Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re totally into Digimon, which is, like, the cutest because, FYI…Digimon is, like, totally into you too. It’s been many years since a proper Digimon video game was released in the West so, as you can imagine, us wannabe-DigiDestined are pretty excited to have this title in the palm of our hands. Finally.
Now the reason I say “proper” Digimon video game is because the last Digimon title us Westerners got wasAll-Star Rumble and – I’m sorry about this, Bandai Namco Entertainment – but that game was a breathtaking flop. Thankfully, that has been entirely made up for with the release of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth; a Digimon game about crime, mystery, theDigital World, and a sexy lady in what looks to be just a button up business shirt. How could you possibly turn your attention away from that? The answer to that question: You can’t!
Once again, I would like to thank Bandai Namco Entertainment not only for providing us with a copy of the new game for review, but for taking notice of the fan petition to localize this game and actually doing something about it. Regardless if this new title is good or bad, Bandai Namco Entertainment have made a lot of Western Digimon fans intoxicated with sheer joy, and that in and of itself is something quite beautiful.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth has a pretty simple overarching storyline that is pieced together by small, but highly engaging, plot developments and branches that make up what I consider to be a well-written, and interesting tale of mystery. The modern world is intricately connected by the online world EDEN; a virtual reality space that serves as a “futuristic” version of what we know today as the world wide web, much like OZ from the Mamoru Hosoda film Summer Wars; a concept that gave clear inspiration to this game.
A sudden glitch in the system that attacks the mental data of citizens logged into EDEN has begun running amuck across the web: Those who are attacked by this cyber anomaly have their aforementioned “mental data” corrupted, leaving their corporeal bodies in a state of temporary hibernation that is beginning to seem a little more…permanent. You, the player and main character of this game, are attacked by this anomaly one fine day while touring the more dangerous parts of the web.
Unlike all others who interacted with this would-be virus, you don’t slip into a digitally-induced coma. Instead, you appear in the real world with a body made almost entirely out of data…and that’s when the enigmatic private detective Kyoko Kuremi makes her first appearance as your personal savior, and the only person you can trust to help get yourself out of this situation.
The up side? Well, apart from having the ability to “connect jump” into the world of EDEN at any given time, you just so happened to meet strange digital creatures know as “Digimon” just before the connection to your physical body was severed. With Digital Monsters at your side, you sign yourself up to be Kuremi’s latest apprentice. Your job title: Cyber Sleuth. Your mission: Restore the connection to your body, and solve the mystery of this devastating aberration.
Cyber Sleuth’s more intricate story details are heavily inspired by the mystery genre as a whole. It is clear where the writers have gotten their influence, and it only works to help players more appreciate the level of maturity that Digimon has mustered over the years. With deep references to Japanese mythology, Edogawa Ranpo, and many similar video games, it’s clear that this title is an amalgam of ideas the writing staff thought would fit well together, then actually made the effort to make it as such. Something quite rare in modern times. Often you’ll find that certain games try to have variety, not only in their story but in the way the game plays, and often they fall flat. This is not the case for Cyber Sleuth.
The story is lead by a very small cast of characters, each with drastically different personality traits that all tend to fall into specific trope categories. Sometimes this is blatantly obvious, proving to be somewhat annoying considering how it could take one out of the immersion of a story with actual depth, but often it puts a smile on my face thanks to the simple comedy of self-awareness. The character cast has amazing chemistry, and some witty dialogue, which is key for a title like this that happens to feature a story driven by conversation alone.
It’s setting, modern day Japan, allows for a few things: The most predominant benefit is that it gives the story a thick presence of setting, which people tend not to think much about, especially seeing as the story of many games takes place in lands conceived in the minds of writers, and not true-to-life locations. Having Shinjuku, and surrounding areas, be the core of the story’s layout allows the writing team to work in conjunction with a backdrop they themselves are familiar with. Now that doesn’t just mean they know what the area looks like; they know how the people talk, they know what they talk about, they know the local trends, alongside the close-to-home myths and legends which, unlike in the Western world, are far more predominant in modern day Japan. It gives the game a striking sense of realism that simply cannot be emulated by any other story feature.
The gameplay mechanics featured in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth can be described in much the same way as the story. It is very much a “tip of the iceberg” situation, wherein which what you see is nowhere near the bulk of what the game actually features. Most of the game will take place in dungeon-like settings, highly reminiscent of another much-loved Japanese role-playing game; Persona 4. You, and your Digimon pals, are tossed into an enigmatic environment that happens to feature winding, sometimes dead-end, paths with the intent of making it to the very end wherein which you will come into contact with a certain story element that will push you forward. The dungeons are returned to throughout the entire game for side missions and what not.
Within this dungeons, you will be faced with random encounters that have you pit your digital team against, let’s call them, “wild” Digimon. The more you come into contact with certainDigimon, the more your Digivice will scan their data. Once you have scanned one-hundred percent of a Digital Monster’s data, you can then take it to the DigiLab and have it converted into one that you can raise and battle for yourself. During said battles, you will gain experience which will add towards your total level, allowing you to one-day Digivolve your team into whatever the game will allow. Now I say that because, unlike Pokemon, the Digivolution route of any given Digimon has some extreme variable, and you’re going to need to put a great deal of work in to get the Digimon that you wish. This…can sometimes be a hassle. In fact, I would go as far as to say it can often be a hassle.
There are level caps depending one when you got your Digimon and how you have raised it. Often, once reaching specific level capacities, you will not have enough of the right stat to move on to a more favourable Digivolution. Luckily, there are many different Digivolutions in one given evolution tree, so chances are if you cannot turn your Digital Monster into one that you really want, you can substitute for another with the intention of one-day De-Digivolving, training thatDigimon up once again, and hopefully having enough of what it takes to reach it’s “true” evolution. It’s quite a process, and adds a great deal of difficulty to the game as a whole, but it is quite exciting to see which Digimon you can unlock next. Midway through the game, I decided not to worry about what Digimon will come next, allowing chance to make the decision for me, and in doing so I freed up a lot of my worry so that I could instead focus on the rest of the game.
