weight or impact with your moves. Instead, you’re mashing the Square button constantly to attack. Numbers are popping off and sound effects are playing, but it feels like you’re cutting through the air. There's some depth with the different skills you can use, but with a limited number to unlock, you will likely stick with the same four moves for hours.
There are also moments where character path-finding can be way off. I’ve had party members get caught up in the environment, swinging away and casting spells despite being several yards away from the enemy. It appears computer-controlled characters simply don’t know how to jump and have to rely on teleporting to your location when you get too far away from them.
If an enemy happens to be right near a ledge, you’ll need to run a little distance ahead before you have your entire party by your side. A gap in the scripting, to say the least. What’s worse is if you as the leader happen to die, whether it’s the result of this or something else, you’ll be forced to return to town. Yep, that’s right - it’s one of those games. The good news is you are able to keep any experience and items you earned up until that point.
Although the game has absolutely seen improvements in some areas, others are still the same which is a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, you still can’t explore towns and are instead presented with a hub of little 2D chibi characters to visit just like in the other entries.
Yes, it’s a way for them to cut costs, and at this point, it can be considered a nostalgia trip. I still would’ve loved to see them try out a design that’s more open-ended, allowing you to run up to NPCs and speak with them, but maybe I'm just being picky.
Another problem is that despite the large graphical upgrade, the overall routine hasn’t changed one iota. You’re still completing missions from the guild to advance the story. This includes having to revisit the same maps over and over to complete meaningless fetch quests like “Kill (insert number) of (insert monster)” to proceed through the main story.
While this type of design is nothing new for the series, it would’ve been nice to see some sort of evolution on this front to make the gameplay more engaging. You can imagine the same high level of pattern-swapped enemies and boss characters are also an issue here. They may have an entirely different engine, but they're still up to their usual antics.
Getting back to the town hub, this is where a lot of the basic activity takes place. You can visit the store, take on quests, speak with the locals, and more. There’s also the Bulletin Board, the gateway for the game’s multiplayer mode. Here, you can play with up to four other players online.
Players are only limited by their Guild Rank, so you can’t take on quests that are far ahead in the storyline. I found it to be an alternate means of leveling up my characters outside of grinding while allowing me to obtain rare materials for crafting purposes. However, much like MegaTagmension, there are few people playing this mode, so don’t expect more than a few parties at any given time unless you want to play with a group of friends.
I am curious whether Idea Factory will stick to the action RPG genre going forward, but for the time being, I welcome all the changes made with herein. It helps that even with Tamsoft on board as a developer, the script retains much of its charm that drew me into Neptunia to start with.
Just know the journey doesn't last long. I was able to beat the game in half the time it took me to complete Megadimension, and I got the True Ending. While there were some additional quests to do, it's mostly trophy hunting at this point, and there's not a lot of incentive to stick around outside of higher difficulty levels.
While it doesn't take as many liberties as I would have liked, Cyberdimension Neptunia has a solid enough foundation for Idea Factory and Compile Heart to springboard off of. It was a nice experiment to have Tamsoft try their hand on a bigger-budget entry, yet I'm not really sold on their deeper involvement outside of smaller spinoffs. That doesn't mean I'm not still looking forward to whatever the next game brings, however.
Cyberdimension won’t win over any newcomers, but those who already threw their hat into the series will find a lot to admire with this impressive upgrade. Almost every inch has seen radical advancements from what we expect from the Hyperdimension Neptunia formula, even if a small chunk of it remains the same.
If you’re willing to put up with the rather uninspiring combat and a few frustrating design decisions, Cyberdimension Neptunia is an achievement for the franchise. Thanks to its fast-paced combat and eye-pleasing splendor, this is one niche JRPG fans will love. For the rest, it may take more convincing from the developers.