“REVIEW: The Digimon Survive Gameplay Feels Like Playing Through An Anime Episode”
It's clear from the outset that Digimon Survive is a specific kind of game for a specific kind of Digimon fan. The last entries in the franchise to be released in the US, Cyber Sleuth and Cyber Sleuth: Hacker's Memory, were much more traditional JRPGs and much more in line with what fans had come to expect from Digimon games overall. If you enjoyed playing those (I certainly did), I'll say that Digimon Survive MIGHT be for you.
Where Digimon Survive differs mostly is in its visual novel approach. There is loads and loads of dialogue, with choices that affect the story and your playthrough dispersed throughout, so the whole thing is very character-based. But the focus on the player and his friends and their Digimon partners and the interplay between all of their little personalities means that if you're not sold on who you're chatting with, no amount of tactical battling is going to sway you. It's something you enjoy or are forced to come to terms with. This is a Digimon game about forming connections.
For the most part, this leads to Survive feeling a lot like the Digimon anime, particularly Digimon Adventure, which it has taken more than a few cues from. The character art and designs are delightful, and in fact, the whole game looks gorgeous. If I had any issue with Cyber Sleuth, it was that the character and monster models and levels all looked fairly devoid of life. It's a problem I've had with 3D Pokemon games, too. In an effort to compete in what can only be called a video game graphics arms race, they've sacrificed a lot of the vibrancy that seemed to come inherent in the 2D sprites. However, Survive's use of color and shadow adds a lot of atmosphere. It's laid on thick at times, giving a sense of mood that just wasn't there while traversing Cyber Sleuth's infinite blue hallways.
Like Adventure, the characters start as sort of stock portraits (He's the angry one! He's the goofy one! She's the cautious one!) and evolve from there. A charming level of relatable depth has always been a strong point of the series. I was in fifth grade when Adventure first landed in the United States and my friends and I watching it could clearly identify with at least one of the Digi-Destined. Even if you can't do that with Takuma, Minoru, Aoi or the rest of the Survive crew, they have enough quirks that the constant discussions you have to have with them don't become too overwhelming. As with the show — and the many RPGs where developing a relationship is important for the story, combat, etc. — sometimes it's just fun to check in on people. Digimon Adventure served as a stealth hangout anime and I won't begrudge a game for making me spend more time connecting with others over how rad Agumon is.
I mentioned earlier that the battle system — a grid-based strategy system that shakes things up from Digimon's regular "stand in a line, my three main dudes" approach — takes a backseat to the visual novel stuff. This doesn't mean that the battle system is undercooked, but it does often feel rather simplistic in the grand scheme of things. One highlight is evolving partner Digimon in battle, after which they revert back to their Rookie forms, just like in the anime. One can practically hear "AGUMON DIGIVOLVE TO… GREYMON" in the back of their head while the nostalgic tune "Hey Digimon!" plays. It's very fun to turn the tide of battle that way, especially in cutscenes where the evolution happens for the first time. Anime fans know the drill — the human partner puts themselves in danger while making some grand gesture that shows emotional strength and maturity and the Digimon is like "Well, dang. That's pretty inspiring, buddy!" and transforms. It never really gets old for me, but as with the rest of the game, tastes may vary.
All of this puts Digimon Survive in a weird spot: It displays a lot of the strengths of the series, but I'm not quite sure if they're the strengths I typically look for when playing the games. Luckily, even during the more long-winded sections, the game is kept afloat by pretty solid writing. I imagine this will be at least a few people's introductions to visual novels and it's a good one in a way that makes the attempt feel natural rather than trying to slap the Digimon branding on a previously untested genre. Honestly, aside from replaying it to see what other character progressions I can land on, it makes me want to rewatch the anime. There's just something about people working through their issues while tiny monsters joke and cheer them on that's hooked me in. So thanks, Digimon Survive, for giving me another anime experience… only, in this case, I have to press A a bunch of times.
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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