Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online
Publisher: Idea Factory
Available on: PS4 (reviewed, releases Oct. 10th), Steam (coming 2018)
Price: $49.99 USD
For fans of: The NepNep universe, Sword Art Online
Before we get started, do me a favor and count to 180. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Three minutes feels a bit longer than anticipated, yeah? This is how long the initial load time is every time the newest spin-off in the Neptunia series launches on my PS4, and, likewise, I felt it was appropriate to stress that at the beginning of this review. I’m not sure why the game is front-loaded like this, but it’s certainly the wrong way to make a first impression (and a second, third, fourth, etc.).
Thankfully, the game hidden behind the loading screen boss is pretty decent — albeit with a list of caveats.
For those of you unfamiliar with the long-running series of games and spin-offs, I’ll try to explain this as simply as possible. There’s a world called Gameindustri that’s broken into the four “kingdoms” of Planeptune, Lowee, Leanbox, and Lastation. Each kingdom is overseen by a goddess CPU (Neptune for Planeptune, Blanc for Lowee, Vert for Leanbox, and Noire for Lastation) and clearly pokes fun at the major console manufacturers of today. Neptune and Noire each have a younger sister, being Nepgear and Uni, while Blanc has two younger twin sisters in Ram and Rom. Vert, however, struggles with being alone and has become quite dependent on multi-player video games as a way of making friends.
The games are rife with fourth-wall breaking, running gags, overly verbose dialogue scenes, and regular fanservice in the way of sexual innuendos, cleavage, upskirts, suggestive camera angles, and perverted dialogue. Most of the games are turn-based RPGs, particularly the core entries, but there have been some hack-and-slash and SRPG spin-offs over the years on the Vita handheld. Developer Tamsoft has handled the more action-focused spin-offs and they’re back in the saddle here in 2017’s mock MMO.
Despite its name, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is predominantly a single-player role-playing game that takes place within the series’ fictional and titular MMO, 4 Goddesses Online. The latest version has just entered a closed beta and just about every series’ mainstay character, large and small, has been granted early access. In the game within a game, the goal is to locate four Sacred Treasures and use them to revive the goddesses so they can help defend the world of Alsgard against the returning Demon King Jester.
This is actually a tale in two acts, though, as the Demon King arc takes a back seat just a few hours into the game after the MMO falls victim to a hacker. Wild boss monsters appear where they shouldn’t, in-game text becomes a jumbled mess, and a grim reaper seeks out adventurous solo players and lowbies to make their virtual lives miserable. This arc was admittedly more interesting than the initial premise and proved to be a welcome distraction from run of the mill MMO tropes, like side-quests and boss battles, but the Demon King scenario was just fine.
However, Cyberdimension Neptunia’s flaws make it an incredibly tough sell if you’re not already invested in this crazy cast of characters.
The Neptunia series is largely known for breaking the fourth wall while poking fun at the industry as a whole, and this self-aware video game about Neptunia characters playing themselves in an MMO inside of their own game is as meta as it gets. This humor isn’t lost on the cast either, which makes the entire experience feel like a tongue-in-cheek take on Sword Art Online (while taking several jabs at SAO in the process). The heroines regularly mention sitting next to each other “in real life,” log out for meals and naps, and really throw their personality into their online persona while saving a “fictional” world from impending doom.
There are loads of running jokes, like Neptune’s hatred for eggplant, Noire’s hidden love for cosplay, and Blanc’s flat chest, which are often explained to the audience with an impromptu segue, so it’s not as if it’s inaccessible. It just borrows many of its ideas from other games and doesn’t do anything incredibly well. The main drive is the character interaction, so if saccharine sweet, yet sometimes perverted dialogue and imagery isn’t your thing, Cyberdimension probably isn’t the best jumping on point.
