Ever since the release of the original game back in 2011, the combined forces of Idea Factory and Compile Heart have released a new Hyperdimension Neptunia every year thus far. Whether it be a main series game, remake, or spin-off, each release has given fans a fresh look at the world of Gamindustri. For 2017, Idea Factory has released perhaps the most interesting spin-off to date: Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online. Somewhat set in the same universe as the main games (mk2 and the Victory duology), 4 Goddesses Online takes place inside the game of Vert’s favorite MMORPG of the same name. While not actually an MMORPG itself, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is an Action RPG designed to play like an online game.
But can Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online capture the thrill of an MMO, or is this imitation game as dead as a Phantasy Star Online server?
The story of Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online may be a familiar one. This is especially true for any fans of .hack// or Sword Art Online out there. Proceeding the public release, the four residing Goddesses of Gamindustri (Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert) are all given early access to the 4GO beta. This is likely due to not only their political status but also their fondness for the medium. Vert especially has been known to lock herself in her room and play for days at a time. Perhaps that is one of the many skills of being a Goddess?
Neptune is the first to enter, followed first by her three rival CPU and later the four CPU Candidates. Upon entry, they CUP meet the game’s navigational AI, Bouquet. One part Aura (.hack//), one part Yui (Sword Art Online), Bouquet introduces the CPU to the cyberspace around them. Designed like a medieval Gamindustri, Alsgard is a utopia once protected by 4 Goddesses of legend. Of course, they happen to look just like the Gamindustri Goddesses themselves. However, the world is anything but safe. A Demon King once sealed away by the Goddesses will soon be making his return. To combat him, the Gamindustri Goddesses must revive their Alsgardian counterparts. Only then may peace be ensured.
At this point, Hyperdimension Neptunia is like a fairy tale. While it has been told in many different ways, it is always essentially the same story. Interestingly the plot also seems to mirror the premise of the series’ spiritual sequel, Fairy Fencer F. Their too the protagonists worked to free a Goddess to battle a Vile God. While the concept for a “Neptunia Team” game is anything but original, it still somehow works in this title. Considering that most everything that goes wrong in World of Warcraft can be blamed on demons, throwing around words like Goddess and Demon King might not be a bad thing.
As per usual, the story’s shining moments are the dialogues between the main cast themselves. From Neptune and Noire to Nepgear and Uni, the dysfunctional bonds between these characters may very well stand the test of time. Considering the amount of time-traveling and dimension hopping in the series, that test has probably already been passed. While the four reigning Goddesses have always shared center stage, with the exception of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, Vert is arguably this game’s featured character. Considering the fact that both Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart and MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies are already a thing, it only makes sense that Vert’s own moment in the sun would be inspired by her MMO addiction.
In all serious, which is certainly a strange way to start a sentence in a Neptunia review, the series has never been known for great graphics. Of course, the cel-shaded charm has always been present. With the release of 4 Goddesses Online, Idea Factory and Compile Heart really stepped up their game. For the first time in series’ history, the game runs on Unreal Engine 4. Considering that many AAA titles such as Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy VII also use the Unreal Engine 4, this is a pretty big deal. Each character pops out more than ever before. While keeping the series’ now trademarked cel-shaded graphics, these Goddess games have never looked so beautiful. Whereas the previous games all suffered from some rather uninspiring level design and assets, the world of 4 Goddesses Online looks like a dream come true. Considering that Vert may have finally found herself a sister, the game isn’t really much different from a dreamland.
For some time now, Hyperdimension Neptunia as a series has been known for its iconic Live2D art. Live2D allowed Neptune, Nepgear, and friends to come to life in the second dimension with blinking, breathing, and bouncing character animation. This is an art that began with Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory that was only perfected over time. For reasons unknown, the use of Live2D is completely absent from Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online. Instead, 4 Goddesses Online makes use of traditional static images to depict the characters in skits and menu screens. While Tsunako’s designs are always of the highest quality, this step back is admittedly a bit disappointing. This is likely due to the switch in focus to the in-game character models, which is by no means a bad thing. As 4 Goddesses Online is technically a spin-off title despite taking place within the main series’ continuity, chances are that the fully animated character art could make its return with the next major release.
Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is not the first Action title in the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise and it will undoubtedly not be the last. Both Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed and MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies before it brought real-time action to the dimension of Neptunia. Both games offered gameplay similar to Tamsoft’s own Senran Kagura. What separates 4 Goddesses Online from its predecessors is its influence by Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.
