Fair warning, this game is rated T for Teen and so is this review.
Since Digimon Survive seems too much like "Digimon meets Digital Devil Saga" for my tastes, I probably will not be playing it, though in its own way it does sort of sound like the original show aged up for a more adult audience. Still, while Digimon as a franchise has always trusted its audience with quite a lot short of death, there’s a certain amount of "yes, there’s death" I can completely understand and then there’s "existential crises much better suited to something a little less colorful." You never know, maybe someday when it’s no longer relevant, I’ll give it a go, but for now, you’re getting a couple properly stale reviews between this and Digimon World: Next Order.
Somehow I managed to put in 27 hours into my furthest file in this game without ever posting this review at 15 hours. Seeing as this review is incredibly ice cold at this point, but my other review rather relies on it for reference, I figure it’s a good idea to clean this up and post it.
I’m not doing my Objective Review System for it, but it will be split up into sections.
Story & Writing
The game takes a more mature route with a cast who are all in their late teens or older and a quick look at the various states of undress the ladies of the cast are in tells you everything you need to know whether this game is for people who hit puberty or not if the "T" on the box leaves any questions. You play as [your name here] Aiba, your male/female protagonist who by default is Takumi or Ami, respectively. You begin the game in a disgustingly cutesy private chat room, emphasis on "room" because it’s literally a room in a digital space, which is interrupted by the hacked mascot of the service provider who, quite rudely, invites anyone with the guts to show up to a certain place to become a hacker. One thing leads to another and your avatar gets mostly destroyed and kicked out into the real world, which naturally freaks people the heck out and gets a cop involved to protect everyone from you as an unknown monster until you’re scooped up by the incredibly sexy and scantily-clad Kyoko Kuremi, a private eye with an office inexplicably located in a mall. Naturally, with a cop on your tail, you jump in her car and are whisked away to her office and instructed to go cobble together a body that isn’t going to immediately freak everyone out from avatar parts that are "good enough" in terms of matching your appearance found scattered around the junk data of the digital underbelly of the forum everyone uses. Since you are, to reiterate, a digital being who doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or breathe and doesn’t have a body temp or pulse to fool anyone under anything but light scrutiny and this is Japan, you "take a break" from school to be Kyoko’s "assistant," by which I mean you’re effectively her hostage and while you do get paid, the issue is more you really don’t have many alternatives and she mostly sits at her desk letting you do all her dirty work, though it’s not like she mistreats you, either, taking a legitimate mentoring role in your relationship while you figure out what the heck happened and what you can do about it. Naturally, given that’s the whole game, it takes a little more than 5 minutes with a thinking cap and bubble pipe.
Along the way, you’ll meet major characters like Nokia, who, despite doing absolutely nothing to earn it, ends up being the only one of the cast who acts vaguely like an actual Tamer rather than a Hacker, though her partners also are quite a bit more talkative than average, and Arata, who is very much a Hacker and has a lot more experience than anyone else you’re friendly with at it. The two are basically what counts as your friends, though neither of them is exactly on the level with you and Nokia is easily the least redeemable character in the game who’s counted among its heroes. Yuuko is the third major player and is less a "friend" than a "repeat client" despite also bafflingly enough maybe actually being your goth love interest? The game makes subtle motions in that direction that I’m not sure will actually pan out, especially because she’s not on the level with you, either. In fact, if you end up reading the wiki (please don’t, though), you start to realize that some characters have positively baffling relationships with each other and absolutely NONE of them are on the level with you as the player, and Aiba as the protagonist is at best questionably on the level with them in return. It makes the mystery work incredibly well, actually, and things get revealed with excellent pacing, with each of the three main "friends" driving the story from a different angle. There’s a wide host of other important characters I won’t spoil, but all of them are either investigators of some sort or subjects related to the investigation and you’ll meet them all in due time.
Being a Cyber Sleuth, much of the game takes place in the megaforum of Cyberspace EDEN (branding, not an acronym), which is specifically not the Digital World and is more akin to whatever they called their megaforum in Summer Wars, which they
steal take inspiration from liberally. For those not familiar, watch Summer Wars at least once, as it’s certainly an experience, but EDEN is basically an online reality akin to the grand experiment that was PlayStation Home or the still-going Second Life as a digital "space" rather than a game-style MMO, leaning toward the more grounded and even professional uses of PlayStation Home where people around the world conduct business or otherwise meet pseudo-in-person since all the avatars look just like their users for security reasons, though it’s later implied this is done through character creation. Naturally, this gets incredibly abused by Hackers because literally where is the fun in using a character creator to make an avatar look exactly like yourself if it’s not even going to be fluorescent purple or else dropped in a world more interesting than a very nice office complex? If the pandemic told us anything it’s that IT workers can and will literally attend Zoom meetings in fursuit if they think they can get away with it. Having to dress your avatar in a suit and tie and be boring completely misunderstands human nature, or at least US IT culture, and you can’t tell me there wasn’t a "hiccup" where that one guy (you know the one) walked into work in a Hawaiian shirt with blinding colors unconstrained by real-world lighting limitations like bad taste had hit critical mass. But no, this place is full of people in boring suits complete with completely superfluous briefcases because this whole thing is treated like a real-world office and if capitalism is ever going to do anything, it’s somehow make an entire reality you can do anything in from anywhere in the world banal. Also, calling abuse of the avatar creation system something "skilled Hackers" do is just so hilariously on point for how little old people understand technology. Not that young people get off easy, either. If you threw a picture of all this in front of a techbro and asked if it was The Metaverse they’d excitedly say "YES, EXACTLY THAT!" because "The Metaverse" is less an actual idea than marketing jargon looking for a definition and EDEN is as much a definition as anything and ticks off several boxes on how they hope to monetize it. Seriously, all the BS around "Web3" is not new; it’s stuff that’s existed in practice since 2003 with wannabe Steve Jobses trying to make it sound like they thought of it without actually thinking of anything, much less first. Oh, sorry, make that 1986 before the Internet even properly existed and most of them were either in diapers or hanging out in an ovary.
