Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online Review
Release Date: October 10th, 2017
Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC
Nep-Nep and the gang of console inspired heroines return to bring players into a brand new landscape of virtual MMO goodness that takes inspiration from the likes of .hack and Sword Art Online while of course having that Neptunia charm players have grown accustomed to over the years. While many Neptunia games have either seen simultaneous releases with the Vita or future ports, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is built from the ground up for the PlayStation 4 and makes sure to deliver a Neptunia experience unlike ever before, with fresh combat, increased quality in animations, and so much more without having to dial things down a bit for parity.
Cyberdimension Neptunia has Neptune, Blanc, Vert, and Noire reunite to take on the virtual world in the online game 4 Goddesses Online as Beta Testers. In it, they find themselves in the land of Alsgard where their guide, Bouquet, aids them on their way through the game in search of fragments to help restore the Goddesses within the game to protect the land from the imminent arrival of the Demon King. It's a straightforward though uninspired story that makes it easy to know what to do or where to go next even if you stop playing the game after a while and pick it back up after who knows how long, which works to its favor seeing most RPGs it's easy to feel forever lost after not playing one for quite some time. Story has never been a strong area for the Neptunia series, but it's the gameplay and how 4GO presents itself that really helps this game shine.
Those familiar with the Neptunia series will still find a lot of similarities from previous iterations that have more or less become a staple with the series and help give it its own flair over the years, with the usual dungeon crawling, goofy dialogue, and what not, but if you've played titles like Sword Art Online: Lost Song/Hollow Realization or Dragon Ball Xenoverse, then you'll more or less know what to expect in terms of gameplay and how the menu system as well as attacks are utilized. These are games I like to call "Faux MMOs" - games that give the feeling of being a robust MMO though they're most obviously not, like Destiny and The Division. Though you can technically pause the game, even while menus are up and being used you're still able to move your character around the screen. Some games do well to optimize this for console use, but most of the time it's just a hassle to go through these menus while everything is still active, leaving your character at risk especially if you're in a populated dungeon. 4GO has a lot of these elements that, while intuitive, still struggles to find a suitable home on consoles thanks to limited buttons compared to a keyboard and mouse on PC. However, while there's a lot going on in the menus thanks to depth and customization, everything is organized quite well and easy to find. Those that have played real MMOs like World of Warcraft or Black Desert Online will get the hang of it really quickly.
The combat system is fluid while also allowing players the ability to customize moves to their liking and the inputs needed to execute them. You can have powerful physical attacks or passive magical attacks if you'd like, and macro them to whichever combination of buttons you'd prefer, such as R1+Circle being a huge 360 slash, and other button inputs allow for a deeper skill set as you can switch between a preset of skills on the fly. It's a nice way to make sure you're prepared for any situation given to you, while making sure you have the move-set that's attuned to your playstyle. It's a little off-putting at first, but you get the hang of it rather quickly. Thankfully, there's a quick tutorial in the beginning of the game (along with a little 4th-wall breaking) that'll walk you through the basics of combat, though you'll need to take it upon yourself to learn the mechanics beyond this. It's also worth noting that while Idea Factory and Compile Heart titles tend to have some of the worst tutorials in history with what feels like a never-ending slideshow, 4GO does well to give you less than 2-3 windows at a time that are to the point, and doesn't pop up incessantly even well after the start of the game. This makes it much more accessible to players jumping into a Neptunia game for the first time, and may help to broaden the appeal of the series here in the west.
There is, however, a slight issue with the presentation of 4GO. While the hub worlds and UI are clean and probably some of the best looking the series has had to date, there is still a massive imbalance between the dialogue and time spent in a dungeon. Since this is the only time you'll actually be in control of a character since there's no hub world that you can walk around in a 3D space. A lot of the dialogue - whether it be in sidequests, mainline stuff, or simple NPC interaction - can feel extremely prolonged as they discuss nonsense like what to have for dinner since they're so hungry after exploring (this can literally go on for 5+ minutes and has literally nothing to do with anything), Vert's obsession with Boutique, the usual banter of which region is better in Gamindustri, and other stuff. It'd be fine if these were just short, cute sections of dialogue that are maybe a few sentences long, but they actually become short-stories within themselves. It's a little absurd. It's a shame that this still hasn't been truly figured out yet in the Neptunia series, but 4GO is the closest we have so far to a massive RPG set in that universe with a little more freedom than usual. What does help this game stand out a little more than most, though, is that you can take on dungeons and raids with friends or other people from around the world thanks to its online feature, where you can also create guilds and recruit other players. It's a nice way to make things more inclusive and squeeze out more from the game, which I think is a massive plus given that 4GO lends itself nicely to multiplayer and would be much more enjoyable this way than in single-player, where it's a slow-going process of quest after quest and no real reward to gain other than spending time with Nep-Nep and the gang, because they're great and charming as always.
Overall, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is a fresh take on a series that has regular releases but doesn't really do much to innovate much on its mechanics or try very hard to appeal to a broader audience. The controls feel good, the graphics look nice, and the overall approach to how the game is played makes it one of the best Neptunia games to come out in quite some time, and arguably one of the best the series has seen in general. With so much to customize to your liking and having the ability of free-form combat, 4GO does well to make sure it's hard to put down, though, per usual Neptunia fashion, the game does have extensive dialogue that may deter some players. It's an element that tries to fuse the visual novel genre into a dungeon crawling RPG, and while RPGs surely have a ton of text, 4GO has a slight imbalance between going through text, spending time in its interactive menu/hub world, and actually scavenging dungeons and going on quests. The gameplay is great and makes players eager to jump in, so having uninspired cutscenes and conversations (though the animations are vastly improved this time around compared to other Neptunia titles) that feel like they're dragging on feel like an obstruction that's holding the game back from being a JRPG worth having at launch unless you're a big fan of the series.
- The characters we've grown to know and love for so many years are still as loveable as ever, but remain vigilant, focused, and badass throughout their quests and story
- A smooth 60fps with little to no issues in performance, with very appealing graphics to boot
- Overhauled hack and slash gameplay that feels so much better and welcoming compared to traditional Neptunia turn-based combat.
- The music complements each dungeon perfectly, and the map does well to walk you through where everything is situated as to not find yourself running in circles, which can be an issue for some dungeon crawlers.
- The hub world, while nice, is far from perfect and still makes no significant improvements over what we're used to seeing with the usual Neptunia games. It's just a fancier menu than the norm. I wish it was something we could walk around in, similar to Sword Art Online or Dragon Ball Xenoverse. Because of this I feel it loses its immsersion once you're done with a dungeon, and makes things feel like it's just quest after quest since there's not much else to do there.
- A lack of auto-saving caused me to lose data a few times due to power outages, crashes, or negligence on my part to remember to save before closing out of the game. Considering how much there is to do and explore within the dungeons, this is significant progress lost that needs to be redone. Would've been appreciated if it'd auto-save at least when entering and exiting a dungeon, or, like an MMO, save and be exactly where you were the moment you logged off.