Though not an MMORPG itself, this Action Role-Playing Game does its best to imitate it. Perhaps the game it plays like most is the console release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Unfortunately, 4 Goddesses Online does not offer player-creator characters like the average MMO. Considering the beauty of Tsunako designed characters, this is a missed opportunity, to say the least. In any event, players take controls of one of the returning CPU. While the game starts players with Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert, the four CPU candidates are quick to follow. Sadly many fan favorites such as Plutia and Uzume take the roles of NPCs this time around. Each character plays like a standard RPG class. Neptune, for example, is a Paladin while Vert plays the role of an Enchanter. Having previously played a Dragoon in Final Fantasy XIV, Noire’s Black Knight playstyle felt particularly great. As expected, she is a DPS character designed to battle on the front lines. Blanc, however, takes the role of a Priest and is best suited for ranged combat and support. While the game can be played online or off, even the satisfyingly intelligent AI makes each fight feel more strategic than the average hack-and-slash title.
As described above, each battle takes place in real time. While the combat overall feels quite simple at first, especially when compared to its more flashy predecessors, the game’s depth is quick to emerge. As with actual MMORPGs, characters each have skills to unlock and utilize. While these are all based on class, they generally range from attacks, spells, and supports. These are accessed by holding down one button while pressing another. With similar controls seen in the PlayStation release of Final Fantasy XIV, this feels surprisingly natural. Considering the fact that the game never really pauses even while accessing menus and options, the ease of skill and item usage is certainly something to celebrate.
In terms of basic combat, there are 3 main actions: attack, jump, and block. Each character has a basic attack which is the base of the utility tool belt. With the ability to jump, this brings light aerial combat into play. Considering the size of most bosses in the game, this can come in quite handy. One of the game’s best mechanics is surprisingly the block feature. In addition to holding the block button to decrease damage taken, players also have an option to parry. By toggling the block button at the right moment, the character will jump back from danger then lunge forward with an attack. As this not only prevents combat damage but provides a greater attack than the standard barrage of slashes and thrusts, timing becomes everything.
While not an open world, each area of 4 Goddesses Online is a decently sized map. If anything, the levels each feel like a plethora of instances or dungeons. From forests and mountains to ruins and caves, each area feels unique and carefully designed. The only disappointment here is the lack of a hub world. If Sonic Adventure and Super Mario Sunshine can have hub worlds to bridge levels together, one would think that a game doing its best to emulate MMOs might do the same. While the rest of the game does admittedly do a decent job at creating this illusion. The immersion ends when the town menu begins.
After almost 7 years and 13 games, the goddesses of Hyperdimension Neptunia have become like girls next door. Each design, quote, and voice can be easily distinguished by even the most casual of Neptunia fans. Because of that, it is that much more alarming when a recast occurs. Sadly, series veteran Erin Fitzgerald does not return to voice Noire in Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online. Instead, Erica Mendez (best known for Nico Yazawa in Love Live!, Yuuki in Sword Art Online, and Jack the Ripper in Fate/Apocrypha), picks up where Erin left off. While this change certainly came unwanted, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As usual, the overall dub of the game is solid. While different, Erica’s Noire still fits the character. While the voice may not sound quite right at first, Erica’s experienced acting chops should easily grow on even the dedicated Neptunia player.
In terms of the Soundtrack, 4 Goddesses Online mixes existing and new music per series’ tradition. While the new music doesn’t overly stand out, it does compliment the game’s vibe. As discussed before, 4 Goddesses Online plays something like a lite Final Fantasy XIV. Because of this, it is only fitting that the music has a bit of a Final Fantasy vibe. Let us not forget that Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu has also written music for the Hyperdimension Neptunia series in the past. With this in mind, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the music selection might sound similar. This is especially noticeable while traversing the game’s many levels. With each level design grander than ever before, the new music selection is the final piece of bringing the game’s world to life.
Overall, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is a great get away from the main series.The story feels like the mischievous love child .hack// and Sword Art Online. Considering the recent popularity of the “trapped in an MMO” troupe, the premise feels right at home in a Neptunia’s self-parody writing. While nothing revolutionary, the MMORPG inspired gameplay features a surprising amount of depth. The graphics and level design are both outstanding. With any luck, this is only a peek of what is to come in future installments. If only the game didn’t take so long to load…
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online 8.4 little sisters out of 10.