The game hasn’t really sat down and explained how EDEN operates, only that you can only exit from your original entry point, connection speed is a factor just like with Internet access, and that while there are many public access points not dissimilar from public phones, you can connect from home, too. It is indicated that you get sucked in bodily, maybe, which makes having a separate "avatar" seem redundant, and rather than Digivices being specifically linked to Digimon, they’re primarily used as an EDEN interface and can have apps installed, which allowed Hackers to create Digimon Capture to provide the Digimon functions within the game. It’s also a bit inconsistent on how logging into EDEN works in that you as the player have a digital body that somehow can operate in the physical world, but the game can’t seem to decide whether that’s true of anyone else and I think that may be down to translation errors, which are plentiful. If pressed I’d say "no" because there’s apparently at some point a body harvesting ring that’s trapping people’s minds in EDEN so they can just carry them off without a struggle ostensibly to harvest for organs and you find one of the victims, who’s convinced he’s in a room full of girls who are totally into him, only to convince him to log out, which offers an incredibly chilling "no exit point available" message implying his body has already been taken and his mind is stuck in this simulation only he can see for the rest of eternity, which is really a special kind of Hell if you think of it, having your heart’s desire (because they did research on you) and being stuck in it forever knowing it’s not real. No, this game is not for kids, thanks for asking! And no, it does not pull any punches. So in this case the "same entry and exit point" prevents you from just logging out into someone else’s body. That said, other examples are vague enough or even specific enough to imply otherwise, and while the things you see in front of you tend to imply your body stays put, not all of the text does, and the text even indicates for a specific mission that avatars can in fact be customized or at least force a binary gender choice, to the frustration of a particular user who’s apparently intersex as one of the hacker apprehension missions. Specifically, this hacker was frustrated with their inability to make a body that actually matched their own and they decided to lash out and really just need a sympathetic ear to solve their mission, which is honestly a surprisingly progressive thing to include in the game and probably the coolest bit of side content I’ve encountered so far. But even the main plot deals with "EDEN Syndrome," which leaves an inert body behind and which you suffer from as Aiba personally, and the game still manages to muddy the waters with text from a major NPC that indicates she considers leaving a physical body behind to be a "flaw" in something that otherwise is pretty cool for your specific case, leaving even that ambiguous as to whether your body being ejected without your mind is considered an unnatural consequence given in theory anyone logged into EDEN would otherwise leave an inert body if they weren’t sucked in. Regardless, it’s very clear people aren’t just sitting in front of a screen and there is direct mental control involved. Aiba has special powers to travel other networks regardless and that proves especially useful, in particular providing easy access to EDEN through the detective agency’s smart TV, probably with a few jumps glossed over, but otherwise absolutely using networks to travel between distant networked devices.
If there’s a major complaint to be had, it’s that conversations last forever. Grinding is actually a welcome relief from this, because completing any major task results in you spending several minutes of your life in sometimes several different conversations all chained together, taking place in different scenes.
You can also tell where major liberties were taken with the translation in some cases. I know, like, a handful of Japanese words and at times there were some completely unnecessary additions, including inserting chat speak where it doesn’t belong.
That said, other parts seem to be quite faithful. Sometimes maybe a little too faithful to the point it comes off as strange, and your options during text responses can sometimes be less than accurate even when you wiki the quiz answers or might use out-of-place generic lines that probably made more sense in the original, but mostly it seems like they did a good job of keeping to the spirit of the original script.
As an added bonus, there are also plenty of literary references for those high-brow enough to get them, and the translation team trusted the audience with them, as well as with the fact that this unabashedly takes place in Japan, where oftentimes efforts would be made to claim it was in New York or some fictional place. I mean, it’s kind of hard to say it’s in Somewhere, America when the voice is all in Japanese, but it wouldn’t be the first time, either. Then again, Digimon as a show trusted its fans a little more than other shows aired at the same time in pretty much all matters other than outright death, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a game of it geared to adults wouldn’t insult its audience that way.
There’s also plenty of room for humor and the game even takes time to poke fun at its competitors by referencing Pokéballs and the Yo-Kai Watch in a particular conversation. Your boss has notoriously bad taste in coffee that you’re warned about and making the mistake of taking even a single sip of her "specialty," Seaweed and Red Bean Paste Coffee, has your character pass out despite ostensibly lacking real taste buds, and by "pass out" I mean the screen goes black and after a well-timed beat you hear the rushing of air and thud of your own body falling as its sheer awfulness transcends your lack of physical form, which is pretty great. It’s even better if you chug it, because somehow it overloads you in what sounds like an explosion.
