Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online

PlayStation 4

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online
A new RPG called 4 Goddesses Online has seized the world of Gamindustri, and its newest beta players are the realm's four patron goddesses: Neptune, Vert, Noire, and Blanc. They soon discover that other characters from their world are aboard, including their younger sisters, and thus begins their quest to save the online-RPG world and squabble along the way.
Neptunia is a series of inexhaustible potential. The central RPGs feature anime heroines who represent various game consoles and companies, and that makes for rampant and excusable genre parody. Put the characters in a pop-idol simulation or a strategy-RPG and you're not just cynically exploiting a media franchise. You're satirizing an industry!

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online heads into online RPGs, an understandable path when you consider that half of all modern anime series and 90 percent of light novels are set in virtual fantasy networks. It's a game within a game, as the world of Gamindustri (get it?) hosts a hot new MMO destination called 4 Goddesses Online, and the realm's patron deities join up. The confident Vert symbolizes the Xbox line and plays an enchanter, the uptight Blanc represents Nintendo and runs a priest, and the lonesome nerd-in-denial Noire is a Black Knight spearfighter. Leading them all, of course, is the indolent and chipper Neptune, based roughly on a never-released Sega console of the same name.

Their adventure through 4 Goddesses Online plays into the staples of any such RPG: an overworld leads to various dungeons while a hub town stocks items and sidequests. Four characters are in an on-screen party, with one directly controlled while the three others follow their AI suggestions (and another four wait in sub-screen reserve). As the four sisters of the main quartet arrive, symbolizing handheld game systems, they add four more playable party members to the mix and leave Vert all the more desperate for her own sibling. Blame Microsoft for never making a portable Xbox.

The game starts humble, with the characters hacking across plains full of bear-faced slimes. Even so, it's speedy and efficient. Developer Tamsoft's found a trade in brawlers stocked with flashy heroines, including the previous Neptunia U Action Unleashed. They're in serviceable form here, and it's easy to jump into battle and pull off eight different special attacks at a button-flip's notice. The limited-range targeting and muddled AI partners don't make for a cohesive package, but there's a chaotic spark to the combat and the variety of character types. You're free to pelt foes with Uni's gunner spells, launch spells as Blanc, or play ninja and samurai with Ram and Rom.

If battles are quick, however, they seldom lead anywhere interesting. The levels are routine mazes peopled by repetitive assortments of enemies, most of which challenge the player only by virtue of their higher levels. Exploration soon becomes tepid, leaving us to wonder why 4 Goddesses Online is a popular game even in this fictional world. It's slightly more interesting when other players join in and cooperate, complete with a chat window.

Even as the brawling comes up short, Cyberdimension Neptunia never neglects its foundations. This is a game that wastes only three minutes until its first panty shot, five minutes until its first breast joke, and a mere seven minutes until the bustiest character envelops someone's face in her cleavage.

Yes, the Neptunia series always put its heroines foremost, along with gags about their risque foibles, revealing outfits, and propensity for post-victory group bathing. That's why Cyberdimension Neptunia has a fairly elaborate dress-up mode, with just as many slots for outfits and accessories as there are for weapons, armor, and power-up gems. It's also why the game has cameos from many other series mainstays, from Idea Factory and Compile Heart's representatives to a personified Tamsoft, who runs the local smithy here.

This brings up the most persistent failing of the Neptunia games: for all of the in-jokes, the satire within is sparse and unsatisfying. Sly humor might emerge about a character reflecting a game company (Noire is terrible with passwords!), but all around it are interminable conversations where the heroines simply restate the same things or trot out the same suggestive beats seen in any hackneyed anime comedy. Perhaps it's a deliberate choice to give the voice cast plenty of room, but it comes off as a beleaguered Hollywood production where everyone demanded equal lines.

For that matter, Cyberdimension Neptunia makes the same mistake as a great many anime comedies. It substitutes mere references for actual jokes. Among its perfunctory gags is an ace player named Kirio, an obvious jab at the spoiled-rotten protagonist of Sword Art Online, and yet there's no real bite to the character or the whole online-RPG setup. There's just a lot of chatter, in English and Japanese, from voice actresses who deserve better material (though Rom sounds pained). Special credit must go to Melissa Fahn, who makes Neptune a likable brat even after her voice clips repeat for the thousandth time.

Neptunia games can be amusing when the characters play out their console rivalries and bicker like schoolkids arguing the merits of Sega and Nintendo. Yet it's rare for the series to accomplish that, and rarer still without a pileup of tepid dialogue to smother the jokes. It's all a dispiriting contrast to the similarly envisioned Sega Hard Girls, whose adventures had repartee and jokes well outside of inside-gaming gags or cup-size comparisons. Perhaps fans can hope for another crossover.

Meanwhile, those same fans might find Cyberdimension Neptunia unsatisfying by series standards. The basic dungeon crawls benefit from crisp character models and an unannoying soundtrack, but elsewhere the game feels cheap: cutscenes don't even bother animating the characters' mouths, and there's a weirdly long loading time on the game's startup. The goddesses' cyber-savior incarnations, who usually enhance gameplay, are also slow to appear here.

Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online passes muster as a simplistic action game, with an efficient approach to button-flailing through battles. It's undone less by its own flaws than it is by the superior alternatives out there, ranging from God Eater 2 to the actual Sword Art Online games. Too drab in its story and too predictable in its humor, this pseudo-online RPG will entice few beyond the already entrenched Neptunia fanbase. For them, it'll be a vaguely compelling diversion until Idea Factory announces the inevitable Neptunia tournament fighter, kart racer, or falling-block puzzle game.

Overall : C
Graphics : C+
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : C-

+ Battles move briskly and offer a variety of characters
Dialogue is astoundingly dull, enemies and levels repeat

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