Review: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (2.6 GB)
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Media. Vision
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is also available on PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

If you were not a child of the 1990s, there’s an extremely good chance you will have never encountered Digimon.

This was an incredible anime series which enjoyed a short-lived spell on Western televisions. Over time, Pokemon has proved to be the victor in terms of longevity and mass-market appeal, but those who did enjoy Digimon were completely grabbed by the franchise and have never truly been able to escape.

It’s due to this cult following that Japanese PlayStation Vita exclusive Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth has finally received a localised Western release. Not only that, but the handheld game has been ported to the PlayStation 4.

It’s a positive sign for the series, on its 20th anniversary. In contrast, the PS3 never received a Digimon RPG title, and the brawler Digimon All-Star Rumble launched eight years into the console’s lifespan.

But, has this release been worth the effort of petitioning fans and the development team? Is this an enjoyable experience or just a shallow dose of nostalgia? Allow us to grab our Digivice, point it at a laptop, and jump into the Digital World to explain…

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Gameplay:
As already alluded to, Cyber Sleuth is a JRPG. As such, there’s a slightly strange storyline, a long-winded introduction, and a text-heavy approach to the game.

Unlike Pokemon’s top-down viewpoint and completely open world, ripe for exploration, Cyber Sleuth opts for traditional 3D gameplay in a variety of closed areas.

It’s also important to note that unlike the core GameBoy/DS series of Pokemon, which has largely stayed true to its roots, this first effort from Media. Vision does not take place in the same Digital World fans are accustomed to. Instead, the action is largely based in a combination of modern day Tokyo and what is essentially the internet – separated by, thankfully, negligible load times.

… it lacks the soul one would expect from Digimon …
These online areas – to all intents and purposes, RPG dungeons – are very similar for the most part and the major settings are classed as different ‘forums’. There are slightly more varied digital environments as the game progresses, but nothing overly lively or inspired.

Conversely, the anime’s Digital World looked and ran very much like our own – with greenery, mountain ranges, businesses and seas. The only difference is, the content of the world was made up of data rather than natural beings.

That concept has been retained, with the online infrastructure still classed as the Digital World, but it lacks the soul one would expect from Digimon, as evidenced by the screenshot below – the ‘forums’, for instance, are fairly bland areas.

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It does fit in with the theme of the game though, which is modern and mature. The storyline can be somewhat dark and is clearly not aimed at children, but rather young adults. As the Digimon anime was a product of its time, Cyber Sleuth is also very current, with a narrative centered around hackers.

That said, the game is still engaging. As the title suggests, you play as a digital detective, solving crimes that often involve Digimon. Without venturing into spoiler territory, the narrative progresses at a nice pace, and it provides old fans with a different take on the franchise.

However, the game’s success comes from its blend of this new story with a hefty dose of nostalgia. The Digimon in the game are primarily from the anime’s first three seasons, most notably the original Digimon Adventure. This roster of over two hundred classic characters which can, with enough play time, feasibly all be available to the player at once, is an absolute joy for fans of the series but the wow factor will be lost on newcomers.

… It does a rather poor job of explaining the franchise’s key nuances to newcomers …
The series’ trademark style of humor also plays well in the story, despite its more mature theme, which helps old fans settle in to proceedings more easily. Furthermore, in classic Digimon fashion, Cyber Sleuth briefly teases Mega-level characters early on, as an effective precursor.

The use of ‘Mega’ in that sentence will be somewhat nonsensical to non-Digimon fans – and that is also the case in Cyber Sleuth. It does a rather poor job of explaining the franchise’s key nuances to newcomers, signifying that the game is clearly not built for that audience.

In a nutshell, Digimon Digivolve (think Pokemon’s evolution) between different stages. They start out as a Baby, then move through In-Training, Rookie, Champion, Ultimate and Mega. Cyber Sleuth handles Digivolution phenomenally well. Experience points gained through battle level up your Digimon, and once they reach a certain cut-off, you can choose from four or five options as to their next incarnation.

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This is a great decision from the development team. Not only does it offer the player more choice and a tactical element to their monster collecting, but is also in keeping with the lore behind Digimon. Furthermore, the fact Digimon level up just from being in your party’s reserves, rather than your first-choice trio of battlers is very welcome, saving a lot of time and frustration from ‘grinding’.

Collecting monsters is, unlike other games in the genre, a case of simply meeting enemies rather than capturing them. Because Digimon are simply made of digital data, there is only a need to ‘scan’ them. Once a particular enemy has been encountered enough times, you can convert that data into a Digimon of your own. As already referred to, this makes it plausible to possess every monster in the game without needing a huge slice of luck.

The Digimon all take up a certain amount of ‘memory’, with their size obviously growing as they level up. The player’s party memory is restricted, but it can be upgraded as you progress through the game and gain new Digimon. Think of it like upgrading your PS4 HDD once you accumulate lots of games.

… Our detective is seemingly averse to multitasking …
Battling is conducted in a turn-based style, and again this system works well. It’s very accessible with even ‘auto’ option enabled on-the-fly to save players hammering Cross constantly. But, there is also depth to the tactics of battles for those players who choose to adopt a more considered approach.