Overall, what’s there isn’t bad, there’s just a lot of it and frankly that sometimes works against it. The story has many good points and a lot to be intrigued by. The whole thing is ultimately a very involved mystery and the game does an excellent job of organically peeling back the layers to keep itself paced properly.
My brother bought the PS4 version and I bought the Vita version when I realized I’d never get to play it otherwise (spoiler: it’s addicting) and I have to say both of them look great. The PS4 version seems to move a bit faster for some reason, but both are well-animated and neither seems off when you pick them up as your first, though the Vita version does have relatively long load times even coming into it blind. Apparently the Vita version was made first, but I wouldn’t say I noticed any incredible difference in the game’s look or feel and while the PS4 does have some very occasional blurry textures if you go at it with an electron microscope, it’s not on anything important and not bad enough playing on a standard HD screen that I chalked it up to anything other than it being on unimportant distant objects, i.e. just normal game optimization. In fact, the game looks surprisingly good on Vita, almost suspiciously so given there’s a lot of real-world stuff that’s really not all that stylized. If there are any actual differences from the PS4 graphics, they’re incredibly subtle and well-hidden and that’s not a dig at the PS4 graphics. The game looks quite good regardless of the system you’re playing on.
As small of a concern as it sounds, even the icons look amazing. Even staring straight at my monster TV, they look like they could be vector. It’s just one example of the high-res beauty that permeates the game, with the only fault being that things tend not to be processed well when they take a freeze-frame and blur it to serve as a conversation background for animated models in "one on each side" format. This is less of a problem than it could be on a TV, since you probably won’t even notice between watching the models act and reading the text, but it is noticeable on the condensed viewing size of the Vita at times. Mostly, it’s a non-issue, and I won’t call it a complaint, and wouldn’t take anyone seriously if it was used as an argument against it. So much of what’s important is 2D and amazing that it drowns it out by sheer volume.
The 3D effects are also amazing. Your character often gets sucked black-hole style into electronic devices and darn it if that abused model doesn’t distort every polygon and rubberize to make it look great. I’m sure it was a modeling and animation nightmare, but the effect is something you rarely see in 3D, and never without using a filter instead of distorting the model.
The best thing is the Digimon look great. Normally, things look a bit strange when you take them from 2D to 3D, but the level of detail here makes the 3D look right, in part because they knew when to make details 2D textures, which is an important key in matching the animation style from the show. Careful use of model angles makes sure you see exactly what you’re supposed to even with flat-drawn textures, which is an integral part of the illusion, and mons are often positioned in-game much as they most often were on TV, giving everyone a warm familiarity. While the setting lacks the same "other world adventure" aspect from the show where exotic locations abound, and the human characters are a far cry from the show’s art style, the Digimon make such a good transition that other than many of them having been adjusted down in size when they’d be taller than 6 feet or so, there’s nothing to complain about.
I will, however, complain to no end about that, because seeing big ones like Togemon reduced to that magical "something like a foot taller than your character" obliterates what made them cool in the first place. Togemon was cool in the show because she was an 8-foot cactus with person-sized fists, and seeing the species reduced to around 5-foot makes it look like it belongs in a planter, not facing off against your enemies. Weregarurumon, judging by the first season, is something like 8 feet tall, and that’s fine because he has large enough features that a version of him made a successful transition to 6 feet tall elsewhere, but Leomon is like 9-10 feet tall in the show across all seasons and his reduced size sticks out like a sore thumb because his face is so tiny you can barely distinguish the features. This site is quite illuminating when it comes to how they’re depicted in each season. There are very few places with ceilings to worry about in the game, and really maybe, maybe one where your mons are even present. Other than worrying about collisions, there was no reason they had to shrink everything awesome, and you end up clipping into your party constantly anyway. It’s a petty concern, but one that drives me up a wall because it’s not like there aren’t massive mons running around. It has nothing to do with how long a mon can be, with things like Ankylomon being 15 feet in length; it’s strictly based around height. It’s like everything’s based on a logarithmic scale. Nothing is allowed to be any taller than an adult human and it’s the one thing standing in the way of "this is me playing the show."
The style isn’t truly cel-shaded, but it’s not fully realistic, either, and the lighting does a lot to make sure the look is familiar without sacrificing depth. All the character models are outlined in a subtle brick red rather than black, which marries the black outlines from the cartoon with some of the style of Summer Wars, which used bright red outlines to denote digital areas. I’m not sure if this has bled into a sort of shorthand in Japan or what, but the effect is subtle in real-world sections while the cyan tones often found in digital areas seem to enhance it or maybe it’s legitimately cranked up a bit since it’s noticeable even in the shiny white areas. When you’re in special dungeons, the outlines get cranked way up to neon red, stealing the Summer Wars style part and parcel. Everyone’s facial expressions are drawn straight onto the models for the eyes, and the faces in general for human characters, but rather than it feeling like a cheap PS1-era shortcut, it feels like it would be wrong to do otherwise because it all just works.
The anime styling breathes life into the creatures of your childhood and the world is (mostly) built around them rather than trying to cram realism into their designs and ruining everything. As such, don’t expect motion capture, but do expect beautiful fluidity of motion. A lot of this probably has to do with the models not needing the same kind of polygon count a realistic style dictates, but rather than this being a shortcut, it’s more everything is made of exactly the right everything. The textures do exactly what they need to, the polygons are where they need to be, and the entire experience is completely on point. It feels more or less like you’re playing the anime without being totally married to it for the human designs and I wouldn’t have it any other way. While the Digimon don’t really fit the realistic aesthetic of the real world segments, the human characters split the difference and fit in everywhere nicely, and while they don’t look quite like you’d expect of the show, they don’t look bad for what they are and have some good design decisions.
