And it’s time for another JRPG review! I’ve been a Pokemon fan for ages, and have owned Nintendo’s latest portable to be able to play the latest game off and on, but inevitably always sell off said handheld because there just weren’t enough other games I wanted to play. So when I got the itch to pick up a new game, I got the next best thing: a Digimon game. For those of you who don’t know, Digimon is Pokemon’s younger and less kid-friendly knock-off franchise that has nonetheless managed to hit its 15th anniversary. Not bad for a knock-off, eh?
Anyway, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was released in 2015 as a PS4 and PS Vita title and released here in the US in February 2016. Is it worth a pick-up? Let’s take a look.
Graphics: Funnily enough, the anime-inspired game looks like an anime. Cel-shaded people and Digimon traverse a static CGI-painted world. The “cyber” elements of the game are depicted in very Tron-esque neon blues and it all looks quite nice. That said, there are some graphical glitches to be found. My character often clipped with the larger Digimon models making it seem like the pair had merged into some kind of unholy beast, and my guest would often disappear on elevator rides to where I started to question whether or not they were supposed to – even though logic dictates they shouldn’t. It’s not game breaking, but considering that we’re not pushing any graphical limits here, it’s disappointing to see and you’d hope for more polish. Overall, it does work and it looks nice, just don’t expect to be wowed.
Sound: Unlike the graphics, the sound work leaves something to be desired. Music is there, but outside of loops like the dungeon theme that you hear so many times that you can’t not get them stuck in your head, it’s forgettable. The game is only voiced in Japanese as is presented with English subtitles. This is both good and bad, as battles tend to have intro’s and outros that are probably the same one or two phrases repeated over and over and over again. At least you can’t understand them? Bye the by, the protagonist is unvoiced, probably a cost saving measure but nonetheless annoying as even most Digimon have voices. There’s no character customization beyond gender, would it have been so hard to have two reads done?
While we’re here, I do want to bring up the messy translations Sometimes it’s as little as having another character call your female avatar as “he” instead of “she” but other times I’m wondering if some of the issues are caused by a team who speak English competently, but not natively. For example, there’s a scene where the old detective is saying that a certain investigation is going slow. The implication being that he wants to go slow, so he can do it right. The other character nods sagely and replies, “haste makes waste.” While that idiom technically works, the context they’re using it in doesn’t quite make sense. Furthermore, many of the characters seem to go from smart to navie/stupid in a conversation and back again and again I have to wonder if it isn’t the translation making iffy writing somehow worse. The combination does detract from the story and I found myself smiling and nodding along with the protagonist at parts because the explanations were so convoluted that I just didn’t care and you may tune out too.
Story: Since I brought it up, I’ll just say that the story is servicable. It sets up the world nicely, but ultimately winds up being a fairly standard affair of Bad Company Doing Bad Things and it being up to you to figure out what. There are some touching moments, but really the more enjoyable stories come in the form of the side-quests which evoke everything from a bit of J-Horror to Digimon being addicted to boxing and taking selfies to just wanting to put their CD out for the world to hear. It’s the side-stories that kept me going, and they often have the best humor that isn’t impeded by the translations since the stories are shorter and simpler.
Gameplay: For better or for worse, this game feels like it was designed for the Vita and ported to the PS4, and not the other way around. I say this because the game uses a “case” system to move things along. Most of the side cases and even many of the main story cases can be completed in 20-30 minutes or less, making it perfect bite-size gaming. On the downside, the game feels incredibly linear. You can’t go explore unless the game tells you to explore. You have some freedom in the order you pick up cases (and the side cases are purely optional) and there are a few things you can mess around with on the side, like both “offline” and online battle arenas and the like, but this game is still 90% linear as many cases and tasks are only opened up to you after others are completed. I personally don’t mind, but your mileage my vary. I would also be remiss if I didn’t say that the “investigation” side-quests (obtained by sending the ‘mon on your Digifarm out searching for them) are EXTREMELY repetitive (Go to place X, run around until you find the shiny, return, repeat) and really the only reason to do them are you occasionally get some good rewards out of them.
As far as the battle system goes, this takes your basic Pokemon-esque rock-paper-scissor mechanics and both simplifies it and makes it more complex. On the face of it its simpler, because there are only four main types – data, virus, vaccine and free. where it gets more complex is that each one of those four types is then divided into elemental attributes like fire, water, plant and so on. Ideally, when you send out your Digimon you’re going to be looking at both type and attribute, as they do stack. That 2.0 damage a virus can do to a data Pokemon can become 3.0 if you add the right elements into the mix. But that’s ideally. Realistically, as long as you’re leveling properly and upgrading your Digimon when you’re able, you can often pay less mind to that secondary level of mixing, unless you’re in a boss fight or you just want to speed things up and get the fight done a bit sooner. Additionally, your health and SP points all replenish upon level up and between that and there are plenty of terminals that let you access the Digilab where you can heal up for an inconsequential amount of Yen, so you shouldn’t have to do too much health management, unless again, inside certain tougher boss battles. Overall, Pokemon fans should find this game easy to pick up and it’s definitely accessible for casual fans as well. It’s an easier game overall.
Finally, I do like how the game builds in mechanics for you to increase/decrease random encounters at your discretion and that said mechanic is available practically right away and is the only thing that makes the search quests bearable as the monsters in a given dungeon stay the same even as you level. I also like that how it wears off when you leave floors of a given dungeon so you can’t accidentally keep it turned on in areas where you really should be participating in those random encounters to ensure you stay appropriately leveled. If a game is going to use this kind of mechanic, this ability should come with it.
Verdict: Buy it on Sale. This an unapologetic old-school JRPG and fans of the genre/Pokemon fans should find something to like her. The general lack of polish, however, makes it hard to fully recommend, let alone recommend to newbies unless you’re looking for a relatively easy way to dip your toes in the waters. Western RPG fans who expect deeper story and character customization should steer clear.