I had been exactly 1 year, 2 months and 2 weeks since Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls when Cyberdimension Neptunia 4 Goddess Online hits Japanese shelves last February. Compile Heart had declared in April 2016 that this time they would take their time and not disappoint. 1 year later, what’s left of that promise? Not much I’m afraid…
For that 2nd PS4 exclusive, Compile takes a similar approach to Hyperdimension Neptune U, which means a action-RPG spin-off that tells a small parallel story to the main episodes. In this one, Neptune, Blanc, Vert and Noire are testing a VR MMO, the famous Four Goddess Online played by Vert in the main series. For that, Cyberdimension Neptunia has little story focus, despite the hacking part which slightly bolstered the interest. In the end, the narrative had little surprise and very flat story-telling.
The city is where you’ll chat with all the characters. That’s the place where all the funny things happen via chatting here and there. You’ll make acquaintance with Kiria & Kuronekohime, two lovers intending to clear the game before Neptune’s party. The reference made to Reki Kawahara’s universes is pretty clear and there are some cool Easter Eggs to Sword Art Online, plus some clever jokes like confession part in the cathedral or Uzume’s strange pet. But in terms of overall side content, it was light and somewhat boring. Some anecdotes were very strange, not to say embarrassing like Vert’s tea lectures. I’m still wonder how we came from console wars to tea… That felt horribly out of place, sign that no interesting renewal has been found for the series.
Characters were notably under-used : Kiria & Kuronekohime vanish at mid-game and personally I’d have wanted further story development for Mein who has been the most sympathetic new girl. It is quite striking to notice that Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first episode that does not introduce a new playable character. The 4 little sisters quickly join your party, followed by Purple Heart, Black Heart, Green Heart and White Heart who are separate characters in this title. That makes a somewhat underwhelming total of 12 playable characters when recent episodes did much better on that.
But as far as I’m concerned, the most disheartening side is that there are few illustrations, most of them not that fantastic. It’s pretty, but bland. Tsunako’s talent is misused and you could sense that in the interview just before release. Cyberdimension Neptunia is at the end of a political process aimed at watering down the experience by removing fan-service as much as possible to make it some classic kawaii JRPG. But in doing this, the series is just becoming shallower and fades in comparison to Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash for example. Here again, that goes against what had been said in the April 2016 interview : it’s clear that there is nothing to expect anymore.
Funny to notice that after April 2016, official speech focuses on only one thing : Unreal Engine 4. Compile had promised a revolution thanks to the powerful engine. In a way, it’s a success : Cyberdimension Neptunia is definitely seamless compared to past episodes, to the point you really feel the series has made a step forward. Movements so quick that you have to re-learn how to play. It’s a real pleasure to witness the Neptunia universe running at 60 fps. Special effects and lightning effects have also improved a lot, and some character (not all) models seems sharper than before. However, environments still looks pretty barren, and maps are somewhat tiny. Level design is bad and exploration is absent. Once again, we’re far from what Megadimension Neptunia VII had offered in that department.
It’s a game in a game, so the characters get fixed jobs inspired by classical RPG, that are different to what you’ve been accustomed to : Noire is Black Knight and fights now with a spear, Rom and Ram become respectively Samurai and Ninja, and therefore fight head to head against monsters. All characters can equip 4 skills or magic spells, which you choose via the rear buttons, just like in Dragon Quest Heroes for example. Those are pretty much welcome to complete the one and only combo available per character, first sign of shallow gameplay. Locking proved very unstable and unable to give a clear sight in battle. Dodging is totally ineffective, but there’s a reason for that : Cyberdimension Neptunia’s gameplay is based on guard & counter. Hitting after a successful guard trigger a counterattack, something that quickly becomes natural all game long.
The problem is that it produces a static and lackluster battle system. There player may be bored quickly by such lack of variety, another problem being the low challenge. You have a whole second to launch your counterattack, enemies are weak, brainless and your own characters gain experience and levels at breakneck pace. There aren’t many enemies on the map either, so you don’t have the same enjoyment as the PSVita action games.
Bosses are considerably rehashed within the game, and show poor battle patterns. Game over doesn’t even exist. So in the gameplay department alone, Cyberdimension Neptunia seems a major failure to me, only the final being tough enough to bring some fever.
The lack of care in the development is obvious when you look at the general picture. As unbelievable as it may sound, the live 2D, which was born with the series, is out : 2D models are sadly fixed and lip sync is nowhere to be seen either. The use of Unreal Engine 4 didn’t go very far. Cut-scenes are rare (2 or 3 tops) and fail to impress too. Photo mode doesn’t stop the action, so a lot less good than the one in MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune vs Zombie Army. The multiplayer has been simply dreadful since only the room host could benefit from correct frame-rate. It took Compile and Tamsoft about 30 days to address this problem among other bugs. Far too late : a game that can be platted within 30-40 hours doesn’t last you one month…
“1 year for this?”. That’s what I wondered while watching the end credits of Cyberdimension Neptunia. Despite the unquestionable graphical improvements, we find ourselves with an episode delivering very little in every other aspect instead of tackling long-lasting drawbacks. A game of a series that has lost its true self, with insufficient volume, and that ultimately come to remind us that graphics alone don’t make a great game.