While they did take pieces of real-world Tokyo into the game for "real world" segments, you’ll actually spend the bulk of your time in digital areas where the Digimon look far less out of place, which start off shiny and white without being stale or sterile and come off as a great place to spend your time, but quickly devolves into cyan "junk" areas full of leftovers in various states of decay ranging from "this creepy playground looks like it may have been nice once" to the more common "oh, look, I guess it’s more floating platforms with a token amount of trellises and hexagonal storage tanks floating around." I kind of wish there was more of the former, because it’s unsettling and a bit surreal and marries real-world-style decay with digital artifacts indicating it’s frozen in some kind of hellish perpetual error state, whereas once you’re past that one area, it lacks the same kind of disrepair, and while it still looks like a "junk" area, nothing looks decrepit or like it could have actually been something recognizable previously.
Which is not to say the game is lacking in style. Later areas have some great glitching effects that I’m sure took a lot of work to make and there’s even a half-corrupted train at one point that really drives home the "oh, sh––" factor in that area. Some areas intentionally evoke an image of Minecraft or more accurately voxel art, and there’s a surprisingly creepy mission further than I am in the game where a ghost ends up straining the fourth wall a bit and I hope that’s seriously not the last you hear of the whole ordeal. Some areas are comprised of gorgeous glassy floating catwalks that ripple pixellated diamonds under your feet every step while signals of light cross over metal matrices on the ground below. The game has both visual and dramatic flair going for it.
The game uses a fixed camera, but it’s built with that in mind, making it rare to need to check the minimap to find where you can go. For the most part, you can see the path at all times. Dungeons aren’t hard to navigate, but have plenty of side paths and corners with items. They also make a point to keep maps from just being boring old squares on a grid despite most of the action taking place in digital areas. They even do a good job of introducing new map features slowly and in safe spaces, such as an early dungeon featuring a point where you can drop down to expedite your travel before using dropping for puzzles later. Nothing ever tutorializes this; it just marks it on your minimap and lets you experiment, which is an underappreciated art in most games today. There’s a definite vertical element to areas basically from the get-go, even if it does start out as just stairs. You can sometimes look down at previous areas or even future areas as you travel around, giving even digital spaces linked by teleporters a connected feel.
One minor complaint is that while it does allow you to select a male or female character, you can’t customize them, which is problematic in their attempts to allow you to role-play (more on this in a bit). It’s something they could have done and didn’t, possibly because of the amount of extra work it would take to run the complex animations the model undergoes. Both of them look fine and I like the "X and O" theme on them both, but that type of design really lends itself more to a more static written character than you actually end up with.
If you came in looking for music like the show, you’re going to be disappointed. My experience with the Japanese show’s music is limited, but I doubt it contained jazzy piano tunes or funky overdriven guitar as a major theme. It sounds very much like a detective piece, which, well, it is. There’s a wide variety of other music including electronic-heavy game music and all of it is great, but it lacks a real "Digimon" feel for Western audiences.
The voice is also the original Japanese, and while it’s well-acted, it would have been nice to get an English dub, if only because it might have gone better with certain parts of the translation, since the mouth flaps aren’t any more true to the Japanese script than they would be to an English one. Everyone sounds how you’d expect for a Japanese dub and it really does define their personalities, so it’s hard to call it a major problem for the target audience who grew up with the original show. The sound reflects the more adult tone.
Digimon rarely speak, and when they do, I’m not sure from my limited experience that they got the original voice actors, or maybe if new voice actors have taken over since the original Japanese run that I happened to reference a while back, or if the performance just evolved over time, which happens. I kind of wish they’d speak more, despite the amount of voice work that would have required, because from what I can tell, the end-of-battle lines are all supposed to be your character, and there’s no text to indicate what’s being said. Your party mons at most get a sound bite for when they use special skills.
Your character doesn’t actually speak during conversations, and while he or she is pretty chatty in the very beginning, that quickly hits a wall once other characters are introduced except for a sparse peppering of monologue, usually no more than a line or two, almost always as an "I should go here/do this," and rarely anything after the first few minutes of the current chapter. You only occasionally get to select a dialog response and outside of negative reactions for a "wrong" one that ultimately changes nothing, none of it matters. Your character will most often simply emote and throw up punctuation marks in conversations, or will briefly gesture and mouth flap to abridge several lines of what would otherwise be dialog, which the other people in the conversation then "summarize." It’s a bit disappointing, because unlike White Knight Chronicles, which I still hold as an example of how to do this well, there’s no effort to hide any of it, and the end result is it fails to make a standalone character that isn’t you while also failing to allow you to adequately feel like it is. They could have gone ahead and made a character in its own right and I wouldn’t have minded, or they could have gone all-out on the input to let you properly role-play, but it falls somewhere in between and doesn’t quite work to make you invested in your chosen hero either way.
