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Digimon Survive Review

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Digimon. Digital monsters. Digimon are the champions!

It’s been over two decades since I first heard those immortal words as the Digimon Adventure TV series landed on our shores, offering a slightly darker and mature alternative to Pokémon. A sleuth of games have released in that time too; with action-packed RPGs and fighters accounting for the majority of them. The latest incarnation though, Digimon Survive, is going off in a slightly tangential direction. 

That’s right, Digimon Survive is a tactical RPG and visual novel hybrid, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. And by heavy, I mean a WarGreymon sized emphasis. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your expectations; as long as you’re willing to accept the outlined power dynamic between the two genres though, Digimon Survive is worth your time. 

The story begins much like the one found in the aforementioned Digimon Adventure TV series, with a group of teenagers on a school trip – Takuma Momozuka, Minoru Hinata, Aoi Shibuya, Saki Kimishima, Ryo Tominaga, and Shuuji Kayama. They, alongside a couple of other people, somehow get transported to another world; a world filled with Kemonogami a.k.a. Beast Gods (Digimon to you and I). Confused and alone, survival is the most pressing matter as the creatures of this realm don’t appear too friendly. Well, aside from a handful of Digimon that seem very keen on partnering up with the group.

Memories are instantly evoked for long-time fans due to the initial premise and the fact that the main protagonist, Takuma, is accompanied by the adorable Koromon who swiftly digivolves into Agumon. Then the narrative hooks really lock as a number of mysterious things come into play; an eerie pair of siblings, a dangerous fog, and an entity determined to sacrifice all of these kids. 

The strongest aspect here though is just how ghastly it gets as the young folk struggle to adapt and their mental weakness is exposed. People can, and will, die during your playthrough. That darkness keeps you on edge and ensures the small wins or uplifting moments are enjoyed ten-fold. You will certainly care while witnessing their downfalls too, and credit must go to the character development for making those connections with the player. 

Every single human character has their own unique identity and personalities, which helps to create a nice balance in the group dynamic. Takuma is the level-headed type, Minoru is the class clown, Aoi is the stickler for rules, and so on. It would be rude not to compliment the Digimon also, who bring their own varying attitudes to the table and provide interesting conversation. Design-wise there are no complaints either as they all look like they’ve been nabbed straight from an anime and they are voiced very well – even if only in Japanese (subtitles are available). 

Given how the events play out in the form of a visual novel, you can expect a heck of a lot of reading to be on the cards. There are also quite a lot of exploration segments, where you transition between scenes in areas such as a school building, the woods, an amusement park, and more. Occasionally these sections are limited in regards to the amount of interactions that can be made until the plot auto-progresses. The back and forth nature does get a tad tiresome, especially if the conversation doesn’t really offer anything new. The backgrounds aren’t much to look at either, with far less visual clarity than everything in the foreground, to the point where any zooming in is quite bad. Focusing on the positives however, there’s a neat little feature involving use of a smartphone camera to seek out collectibles as well as useful items. 

Additionally, choosing responses during interactions with your fellow survivors is a frequent action, thankfully, with genuine consequences. Building up affinity in these moments is important for garnering support in the battle side of proceedings, while karma will affect the way in which your Digimon evolves and will lead to different paths later on in the adventure. Poor decisions could in fact lead to more of your allies being killed off, which puts into perspective the seriousness of your role. It also massively adds to the replayability factor should you wish to indulge in further playthroughs via New Game Plus, because you can obtain alternate endings, follow other routes and save those that meet an untimely demise. 

So, that’s the incredibly lengthy and packed visual novel parts covered, which leaves the bit people are most likely to have high expectations for – the battling. The story-based battles occur infrequently and, by design, take up a small portion of each chapter. For example, if a chapter lasts three hours, then you’ll be lucky to spend half an hour on average in skirmishes. It’s slightly disappointing, however a Free Battle option – more on that shortly – bolsters the action to scratch that itch a little more.

Anyway, as a turn-based tactical affair, it’s reminiscent of another game I played recently, Fae Tactics. Essentially your Digimon are thrown into an environment that’s split up by square tiles and the general rule of thumb is to defeat the enemy before they take you out. Both vertical and horizontal movement is possible as you attempt to navigate the landscape in order to reach the enemies. Positioning is key, with attacks from the side and behind doing extra damage, so you do have to think things through to succeed – or simply lower the difficulty. 

Depending on the Digimon, their movement and attack range could be better or worse than the next. The bird-like Falcomon is capable of climbing further vertically and manoeuvring horizontally than Agumon for example. Each Digimon has stats for speed, attacking, defending, resistance to certain elemental types and such, with increases gained through levelling up via XP earned. Being able to freeze, paralyse, poison and generally stop the enemy from moving really helps to keep battles interesting for a short while.

On the downside, the Digimon possess a very limited set of moves and by that I mean only a standard attack and a special one. The animations for the special moves – and the evolutions – are cool as heck, but I would love to have a few more options to choose from for each creature. And then there would be a bit more variety to the action. The environments are jaded too, in stark contrast to the lovely and often cute Digimon character models.

I do find the big bad boss fights fairly enjoyable due to how certain factors can affect how they unfold. One in particular sees your friends and their Digimon trapped, leaving you shorthanded for the battle. It allows you to go straight for the boss or veer off to get some reinforcements by rescuing the folks in distress first. Otherwise you could finish most battles on auto-pilot or the in-game auto-battle feature, especially Free Battles.

Free Battles are great for expanding your roster and farming XP to ensure your gang is as strong as possible. Venturing in with up to six Digimon, you’ll face a selection of different foes depending upon the area in which you’re currently exploring and you are able to initiate these as often as you wish. More importantly though, is the ability to collect additional Digimon for your team. Unlike Pokémon or Nexomon, the recruitment policy consists of talking to them before inflicting any harm and answering a few questions to appease their particular personality. It’s a novel idea that gets boring and repetitive real quick; once you’ve convinced a few, you’ll likely not bother again.

Ultimately, Digimon Survive thrives in delivering a dark and mysterious narrative that’s full of important decisions which may lead to harrowing moments. There are heartfelt and lovely bits too, with a cast of characters who are easy to become attached to. Unfortunately it’s let down slightly by an abundance of back and forth movements, while the infrequent battles prove to be enjoyable only in short spells. 

There’s no doubt Digimon Survive is a great visual novel full of content that will warrant multiple playthroughs, however the tactical aspect feels like an afterthought. It’ll all depend on what you want from the experience as to whether you should pick it up, or not.

Digimon Survive is available to purchase from the Xbox Store

James Birks
James Birks
Been gaming casually since the SNES as a youngster but found my true passion for games on the Playstation 1 (the forbidden word ooo). My addiction grew to its pinnacle with the purchase of an Xbox 360 & Xbox Live Service. A recovering GS hunter that will still play literally any game.
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