Cyberdimension Neptunia breaks my heart. I’ve been inching my way into the Hyperdimension Neptunia series for years and while I never had a taste for the grind-heavy JRPG mainline entries, the genre-swapping spinoffs gave me a great avenue to experience these bright and quirky characters. After years of slightly unpolished PS Vita games, Cyberdimension Neptunia was finally announced. This is a big budget console entry, an action RPG built on Unreal Engine 4, and it felt like the stars had aligned. In a cruel twist of fate, even though it felt almost made for me, it just isn’t that great.
Despite being a home console title, the story setup for Cyberdimension Neptunia falls in line with what you’d expect from the spinoff games. The main characters and all the notable side character have been selected to beta test an advanced new high-fantasy MMO video game. Everything takes place inside this game, and you’ll follow the core cast as they follow along with the campaign of the MMO. Along the way you’ll be treated to a head-spinning amount of video game and fantasy references, most of which are actually pretty clever and rarely feel forced or ham-fisted.
The story of the MMO is pretty cheesy and generic, but that kind of helps to serve the parody-like nature of the game you’re playing. The real narrative comes from the characters following and reacting to the MMO story, and the character arcs and interactions they have along the way. This is also a game where humour comes first, and it delivers in spades, especially thanks to the solid deliveries by the talented English voice cast. The writing and humor is probably the strongest part of the entire package.
I wish I could say the visuals were the most impressive part of the game, because the jump to Unreal Engine 4 has made this the most beautiful Neptunia game, hands down. Character models are gorgeous and well-detailed with crisp and fluid animation. Environments are vast and expansive, and while they’re still pretty basic in terms of detail, the incredible lighting and colours make them pop.
Unfortunately, those visuals come at a steep cost. The most egregious flaw is the full four minutes of unskippable logos and loading screens every time you start the game. I thought it was only for the first launch and maybe just a video game joke, but I soon realized that every time you launched the game, you would have to sit through all of that. The front-loading doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, either. In-game, you’ll still experience plenty of loading screens and the frame rate is constantly choppy. Each time you load an area you’ll experience a jarring frame rate hiccups, and from then on you’ll still experience dips here and there. Even hub world menus and character portrait cutscenes exhibit weird slowdown and choppiness.
The irony is that for all of the upgrades the 3D visuals have gone through, the 2D visuals have suffered for it. Unreal Engine 4 doesn’t support the Live2D technology that Idea Factory uses to make character portraits move and breath. Because of this, the game has downgraded character portraits to simply being static, unmoving illustrations.
Thankfully, the poor performance doesn’t really impact actually playing the video game, but that doesn’t stop it feeling rough. The best word I can use to describe the combat in Cyberdimension Neptunia is ‘floaty’. You’ve got a standard attack button, and two sets of four special attacks to cycle through with a shoulder button, but none of them have any real impact or punch to them. Enemies don’t flinch or react to your hits, so all you’re really doing is mashing attacks until an enemy has zero health. You’ve got a wide variety of characters with different RPG classes to play as, but I quickly found myself abandoning all melee characters because of how much damage I’d suffer from the enemies I was trying to attack. Switching to a ranged character puts you out of range of most enemy attacks, but abilities still lack weight, and combat is still just mashing the button to make numbers appear.
If you don’t want to deal with those pesky enemies, though, you can run and jump away from every enemy you encounter. The game never designs situations for you where combat is mandatory or running past enemies is impossible, making the act of combat a choice that I rarely wanted to engage with. Unfortunately, you’ll need to if you want to level up enough to fight the bosses that you will have to battle. While these massive enemy encounters involve some strategy in dodging attacks and learning patterns, they mostly boil down to tedious, bullet sponge engagements that might drive you crazy.
Still, I enjoyed putting up with most of these encounters in order to experience the next bit of bubbly, entertaining story. I wish the structure of the main quest line was a bit more coherent, though. You’ll often find yourself having to do mundane side quests and popping in and out of the hub world until a new main quest interaction inexplicably appears.
In this hub world, you’ll also buy items, equipment, and new costumes or accessories. The customization options available were a huge treat, and by the end of the game you’ll have a variety of slick looking outfits available for each character, including their classic non-MMO outfits.
Something I’ll briefly touch on is the online multiplayer component. It’s bad, y’all. It consists of up to four players working together to do the various missions from the main campaign, but you can’t invite friends to your room and your group is automatically disbanded after each mission. You’ll also experience terrible rubber-banding and network lag in almost every session. Don’t bother with it.
I was so ready for an action RPG entry in the Neptunia series to come along and scratch my itch, but instead it puked on my lap and barely touched the itch. I had so much fun with the story and characters, but with better combat and more consistent performance, this game could’ve been something special.
Version tested: PlayStation 4