"Instead of being a full-fledged MMO, it's an action RPG that looks like an MMO."
There's a new Neptunia sheriff in town! Having played all of the Neptunia games, main games and spin-offs, I know this franchise extremely well. I even run a fan page on Facebook for the series where I post news updates and random facts about the games (like a console's anniversary). I genuinely enjoy the games. It's not because they have amazing stories or innovative gameplay, but because it's a series that does not take itself too seriously. With a series that represents video game companies and/or consoles, you get a cast of characters that can parody both companies and systems in some way. Nintendo's representative, Blanc, is the youngest looking of the bunch, which makes fun of Nintendo's child-friendly business practices; Microsoft's representative, Vert, has the biggest breasts to represent Microsoft's oversized controllers and consoles. For me, along with the humor, the characters' chemistry with each other is what makes the games enjoyable.
Speaking of Vert, if you've played the Neptunia games before, you probably recognize the videogame that she plays: Four Goddesses Online is the title of the online MMORPG that occupies her spare time (all the time). I remember hearing discussions in the Neptunia community a couple of years ago, wondering if perhaps we might see a Neptunia MMO. What better way to get me back into MMOs than one about the Neptunia series? Well, Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is about halfway there. Instead of being a full-fledged MMO, it's an action RPG that looks like an MMO.
I have a Japanese import of the game, and the story goes something like this: Vert invites the other goddesses and their sisters to the beta test for a new version of 4 Goddesses Online. In the game world of 4 Goddesses Online, the players are "chosen ones," tasked with saving the land from an evil demon king. They are led by a guide named Bouquet, who gives them instructions on the game's lore and history.
Another reason to like this series is the voice acting. The Japanese dub uses quite a few big names in its cast, and they complement each other pretty well. As for the English dub, this title might be looking different for the English cast. The mainstay voice actress of the character Noire, Erin Fitzgerald, has announced she will not be providing her voice for this game in support of the voice actor strike. She's the only voice actress I've heard of so far that will not be returning to the series until the strike is successful.
This game is developed by Compile Heart/Idea Factory with help from Tamsoft, who has worked on the two other action titles: Action Unleashed and Blanc + Neptune vs. Zombies. This plays more like a typical action RPG rather than MMO style gameplay, but it still uses MMO elements like a chat system and not being able to pause during play. You only control one character at a time, with the others being controlled by AI. Swapping characters happens through the menu and you can control AI behavior through preset commands.
At launch, however, the AI was almost unusable. Blanc, the healer, would not heal automatically, even if you were on the verge of death, and Vert would attempt to buff without having the SP to do so, which resulted in her just standing completely still and not engaging in combat. The AI would also run into unfavourable situations like attacking enemies that explode upon death or not dodging even in response to a powerful enemy attack. The AI behavior was eventually patched, making the experience more enjoyable. It also meant that I could stop playing Blanc exclusively just to make sure I kept everyone alive.
I remember dropping the game fairly early because I was extremely annoyed that the game had no way to revive fallen teammates while out in the field. To me, this is a big RPG no-no. Also, getting your own controlled character knocked out was an instant trip back to town, with items to revive yourself not coming until later in the game. Since then, the game was patched, including a new item to revive teammates. I was planning on going back to the game after that patch, but other issues came up that stopped me from returning to it.
This game is the first in the series to use the Unreal Engine and, as a result, the game looks better than previous games. Unfortunately, the backgrounds still don't look as good as they could, even if they worked more on the characters' models. Both Compile Heart/Idea Factory and Tamsoft have not worked with the Unreal Engine before, and it shows. The game suffers from an inconsistent framerate. This is not ideal for an action game, and hopefully it can be rectified in a patch. 4 Goddesses Online also takes a few minutes to load once you start. I'm not sure if this is common in games these days. Think Grand Theft Auto V's load on startup; it's kind of like that.
While the previous action games, Action Unleashed and Blanc vs. Zombies, were just action games, this has more of an RPG flavor to it. The series has slowed down as of late to focus on creating better experiences, and Megadimension Neptunia VII is a testament to how much better these games can become. If 4 Goddesses Online launches with the later Japanese patches, this still has potential to be a good action RPG. I'm cautiously optimistic about the game, which releases on October 10th on PS4 and 2018 for PC.