Review: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

I’ve been a fan of Digimon since I was around 14 years old. I can vividly remember the moment I fell in love with the cartoon, and the sheer bewilderment I felt when I’d first played Digimon World on the PS1 and realised it was nothing like the cartoon at all.

Developer: Media. Vision
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS Vita
Also Available On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Available Now

BRB-Score-4
Flash forward to February 2016, I’m quickly approaching 31 and it’s been 11 years since we last had a Digimon game release on UK shores. I’m still a huge fan of the franchise, and Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth has had me excited since I saw its announcement trailer sometime last year.

It’s now weeks since I received my copy, and this review is grossly overdue, but I’ve finally managed to pull myself out of the Digital World to write about the first Digimon game I’ve played in over a decade.

The story takes place in two main areas Tokyo, of the Japan variety, and EDEN – a virtual world created and run by Kamishiro Enterprises. Within EDEN, users are represented as avatars containing their mental data and can freely move around and interact with the digital environment. It’s basically the internet, if it were a sterile looking future playground.

One fateful day, while exploring EDEN’s underworld (a blue sterile playground) the protagonist – the name and gender of which are chosen by you – receives a Digimon Capture device from a hacker, which in turn causes them to become a hacker too.
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Hackers are people who are able to use ‘dangerous Digimon programmes’ to do their bidding, and much like the real world, some are good and some are bad. The protagonist decides to be a force for good, and then literally minutes later has their mental data ripped from their avatar by a monstrous, tentacle creature.

The protagonists half-digitized body re-enters the real world in the middle of Shinjuku, Tokyo, and is soon found by private investigator Kyoko Kuremi who proposes he/she become her assistant while the duo try and figure out what happened.

From here the story becomes what I can only describe as Neo-Noir, as the pair and a small team try to unravel the mystery, uncovering old cases that may be connected, involving murder, missing persons, corporate corruption, and an impending digital threat that could destroy the world. It’s a plot that feels like it’s pulled straight from a cartoon, and although it’s a bit clichéd, it’s also a lot of fun.

The visuals too feel like they were pulled from the anime series, with the 240 digital monsters on offer here recreated as beautifully detailed cel shaded models, giving Cyber Sleuth the feeling of a cartoon come to life.

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The real world locations in Cyber Sleuth are detailed with vibrant cartoon colours, like the character models, whereas the digital spaces are solid and cold or kind of washed out in a very similar style to how ‘the internet’ looks in Digimon: The Movie. How the contrasting colour palettes help differentiate the digital and real worlds is a nice touch, and reminiscent of the way the Wachowski’s used blue and green in the Matrix movies.

The story itself unfolds through ‘cases’, which are found on a whiteboard in Kyoko’s office. You can only take one case at a time, and the cases have to be closed at the whiteboard again once solved, which means a lot of running back and forth.

It’s a mechanic that makes sense from a narrative point of view when doing story quests, as the team will usually regroup and debrief between cases, but it’s soon becomes a chore when doing the numerous side quests.

The quests are colour coded, with red and yellow cases usually representing story cases, and other colours being side quests. The side quests can be anything from property fetch quests, which see you running around the various levels of Kowloon, the main area within EDEN populated by hackers, finding items that Digimon have misplaced, that on more than one occasion can be found sitting right next to the digital dumbass that ‘lost’ it.

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Other cases involve solving mysteries, usually ending with what I suppose is meant to be a ‘challenging’ battle. And I imagine that if I hadn’t spent hours levelling up then yes, those battles would have been difficult, but as it stands I didn’t find a challenge until near the end of the game, and even then they were only in special side quests, completely separate from the main story.

Lack of challenge aside, these quests are a lot of fun, and the scenarios are pretty varied, covering everything from cute to just plain creepy. One case saw me trying to track down someone who had been stealing young girls photos and physical data, and was using the information to manufacture ‘love dolls’ in the girls’ image.

The combat is pretty standard turn-based RPG fair. Strengths and weaknesses are determined on a rock, paper, scissor scale relating to the Digimon’s type. There are four types, with vaccine, virus, and data able to work against each other, and free types which remain neutral, with no strengths or weaknesses against anything.

