Combining the elements of an interactive narrative and JRPG sounds like a good idea on paper. Throw that idea into a world that parallels the video game industry, and have it developed by two studios with 14 years of experience in the same series, and the end result is guaranteed to be a strange accumulation of the disparate parts. Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters is exactly that – a strange experience, but one muddled by disparate components that never quite come together.
At its core, Sisters VS Sisters is a tale of goddesses and goddess-candidates, those who will eventually take up the mantle of goddess, and their intertwined relationships and destinies. It closely follows the goddess candidate Nepgear, who can be seen as the main character, but switches between perspectives quite often.
The game foregrounds its narrative early on, as the player quickly comes to recognize the vast cast of characters, their exuberant personalities, and the foreboding conflicts of their world. The sheer amount of characters is perhaps one of the few positive elements in it Sisters VS Sisters. The player will witness long-winded sequences of dialogue that will set the dynamic of each character, and after a conflict is revealed, you can explore a dungeon where they can fight enemies with their party.
Once entered these dungeons, the player will have the option to switch between 8 playable characters within their set of three. There are some restrictions on when a player can access each member, but a majority of the goddesses are accessible for most of the 20-hour playthrough. This gives some freedom to the player to explore each character’s playstyle, whether they are a mage who focuses on long-range damage or a hammer-wielding goddess who takes the fight to the enemy. However, this freedom has little depth as the game’s surrounding features limit each character’s potential and lack any kind of diversity.
To begin with, each dungeon in the game is limited to around four biomes. These biomes can be simply identified by one overarching color or theme: grasslands, caves, a digital realm, and one final area for the final encounter. Within these dungeons are repeated assets, extremely linear level designs, and copy-and-paste enemies that can be seen everywhere. This copy-and-paste mentality plagues the entire game, as players will encounter identical dungeon floors over and over again without anything to make them feel truly separate in a meaningful way.
It doesn’t help that these biomes never intersect in a single dungeon. This means that when a player is inside a digitally themed environment, they will only see back-to-back blue walls with no contrast. This mundane approach to design helps enforce a form of mindless gameplay Sisters VS Sisters seems to embrace, making navigating the longer dungeons extremely frustrating as everything starts to look the same.
The combat that takes place when you encounter an enemy is a mix between traditional JRPG mechanics – an AP meter, support items and special abilities – and a hack-and-slash. This gives some freedom to the player to explore each character’s playstyle, whether they are a mage who focuses on long-range damage or a hammer-wielding goddess who takes the fight to the enemy. However, this freedom has little depth as the game’s surrounding features limit each character’s potential and lack any kind of diversity.
Sisters VS Sisters’s proposed synergies rely heavily on chaining combos together and increasing damage with each hit. But all it takes to do this is to press the same button four times, followed by a tap on a bumper to activate a combo from another goddess. After countless hours of this, all fear of dying or intentions to get creative with movement disappear.
To make matters worse, there are some matches where the player has to fight with a single goddess. The backbone of the fight is stringing together combos, but this is impossible if there is only one character to control. This decision results in the player running around waiting for the AP meter to fill up, while the enemy roams the arena and attacks the player occasionally.
Sisters VS Sisters has some unique qualities that might cause a moment or two of acting, such as goddesses changing into their true form, but nothing big enough to really engage the player long-term. Outside of the frequent cutscenes and weak dungeons, there are plenty of side quests to complete for extra currency, experience, and to collect researchers to craft discs that can be used on each goddess for additional stats and buffs. While the plates add a much-needed layer of strategy, the player will never really need to rely on these items to get through boss fights or regular enemies. Instead, the game’s difficulty makes it more than okay to randomly assign them and stick to preset combos to defeat any threat.
The side quests also trudge through similar terrain, as the player will go through the same dungeons as before. There are only three different types of missions: defeat a certain type of enemy, collect an item, and help a citizen who has found himself lost in the area. Once the player has completed ten or so, these become pretty irrelevant unless one is just grinding for experience or coins.
The only positive experience hidden in the everyday is the characters themselves. As mentioned before, the world was involved Neptunia the series is an odd parallel to the video game industry itself. That means each city and goddess is based on a current company involved in the industry, as well as current or previous generations of consoles. It’s an unusual approach that results in many nods, albeit heavy-handed nods, that poke at newer trends found in today’s evolving medium. It’s some of these references that actually make the extended interactions fun. One particularly vaguely touches on a company that likes to sue any product similar to its own, or anyone who uses the product in any form, and brought a much-needed laugh-out-loud moment to the forefront of the narrative.
All in all, Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters is a monotonous journey filled with repetition that plagues the level design, combat encounters, side quests and overall structure. There are a few moments where the character’s personalities can lead to some laughs, but its lackluster attempt to make each moment unique results in a boring experience filled with frustration and mindless gameplay.
Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters launches on January 24 for PS4, PS5 and PC. Game Rant was provided with a PS5 code for this review.
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