The Neptunia franchise has been a main staple for Compile Heart ever since its first installment launched in Japan back in 2010. There’s been a game in the series just about every year; whether it be a spinoff, remake, mobile app or anime series, the franchise shows no slowing down. 4 Goddesses Online marks its spot as a new entry in the series and the first to use Unreal Engine 4. Compared to the previous titles, the game looks and feels much better in terms of graphics and gameplay.
Let’s Start Already!
When you first start 4 Goddesses Online, you have to sit through each company’s unskippable animated logo and then a loading screen that tends to be a little perplexing with its percentages. After that you can skip the animated intro and finally begin the game. Overall, you are looking at a wait time of around 3 minutes, with around 2 minutes of that being the loading screen. It’s possible the lengthy initial load is thanks to online elements, but it still feels like it takes too long to get to the action. Often times I could go make a batch of coffee and even let it cool down before I start playing. Thankfully, the opening animation is fun and does build the hype back up.
While it is preferred to play the past Neptunia entries, it’s not needed, especially as 4 Goddesses Online is seen as a spin-off. Neptunia, one of the game’s protagonists, explains each main character in the game to the audience, detailing some of their background so you aren’t left in the dark.
The story begins as Neptune, Noire, Blanc and Vert receive beta testing access to an updated “4 Goddesses Online” massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). In the beta’s lore, the main characters must seek help of the four goddesses to help prevent evil from taking over the world. After playing a couple dungeons, characters from the previous Neptunia entries arrive as beta testers and join the original cast to form a guild, calling it “C.P.U.” (Console Patron Units).
Every character has a unique class which isn’t changeable. For example, Neptune is a paladin while Vert is an enchanter. This ultimately gives you many options when it comes to building your party and it’s also easy to choose favorites. To progress through the story, you are required to build up the guild’s rank by completing quests. Most of the time you’ll revisit dungeons countless times, which can quickly become a chore. That said, some of the quests kept my interest when it comes to leveling up characters, gaining ranks and getting materials for upgrading weapons and armor.
Let’s Go On an Adventure!
The actual gameplay in 4 Goddesses Online is more of an action Japanese RPG, with it simply borrowing elements from MMORPGs for its story, such as chat boxes and creating online parties for quests. At least the dungeons are similar to MMORPGs, as enemies are spread across the map with high health points. The first time you enter the dungeon you’ll want to pick-off your opponents gradually but when revisiting you’re free to go all-out without any issues thanks to the level difference or just run pass them to get to the dungeon’s boss. These high powered enemies have tons of HP but are easy to defeat so long as you defend at the right times and your party is given the right commands to attack and heal appropriately.
The sizes of the dungeons are relatively small at first but they do become larger as you progress though the game. Unfortunately, the camera can become frustrating at times when exploring, as well as during fights. I’ve run into issues where it gets stuck during a dungeon boss, with the screen being blacked out aside from damage numbers popping up. There is the option of resetting the camera with a button press but during this boss fight the function didn’t work until the boss moved on its own.
While playing the game in solo-mode, you can give various commands to your party such as balancing attack, defend and healing or using simpler commands like defense only or focusing on using skills. Each character has certain unique skills that are relative to their classes and can hold up to four per skill set. Using them in battle requires holding the trigger button and hitting one of the buttons prompted on screen. Using these requires skill points (SP) which are regenerated as you battle without using skills, which ultimately makes the items used to regain SP pretty useless unless you are in a pinch in battle.
Some skills can generate combos, healing bonuses, status enhancements and even spells. As you progress you can gain “Awakening” skills which can be used to enhance your party’s status, such as granting higher attack power. However it is only for a limited time. The game’s battle mechanics are pretty straightforward and nothing too new when compared to other action RPGs. You can change the leader and party members while exploring, which is great if you need to change your battle tactics. However, when the leader dies in battle you are sent right back to the game’s hub, though you thankfully get to keep the experience and items you gained in battle. There’s also an option to play online with other people to form a party and take on quests, but remember that you’ll need to have a PlayStation Plus subscription.
Time to Go Home
The game’s hub town has about everything you need before and after your dungeon explorations. You navigate the area via a flat, illustrated map that lays out all the landmarks and has several random chibi characters scattered across it. At first not everything is unlocked but as you progress, you’ll have more options made available, such as upgrading your weapons and armor, purchasing gems and costumes. Once again, upgrading items is pretty standard fare for modern RPGs, though 4 Goddesses Online at least makes it easy to pick up necessary materials, as you tend to find them when re-exploring dungeons for quests.
Gems, meanwhile, are like upgrades to your character, which let you increase experience points gained, give extra protection and more. These gems can be purchased in a specialized store (sometimes the item store has a few) and found in dungeons.
The “Fancy Shop” is only for dressing up your character with clothes and accessories, which are purely cosmetic. This is also where you’ll be able to equip the many DLC outfits, if you choose to buy them. You can also take accessories and adjust the position on their character and even the size. It’s a nice feature to have for customization, but you can safely ignore it if you aren’t interested.
The map also features the Guild, which is where you’ll spend most of your time as it’s where you can accept and report your quests, which is how you get more items, money and story progression. When you do complete your quests, you may be prompted by your leader saying the quest is completed. Otherwise, you have to go out of your way to view all your recent activities in the text box or manually go into the menu to see all active quests. Ideally it would help if a better notification appeared on screen as each quest is finished, as it can get occasionally confusing thanks to being able to take on multiple quests at a time.
There is also a Cathedral where you can save your game, view unlocked illustrated scenes and do “prayers”. These enhance status effects for your party before heading out to complete quests they but come at a cost.
By conversing with the characters on the map you can find various kinds of dialogues, some more essential than others. These are all illustrated but animated in more ways than the traditional horizontal movements. These conversations are how you unlock the aforementioned illustrated scenes and they also open up the storyline further. Many of them are also pretty entertaining, with Neptune breaking the 4th wall often and the game having a general irreverent tone. The voice acting is done pretty well and fans of both English and Japanese shouldn’t have to worry. While the town is not as interactive compared to high-profile RPGs, it gets the job done efficiently and effectively.
Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is a step in the right direction for the franchise, even if the battle mechanics are simple with some goofy camera angles; the game is worth looking into even if you have not played any of the previous titles.