Idea Factory and Compile Heart have really been having a go of it with their Neptunia series. With all of the main titles and spin offs, the series feels a bit daunting. It has to be for the developers, too, as they have made it a habit of reusing existing assets and maps to flesh out the rest of the new content that goes into the new titles. Even ardent series fans might rankle at the overabundance of titles when they would rather have a completely fresh experience with more time and care put in. With Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online, developer Tamsoft has finally done just that. Using Unreal Engine 4 for the first time, the maps are new, the characters have been revamped and the action is done right. The series has tried to make the switch from turn based to real time combat before. This time, they’ve got it.
The starting plot does seem a bit trite. The goddesses of Gameindustri, Neptune, Vert, Blanc and Noire have been invited to play in a closed beta for the hottest new MMORPG to come along in forever, called 4 Goddesses Online. Once in, they learn the plot of the game. Bad stuff is happening, the four goddesses are trapped in sleep on the other end of a fallen bridge, and four artifacts must be collected and presented to an alter to wake them and get their help. Still, it seems strange that these fictional goddesses are so similar to the players….
Despite the initial lack of creativity, Neptunia manages to keep it afloat with a buoyant sense of humor, calling out gaming tropes, breaking the fourth wall and making other characters uncomfortable. Some might point out that the humor is a bit on the nose, which isn’t far from the truth. It’s similar to booping someone on the nose while screaming “HONK” and then giggling endlessly. It’s a bit annoying at first, but with a little time, one can’t help but to laugh along. Frankly, the humor does vary, with plenty of subtle digs at the game consoles the goddesses represent as well as plenty of parodies and references that fly at the player at a pretty quick clip. Having been reading the Sword Art Online: Progressive series recently, I was especially pleased at the appearance of a thinly veiled take on a certain black garbed swordsman.
The gameplay itself centers around completing quests, whether story based or to improve guild ranking. Players take to the fields, large open maps that can be explored at will, to solve the quests. As the game progresses, these areas get increasingly bigger and more open ended. It’s possible to spend some pleasant time doing nothing more than wandering these worlds, killing monsters, grinding XP and searching for ample amounts of materials to craft without doubling back too much, if the player just wants to turn their brain off for a bit. The side quests are designed to minimize scrounging too hard while the main objectives are smartly placed so that the protagonists don’t miss them. This is a game that’s built for many different moods.
Actual combat is well put together. It starts off feeling like a simple hack and slash affair with three AI teammates to watch the back, but in little time, it becomes apparent that the other systems are in place for a reason. A block button is in place, with proper timing allowing for a parry. This becomes a required tool in use, but the window for activation is wide open to make up for the chaos of four different special attacks going off at once. An ever increasing repertoire of magic spells and special moves can be assigned to quick use buttons, allowing for tons of tactical options. Combined with the fluidity of the combat and the bright colorful visuals, these systems come together to create a deep yet accessible action/RPG that feels great to play.
The one exception to this might be the camera. There is a lock on feature to keep eyes on the enemy, but some attacks cause the player to leap past their foe. Normally, this isn’t an issue and the camera smartly readjusts. Sometimes, though, it can hang. A quick double tap of the right bumper fixes it, and it does become second nature, but it’s an issue at first.
The accessible depth plays across all of the game’s systems. There’s new weapons and armor to purchase and then improve, prayers to offer, and gems to find and equip, among other things. Action/RPGs have had these mechanics in them for awhile, but so many recent titles have tried reinventing the wheel, creating a gibbering mass of nonsense. 4 Goddesses Online doesn’t try to over complicate matters, choosing instead to keep all of the options in and streamline them sensibly.
A true dig that can be made against this game is that the characters don’t seem to be gaining any more depth. We’ve had these ladies around for awhile and it be nice to seem them grow in personalities as time goes on. This was a problem awhile back and the developers attempted to rectify it by introducing new, younger characters like NepGear, RAM & ROM and Big the Cat. (Not really). Nobody is asking for a new, darker Neptune that sees her tearing the still beating heart from a mewling dogoo, but it would be nice to see some development across the series. On the other hand, there is something to be said about a comfortable consistency. Also, this game does a fantastic job of introducing players to the recurring characters so that this is a great place for a new player to jump in.
The only other issue comes in the form of the sound design. As is normal for the series, every time something is found, it is loudly announced. Found something! Digging for coal! Na-na-na-naaaaa! Once in a while is cool. Every time is grating, folks. Please Tamsoft, Idea Factory, and Compile Heart: stop that.
Speaking personally, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online was a tonic I needed that arrived at just the right time. It’s pure, cheerful escapism that only wants to be fun for the player. Some might say that it tries too hard and this outing won’t change any minds. Fans will tell you that the damnable earnestness of it all lifts it up. This is also the first time that the series has managed to feel great in a true action form. Perfectly hitting every note that makes this series so popular, fans of Neptunia will have plenty to do with 4 Goddesses Online and those curious about the series should start here.