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CONSOLE: PlayStation 4 DEVELOPER: Compile Heart; Tamsoft PUBLISHER: Idea Factory
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 10, 2017 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

The Exciting Adventures of Virtual Nep-Nep.

The Neptunia series is one you either love like it was your own child or hate like it was your own child. The long-winded, never-gonna-run-out-of-gas parody of the console wars starring four CPU goddesses representing the four major players in the game (Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, and... uhhh, Sega? Uhhhh), each with their own unique and often clashing personalities, is apparently a relative cash cow for Compile Heart and Idea Factory. It must be because they keep cranking out the games like chocolates on a conveyor belt, with related manga and anime not far behind. Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online continues that trend of popping them out like pregnancies, although it's certainly not quite the same as the earlier titles.

This time around, Neptunia is having a laugh at the expense of the popular MMORPG genre, those online games that suck any interest in the outside world out of you and trigger your inner desire to truly become a Level 78 elf mage with the DeusExGirlfriend spell that makes enemy hobgoblins sad. But make no mistake about it: Cyberdimension Neptunia, 4 Goddesses Online, despite having the word "Online" in the title, is NOT an MMORPG. Well, okay, it is, but it isn't. Consider this game an "MMORPG Simulator", where you're playing as someone playing an MMORPG. For once, the CPU goddesses have put aside their petty differences and are working together thanks to an early access code to the coolest MMORPG around, "4 Goddesses Online". There they must save the mythical world of Alsgard from the wicked Demon King Jester. Of course, it wouldn't be an MMORPG without annoying hackers trying to put salt in your game, so you'll have to deal with cheaters, too.

Cyberdimension Neptunia is an action-RPG at heart. Much of your time will be spent completing guild quests in a variety of dungeonesque-style areas from a thick, lush forest to a volcanic summit to, uh, what looks to be a computer simulator heavily branded with Unreal Engine 4 logos. Yes, that's real. The four girls (actually up to eight if you also use/level up their younger sibling counterparts to work with you) work in tandem to defeat enemies as a full party, which does make your job a little easier, although (as you might expect), you'll be doing most of the heavy lifting, as CPU-controlled characters rarely are self-sufficient. At least one of them likes to die at inopportune moments, usually during boss battles where you need all the womanpower you can muster. Each character is also able to equip up to eight different spells and special moves, each of which consume Skill Points, restorable by directly attacking enemies or by using a refill item.

Perhaps the most notable inclusion is a Break Gauge, where by continuing to whittle down an enemy's HP, their break gauge slowly decreases. When it reaches zero, the enemy is temporarily incapacitated and much lower in defense, so you and your CPU homies can sneak in and slice the heck out of it. The payoff feels good, although sometimes the amount of effort needed to make that break happen is excessive. The combat does feel rather satisfying, even when my buddy Nep-Nep starts slicing in the wrong direction.

That still doesn't mean it's a perfect or even a great game.

The battle system puts the "fun" in functional. The number of enemies you encounter is surprisingly small and are often palette swaps. Even in the age of PlayStation 4, we have palette swaps to save development time. But at least so many of them take so long to kill, you won't even notice. Even bosses get recycled... several times over. Not being an MMORPG player myself, I can't speak for certain whether recycling happens in other games, but it's certainly beastly here. Typically the major change is a significant upgrade in total HP and strength but little else.

We also need to be realistic: this is a Compile Heart game. Although the Compile company of olde could type out a wicked shooter any day of the week, that version of Compile is dead. Blame bankruptcy. But now we have Compile Heart, the spiritual successor developer, but really, it's barely spiritual in nature, barely a successor, and sometimes barely a developer, focusing more on cute girls and a weird breast size obsession. If you're looking for a AAA-quality game, similar to that of a BethesdaRockstar Games production, you'll be sorely disappointed by Compile Heart's output. The original Hyperdimension Neptunia ran at such a dismal framerate that you may have confused parts of the game for a slideshow. (Exaggeration level: mid-high)

Taste the rainbow. Slay the rainbow.

Thankfully, although not quite at a solid framerate all the time, Cyberdimension Neptunia absolutely exceeds the expectation by having fairly smooth action and environments that are pleasing to the eye with lush, vibrant colour schemes. And I cannot tell a lie: the music is pretty hip, laden with luscious electronic beats that may force a dance break.

As expected from a Neptunia game (and a non-AAA game), all cutscenes are heavily text-based and ramble on about three times as long as they should. The character profiles have a little movement, but not even their mouths move as they talk. For a developer with this many titles under its belt (and working alongside Tamsoft, another prolific though admittedly lower-budget company), they should be able to upgrade and have cutscenes with full 3D models that move around by 2017, but nope, there is none of that here. Cutscenes (both necessary and unnecessary) are more than frequent and beyond verbose, but at least they're skippable. If you want fanservice and backstory, Cyberdimension Neptunia has it all. To further emphasize the lower budget, all the locations are menu-based. When you visit the "town", it's just a big map with things to point and click on, rather than a thriving interactive city. It's disappointing, though at the same time convenient. No walking required!

Worse yet, the game has rough glitches that cannot be ignored. At least on five occasions (probably more), seemingly successful boss battles would hit a snag when my character would suddenly become randomly stuck in place, typically in very close quarters with the boss itself. I found myself unable to move for an extended period of time. In several of those cases, I was frozen to a particular spot for the remainder of the battle, sometimes causing a loss. Though not entirely game-breaking, it's a horrible glitch that should've been caught by the QA team, if they have one. Maybe it's just a guy in his basement sporting an Ouran High School Host Club T-shirt with marmalade and pizza stains all over it.

Also, the character Vert is creepy, and unbearably so. She really wants NPC assistant Bouquet to be her honorary sister and seems to force herself on Bouquet in every conversation they have. Vert even goes so far as to wedge Bouquet between her enormous breasts on several occasions. This takes away from the game itself very severely, which is already so wordy and laden with incessant text-based cutscenes that it could qualify for a Peabody Award.

Cyberdimension Neptunia is, all in all, a fun game, but its limitations and obvious corner-cuts remain glaring and put a damper on a potentially high-quality game. For whatever strange reason, I completed all guild quests as well. Every. Single. One. And my reward for doing so? Nothing. There was zero fanfare. Maybe Compile Heart assumed I wouldn't get that far. Maybe I shouldn't have tried.

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