Compile Heart isn’t a company to shy away from trying new things. Even their flagship series Hyperdimension Neptunia went through a number of different genres through the lifetime of the series. While they have dabbled in real-time combat, it was almost always for portable systems. Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is a much grander take on this idea.
Given its name, you might expect this to be a typical MMO set in the Neptunia universe, but actually, this is a single player title set in an MMO world. You play as the four goddesses of the game industry who are currently playing a beta of a MMORPG called 4 Goddess Online; The whole concept is meta on so many levels.
Yep, this is the same MMO that Vert was always going on about. Neptune plays as the noble paladin, Noire is the black knight with a powerful lance in tow, Blanc plays as the Priest, while finally, Vert takes on the role of enchanter. They are quickly joined by their younger sisters Uni, Nepgear, Ram and Rom. The group sets out to explore the vast fictional land of Alsgard in search of the four sacred treasures to awaken the Godessess.
With its typical RPG plot aside, Cyberdimension Neptunia features its usual self-aware and witty writing. The comedy is as good as ever and had us in stitches more than once. This is a game that throws out both Sword Art Online references and nods to the obscure Sega Dreamcast game Seaman. The more you know about gaming, in general, the more you’ll enjoy the wacky cast of characters.
For the first time in the series running around, freely slashing foes about feels totally organic. The breath of movement has been expanded over the previous real-time games, namely Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed and MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies, making for a genuinely liberating experience. Aside from your standard attack combo which you can unleash by hammering the square button, you can cast a spell, jump, dodge and defend. Defending at the last possible moment lets you execute a handy counter attack.
Unlike before you won’t be solo smashing through hordes of enemies with a single strike, but instead, you’ll take on smaller numbers of foes with your party and need to utilize whatever you have at your disposal. Enemies can take a beating, so you will have to make use of guard breaks. Using skills on enemies greatly reduces this gauge and once its depleted you will have a set amount of time to deal massive amounts of damage to the stunned foe.
You can quickly swap between party members. Neptune plays as your typical paladin which is perfect if you want to get up and personal, while Uni is the thief and can shoot from a safe distance. Unlike its previous gigantic character roster, Cyberdimension Neptunia only lets you play as the four goddesses and their younger siblings. Still, each character is unique enough, offering different playstyles bound to suit everyone’s needs.
You are always assisted by three other characters. They follow you around wherever you go, giving the game that MMORPG feel. They mostly do a good job of supporting you, but you are free to tell them what tactic they should employ, which ranges from engaging every enemy with all they got, to staying back and playing it safe.
While it feels like you are finally let off the leash, the combat does little to keep things exciting throughout. The camera feels way to clunky. It’s too easy to start attacking the enemy and quickly end up shooting past them. You will almost always be in the lock-on mode in order to connect hits with the enemy, but even that has its own problems as switching between locked on targets can be a hassle.
Even though this is primarily a single player game you can jump online and team up with three other players for co-op multiplayer. Unfortunately, even when you manage to find someone this is only for a single mission and the team disbands as soon as you return to town.
I genuinely feel disappointed that you cannot go out and explore the city, interact with all its quirky citizens. Instead, you navigate the city via the tried but true menu-driven interface. I would have loved to see the MMO town up close in person especially now with the improved visuals.
The series received a nice new coat of paint thanks to the power of Unreal Engine 4. Things look great and I couldn’t but be impressed when I cast my first fireball and have it illuminate individual blades of grass as it hurled forward. With this being said, both the framerate and resolution have taken a disappointing step back. After years of slowly but surely improving their framerate it is once again as laggy as ever, even on PlayStation 4 Pro. This is especially noticeable when compared to the modest looking Megadimension Neptunia VII. The game also has an extremely long initial loading which happens every time you start the game. Thankfully, once you do start the game, things load almost instantly.
Even the once excellent 2D visual novel scenes have taken a step back. The characters are now just static images, unlike their blinking, breathing counterparts from previous games. While the artworks are as lovely as ever and can be surprisingly expressive, it’s a shame that they lack the same polish as before, since these animations always gave the beautiful artwork life.
As usual, the Cyberdimension Neptunia features both English and Japanese voice acting. Fans will notice that Noire’s voice actor, Erin Fitzgerald, has been replaced, due to the recent video game voice actor strike.
While Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online feels like a technical improvement in many areas from its shiny visuals and real-time gameplay I can’t but help feel it’s more like two steps forward one step back. It’s evident that a number of issues stem from the fact that the game was made using a totally new engine. Fans of the Neptunia titles will enjoy this game, while newcomers might want to hold out for an inevitable sequel which is sure to polish the systems this game introduced.