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Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth PS4 Review

As someone not too familiar with the Digimon universe, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but how the game is split into two universes; the real and the digital world, makes for really unique gameplay. Besides when the two intersect at certain points, a lot of the game is running around doing investigating work as a detective, a cyber sleuth. Then you connect jump into the cyberspace and get to use your Digimon. Your character is audibly mute, while everyone else speaks Japanese (with English subtitles). You can choose between male and female (although they still look pretty much the same besides a short skirt…) and name yourself whatever you want, the game focuses more on the personality of Digimon and other characters rather than the player.

Early on you get to pick your partner, one of three Digimon as you’re running through the hacker-infested area of Kowloon. With next to no prior knowledge or plans, I went with the adorably vicious Palmon, a vegetable vaccine-type (the other choices being the virus machine Hagurumon and the data beast-type Terriermon).

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Male protagonist: Takumi Aiba (or Ami Aiba by default for female)

He was a trusty companion for a while. In my inexperience and naivety, however, when it came to digivolving him into something bigger and nastier, I turned him into a Vegiemon… Instead of a rather awesome boxing cactus (Togemon), I just turned him into even more of a vegetable.

Evolving your Digimon isn’t always a necessity, though, it’s totally fine to stick to ones you like, although some lower forms are limited by level, which can be circumvented by digivolving and then dedigivolving back. Your Digimon don’t evolve naturally, it’s all up to the player to work out what’s best for the team. It’s really open to the player like that; the game doesn’t test you to find the right combo or strategy to progress, you can do it with the Digimon you like best.

The game makes great use of unused Digimon as well. With a little micro-management, when your party is full you can send the rest to the farm (not the same one where your childhood dog is now), where they run and play and level up without you interfering. You can also have them create items and find new side-cases for you to later do in the real world. It’s a lot better than just having a filling bank of unused Digimon. Plus they end up texting you ridiculous questions about edible clouds and medical advice…

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Inquisitive texts from my friendly Tyrannomon

Everything is pretty easy at this point, but soon after choosing your first Digimon you need to grow your team. This is a little awkward, because you have to scan the Digimon, which is an automatic process which happens whenever you battle. Once you’ve encountered it enough you can go back to the DigiLab and cook it up, anything above 100% is doable, but if you wait until 200% then it will be stronger and have a chance of coming out with better moves.

As for the game outside of cyberspace, after leaving the cyberspace for the first time, now with some hacking apps on your phone and a can-do attitude, you materialise in the real world as raw data after a close encounter with an eater – a Digimon that devours data, destroying parts of cyberspace and causing rifts between the digital world and the real one.

With the help of cyber detective Kyoko Kuremi, you mostly get back to normal and become her assistant – a cyber sleuth in training. This is where the game feels like just another J-RPG, as it fails to explain how the world works. The player is just expected to believe that this is how things are and it’s totally normal. Now that you have a half-cyber body, you’re able to ‘connect jump’ into computers and devices, physically entering the cyberspace. Except, everyone else seems to be able to do the same thing by using these private connection booths, which are actually just phone boxes found spread out in the real world.

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A private connection phone booth, leading to cyberspace

Throughout the game I found myself questioning how these worked. Your friends always have to run off to meet you online, presumably they head to the closest phonebooth, throw their 20p in and just get sucked up inside the receiver.

As a cyber sleuth in-training, most of the game is picking up new cases from Kyoko’s office. It’s just you and her working in the detective agency, occasionally with help from connections in the police as story events unfold and end up investigating the same people. A lot of the side missions are no problem, often involving you running around the real world without much interaction with the Digimon, while others require you to jump into random computers to fix someone’s bizarre problem.

This is where the game adds some great little details. A lot of what seems to be a minor case will end up having significant characters introduced in the game, as things are constantly tied together and connected in new and surprising ways. At other times you just meet fascinating characters, such as the furry prostitute in the Akihabara district that refers to the male protagonist as master.

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Kitty maid found in the Akihabara district

When it comes to story missions, however, difficulty ramps are a serious problem. Throughout the game I was rarely challenged, but when a particularly tough fight comes up I would end up blowing all my healing and buffing items in one blow, then not needing to use any for several more hours of game play. The star ratings on each case don’t always reflect the difficulty accurately and there is no build up or call to prepare for an upcoming battle; the game likes to surprise you but it doesn’t work in games like this.

On the upside, I never felt like I had to stop and grind a while so my Digimon would keep up with the escalating challenges, which means you’re rarely stuck at a point and feel frustrated that you can’t continue. For a game that appeals to younger ages this is probably for the best, although mature audiences who love the franchise may feel disappointed in the lack of challenge.

When cases do require you to explore and find the cause to a problem – often a mischievous Digimon that doesn’t realise the harm he’s causing – it’s a beautiful world to explore when running around the districts Tokyo. The cyberspace, however, leaves less to be desired. Although it’s cool how your Digimon follow behind you, the background is far too repetitive, I quickly grew tired of looking at the same blue lines and shapes inside the cyber matrix, which is a great shame because this is where all the great Digimon encounters happen. Everywhere else, with the pixelated cartoon aesthetic and PlayStation 4 graphics, really fits Digimon and the Tokyo cities perfectly.

The all too familiar image of cyberspace

The all too familiar image of cyberspace

What doesn’t fit is the anime cut scenes they add during story missions. These are especially frequent in the first few hours of the game. They add nothing to the game at all, and often don’t even make sense. Occasionally they have one with a cool action sequence, but the rest are just shapes and flashes that left me confused and detached me from what was going on.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is the biggest highlight outside of the addictive gameplay. It’s composed by Masafumi Takada, also known for composing original soundtracks for various games and anime including Danganronpa and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It perfectly suits the setting as a whole: main characters have their own theme, and each area has its own specific track that plays as you move through it.  When the eaters start causing trouble and the borders between reality and cyberspace start breaking apart, the digital shift track is especially memorable, and these areas also look great!

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An eater caused parts of cyberspace to leak out into the real world

It’s another game of discovering magical creatures that do battle for you, but it feels modern and up to date, with decent graphics and has more mechanics than a broken down Bugatti. You don’t need to be a Digimon expert; you don’t[ need to have played the other games or have any prior experience. There are mature themes as well – often cases to do with illegal, heinous and very illicit activities – as well as hundreds of variably adorable creatures to throw into battle.

7 out of 10