Attacking an enemy with a weakness against your type (for example if a vaccine attacks a virus) will cause increased damage. Similarly, if you attack an enemy one who is strong against your type, the damage will be halved. On paper, this, combined with various elemental attributes that apparently work in the same way, provides a template for an in depth battle system with plenty of room for strategy. In practise, however, it’s quite a different story.

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It’s possible to have up to eleven Digimon in your party at any one time, making it possible to create a team consisting of several of each type. This, combined with the ability to swap out all three field Digimon at once at any time during battle, makes it possible to have an almost invulnerable team, practically removing all challenge from battle, especially later on in the game.

There is also the games auto-battle, which is activated by pressing select at any point during battle and allows the AI to pick the best attacks for the situation and act accordingly. On several occasions I’d begin a battle, press select, make a cup of tea and return to collect my spoils.

It makes grinding a breeze, but it pretty much destroys anything resembling challenge or depth, which is a huge shame because there is a real potential for strategy in there somewhere, it’s just never realised. Because of this, battles become more of an annoyance than a necessity. During the last couple of chapters, I turned battle encounters off completely.

Outside of battle you have hacking abilities to help you traverse the various levels of EDEN by unlocking gated areas, copying data for basic puzzle solving, and becoming invisible. There are also abilities that can either force encounters, or as already mentioned, eliminate them completely. The hacking abilities become available gradually as your party meet certain criteria, and can be extremely useful, especially when grinding levels.

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Levelling up is a lot of fun, and almost rogue like in its execution. Digimon go through various generations, from Training to Ultra, and each generation is reached by visiting the DigiLab and ‘digivolving’ when certain requirements are met. Digivolving changes the monsters in question to a more powerful form, but reduces their level back to one, making you start the levelling process all over again. Each Digimon can change into various forms within the available tree, and there are a couple of secret ways to reach the strongest forms.

The levelling system is as repetitive as it is addictive. Once you have your mind set on which Digimon you want in your party and figure out how to reach that form, it’s possible to lose tens of hours to levelling. Every time I was advancing in the story I’d end up stopping for a while just to see if I could unlock and reach some of the more powerful forms. Which I eventually did, and it was totally worth it.

To help with the sheer volume of levelling Cyber Sleuth demands, there is an area inside the DigiLab called the DigiFarm. Here you can put any Digimon you’re not using and set them to train, look for extra cases to solve, or create items to help you on your way.

The DigiFarms can be expanded, and various goods can be installed to help with the Digimon‘s development. Farm residents can also be fed various stat boosting foods to help the process along a bit, which looks hilarious as you literally throw meat at their face until they eat it. I, however, didn’t realise until near the end of the game that this was possible because I hadn’t read the tutorials properly.

[youtube id=”jmXkpuiAas8″ align=”center” maxwidth=”530″]

The DigiLab also houses the Mirror Dungeons, which offer a way to re-visit some areas you have already been to for levelling and monster collection purposes, a Colosseum, which equates to an online battle mode, and a shop that sells plug-ins and food for your farm that I didn’t realise was there until writing this paragraph and double checking areas within the DigiLab. I seriously need to pay more attention to tutorials.

Despite its shortcomings, and there are a few, I really do love this game. From the beautifully rendered monsters, to the incredibly addictive and rewarding levelling, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is a lot of fun. I found some of the characters genuinely charming, and found the constant growth of my Digimon, both statistically and visually, to be extremely rewarding.

Stunning cel shading brings the digital world to life
Addictive levelling feels rewarding
Stories keep the world fun and engaging
Combat is too easy when at high levels
Some of the translations are laughable

If you’re a Digimon fan I highly recommend you pick this up. It might be a harder sell to those of you who aren’t already in league with the DigiDestined, but if you can look past the fan service there may just be an enjoyable RPG experience for you too. The word Digimon appears 21 times in this review.

Review copy provided by Bandai Namco

Official Game Site

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