Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4
Developers: Compile Heart and Tamsoft
Publisher: Idea Factory International
To recycle my series synopsis from earlier reviews, the Neptunia franchise is set in the world of Gamindustri, and revolves around the adventures of the CPUs, a pair of four goddesses who represent Nintendo (Blanc), Microsoft (Vert), and Sony (Noire) consoles, with a representation of the unreleased Sega Neptune thrown in for… reasons. However, despite featuring a variety of characters based off of game companies, and nods to other franchises and series, the link is tangential, and could be removed quite easily, with the Cyberdimension being no exception despite the fact that it is a game about characters based on the game industry playing a game.
Or in more detailed terms, the main octet of characters throughout the series, Neptune, Noire, Blanc, Vert, Nepgear, Uni, Rom, and Ram have all been granted access to an updated version of the frequently referenced in-universe MMORPG 4 Goddesses Online, and make it their goal to be the first people to clear the main campaign before anybody else. Because despite being political figures, they can afford to dedicate the bulk of their time for several days toiling away at an MMO. With the entire game taking place within said MMO, the stakes are kept pretty low, and the only non-scripted source of conflict comes in the form of a group of cheaters and hackers, the de facto antagonists in this subgenre.
Said antagonists take the form of the Nekopara inspired character †Black Cat Princess† and her the Sword Art Online inspired character Kiria. An entertaining duo who function more as a rival faction to the CPU crew whose desires to be number one steadily lead them down the path of a cheater, a path that steadily escallates until it births a problem that requires the mods’ intervention, and also the aid of Neptune and company, because highly skilled players can do things admins can’t in MMO, I guess.
It is easily a more compelling story than I assumed it would be after developer Tamsoft’s prior efforts, but it does fumble in two ways. Having gone through the main story and seen all of the side events that came with it, I ultimately found the backstory for the faction of cheaters to be weirdly lacking. Despite dedicating a number of optional scenes to showing how they came to this point, I could not help but feel that I missed some along the way, as their stories have a number of small but noticeable holes that prevent these characters from feeling fully fleshed out.
SPeaking of these optional scenes, they have been a staple of the Neptunia series for years, and while I have frequently enjoyed them, the ones seen here often come off as overly pedantic, frequent, and tertiary. While I certainly do not mind hearing random quips from parody characters, having the story stop for 4 short scenes depicting characters with little to no relevance to the main plot just strikes me as odd. While I was quite pleased to see returning faces between Arfoire, Compa, Plutia and Peashy, Uzume, and Tamsoft, they all felt more than a little tertiary.
Still, that is not to say that the game’s story, dialog, and general narrative antics are not as enjoyable as always, as Cyberdimension delivers the anime-style shenanigans that I have come to love and expect from this series. After going through 8 other Neptunia games, it can certainly feel like more of the same at points. Aside from the new characters, the only remarkable difference is how Vert has a bit more of a spotlight this time, bordering on being the main character but not quite getting there, presumably because of popularity polls. But they did give her a digital little sister in the form of an AI named Bouquet, and after being depicted as a siscon for so many games, it’s nice to see her finally get a cute little girl who she can hold against her ‘bouncy’ chest.
As one would be able to tell from my prior reviews, I really wasn’t a fan of the underlying gameplay seen in what could loosely be described as the Tamsoft Neptunia series. With Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed being a musou style game that did what it needed to and nothing more, while MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune Vs. Zombies took away the thrill of a musou game and gave way to a slower, stiffer, and bizarrely balanced affair. Thankfully, Cyberdimension bucks those established trends and replaces them with a party-based action RPG flavor that involves traversing through fairly expansive areas filled with wandering patches of enemies, harvestable resources, and hidden chests.
If anything, I would sooner compare it to the mainline series than any spin-off, as aside from the levels being bigger, more geographically interesting, and less plentiful than anything seen in prior entries, this is basically what you would get if the standard turn based combat were made real time, and I’m not just saying that. When breaking down my typical actions throughout the game, and the process of dispatching enemies, it’s more or less a direct translation of the stagger filled DPS race that make up the main RPG titles. However, by being an action game, and lacking the ability to rapidly skip through animations rapidly and do several strikes within seconds, the game itself is prone to feeling more repetitive than the main games, and unfortunately the greater game design heavily encourages the player to grind.
Between doing quests that send players back through previously explored areas, near mandatory equipment upgrades that require enemy drops and materials to craft, and leveling up party members, the player is inevitably going to be revisiting this game’s small collection of locales during their playtime, and… it really does become a monotonous back and forward after just a few repetitions. One could call this evocative of the MMO experience, but I honestly cannot justify putting myself through these sorts of skinner boxes when I don’t need or particularly want to, so I pulled out my good old hex editor to give myself an extra 5,000,000 bells, boost all characters up by 20 levels, and get 99 of rare materials. Some might call this wrong, other might highlight how I am cheating in a game that specifically calls out cheaters, but I didn’t do this in an online environment, and I had more fun figuring out how to make these numbers go up than I would lethargically bashing away at baddies.
Though, that is far from the only problems to be found with the gameplay. The difficulty has a number of notable spikes seen throughout a typical playthrough, though that is arguably a series staple at this point. It is impossible to revive fallen party members as far as I know, which I think is just silly. Only 3 out of 12 playable characters have a healing spell, which is just an odd oversight. While the AI of one’s party members is far from the best, being so bad that I actually took ranged characters away from them, opting to use them myself, as I know to not rush towards enemies with a ranged weapon. Also, they have a habit of getting lost or stuck on geometry, but the developers thankfully incorporates a teleport feature, so their tendency to run back and forward in a straight line perpetually comes off as cute more than anything else.
Oh, and speaking of the playable characters, I cannot help but find the final roster to be more than a little plain, featuring the main eight along with the titular four goddesses… who are just alternate forms of Neptuna, Noire, Blanc, and Vert. I get that this was a niche title and making characters in games like this can be difficult, but I realistically would have rather had anything else. I mean, there have been something like 50 playable characters in this series so far, and seeing the developers opt for the most boring roster is a bit disappointing.
While this was a budget title, this title also marked the second Neptunia title made for the PS4, and the first to use Unreal Engine 4. As such, the title has experienced something of a technical upgrade over prior entries, boasting significantly more expansive, detailed, and overall richer environments than anything that came before, and being home to a larger number of independent character models. That being said, asset are clearly recycled between stages, the texture quality is pretty low, and the new visual novel-style cutscenes no longer feature lip flaps, as I guess the old technology wasn’t compatible. But in its place, the camera can now be zoomed in and out, characters can dash and fade across the screen, and a gaggle of characters can be on the screen at a time, which I appreciate far more than I should.
Oh, and I should probably mention the technical issues that prevented me from playing this game for the past… year. I mentioned these difficulties before in a Rundown, where the game would start up, but would not boot in a playable state. It turns out that this issue was caused by how I had not updated Windows 10 since sometime in 2017, and only updated it recently so I could download the latest version of Quickbooks. As for its performance beyond that, it generally ran perfectly fine, aside from one instance where toying around with the accessory feature (which lets the player put various accessories on a character’s body with no restrictions) and the game gradually started dropping its framerate before eventually crashing.
As a whole, Cyberdimension Neptunia is yet another Neptunia game. That is to say, an entertaining romp filled with dumb and silly moe-filled mischief and underlying gameplay that, while not very polished, is at the least functional. It does just enough to feel distinctive from its predecessors with its reworked gameplay and differing setting, but the twing of tedium is hanging over this series’ head, and as always I am left hoping that the next title will shake things up and be the first genuinely great game to bear the Nep-Nep moniker.