Each of the game’s playable characters represent a typical MMO job class, like Paladin, Mage, and Thief, and unlock appropriate abilities as they earn XP through battle. While this initially paves the way for standard tank, healer, damage dealer, and support roles, the four-person party composition amounts to very little once you realize the A.I. is incredibly dumb — even after tinkering with the game’s elementary effort in spell priority management. Blanc serves as the group’s dedicated healer, but often waits for party members to reach critical health before taking action. Another example is Nepgear, the game’s spell caster, who never prioritizes spell types based on enemy weaknesses (despite this being taught in one of the first tutorials I encountered). It’s not just friendly A.I. that’s questionable either, as one of the final boss encounters stood motionless while I depleted the remaining 50% of its health bar without fear of retaliation.
Had there been an option to swiftly switch between my party members on the fly (as was the case in Tamsoft’s other Neptunia spin-off, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed) combat would have been far more enjoyable, but changing your controlled goddess can only be achieved within the game’s “pause” menu. I used quotes there because Cyberdimension Neptunia wants you to feel like you’re playing an MMO, so the pause menu doesn’t actually freeze the action. This method of gameplay led me to rely heavily on consumable items and favor ranged damage dealers, like Uni and her dual pistols. On a more positive note, not being forced to bring a tank or healing character along let me experiment with the entire roster. However, having to dish out 90% of the damage by myself was hardly fun.
Unlike the core Neptunia series, the action here takes place in real-time. You can hard-lock onto an enemy with R1, quickly dodge with L2, and execute blocks and well-timed parries with R2. The game as a whole lacks any form of challenge as long as you slay everything in your path and partake in some side-questing (thus becoming severely over-leveled and rich), but parrying is a satisfying way to avoid a significant portion of the damage dealt by boss monsters. With a lot of the action taking place at the center of the screen, however, it’s somewhat difficult to gauge the proper timing.
Combat is largely a button mashing affair, hammering down on the square button to perform a string of combos. Doing so fills a resource gauge (the blue bar in the above screenshot) that can be spent on one of four special abilities, accessed by holding L1. You can map two sets of four abilities that be can be cycled between using the d-pad, but I rarely found a reason to since most characters only had two or three worth using.
Repetition is a common theme in Four Goddesses Online, as quests only task you with collecting items, revisiting an earlier zone to kill a certain amount of monsters, or having a rematch against one of the game’s few bosses. There isn’t much in the way of enemy variety either. I found myself battling against the same slimes, mushrooms, turtles, skeletons, and goblins throughout each new area; just with larger health pools and a new color palette. Even the Demon King Jester himself is a simple reskin of a boss I’d fought three times prior within side-quests, which was extremely disappointing.
After spending roughly 20 hours clearing all of the major story arcs and a large portion of the post-game content, I’m struggling to form into words why I enjoyed the game as much as I did. I’ve read and re-read this review and it comes off largely negative, but as I mentioned in the introduction the game’s enjoyment comes with a list of caveats. I enjoy the series’ brand of humor and how it plays into the different personalities of each goddess and their accompanied sisters. I get the running gags and laugh at their juvenile jokes, chuckling to myself as one of Neptune’s mortal enemies shows up in-game as an eggplant merchant. I am the target audience. But I can’t imagine anyone not already invested in the universe having a good time.
Cyberdimension Neptunia looks better than any of the games before it, but it doesn’t run very well, suffers heavily from repetition, contains absolutely brain-dead A.I. on both sides of the fence, and borrows the least fun ideas from MMOs to incorporate them into 4 Goddesses Online. There’s only one save slot, which is a bummer in any RPG, and I also lost 45 minutes of progress after an unfortunate crash. However, the characters are charming, the story is light-hearted and enjoyable, and there are some absolute bangers on the soundtrack. A large portion of the game is spent inside of dialogue scenes, furthering the story and focusing on character development, and that’s when Cyberdimension shined brightest. There’s definitely something to love here if you’re a fan of the source material, but if you’re left wondering what all of the buzz is about, you’ll probably be better off spending your money elsewhere.
CO-OP MULTIPLAYER NOTE: This game does feature an online co-op mode that I was unable to test myself. I do not pay for PlayStation Plus, which is required to access this portion of the game. If co-op is a selling point for you, remember that this review is entirely based on the single-player story experience. You should probably go watch a few live streams or Let’s Plays and see how the online feature holds up.
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money. I trust in your ability to make the right decision!
Full disclosure: This review was done using a digital PS4 key provided by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.