Digimon Survive became disoriented

A thrilling conclusion cannot redeem a mediocre cast and weak script

A typical class trip agenda includes things like seeing a historical place and learning how to interact with individuals from different schools. You’re less likely to come across classroom-sized spiders or serious emotional anguish, and maybe you won’t be blamed for a buddy never coming home. But these are only a few of the problems that the unlucky group of middle schoolers face in Digimon Survive.

Digimon Survive, developed by Hyde, has the heavy task of updating the series’ usual combination of monster breeding and turn-based role-playing — specifically, with the addition of visual-novel features. However, that load proves to be a little too hefty to bear. The visual-novel elements appear appropriate for the tale Digimon Survive wishes to tell, but it falls short of its rich potential, whether due to a lack of trust in its own characters or a misunderstanding of what makes visual novels such a strong storytelling medium in the first place.

Digimon Survive begins in a manner reminiscent of the original Digimon: Digital Monsters anime: Students from several schools meet in the countryside for an educational camping trip. The popular girl, the joker and his serious friend, the melancholy loner, and the insecure class leader are all there on the voyage, but there’s no feeling of positive adventure until they arrive in the digital world, the series’ term for the other reality where Digimon live.

Digimon Survive became disoriented

Digimon Survive’s extended run duration is divided among exploration, free time, and fighting phases. During exploration, you talk with your classmates, hunt for essential things or ways ahead, and overall attempt to figure out what’s going on in this bizarre parallel universe. Digimon Survive is stingy with world-building, saving the most of it for the game’s last three of eight chapters, or around 15-20 hours of the game’s overall 60-hour run time.

Despite a promising start, the bigger narrative’s primary beats don’t lead anyplace remarkable. Early in the prologue, it describes the majority of what would become the main story components. At its foundation, Digimon Survive is a narrative about what we owe each other and how we may work together to reconcile tradition and development toward a brighter future.

More than in any other Digimon game or anime, the characters’ monster friends are basically digital embodiments of elements of their subconscious selves that they have difficulty admitting in everyday life or would want to forget entirely. Learning to survive in a brutal and scary environment is about learning to recognise and live with your flaws as much as it is about obtaining food and shelter.

The issue is how Digimon Survive tells these stories, or rather, how it does not tell them. Depending on your play style, four of the game’s eight chapters stretch out what may be a narrative for two 20-minute anime episodes into 20 hours. The first chapter is just two hours of four characters talking over what to do next, only to stay unconcerned.

Digimon Survive became disoriented

The second chapter is more of the same, only this time they dispute over where to obtain food and if they should seek for the others before doing nothing. There are certainly great moments, but Digimon Survive is just too content to drown them in senseless repetition for them to be noticed. Even after discovering six months’ supply of food, the gang begins to dispute about where they can get even more food.

On paper, these concepts appear to be solid. Finding supplies is, of course, an important aspect of survival, and since walking outside may result in your death, determining whether to risk searching for your missing campmates isn’t that simple. However, the execution suffers because it never does anything important or enjoyable with these sequences – it never utilizes them to enhance character development or suspense, and it hardly ever uses them to push the plot ahead.

If Digimon Survive draws inspiration from Aquaplus’ Utawarerumono games — and the hybrid visual-novel/tactics style certainly suggests it does — it seemingly derived the wrong philosophy from those games. It’s true that Mask of Truth spends nearly 80% of its run time on vignettes and character moments with little significance to the plot that unfolds at the end. In the process, though, it gradually pieces together complex personalities for each important character, so that when the major story developments unfold, you have a strong investment in what’s going on.

Helping Minoru in the wilderness in Digimon Survive demonstrated his desire for others to regard him as a strong leader. Takuma inadvertently wanders inside the gym where Saki is changing clothes in a later scene. The encounter causes humiliation and an unpleasant dialogue, but it has no larger ramifications or character consequences, least of all Takuma’s relationship with Saki. It’s terrifying to observe Shuuji, the generally stoic Digimon, constantly chip away at Lopmon’s mind in chapter 5 in order to make the faithful Digimon feel as inadequate as Shuuji does.However, until that moment, the game had only offered a sliver of Shuuji’s past, as well as the unreasonable pressures his father placed on him, which damaged his own confidence. There’s hardly enough time to catch a glimpse of Shuuji’s inner turmoil.

Regardless of who is still alive or what implications my actions had as the credits rolled, the cast felt much the same as it did when they first met – a group of disjointed people thrust together because circumstances beyond their control demanded that they be there. It’s a pity, given the promise not only in Digimon Survive’s larger issues, but also in its originally vibrant characters.

Digimon Survive’s fighting is likewise characterized by unrealized promise. The mechanisms are common for most tactics games (thus the three paragraphs devoted to their complexities). Digimon have a basic attack and a few special attacks that need stamina. Attacking from the side or back does additional damage, and they can improve their protection by not acting in that turn.

Digimon Survive became disoriented

You may develop your Digimon according on the decisions you make throughout the tale, which feels almost unfair. Except for the extra-difficult encounters in new game plus, the evolved Digimon can easily steamroll most opponents. Recruiting new Digimon takes the form of a Shin Megami Tensei-style dialogue in which you try to predict the answers to random questions in the hope that your response fits the personality of that Digimon. However, it frustrates much more than SMT because you only get one opportunity per opponent Digimon during the game.

Combat isn’t groundbreaking, but there’s a basic satisfaction in smashing a tough opponent with a well-timed evolution or watching Agumon shoot fireballs across the globe. I only wish there were more of it. In addition, similar to Utawarerumono, Digimon Survive offers few bouts and even fewer map changes, making fighting feel like an afterthought rather than a significant component.

Digimon Survive was tough to play, tedious in the first half, and just unsatisfying. Underneath the prattle, insignificant fighting, and poor character development is the structure for something far more interesting, and you can catch a peek of what could have been in some of the story’s stronger moments. I hope Hyde and Bandai are given the opportunity to make another visual novel-style Digimon game, expanding on the roots of Survive to create a more enduring and memorable experience.

On July 29, Digimon Survive was published for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Bandai Namco offered a pre-release download code for the game, which was used for the review.

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