I’ll just come right out and say it: the battle system is almost exactly like that in Final Fantasy X, not that that’s a bad thing. You can view all the upcoming turns down the side of the screen and skills impact the order. You can switch out active party members with whatever reserves you have enough "Party Memory" (basically a maximum total power level) to take along, although in this case you can do it all at once instead of having to do them one at a time. Unlike FFX, your reserve party members automatically gain EXP, so there’s no need for Magikarping in this game. You’ll also find it easy to quickly get low-level mons up to a useful level even as the game advances, since the EXP rewards also grow over time. Even your normal attacks take the various type and elemental cycles into effect, so you’ll want to keep around mons of Virus, Data, and Vaccine type around as much as possible and fill the gaps with Free types, since element is actually the less important factor, though the bonuses/penalties are multiplied and if you can manage to have both type and elemental advantage, you’ll gain a sweet 3x bonus to your physical attack. Physical attacks do most of the legwork in normal battles, which lets you hoard your MP for bosses. And let me tell you, damage from skills can be downright ridiculous, which is a lifesaver in boss battles.
Otherwise, a "new" system above FFX is a chance for your mons to pull in teammates who are coming up before the next enemy turn into their own attack, which can manifest in more ways than you think. For normal attacks, they add their own attack to it using the host mon’s type and element for damage purposes, but when it comes to skills, they can do things like increase damage or healing or even add their own skills to the mix for free. There’s a "CAM" stat (short for "camaraderie") that offers bonuses to this happening among other things. This also is hinted to extend to guest party members, since there’s a Trophy for "three or more" in a combo attack, and you can only have a party of three. You do occasionally get another human in your party and that human will sometimes have their own mons that they add to battle, which I think is pretty cool, myself.
It’s very easy to train up your mons to a point where battles become easy even on Normal. I see this as a feature, because if you have any hint of "breeder" in you, even if it’s not your normal play style, this game, unlike Pokémon, will latch onto it and dig its claws in. I’m currently sitting on more Champion and Ultimate Digimon than I can actually carry in my party because once you realize there’s literally almost nothing stopping you from grabbing your favorites from the show, there’s no incentive to not make a beeline for them, even if it’s only to stick them on Farm Island 1 and caress the screen muttering about your precious.
There is one thing, though: your Digimon need to meet specific requirements to reach certain forms and in some cases that means De-Digivolving them to a previous form to expand their maximum in one or more stats due to a hard limit posed by Ability (ABI). You may need to do this multiple times for a given stat and while that does impose one of the rare limits on the bum rush to Mega, it can be a little frustrating if you don’t understand the systems, specifically if you’re doing any particular role-playing. There is a benefit to this as well, though: it can keep your party a bit fresher by mixing up your team and ensuring you have a mix of high, mid, and low-tier mons bumping around since more powerful mons take more Party Memory. This keeps the game from being quite so easily broken and might even let you explore less desirable forms while you’re dancing back and forth between tiers to get the one you want.
The DigiFarm and its Farm Islands (you start with one and can have up to five with the requisite upgrade items) hold a reasonable 10 mons each and add a time-based element to the game, allowing you to train a large group of mons in a single stat determined by the designated Leader’s own personality value, boosing their EXP in the process by what can amount to several levels for low-level units. "Personality" in this case can mean something related to a battle stat like "Fighter" or "Durable" or something related to other actions like "Searcher." You can, with a buttload of money, buy certain special items to place on an island, but only one is really within reach in the early game and the rest cost way more money than you’ll have for quite some time. You can also pay money in 3 tiers to develop items over time rather than training (which the "Builder" personality enhances) or sniff out missions involving major NPC Mirei’s naughty list of hackers (influenced by having a "Searcher" personality Leader). All of this only advances while you’re actively playing, so unlike 3DS games, you can’t set it and come back later when the internal clock says it’s time. It’s a bit of a hassle, since both the PS4 and Vita have one, but then so does pretty much any electronic device with at least one button at this point. You could just let the Vita go to sleep, maybe, but I haven’t tried this because the Vita wasn’t really designed with that in mind and I’d hate to have it do a number on my play time, which I have always taken quite a lot of pride in even as a kid.
The Farm Island system itself is an excellent means of training the mons you can’t take along and because everything happens while you’re playing anyway, you effectively multiply your activities. It’s an incredibly flexible system that can bring your mons up to speed as you navigate the evolution trees and since accessing the DigiLab is so easy, you’re rarely in a position where you can’t optimize. It’s also just nice to see them all running around and engage in the occasional feeding to raise some stat or another without having to deal with all the dedicated work Digimon normally come with that would turn it into a nightmare version of Animal Crossing with pink swirls of poop everywhere rather than weeds and having to come up with mass amounts of food to keep them from all starving to death. By which I mean in the most general sense, this does make them feel quite a bit more like digital, non-physical beings, which streamlines things quite a lot and which I do feel is in its own way a more mature take on things rather than having what looks for all the world like grown humanoid adults simply dropping a deuce wherever and having to be scolded for it. Their apparent ability to take care of themselves properly is an appealing aspect within the tone of the game. Otherwise the game trusts you to understand how to boost your own productivity and rewards you for it without punishing you too hard for making sub-optimal decisions because there simply isn’t always a way to make optimal decisions. I also have to say I really like the design of the things and the way each expansion makes them reflect their number in a way, being vaguely or not-so-vaguely shaped as:
- a dot
- a sort of peanut shape
- a triangle
- a diamond (square)
- a nicely defined star
The ability to build it out as you see fit is also nice, but you’ll unfortunately have your first taste of this in Chapter 2 and won’t actually get a chance to make good on anything more until Chapter 6 several hours later.
