Come, Agumon, the game is afoot!
Often and unfairly seen as Pokémon’s less popular cousin, Digimon is finally back in English regions after almost a decade of Japanese-only releases. Long time fans will no doubt be thrilled that the franchise is finally seeing localization again; whether or not Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth lives up to their expectations, however, is up for debate.
Set in an alternate Tokyo, virtual reality is an everyday affair, with EDEN being a digital community used by pretty much everyone. However, a mysterious illness is affecting VR users; this so-called EDEN syndrome leaves the afflicted comatose, their minds trapped in the Digital World. Manipulated by a hacker into entering a forbidden area of EDEN, the player is attacked by a data monster called an Eater, and is thrown into the heart of a high-level conspiracy after falling victim to EDEN syndrome themselves. In order to regain their body, they must uncover the secret behind EDEN Syndrome by becoming a Cyber Sleuth.
There’s an awful lot to like here. The almost-anime visuals are crisp and stay smooth throughout, with nary a lag in sight. While obviously designed with the Vita in mind, the interface is straightforward and goes out of its way to be as accessible as possible, although the dual typing-system takes a bit of getting used to,especially if you accidentally skip the specific info-dump that tells you about it.
Though the vibrant colours and whimsical monsters may seem child-targeted, there’s also a lot of maturity here; innuendo and mild swearing run amok, and the plot is pretty heavy compared to standard fare. Older fans of the series hopefully won’t feel patronised by the tone or delivery, though at the same time, younger players may struggle to keep up. The complete absence of load times is a more welcome holdover from the porting process, making this the rare breed of console game that you really can just play for a few minutes at a time if you want.
The Digimon themselves are the real selling point, and they make the game. From cute and cuddly puppies to intimidating cyborg dinosaurs, over 200 Digimon populate the game, their evolution trees branching off and recombining in intricate patterns. The strategy involved in Digivolving and de-Digivolving for skills and stat boosts are among the most enjoyable moments Cyber Sleuth has to offer. The maintenance of your Digifarm, where your Digimon search for extra sleuth cases and rare items, as well as getting in some training, is also a nice touch, adding some base management elements.
These moments are, however, too few between for Digimon Story to reach its true potential, and it’s not all cute monsters and fancy graphics. The choice not to localise voice acting as well as text is understandable from Bandai Namco, but the game definitely suffers for it; coupled with a soundtrack that’s nothing special, you can play with the sound off most of the time.
Even for a JRPG, there’s a huge amount of text in the unskippable cutscenes, making button mashing an extraordinarily tempting prospect for the less patient among us. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great idea either, as you run the risk of missing key mechanics and plot details, leading to a lot of wasted time wandering the overworld until you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, which happened to me more than once.
Though the vibrant colours and whimsical monsters may seem child-targeted, there’s also a lot of maturity here; innuendo and mild swearing run amok
The overworld itself is also pretty dull, in many cases boiling down to meandering around until you find the right person to talk to, watching a cutscene, and doing the same thing again in a minute. As such, it’s quite easy to get lost or miss key details, which can be a pain, and the repetitiveness definitely weighs you down.
While the overworld is too open, the dungeons, on the other hand, are often disappointingly linear. Sometimes they’re literally straight lines, with only the rare branch off leading to some sweet treasure. They ramp up in complexity as you progress, but even late-game there’s a lot of retreading from the exit you found immediately to grab the treasure you know is around the last corner.
The main difficulty I had with with Digimon is the lack of difficulty; there is almost no challenge to the battles. After the first half hour I activated Hard mode, and even then the battles didn’t get harder; they just lasted longer. These battles are a lot of fun, easily the best part of the game, but if you’ve come here to test your skills and challenge yourself, you will be disappointed.
Cyber Sleuth is ultimately a game of great moments and small letdowns. The gameplay is fun, but unchallenging. The plot is engaging, but too wordy. Digimon may never reach the dizzying heights of popularity that Pokémon enjoys, but this is a laudable attempt to engage the mainstream market, and a game worth playing despite its flaws. Coming in at about $70, the price seems a bit steep for what’s on offer, although if you’re the type who has to collect every last character, or you value games based on how long you’ll spend playing it, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
If you’re a fan of the Digimon franchise, and want to give it a go on the PS4, you could do a lot worse.