4 Goddesses Online
A few days ago the MCM Comic Con set up shop over at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London. As usual, Idea Factory International were amongst the exhibitors, bringing with them a the first playable English-language demo for upcoming PS4 and PC game, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online.
As you’ve probably gathered from its lengthy title, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is both a new entry in Idea Factory’s flagship RPG series and its take on the MMORPG.
Simply put, we’re looking at a parody of the genre, where the four CPU candidates (think of them as anthropomorphised video game consoles) find themselves taking part in a beta test for a new online game. The game’s novel approach to a beta test revolves around how the four CPUs play it: Rather than witness them playing at their computers, which would make for incredibly dull entertainment, Neptune and company are literally in the game.
There was enough available to play in the demo to get a good feel of the game’s flow. It’s a predictable, but comforting one: You visit the Guild to accept quests, then pick a location to clear some quests, return to the guild, and then accept more quests. The main town square plays host to facilities where you can craft new weapons, buy and sale items, and generally cool down between expeditions to faraway locations.
These locations themselves aren’t really anything to write home about – environments were rather repetitious in their design and as a result most players are likely to opt for relying on the game’s generously detailed minimap for navigation purposes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering the quality of the quests at hand – collect x items, defeat y enemies – expeditions risk feeling like an exercise in box ticking.
The game’s combat looks like it’ll offer something more satisfying, however. Battles are active rather than passive, and heavily action oriented. You’ve got free movement of your character, a press of a button will lock on to an enemy, and another button brings up an assigned skill set – spells or attacks assigned to each of the four face buttons. Using skills depletes SP, but regular attacks regenerate it. There’s a pleasing rhythm to skirmishes that see you alternate between low-power attacks and heavy-hitting skills, all relative to which enemies you’re fighting and what moves they might be using.
From a demo alone it’s hard to tell how the balancing of the game’s mechanics will play out over its entire running time, but hopefully you’ll have to think carefully about which characters to include in your party, which commands you give to your AI companions, and which skills to assign to each skill set.
Despite being a spinoff, Cyberdimension Neptunia is the first game in the series to be made using Unreal Engine 4, and the results speak volumes. Lighting has received a notable upgrade, and there’s copious amounts of motion blur and shadowing. Basically, environments look richer, a big contrast from the spartan locales in previous Neptunias. Unfortunately, other areas of the game’s presentation haven’t received the same attention to detail. Character animation is stiff, collision detection is wonky, character models lack detail – this all contributes to a rather uneven, inconsistent when you’re jumping around and navigating the landscapes. But overall we’re looking at a welcome, and immediately noticeable improvement.
Tamsoft’s previous efforts in the Neptunia series weren’t anything special, often coming off as less creative, more derivative versions of existing games in the developer’s portfolio. 4 Goddesses Online feels different. The setting and gameplay mechanics fit the series’ narrative and RPG qualities in a more natural way.
With any hope Cyberdimension Neptunia won’t stick too close to comfortable tropes in the MMORPG playbook. The series is known for using self-deprecating humour to mock bad design, but it’s significantly less funny when you’re the one playing through them. Fingers crossed that the finished game’s quests offer something more compelling than what was on display in the demo.