Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Review — Like Persona, But…

If anyone is willing to donate the money, I might review the Sword Art Online video game as well.

Digimon hasn’t exactly rolled a triple-7 when it came to conquering the video game market the way their much more popular brethren at Nintendo has. Sure they’re not exactly Monster Rancher – whose games I can’t even remember aside from that one where the eyeball dude was bouncing on a pogo stick – but when Japan withholds their better games from the West due to the fact that the games they did give us were about as fun as having your head shoved in a piranha tank with the piranhas being too dead to end your suffering, that’s generally bad for people who want to experience what it’s like to blast giant bugs with Greymon’s Nova Blast. So to say I was looking forward to trying out Cyber Sleuth when the news that it would be coming to the West reached my ears is neither an understatement nor an overstatement. I mean it looked like a proper Digimon game with the ability to play as my favorites from the show, but how would it stand as a game on its own?

Well as a game, it’s already an improvement on those World disasters by having loading times that go faster than a road runner after swallowing a bucket of chili and a proper leveling/digivolution system that doesn’t require you to spend hours of convoluted mechanics to get the Digimon that you want, provided you know what you’re doing. But aside from that, if you’ve played one monster JRPG, you’ve played them all. The best way I can describe Cyber Sleuth is that it’s basically Pokemon with a story and more marketed to the teen crowd, except it’s fucking easy to catch ’em all because you can de-evolve your monsters in order to evolve them into new ones whenever you want. And catching them only requires you meet them in battle a few times. No seriously, that’s it. Just run into Greymon in a few random encounter and then you can sic him on a wild Garurumon. Why exactly was the pocket monster thing the more popular one again?

However, there’s not much to really say about the gameplay besides basic stuff you either already know or is best experienced first-hand, so let’s focus on the story. You play as a silent mute that you can choose the gender of – although it doesn’t really matter because I picked the girl and all the dialogue assumed I only had one X chromosome – and live in a world where the Internet controls everything Summer Wars-style, right down to looking very similar to the setting of that film. After deciding to meet up with some online friends – and by the way, the characters are designed by Suzuhito Yasuda, so that means that all the guys look like hipsters and all the girls look like prostitutes – you all gain the power to control artificial talking programs called Digimon. After an attack by an unknown force, you’re kicked out of your body and come into existence as a cyber being who can only maintain physical form for a limited time, causing you to get taken in by a female cyber sleuth and solve cases for her so that you can find clues to get your body back. But you won’t be alone, as you’ve got Digimon from Seasons 1-3 and that forgettable Data Squad show on your side, and your friends will help too if they’re in the mood.

You might think this sounds a lot like those Persona games, and it kind of is, particularly Persona 4. You go into the Digital World through a TV in your boss’s office, most of the cases require you to fight monsters with your monsters, and the game even tries to do its own version of psychological evaluations meeting monster mythology with its plot. There’s even a system where you answer calls from your friends and hang out with them for a bit in order to get prizes, but unlike the Social Link system, most of the hanging out is mandatory to proceed, and that’s when you start to realize that the game can be unnecessarily padded at times.

To be honest, I had a lot more fun raising my Digimon and getting them to evolve into the ones the protagonists had in the show rather than pursue with the plot, because the ratio of important stuff to random monster skirmishes is tipped a little too much to the latter, and most of the skirmishes aren’t up to giving you a meaty challenge. Once you get the hang of the type advantages and experience exploitation, you’ll pretty much have Mega-level Digimon long before they become necessary, which leads to weird moments when the game forces you to lose just so that the plot can progress in a certain way, despite the fact that you could have easily owned the opponent if they played fair. And since the level design is same-y and uncomplicated as hell with random encounters not exactly being as frequent as an explosion in a Michael Bay film, there’s not really much of a meaty challenge to get you excited in-between the action either.

Things do get challenging when the plot-important bosses enter the fray, particularly because they have the uncanny ability to go first and have unlimited amounts of special points to dedicate to their big attacks whilst you have to conserve the defense-breaking ones sparingly. And they also have access to enemy-only stat-boosters, which to be fair has a tendency to backfire on them just as much as it benefits them. It got to the point where I never entered a battle without bringing along at least one Digimon who could pierce through defenses, so I really hope you don’t have a bias against Wargreymon, because chances are you’ll be relying on either him or his black counterpart a lot in the later game.

And then there’s the fact that whilst I’m all for the game’s story really wanting to be Persona, it would help if it was actually as good, or even got some of the basics right. Most the characters’ arcs get bungled due to the power of friendship being used as a deus ex solution one too many times, and you’ll figure out the big twists long before they actually appear. Did anyone really think when Agumon and Gabumon showed up for the first time that they weren’t eventually going to become Omnimon? And it doesn’t help that the story becomes the same “us or them” crap that made up the last arc of Data Squad, right down to sending the Royal Knights after you when the Digital World becomes threatened by human activity and the actual solution being pulled out of the game’s ass, although not nearly as bad as when that show did it. Still, I’d have liked the going-ons in this game to be more personal and less every generic JRPG “save the world” climax ever.

The best way I can describe the new Digimon game is that it’s fun while it lasts, but eventually the appeal fades, farming simulator-style. I ended up sinking over a hundred hours in Cyber Sleuth – which is longer than when most people play Skyrim – and I had a lot of fun doing so. But once I had beaten the story, gotten every Digimon – including the recent DLC, and completed all the bonus content, I had no incentive to play the game any more. There is a New Game + that’d let me experience the story again with all my Royal Knights and Demon Lords, but why would I want to do that if the story and characters aren’t worth revisiting? As a guy who grew up with Digimon, this game does a much better job at reviving the nostalgia than those awful Tri movies do. Unfortunately, nostalgia can only take you so far and I can’t really recommend this game to anyone who doesn’t have an interest in Digimon as a franchise.

But hey, at least it’s an evolution of what came prior. Now if only Pokemon would get the memo and stop releasing the same goddamn thing over and over.

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