The DigiLab is accessible through abundant terminals split across the real world and EDEN, making it very easy to run back to as soon as your mons level to Digivolve them. The DigiLab is where you can form your party, evolve your mons, visit your Farm Islands, and even visit past dungeons and battle in the online/offline arena. You can also often get hints from Mirei as to where you need to go for your current objective if you just picked it back up and forgot what you were doing.
There are plenty of equippable items that most games would consider Accessory-type that give various stat boosts and damage resistances, but to be honest, I have yet to see any need for them. Maybe they’ll become more important later, but so long as you make a point to max out your scans for every mon, there’s not a whole lot your resultant grinding won’t solve.
Mons are gained from scanning them at the beginning of battle, and each has a specific scan rate, meaning for some of them, particularly the more powerful ones in an area, you’ll have to grind them. You can create a copy once your scan reaches 100%, but can go up to 200% to make the result more powerful and I recommend going all the way.
You don’t actually make money from battling, but you do get small amounts from completing quests along with points toward the next Sleuth rank. Enemies do often drop items specifically for selling, though, particularly Medals of their species which really have no other purpose, though there are also things like gemstones that have descriptions suffixed with "/For converting to money." and I’ll say this is the best description for "you just sell this" that I have ever seen in a game.
There are otherwise various systems, including keywords and the occasional need for certain key items, but unfortunately all of these are generally used exactly once and then just sit around taking up space. I’ve liked keywords as a system ever since Final Fantasy II, but I really wish someone would find a way to make them useful throughout the game for once rather than something you rub on everyone in the area until someone advances the plot.
This is going to sound kind of odd, but this feels a lot like an Atlus game. The text looking so much like the Persona font and the little bit of roleplaying you get with your text messages hints at, well, Persona, but the mystery theme feels a bit more like Devil Summoner without the historical piece. The human characters also are a much more realistic style than the anime and while it’s not really "Atlus" in design due to the lack of an occult vibe, they do move much like Atlus’ characters and have similar proportions, in particular their slightly oversized heads in the 3D models, which seems like a rather odd detail to share. Don’t get me wrong, the character designer has done work on Shin Megami Tensei and the experience in their style comes through strong in the promotional art, particularly in the poses and the "movement" of the clothes, but that’s not really present in the game itself, and the 3D models are a matter of art direction rather than character design. It’s just really weird that it happened that way.
But at the same time, "Atlus does Digimon" is music I can dance to, the bleakness of Digital Devil Saga specifically notwithstanding, and in that regard, I’d call it a total success so far. I appreciate the fact that unlike Atlus’ fare, there’s no obsession with deadlines here and you can take everything at your own pace, even "urgent" missions, which really only give you better rewards for doing them before other types, and nothing so far has made them hard or anything, even if they do tend to involve more cutscenes and running around.
The Farm Island systems give a bit of a "freemium" vibe in they way the game does incorporate time. By which I mean the waiting part, only this one isn’t bilking you for cash. It’s not the problem it could be since you can run to the nearest terminal very easily most of the time and Mirei gives you notifications as soon as anything happens, be it a mon attaining max level or your task finishing. But I’ll reiterate that I wish it would use the system clock rather than its own internal timers.
The character designs themselves don’t feel like they’re from any particular game or show, but it’s hard to feel like they’re not from something. Despite that odd familiarity, they do incoroporate certain key details. Like every Digimon team leader, you’re the "goggle boy" as a nod to the game’s roots, even if you choose the girl.
I will say the game ultimately feels less like Digimon for its own sake and more like the Digimon themselves are set dressing in a way that undermines their importance, or rather makes it feel like they’re largely locked in a side of the game you don’t get to immerse yourself in soon enough. Your early experiences with any not in your roster are generally very shallow one-off interactions as clients of a fetch quest or as a boss messing up some system or another. The story, especially early on, is very much focused on its human cast and not all of that cast is likable. You’re also not actually in the Digital World or anything like it; Digimon have invaded the crappier leftovers of EDEN and these areas are outright referred to as Kowloon after the infamous walled city in Taiwan that stood as its own ecosystem because the British and Chinese governments for many years determined it was the other side’s problem, where people were born and died without seeing the sun in a place held together by community, string, and pure grit. That’s something very specific to be named for – something untouched and something the denizens don’t want to be touched. As such, the glossy good parts of EDEN where business happens are a world apart and the game largely takes place in something more akin to leftover and unfinished content that isn’t normally accessible, but the Hackers like it that way. Digimon being there mostly seems like an accident, but the Hackers made useful tools to capture them for their own purposes. That also makes Digimon feel quite a bit less like partners and more like tools to much of the populace. Digimon are seen by most of the populace as literally Hacker programs and few if any people realize they’re thinking, feeling beings who are more than pre-programmed attack dogs. Your use of them largely reflects that and Aiba’s sympathies seem quite limited outside of the DigiLine text messaging system. Only one character, Nokia, considers herself a Tamer rather than a Hacker (though to be brutally honest, that’s about where her virtues end). It’s really not until later that Digimon start to feel like a more essential part of the world at large rather than an excuse for a battle system, which starts with a particularly intriguing one I won’t spoil, but who I can almost guarantee you’ll fall in love with. Digimon are otherwise largely a source of problems and your use of them to solve those problems is largely for the sake of convenience. Even your ability to move around and unlock gates depends largely upon party composition and while that’s cool and does encourage a diverse party, it doesn’t make the Digimon themselves feel any less like tools.