If you’re a fan of dungeon-crawling, turn-based, team-action, Japanese role-playing games…then Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth should probably be at the top of your “to play” list. It CAN be played with a simple mindset, as you allow most of what happens to simply…happen, BUT it can also be played by hardcore gamers who will still find that this game can often be quite overwhelming. The game allows you, the player, to add more to your experience. It features a DigiFarm where you can raise Digimon the good ol’ fashion way, much like how you would have with your original virtual pet. It also allows for you to command them to complete certain tasks that, once done so, add more to the game as a whole. For example; you can command a team to search for side missions. Now, these side missions are all the same; you are either searching for lost property or an evil hacker, but they do allow for items to be obtained and they simply add more time to the overall gameplay experience. Once again, entirely up to you, the player.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was originally developed specifically for the PlayStation Vita, butBandai Namco Entertainment did everything in their power to port this game to the PlayStation 4for Western audiences who are more compelled to buy a PlayStation 4 title over a PlayStation Vita title. Unfortunately for those of you out there who’re expecting this game to be akin to theAAA titles that mostly occupy the PlayStation 4’s release schedule, the game is what it is; aPlayStation Vita title ported to the PlayStation 4, and that’s exactly how it should be seen. Now a lot of effort went in to upgrading the visuals of this title, but that is mostly shown in the form of higher resolution.
When looking at it with an open, educated mind (“educated” referring to understanding the background of this game); you can easily appreciate how great Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuthlooks. Environments, as mentioned earlier, play a key role in this game. Them being so realistic, and far more detailed than I ever expected, makes Cyber Sleuth one of the most visually appealing JRPG titles in recent times. This also goes for the characters featured in the game. While their models aren’t as polished as they should be for a PlayStation 4 release, their designs are immediately so likable. With just a glance, you can tell what kind of character they truly are, and appreciate the time and effort that went into developing them.
Much like Devil Survivor 2, Cyber Sleuth’s character designs were illustrated entirely by famed industry great Suzuhito Yasuda who, alongside video game design, is also the driving artistic force behind light-novel series’ such as Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? and the critically-acclaimed Durarara!!, both of which are now popular Anime. Backed up by specific designs by another legend of the industry Oh Great!, who wrote and illustrated the Manga Air Gear (as well as many others), it is hard to look at Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and think about it as any less than excellent.
Now, before I move on to another topic, I must quickly mention something that, if I were to go into great detail, would simply not hit as hard as it should, so I will say this, and only this: Growing up a fan of Digimon, I have waited for a game of this calibre to come out for quite some time. Seeing just how the Digital Monsters I grew up with look in this game almost brought a tear to my eye. While taking into account the efforts put into the environments and overall character design, nothing hit me as hard as seeing my favorite Digimon in high-quality graphics. Truly…a sight to behold.
No matter how good a game’s visuals are, nothing beats when they are backed up by an incredible soundtrack, and Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth…has one of the very best. Fans of Jazz fusion will absolutely love the soundtrack of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth that brings together melodic Jazz and erratic electronica in perhaps the most suitable way. How do you musically portray the internet? Some people would suggest simple sounds of electricity, others will jokingly tell you it’s the sound of a dial-up tone, but the developers of Cyber Sleuth have given us something that I can imagine no-one would have guessed: What this game’s soundtrack represents is not only the ever-expanding cybernetic world, but a grand sense of smooth charm that comes with being a private detective based within said world.
The soundtrack flows from one piece of music to the next, often setting the mood for a story development with a single note that then explodes into a combination of genres each representing a single aspect of the story but that forms together like an classic orchestral piece. This soundtrack is simply unbeatable, and when it is used as a driving tool of emotion to help heighten or lower the mood, you truly see how much work was put into this aspect of the game alone. What an incredible feat of excellence!
Is Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth a perfect game? Absolutely not, but most game’s aren’t! Is Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth one of the most entertaining Japanese role-playing games of recent times? Well to answer that I’ll have to quote Australian band Violent Soho’s breakout single Covered In Chrome and say…HELL F**K YEAH! Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is living proof that Digimon has not died. In fact, it has only continued to thrive; breaking out of it’s adolescent shell and revealing itself to be one of the most versatile franchises of all time.
Cyber Sleuth plays host to some hard-hitting themes that render it quite the grown-up Digimontitle without it wandering into the realm of “gritty remake“, or anything of that kind. Cyber Sleuthstill features the same light-hearted fun of raising and Digivolving your very own monster pet that made this series so popular in the first place, but splices it with in-depth, sometimes difficult, role-playing game mechanics, and a “grown up” storyline that appeals to a wide audience.
This truly is the video game all Digimon fans have been waiting for. Often that phrase gets thrown around without much thought behind it, but my use of it here for Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, well…there is nothing more truthful than that statement. To certain degrees, Digimonstill stands in the shadow of Pokemon who has remained a franchise juggernaut in the West to this day, but Digimon did something while shaded by the overwhelming success of Pokemon…it evolved.
Digimon has become something it never was before, something stronger, something more versatile, something simply better than what it used to be, and it no longer cares if people compare it to Pokemon, because it knows how different it is, and it smiles at the thought. Digimon truly is in a league of it’s own, and thanks to Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth the West now entirely understands: Digimon don’t die, they only come back stronger.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is now available through the PlayStation Network thanks to Bandai Namco Entertainment. Get it on the PlayStation 4 and/or PlayStation Vita to truly experience the majesty of this game for yourself.