Friday, 26 February 2016

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

Developed by Media Vision and out now for PS4 and Vita, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth may not be what you're expecting. The name and basic concept of the franchise (which is approaching twenty years of age) may be shameless rip-offs of Pokémon, but there are significant differences. Forget any preconceptions you may have of this being a kids' game. Nope; this is a JRPG that just happens to be wearing Digimon pants. 

In fact, I would like to actively discourage anybody considering buying this as a present for young fans of the cartoon. I certainly wouldn't want my kids playing it. There aren't people exploding in clouds of gore or machine guns that shoot breasts to the sound of expletives or anything, but there are some iffy elements. Your boss is a lady who wears her jacket partly open and, it would seem, with no bra therein (not to mention a skirt so short, it's not even possible to be sure that's not a pair of shorts just about peeking out from beneath the jacket). More disturbingly, the female member of your party is more than once subjected to some quite frankly predatory dialogue.

With that out of the way, it's worth mentioning in fairness that the concept and execution of the plot is actually quite interesting. There's a global VR community called Eden where – of course – things quickly take a sinister and dangerous turn. It's not long before your character tries to escape a virtual fight but ends up in the real world in digital form, because science. This results in our hero gaining the “Connect Jump” ability whereby you can instantly transport yourself between the physical and digital realms, via TVs and computers and mobile phones and things. You discover that (unsurprisingly) these 'Digimon' creatures present in VR spaces are sentient creatures from another dimension, and will prove to be both friends and enemies.

It's similar to Pokémon in that there are random battles, and combat is turn-based. Your creatures will fight on your behalf too, and there's a familiar rock-paper-scissors system in place. Creatures even evolve, and – yup – there are a great many to register and collect. Some elements are arguably superior to Nintendo's all-powerful franchise here, though. Random battles seem less frequent (thank the gods!), and gaining new creatures is much more user-friendly. Face a Digimon in battle often enough, and you can summon one for your very own in the 'Digilab' – simple! Evolving – sorry, “Digivolving” - your hideous pets is manual, and can be done each time simply by raising their stats to the required levels; which isn't much trouble at all, actually. Throw into the mix impressive graphics and a whole shedload of optional missions, and it all sounds very jolly.

Unfortunately, a crucial part of game design is f*cked.

Bosses are tougher than standard enemies. If you don't know that, you don't know videogames. But here? Bosses are – especially after the first half of the game –  massively, gigantically, preposterously overpowered compared to the Digimon you find in random battles. The most extreme example (and this can happen) is that you take out some or all enemies in just one or two hits on the way to the boss of a dungeon and then, when you reach him/her/it, he/she/it takes out one or more of your Digimon in just one or two hits. Come on guys, seriously?!?

The moral of the story is, of course, to grind like a stripper. But you don't expect that from a licence like Digimon, do you? And the game itself does nothing to warn you until it's too late. Oh, and did I mention the fact that there are no autosaves? Yeah, you better be careful around that. It's a well-made game for those who grind by habit. It's not fantastic though, and there's not exactly a shortage of JRPGs on the market. As a result, this is brilliant for older Digimon fans, but very much missable for anybody else.

Only hardcore fans need get Digivolved in this. 3/5.


Luke Kemp

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