Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is an adequate game if you’re already familiar with the series. It does lack the wow factor to bring in any new gamers however. While the Vita port is visually dynamic and offers an excellent approach to character conversations, it does not have a fundamental grasp on good RPG combat. I was able to breeze through the game by using auto-battle for almost every engagement. If you’re a fan already, I don’t see any reason you would dislike this newest installment- but this isn’t going to win over any old gamers.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Great visuals and smart decisions to keep conversations interesting.
º Choosing your creatures’ evolutionary paths kept me engaged.
º A storyline about the real and digital worlds merging is awesome.
WHAT WE DISLIKED º Gameplay is lacking challenge- you can play it in your sleep.
º The pacing is very slow and the game retreads constantly.
º Being a sleuth isn’t as fun as it could’ve been.
After playing through Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, all I can do is feel sorry for whoever works on the series. You’re constantly living on the scraps of Pikachu’s ferocious diet and mocked as just another clone. Having almost no experience with the series, I went in with fresh eyes and a lot of patience. The series has over 50 titles; there’s gotta be something worthwhile here. I was happy to find the charm of the series but have serious reservations about recommending it to newcomers.
The game starts with you in a childlike chat room with your friends, talking about movies and ‘OMGs.’ When the conversation turns to hacking, a mysterious hacker pops in and encourages the members to log into Cyberspace EDEN, a physical interaction network where people walk around in what I can only describe as cyber limbo. You’re asked to go to the seedy underbelly of the mall of the future, where you meet up with two of your long-time online friends. Shortly after arriving, you’re given a Digimon Capture device and taught how to hack by a ghostly looking boy. You’re given a choice of three different poke- I mean, Digimon- each with their own Rock Paper Scissors elemental attribute.
A strange creature suddenly attacks you, and you end up glitching out into the real world as a digital shell of your old self. Standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by concerned citizens, a detective with missing shirt buttons named Kyouko Kuremi picks you up and takes you back to her office. She offers to help you recover your body if you’re willing to work as her assistant as a ‘cyber sleuth.’ Not a bad deal. Through your investigation, you discover that many people are being thrown into comas because of the EDEN system, including yourself. Only through your investigations and the help of your friends will you be able to uncover the mystery and return to your normal life.
The storyline works well in my opinion, being simple enough for children to follow and adults to digi-tune out. There is a lot of technobabble and some established ideas that foreigners will probably be scratching their heads over, but it doesn’t distract from the overall storyline. The appearance of divergence is attempted by adding dialogue options, but they’re usually the same response said differently. In fact, at one point the game only has one option, made to look like two. A real shame, as this would’ve been an excellent way to add some identity to your character.
Probably the biggest disappointment for me would be the ‘detective’ work. Investigations usually boil down to fetch quests, where you’ll be asked to recover something or bring down an angry Digimon in the system. I would’ve loved to seek out clues, hack into computers, and really digi-dig into the narrative. Occasionally, you’re given a ‘keyword’ to go out and ask people about, ala Shadowrun, but you’re only ever extended the option in particular missions. To make it easier, people with locks in speech bubbles over their heads have the answers you’re looking for- making this option completely unnecessary and uninteresting. Probably the most grievous of these decisions, the game limits you to one investigation at a time, meaning you’ll be stomping familiar ground over and over again.
Digimon, or Digital Monsters if you’ve never heard the clarifying song, are collectible creatures that you use in the digital world to help overcome obstacles, but mostly to fight with others. You can digivolve (man, if I were paid every time I say ‘Digi’ in this article) your creatures into new and exciting versions, and in that regard, there is some great diversity. You’ll usually have at least three variations you can choose from instead of being forced down one lineage. Digimon also level up quickly, meaning you’ll be mutating more than Stan Lee.
Instead of capturing these creatures, you battle them and slowly download their digital, genetic- uh- you know. Once you’ve recovered enough information, you can hatch them in your digi-lab. Once there, you can send them into your lineup of battling creatures, send them to a farm where they’ll train up and find leads, or you can destroy them to feed into your more powerful digimon. At first, I thought I was merely allocating resources, but later you find out that these creatures are sentient beings from another world altogether. Say what you will about the animal fighting, but in Pokemon you can’t feed your Charmander a Pidgeotto. In this game, you can sacrifice weaker creatures in a ‘quickening’ like event. There can be only one Tankmon!
One aspect I did like was how creatures don’t take up open spots, but rather room on a data-limited space. Your team can only have a limited amount of data, resulting in either a small group of powerful monsters or a collective of smaller less evolved ones. This offers a great diversity of options and provides some real incentive to rotate out your fighters.
Probably the most confusing moment I experienced was trying to figure out how Digimon offer different hacking abilities in the game. In your journey, you’ll stumble across literal firewalls blocking your way in the digital land of Eden. When you’re first given use of the ability, it just seems like something you were given. Later, when you have to open level 2 securities to progress in the game, you’ll find yourself unable to proceed. Turns out, I had three powerful creatures when I needed a bunch of losers on my team to use my level two firewall breaker. Why, exactly, I have no real idea. The game doesn’t do an excellent job explaining all of the digi-features.
There’s some variety outside of the constant fetch quests and the main storyline, but sadly they’re not that interesting. You’re given a communications device, where you’re encouraged to respond. This sounds interesting until you’re given constant Digimon trivia. If you’re a fan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy periodical interruptions from your digimon asking you random questions about the series, but for me, it’s a momentum-breaking annoyance. Even more so when they ask real world trivia questions, breaking my immersion.
The thing I was hoping for was a more complicated battle system than the Nintendo juggernaut, but sadly the game glorifies the same overly-simplistic approach to combat. Characters have their own set of moves, void of any kind of variety or choice. Outside of choosing what digivolution you go with next, your character’s moveset is carved in stone. This might not be so bad if I weren’t able to run over every obstacle put in front of me. I never lost a battle, even though I auto-battled every skirmish I got into. You might think there’d be some kind of resource management, but you’re health and special points all regenerate when your monsters level up, which happens every five battles or so. The battle system should be the biggest draw to this series, and when you can slide into all of them and spam your most powerful attack, it makes the experience very bland.
One area that shines is the game’s visual presentation. Characters like the whiny Nokia and the rock star Jimi Ken are nicely animated and offer a playful diversity akin to the Phoenix Wright series. The graphics are exceptional for being a port, even if levels lack environmental variety. While the cutscenes come across choppy and lazy, the conversations are helped immensely by clever use of character movement and rotation. Backgrounds spin around as characters turn and walk around the frame. It’s so much better than two-dimensional drawings yapping at each other for ten minutes. The game also features a stationary camera angle, which was probably better suited for the PS Vita, but on console feels very limiting. Thankfully, it’s never a bad angle, but it does make dungeons feel very dull.
The game’s soundtrack is pretty good but has the problem of being repetitive when you hear the startup of the same song every time you leave a battle. Sound effects are great, providing a nice identity to each character. Some of the conversations are fully voice acted, but it’s native japanese makes it difficult for me to judge the performance. There’s nothing in the audio library overly memorable, and nothing really teeth grinding.
Overall, Cyber Sleuth probably isn’t going to win you over if you’re not already a fan. The promise of being a digital detective is without a doubt an awesome one- sadly the game doesn’t deliver. If you’re already a fan, then you probably own this on PS Vita already and will be buying regardless- and you should. It seems like a well-oiled machine, one that’ll provide what you’re looking for, especially if you’re looking for longevity (I was a sixth through the game after ten hours). I, however, found the experience a little too simplistic to get invested in, and will only recommend the game to veteran digi-masters.