- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Vita
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Bandai Namco
- Developer: Media Vision
- Players: 1 (offline), 2 (online)
- Site: http://www.bandainamcoent.com/game/digimon-story-cyber-sleuth.html
- Game code provided by the publisher
Let’s not talk about that other franchise which is a clear influence. Digimon is a strong enough licence to have crossed various media, and to have held a committed fanbase in several countries, for almost twenty years. If you just know it as a Saturday morning cartoon you’ve never really paid attention to, there are a few things you ought to know before you consider picking up a copy of this game. Such as the fact that the cartoon tends to see small but significant cuts and edits from the original Japanese version…
The latest game to spawn from the franchise, Cyber Sleuth, is a JRPG first and a Digimon game second. Pay close attention to the age rating of 12 and up. This allows for the fact that your female boss has an odd choice of clothes (in that she wears a jacket which threatens to emancipate her breasts any second; in addition to a skirt so short, it’s practically above her waist), and your female friend suffers some leering dialogue from NPCS at times. Best stick this on the ‘not for kids at the asking awkward questions age’ pile.
Even if that weren’t an issue, gameplay isn’t particularly kid-friendly, either – but then, it’s clearly not meant to be. What you’re looking at here is the standard JRPG template; objectives delivered to you by NPCs, random battles, dungeons, turn-based combat, a rock-paper-scissors system; you know the drill. It’s all admirably well presented though, and wrapped up in graphics that are – on PS4 as we’ve played, at least – bright, bold, solid, and very nicely done.
Do you prefer your audio in Japanese? Then you’re in luck here! If you always prefer an English soundtrack though then, er, sorry. Somewhat bizarrely, the acting is in Japanese only. Amusing as it would be if there were no English subtitle option, those are in English. The story that the two languages tell is one of a global digital community known as Eden, which is kind of like PlayStation Home but using VR (and popular). Giving anything a name like that is asking for trouble and sure enough, it’s not long before human hackers and Digimon are running around causing trouble. Pretty quickly you’ve started building up your own collection of Digimon, and you’ve also acquired the unlikely ability to transfer your very being between digital and physical spaces.
The subtitle is somewhat misleading, as you don’t really do any sleuthing. You soon end up working for a (weird) detective agency, and missions are presented to you as ‘cases’. Nonetheless, there’s no using clues, interrogating people, or solving puzzles. It’s just getting from A to C by way of B, fighting plenty of D along the way. The story’s kind of interesting, and there are a few genuinely funny moments; but generally speaking, apart from the option of online Digimon battles isolated from the story, you won’t find anything here that you wouldn’t find in a hundred similar titles.
There’s plenty here for the (older) Digimon fan. Not only does the script provide a solid foundation for the experience, there are a great many of the digital creatures in the game. They’re all impeccably recreated, and look fantastic in HD. Building your collection of beasties is easier than you might expect, too. Face one in battle enough times, and you can summon it for your very own with no price or penalty. Digivolving to the next stage can be triggered at any time once your Digimon is sufficiently levelled, again without any irritating extra requirements.
An enthusiasm for Digimon is best chained to a familiarity with, and love for, the number one JRPG tradition – grinding. Some poor game design makes this particularly important here. The further you progress in the story, the more gigantic the gulf between bosses and the Digimon you slaughter on your way to fight them. More often than not minor enemies are very easy to defeat, with it being not uncommon (especially in the early stages) for a fight to be won with just one or two moves. What non-grinders will fail to realise until their first humiliating defeat, however, is that the bosses have been rigidly designed to face players who engage in as many fights as possible. Once you hit the halfway point or so it’s almost impossible to defeat bosses without having thrown your Digimon into as many fights as you can bear. Yes, it’s a long-standing and oft-practised tradition to encourage grinding; but it’s supposed to be a learning curve, not a learning cliff.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth does a lot right but, given the significant volume of competition, not enough to establish itself as a king of the genre. This might sound like a lazy evaluation, but it’s true: this is one for existing fans.