The Farm Islands do feel like they bring more of the Digital World into play despite their voxel stylings, incorporating trees and bits of train track and railroad crossing lights and generally being the kind of incongruous you generally expect from the series and in that regard I quite appreciate them as a sort of terrarium for the Digimon. They’re literally just floating in a void that’s not quite water and not quite sky and have a lower tier before the final edge, which feels like something to catch someone who falls off so they don’t fall into the void and know to avoid it, not unlike a zoo enclosure with a deep ditch that keeps the animals away from the patrons, but far, far kinder given these folks have humanoid intelligence. It makes the void feel dangerous and like your mons are both at home and also contained. The whole thing is of course aritificial. The Digital World is not a voxel place. It’s quite a bit more like putting fake rocks in a fish tank or giving a glass shell to a hermit crab. It’s decorated for them. "A little fencing here, a little train stuff there, some nice trees, they’ll be right at home!" And to a certain extent they DO feel at home just endlessly running around the place, but at the same time it’s not like the actual Digital World that has everything from diners to mansions to amusement parks littered around it just plopped wherever. If it were really going to be like the Digital World, there would probably be inexplicable lawn chairs with iced lemonade sitting there on a little table that they could kick back and sip because the Digital World simply finds ways to be strangely convenient that way even if there’s often an invisible price tag attached. There really isn’t anything for them to interact with, which is a little strange and disappointing if you assume they’re living, breathing beings, but once again, this game in many ways behaves like they’re not and don’t really have biological needs. The Digital World in many ways is a world of ideas and it simply doesn’t play by the same rules.
That said, just because it’s not a good Digimon game doesn’t mean it’s not a good game. It absolutely shines when things are going down and when it gets to show its graphical chops you absolutely know things are going down! Kowloon did really need something more to keep it interesting, and you do spend most of your time there one way or another, but at the same time, there’s a lot of other stuff on offer that makes up for it that benefits from much stronger design and Kowloon is… serviceable. You’re probably not going to get sick of it so much as it fades into the background and could have had a much stronger identity after a very strong introduction, though at the same time I understand that that also could have made it stressful to spend so much time in. Still, it could have had more of the creepy stuff in transitional areas so that one first one doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
The Play Experience
If there’s one thing I really feel about the game it’s "limited in all the ways that matter least," but it’s still rather frustrating how it adds up. The Farm Island system lets you upgrade your starting island and even make new ones, but the rate it lets you do it at feels frustratingly limited. Part of this is because money is so hard to come by for the incredibly expensive special items you can plop down to enhance things, and honestly the easiest way to do so is by investing in item research on your Farm Island and giving it every boost you can, because the end result will be a collection of items that will let you turn a modest profit. That takes real-world time, though, and whether it’s in any way efficient is questionable. The other reason, though, is your earliest opportunity to make a new island comes in Chapter 6. I’m in Chapter 5 with 27 hours in. The game generously lets you upgrade your first island in Chapter 2 and then just stops, but once you’re in Chapter 6 you not only get access to another island, you also get enough expansions to either maximize your first one or send both of them to level 3. After that you get a steady drip feed with a couple big drops in the late game. But given how much content is in a chapter, it really does feel like it takes longer than necessary for it to open up.
Money feels very hard to procure and shops can sell out of items and to be brutally honest, items are not something it feels like you often need. It’s far more efficient to just kill everything faster than it can kill you and this is incredibly easy to accomplish for everything but bosses and the arena. The arena itself is kind of a pain because it really reveals the shortcuts in the game, specifically that enemies don’t actually have finite MP, and the end boss of each phase of the arena absolutely shows this seam by spamming incredibly cheap combos that will absolutely destroy your team due to the level cap imposed, which I’m fairly certain they don’t adhere to while they’re at it. You remember Whitney in Pokémon Gold/Silver? That stupid Miltank that has moves that are literally impossible and stats to match? And then she uses items every time it looks like you’re making progress? That’s the boss of the arena for every single tier, only worse because they don’t have any limit at all on their moves. These battles end up being either winnable or not winnable and if they’re not winnable the best you can do is struggle along until your own team is completely out of everything and you’re out of items. It’s bad.
Anyway, money being the absolute pain it is unless you figure out your only real means of getting it is selling items and the hard limitations on what normal items you can buy with it despite how little you’ll use them and the absolute mint you need to pay for DigiFarm items is one thing, the honest truth is that money in this game feels like a resource you never have enough of for the things that matter and no way of spending it on the things that don’t to make them matter. You can do just fine in this game grinding stats without having to boost them with equips and I really can’t say equips feel anything but subtle in their effects overall. Team building generally is much more important than kitting out a small number of them with whatever stat boosters and damage reducers would make an individual more survivable. Everything is largely a Rock-Paper-Scissors and there’s plenty outside of each cycle to shore up any team.
