Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4) - Review

A ps2 game in ps4 clothing.

As I have stated before, I belonged to what probably is the majority of people on this planet in believing Digimon was nothing more than a rip-off on Pokémon. Once I got around to actually trying one of the games I still thought so, but that didn't keep me from having a really good time. That game was Digimon World DS and it taught me that there were quite a few things that Digimon did that I actually prefered over Pokémon, enough for me to even compile a list over those things. But even though Digimon did a good first impression on me, I never stuck around and tried any of the other games. I played Digimon World on the PS1 but didn't really get into it. And that's it.

But I was still itching to give Digimon another go, but what with all the other games I had lying around crying out to be played I just never seemed to get around to it. Until I heard that Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (DSCS) was getting some decent reviews, and I needed an excuse to buy games for my new PS4. It still took a mention on the VGM podcast Rhythm & Pixels (shoutout!) before I finally got my thumb out of my rear and got it. It took me over 40 hours to finish, so let's see if I can collect some coherent thoughts on it;

Spoiler alert; still the most fun Digimon game I've played.

Maybe it should go without saying, but micro-managing your Digimon is the bread and butter of this game (as I suspect in any Digimon-game), even more so than your typical Pokémon game. The reason for this is that it just works better, if you ask me. Leveling your Pokémon besides your core-group is mostly a chore, even with items like Exp Share. There is also no reason to use half the Pokémon in the roster because quite frankly they just suck. That is not really the case in Digimon, at least not in DSCS. Evolving and devolving your Digimon is how you gain stats and unlock new evolutions, and it's so much easier and quicker to do than in Pokémon. Your Digimon will gain levels quickly, making a devolution (essentially reverting your Digimon back to a previous form) just part of the micro-managing and no setback. Also, there are a lot fewer types, making it so much easier to keep track of who is weak/strong against who. While Digimon also are typed after elements similarly to Pokémon, like Fire, Plant, Wind etc, they're also typed after whether they are Vaccines, Viruses, Data or Free. Although the elements, or affinites as I think they are called, also matter you only really need to keep track of the last four to succeed in the game. For someone like me, who after having played Pokémon for 15 years still can't remember more than the most obvious weaknesses/strengths, this came as a blessing.

It also means that it doesn't really matter what Digimon you carry around or fight with, at least for the first 80% of the game, as they are all very similar in strength. This could also be because the game wasn't very difficult but we'll get back to that. I found the game made it easy for me to swap between Digimon, trying different ones as it fitted me in a way that made it fun to collect them. Add to that the regular (?) Digimon Islands, where you can let all the Digimon you have that you're not currently carrying around level and stat up on their own. Pokémon allows one (1) Pokémon in such a daycare, in DSCS I had 40 Digimon stored up like this, rather than just lying around gathering dust in a bank. If this makes it sound too easy to skill up your pets, the Islands need micro-managing too by for instance installing equipment that boosts certain stats or types of Digimon. You can also assign each Island to different tasks, like training, investigating (finding more cases for you to solve) and finding items.

It's a good thing that micro-managing your Digimon is so much fun, mostly because you spend (or can choose to spend) a whole lot of time doing it, but maybe even more so because the rest of the game is frankly quite meh.

The main characters are nowhere near as interesting as they could've been. 

Trying to explain the story so that it makes some kind of sense is probably going to give me a hernia, but here it goes:
In this world you can log on to a digital platform called EDEN with your avatar, it's basically virtual reality. Something is destroying people's avatars in EDEN leaving their physical bodies in a comatose state (hands up if you've heard this one before...). Your character is one of those people. Fortunately for you, you manage to create a digital body in the physical world (you can choose to play as either male or female), this allows you to do digital hacking stuff to physical items or "connect jump". Because of your new-found skills you get employed by Cyber Sleuth Kyoko Kuremi to solve cyber crime with (or mostly for) her. Digimon start to appear, at first only in the digital world but then also in the physical world. Then a sort of corrupt data creature called "eaters" appear. If they touch you, they destroy your entire data, basically killing your digital self. Where do they come from and what do they want? That is the overarching story of this game.

While this plays out you also solve a lot of more or less related cyber crime side-quests, and there is quite a lot of them. Some further the story, but most of them are only fetch-quests of different varieties which quite frankly never really got my heart racing. That's not to say that they sucked either, some give fairly useful items and the way they were presented still gave them a more-ish feeling. Enough to make someone like me, who normally avoids most peripheral gameplay, do quite a lot of them.

The characters always verge on almost being interesting. Kyoko makes her horrible coffee, Nokia is obnoxious, Arata is mysterious. Then there are side-characters that are presented like they will matter eventually but never really do, like the two cops Matayoshi and Date, the Digimon Pete and the hacker Rina. It's like they were supposed to be part of the story but were cut out and only left in partially. Overall the story is too scatterbrained to make any character feel important and thus to make me care much. Yet again, the only ones I ended up caring about were my Digimon.

Graphically the game makes equally little sense, and managed to evoke no feelings from me other than indifference. Throughout I couldn't shake the thought that this game didn't even deserve to be on the ps4, as everything presented could've been done just as well on a ps2. I usually prefer linearity and streamlined, even tight-strung, settings and stories over something that feels bloated and/or empty (just read my review on Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for an example of this). DSCS somehow manages to both feel extremely claustrophobic and empty. Not only are there few areas to run around in, you'll revisit almost every one of them several dozens of times. Time spent either in the digital or physical world is about 50/50, and the digital world is not even fifty shades of blue, but about five shade of blue. It gets stale very quickly. All the physical areas look pretty much the same, are extremely fenced in as well with invisible walls all over and only allow you to interact with a few select story driving objects. I wouldn't mind this kind of design if it ever felt like it filled a purpose other than laziness.

The only neat looking thing about the entire game was the fact that three of your Digimon run behind you (sometimes really obscuring your view) and I've got to hand it to them, I really liked the design of the Digimon. Most of them looked really cool or just freakishly weird.

This guy was one of my favorites.

Don't even get me started on the music or sound because there is almost nothing to say. It's functional, never really bothered me but I can't say anything stood out as interesting either.

It's funny how I can't really get myself to say that I recommend this game, and yet I did put over 40 hours into it. Despite all this game doesn't do right, which is almost everything - tinkering with my Digimon was still fun enough to keep me going. It absolutely helped, in a reverse-psychology kind of way, that the game like I mentioned is extremely easy and so didn't require much thinking or investment from my side. While this sounds like another reason to not like it, it did make it a good way to wind down at the end of the day. I could even play this game one-handed while snacking with my other hand. It ended up filling the same sort of slot as those tv-series you watch or mobile games you play even though they're not that good, but good enough to keep you around and fill your time with something without asking for much in return.

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