Each Digimon has a ‘type’ (Data, Virus or Vaccine) and individual attacks have attributes (Fire, Water, Plant, Electric, Wind, Earth). As expected, these work in a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ style, with damage either being doubled or halved. Throughout the game, I had no issue with the battling at any point and the difficulty increases at a suitable pace.

On that note, the game as a whole is well-paced, ramping up nicely. One of my major concerns with the general gameplay however, was the inability to take on more than one case at a time. Our detective is seemingly averse to multitasking. There’s a lack of information about the current case accessible too, with a need to travel back to the detective agency to receive a vague direction from your boss. This can be annoying if you happen to turn off the PS4 partway through a case then come back a few days later.

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There’s also a large element of linearity, which at times can sour the excitement and fails to quench any thirst for exploration. The disappointingly small Tokyo locations play into that feeling of limitation too. Even the collectibles in the game, medals, which are then sold to a comical collector who is concerned about his wife discovering his hobby, are gained through battles and vending machines rather than expedition.

The game is engaging though. I actually ended up with Cyber Sleuth saves on two PS4s, and despite playing through five of the game’s twenty chapters for a second time, the experience was still enjoyable. The second playthrough remained entertaining because of the different approach I took in terms of my party of Digimon, and which Digivolutions I chose.

For an RPG fanatic, Cyber Sleuth may feel a little short – again, due to being a port from a platform where bite-sized chunks of gameplay are needed. But Digimon fans who are casual RPG gamers will find there to be more than enough content, plus the accessibility is appreciated. Whilst there are some cases of artificial longevity (for instance, repetition of very similar fetch quests), it is still a relatively hefty game and worth the price of admission.

… one nice additional layer of nostalgia Media. Vision has added …
Visuals:
As with many aspects of the gameplay, the aesthetics of Cyber Sleuth make it clearly evident that the game is a Vita port. That’s not to say the game looks bad, but it just doesn’t have the sharpness or detail of a native PS4 title. Aside from the clarity, the visuals are nice and colorful, as one would expect from Digimon – though, as already mentioned, a large portion of the environments are conversely uninspired.

The many human characters look perfect for a JRPG, and generally fit well with the scenarios the storyline throws up. One slight annoyance is the repetition of human animations in the cut-scenes. For instance, you’ll see laughable gesticulations whilst the unvoiced protagonist is ‘speaking’.

Meanwhile, the Digimon are well animated and look full of life, each with a style befitting of the character. There’s one nice additional layer of nostalgia Media. Vision has added to Cyber Sleuth, in that the original drawings of Digimon only seen in the old books and collectible cards are used for the aforementioned medals.

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There’s nothing to complain about in regards to the menus and battle HUDs, though there is one key plus-point. When battling, Cyber Sleuth includes a very clear column of ‘turns’ going down the right-hand side of the screen. Having this visual aid is extremely helpful with teams of three attacking each other and adds a tactical advantage as you can plot moves ahead of time. Finally, the static camera is occasionally frustrating, predictably so in a 3D game world.

Audio:
Cyber Sleuth has been localised through text, rather than speech. As such, no dubbing has been recorded so the original Japanese voice acting is intact. This is somewhat expected as the port certainly didn’t carry a huge budget, but nonetheless it removes a level of engagement for most Western players.

Generally the audio fits very well, with suitable music and sound effects, though again, the lack of localisation means there’s no replication of the English-dubbed anime. This also takes some of the nostalgia away, particularly in regards to Digivolution.

Elements of the music become grating over time though. The limited variety makes it extremely repetitive. Meanwhile, sound effects like footsteps are also annoying when running back and forth through forums with three Digimon in tow.

… an excellent game for fans of the franchise …
Online/Multiplayer:
The online portion of Cyber Sleuth comprises of, expectedly, simple Digimon battles with other players. Due to the combat being turn-based, lag was never going to be a concern, but I am still impressed by how smooth the whole experience is. Judging by how short the wait time is to find an opponent, there are plenty of active players, which is a pleasant surprise for a game this seemingly niche.

There is little point in entering the online battle until you at have a party full of Ultimate and Mega level Digimon, but once you’ve sunk enough time into the single-player story to strengthen up, it’s certainly possible to create some very competitive online fights.

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Conclusion:
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is an excellent game for fans of the franchise, though it’s difficult to recommend a purchase for newcomers. Much of its charm lies in its nostalgia and call-backs to the 1999 anime, even though Media. Vision has placed a big emphasis on new human protagonists as far as the narrative is concerned. Indeed, the actual Digimon are more of an underlying plot rather than the overt focus of the tale.

The game’s modern story is relatively entertaining, whilst its gameplay is solid. Any frustration with repetitive tasks is balanced by the great battling and leveling systems. Though far from perfect, Cyber Sleuth is definitely worth a try from any players who once had an interest in Digimon. Despite being a handheld port and often proving very linear and almost claustrophobic, it offers just enough depth and complexity to retain engagement for many hours of play.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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