For European fans of the Digimon franchise, Cyber Sleuth has been a long time coming. Casting aside the various racing and fighting game spin-offs, the last “proper” instalment brought to PAL territories was 2002’s Digimon World 3. That’s a gap of almost fifteen years, and a wide enough passage of time – we suspect – for a generation of a Digimon fans to have come and gone.
Despite branching into a small multimedia empire, Digimon hasn’t had quite the same level of staying power compared to Nintendo’s pocket monster counterpart. Where both franchises have arguably been stretched beyond exhaustion, Pokémon continues to captivate a sizeable number of fans across the globe.
Of course, Namco Bandai needs to shoulder some of the blame here, having left its overseas fanbase unattended for so long. It’s been a bumpy ride for this small clique of gamers, especially when the only scraps they’re occasionally thrown weigh in as poorly as 2014’s Digimon All-Star Rumble.
Things are changing, however, with the publisher building its efforts around a new series of games aimed at PlayStation consoles. The first of this new wave to be localised for an English audience is Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, marking a much needed return to form for the franchise as a whole.
Instead of relying purely on stoking late nineties nostalgia or squeezing Digimon into a different template, Cyber Sleuth consolidates what made those original games in the series so fun and addictive. Thankfully, it doesn’t lean too heavily on this bag of old tricks, falling somewhere between modern JRPG standards and those of the classic Digimon World formula.
The story, as always, looks to meld both the real and digital worlds together, with the player acting as a vehicle between the two. Where one is a highly fictionalised depiction of urban Japan, the other is a plane through which people can connect and interact with each other. Think of it as an evolution of the chat rooms and social networks we enjoy today. However, beneath EDEN’s core framework exist digital factions, hackers, and virtual monsters known as Digimon.
With the power to travel freely between worlds, you become a cyber sleuth, working for a detective agency that investigates matters which go beyond our physical surroundings. It’s an interesting set-up to say the least and one that provides an alternative way of viewing the Digimon universe. That’s not to say this latest game severs all ties with what came before it. Out of the two hundred or so playable monster, many will be immediately familiar to fans of previous games and the original TV show, including mainstays like Agumon and Gabumon.
It doesn’t take long for the game flow to settle in. When in the real world, you’ll collect cases to solve while buying items and equipment for your Digimon. After one quick cyber jump, however, you’ll be free to explore dungeons and sharpen the combat skills of your party.
Although Cyber Sleuth gives you the option to choose between three Digimon as your starting companion, you’ll soon discover that this choice bears little consequence. Much of what you do is centred around capturing and training a increasingly diverse roster of monsters, all of which are easily attainable. Simply fighting any Digimon will partially fill the capture gage, eventually beaming them back to your DigiBank.
Here you can arrange your party, opting to send some of your comrades to an expansive island complex to train, develop items, or unlock new investigations. Within the first few hours, I had already unlocked some thirty Digimon, constantly cycling them in and out of my party to see which ones worked best. The generous rate at which experience points are earned also means that you’ll start to Digivolve your monsters fairly early on.
It’s this aspect of the game many will find addictive, as they set about training their parties and explore the numerous evolution paths available to them. The fact that you can devolve Digimon to their previous forms only adds to this level of experimentation.
Of course, this rapid progression is enabled by a speedy combat system. As in previous instalments, everything here is turn-based, enabling players to activate an increasing variety of battle powers. Apart from the occasional difficulty spike, it’s a pretty casual affair and one that can be simplified further through the use of Cyber Sleuth’s automatic fighting option. This becomes particularly useful when looking to power level your party or strengthen them before a tough boss fight.
It’s a fun approach to the JRPG formula and one that is arguably inspired by the way mobile games have handled the genre, dishing out rewards at a constant rate. That said, combat itself does very little to break new ground, replicating what the Digimon franchise has already done in the past.
Whether a returning fan or simply someone looking for a new roleplaying game to play, Cyber Sleuth caters to both parties. Although those familiar with the brand stand to gain more from this recent revival of the series, the gameplay systems are accessible for just about anyone. Still, despite its overall fun factor, Digimon Story isn’t exactly innovative, while also being hamstrung by a few niggling issues.