Digimon Survive Review: A Gripping Finale Can’t Save Superficial Writing

The itinerary for a class trip usually includes safe, normal things – for example, visiting a historical monument and learning to work with people from other schools. You’re less likely to encounter classroom-sized spiders or intense personal trauma, and hopefully you won’t be responsible for a friend never returning home. But these are just some of the daily tribulations for the unfortunate group of high school students in Digimon Survival.

Developed by Hyde, Digimon Survival takes on the heavy burden of developing the traditional mix of monster breeding and turn-based role-playing in the series, with the addition of visual new elements. But that burden turns out to be a little too heavy to bear. The visual-novel aspects seem ideal for the story Digimon Survival wants to tell, but whether it’s a lack of faith in its own characters or a misunderstanding of what makes visual novels a powerful medium for storytelling to begin with, it falls short of its bountiful potential.

Digimon Survival opens with strong similarities to the original Digimon: Digital Monsters anime: A group of students from different schools gather in the countryside for an educational camping trip. Your usual personalities are along for the ride whether they like it or not — the popular girl, the prankster and his serious companion, the moody loner and the insecure class leader — but there’s no sense of optimistic adventure once they’re in the digital world, the name of the series for the alternate reality where Digimon is located.

A conversation in Digimon Survive

Image: Hyde/Bandai Namco Entertainment

Digimon Survival divides the long run time between exploration, leisure and combat segments. During the exploration, you’ll talk to your fellow students, look for important items or paths forward, and generally get a better idea of ​​what’s going on in this strange parallel world; at least you try. Digimon Survival is tight when it comes to building a world, leaving most of it to the last three of its eight chapters in total, or about 15-20 hours of the total 60-hour runtime.

Still, the main beats of the broader story are nowhere surprising, despite a promising start. It outlines most of what become the main plot points early in the prologue. Digimon Survival is, at its core, a story of what we owe each other and how we can work together to balance tradition and progress toward a brighter future.

Here, more than in any other Digimon game or anime, the characters’ monster companions are essentially digital manifestations of their subconscious selves, aspects that they have a hard time recognizing or forget altogether in normal life. Learning to survive in a cruel and threatening world is as much about the practicalities of finding food and shelter as it is about learning to identify and live with your weaknesses.

The problem lies in how Digimon Survival is about telling these stories, or more specifically, not telling them. Four of the game’s eight chapters drag which could make a suitable plot for two anime episodes from 20 minutes to 20 hours depending on your play style. The first chapter is essentially two hours of four characters arguing about what to do next, only to remain complacent.

The Affinity Menu in Digimon Survive

Image: Hyde/Bandai Namco Entertainment

The second chapter is more of the same, only now they argue about finding food and whether to find the others before, again, doing nothing. There are some precious moments, but Digimon Survival is too happy to drown them in pointless repetitions to stand out. Even after finding six months’ worth of food supplies, the next thing that makes the group argue about where they can even find them Lake food.

I can see how these ideas seem solid on paper. Finding supplies is, of course, an essential part of survival, and going outside could kill you, so deciding whether or not to risk searching for your missing camp mates isn’t such an easy choice. But the execution suffers because it never does anything meaningful or fun with these segments – it never uses them to build character development or suspense, and barely uses them to move the story forward.

if Digimon Survival takes inspiration from Aquaplus’ Utawarerumono games – and the hybrid visual novel/tactics style certainly suggests it – seems to have borrowed the wrong philosophy from those games. It is true that mask of truth spends nearly 80% of its running time on vignettes and character moments with little meaning to the plot that unfolds at the end. However, in the process, complex personalities for each major character are gradually merged so that when the main story developments unfold, you have a strong investment in what’s going on.

Helping Minoru in the forest in Digimon Survival showed me that he wants people to see him as a capable leader. In a later scene with Saki, Takuma accidentally walks into the gym where she changes. There’s embarrassment and awkward conversation, but the encounter has no wider ripple effects or character implications, least of all Takuma’s relationship with Saki. It’s harrowing to watch the normally stoic Shuuji ruthlessly tear down Lopmon’s psyche in Chapter 5 to leave the loyal Digimon feeling as inept as Shuuji. At that point, however, the game gave only a bleak look at Shuuji’s background, and the unrealistic pressure his father put on him eroded his own self-confidence. There’s little time to even glimpse Shuuji’s internal struggles.

Regardless of who is still alive and what consequences my choices had when the credits rolled, the cast felt much the same as when they first met – a bunch of disconnected people thrown together because circumstances beyond their control dictated that. they had to be there. It is a missed opportunity, given the potential not only in Digimon Survival‘s broader themes, but also in its initially lively characters.

Unfulfilled potential is also an apt description for Digimon Survival‘s fight. The systems are standard for most tactics games (which is why I devote only three paragraphs to their intricacies). Digimon has a standard attack and a small selection of special attacks that require stamina. Attacking from the side or back inflicts bonus damage, and they can bolster defenses by choosing not to act on that turn.

A battle in Digimon Survive

Image: Hyde/Bandai Namco Entertainment

You can evolve your Digimon depending on certain choices you make in the story, although this almost feels unfair. The evolved Digimon can steamroll most opponents with ease, except for the extra difficult battles in the new game plus. Recruiting new Digimon is done in a Shin Megami Tensei-esque conversation, where you try to guess the answers to random questions in the hopes that your answer matches that Digimon’s personality. However, it manages to frustrate even more than SMT, as you only get one chance per enemy Digimon for the entire battle.

Combat isn’t innovative, but it’s just fun crushing a tough opponent with a well-timed evolution, or watching Agumon spew fireballs across the map. I wish there was more of it. Also, in accordance with the comparison with Utawarerumono, Digimon Survival has few battles and even fewer variations in map design, making battles seem more of an afterthought than an important part.

Digimon Survival was hard to play, boring for the first half, and mostly just disappointing. The framework for something much more engaging exists beneath the gibberish, petty combat, and superficial character development, and you can glimpse what could have been in some of the story’s better moments. I hope Hyde and Bandai get the chance to create a new visual novel style Digimon game, building on Survive‘s foundations to create a lasting and more memorable experience.

Digimon Survival was released on July 29 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The game has been reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code from Bandai Namco. Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. you can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.