The sheer number of dungeons you can’t revisit until much later is also rather infuriating and putting missable preconditions on them is… just simply not how I would have done it. I honestly don’t understand why they did it that way other than Guide Dang It, but paper guides haven’t been a primary source of information for several years now other than to get a wiki started, because game updates inevitably render anything on paper inaccurate in some cases with the day-one patch, and by the end of the next few months they’re basically worthless. I was confused and honestly rather frustrated the first I went through one of these dungeons and realized I couldn’t go back, because I didn’t complete the scans on the enemies in there and the game holding that hostage rather than just adding it to the list so I could revisit it any time I wanted was frankly quite irksome and left me to complete the scans in the arena, which I never quite ended up doing. It’s these sort of things that really combine into feeling held back by the game.
But on to the good. Outside of feeling constantly destitute and like you simply can’t advance or get the things you want if you make incredibly easy and innocent mistakes, the game plays perfectly fine. Normal battles never feel like they’re hammering away at you too frequently and they don’t take too long. Grinding the scans gives you a reason to grind and your party levels up fairly quickly, so the main gameplay loop is fast and rewarding. It’s actually really nice to just sit there in Kowloon grinding without worrying about anything else because the grinding and exploration is the bulk of the experience and it’s definitely one of the best parts of the game. Honestly, navigating the human world is something of a chore in comparison and especially the way shops are spread out all over the place is quite a pain.
As I said, there’s little to nothing stopping you from making a mad dash to all your faves and it’s immensely satisfying to have three of them clustered around you and running behind you in the digital areas of the game. Just because the game has flaws doesn’t mean it’s not a good one and of all the things in the game that gives me good feels just thinking about it, it’s this, because even if they’re on the small side, that feeling of grinding enough to be able to take even a small team of your favorites and have them there with you is the best way the game feels unrestrictive. It’s something that Pokémon gave us all a taste of in Pokémon Yellow and for fans of that series, it’s been the biggest feature everyone always missed when it was absent. This game nails that feeling, giving you a trio of partners who follow you throughout the digital spaces and even if it’s a relatively small feature on its own, it can represent the fruits of a much larger effort, making it feel incredibly rewarding.
The CAM stat is probably the best contributor to the systems overall in how it makes the party feel more alive, even if the Digimon feel segregated off into their own side of the game. The relationships between them allowing them to pull others into an attack is incredibly cool and definitely highlights their relationships with each other, even if their relationships with you happen entirely over the DigiLine text messaging system. Those text messages also are the best grounding factor that makes them feel like you have any relationship with them outside of the active party following you around, and together these systems help make the Digimon feel alive, maybe in a more adult way in that there’s a certain level of them being able to handle themselves and making your actual working relationship a bit more professional in a way without being completely impersonal. This isn’t the sort of thing where they’re going to interact with you in the field, but doing it in their downtime gives you something, and doing it with each other in battle gives you a reason to keep certain ones together.
That said, the DigiLine messages do feel a little thin, too. Everything is written in such a way that anyone can say anything, so the Digimon maybe feel a certain uniform level of smart whether they’re a literal baby or one of the most ancient and powerful of their kind, and also a certain uniform level of informed, with their quizzes and requests to see the Human World someday all feeling like they’ve all been browsing Wikipedia. I won’t say it’s distracting, but it doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.
Being able to take missions on in any order is a good idea and making some higher priority with better rewards if you do them first is an excellent idea, especially because the chapter ultimately ends when you do all the main story missions. Your ability to pad this out with searched content gives you, in many cases, the neatest bits of all.
The biggest thing lacking is really the mystery and wonder of the Digimon experience. Digimon has always been about you and your partner navigating an unfamiliar world where they understand the mechanics and neither of you have any real experience. The Digital World is a place where the organic seamlessly meets artifice in ways that simply don’t make sense on the surface, but might ultimately do so when conditions are right. It’s a place that’s not supposed to make sense by conventional logic because it plays by its own rules. And while there are parts of the game that do that to an extent, it’s always quite a bit more for shock value than the whimsy the Digital World represents. You’re largely solving problems in the real world by entering computer systems and beating down whoever is playing with the thermostat or mucking up the elevator or causing some other form of mayhem because literally everything is computer controlled these days and you spend quite a lot of time exploring Tokyo all things considered.
Roleplaying the Digimon experience is something left to you as the player. My own experience was colored by deciding a pair of my mons were twins and keeping their progress parallel and later adding a "younger brother" who was a third main, but allowed to develop independently. It’s not like Nokia who’s largely living as close to the life of traditional Digimon the game has to offer with her two partners; reaching that experience is something really only possible by limiting yourself and exists in your head only. It can definitely exist that way, but it’s purely up to you to make it happen and get invested and really nothing in the game tells you to do it that way.
It’s overall a very good game with good systems and the ability to take it with you on Vita and play on PS4 by transferring your saves through the free cloud slot you have makes it an excellent game to cross-play. I know I spent a lot of time complaining, but the core of the game is rock-solid and for what it is, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
It’s a Digimon game for fans who grew up on the series and are looking for a more mature take on it, where you solve mysteries as an intern with a sort of extended staff of bodyguards of your own creation and rearing, but not in the immediate sense of them being your children so much as them being more or less your perfect entourage that you’ve built and invested in and yet have slightly more than a working relationship with. They can be trusted to handle themselves appropriately so you can focus on adult matters.
While it lacks the feel of the show, it’s perfectly good at what it’s going for and is still worth picking up today if you haven’t already.