Digimon Survive

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: WitchCraft
Release Date: July 29, 2022


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PS4/PS5 Review - 'Digimon Survive'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 1, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Digimon Survive is an adventure/tactical RPG set in a mysterious world with characters designed by Uichi Ukumo, and music by the much-acclaimed Tomoki Miyoshi.

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Digimon Survive follows the story of a young group of children who are out on a school camping trip. Players take on the role of Takuma, a nice young man with a small group of friends. Takuma and his pals end up wandering into the woods trying to find a lost group of fellow students, only to encounter a strange tunnel. When they wander through it, they find themselves in a world that looks like the place they just left — but it isn't. The buildings are decaying, the plant life is strange, and monsters known as Kemonogami want to devour the unlucky children. Takuma befriends a friendly Kemonogami named Agumon, and together, the two attempt to find a way to survive.

Digimon Survive is an unusual mix of tones. When it starts out, it resembles what you'd qualify as a pretty standard Digimon adventure, with a group of teens in a dangerous situation befriending monsters. It changes things up; whereas a standard Digimon story may stop at a certain level of grimness, Survive keeps going. Characters don't merely get into bad situations but can die horribly; backstories aren't just grim but occasionally jet black. While it keeps feeling like a Digimon story, there's a level of tension and danger that we don't see in a standard story. It's also odd to realize that "Digimon" isn't uttered once in the game, which focuses on the Kemonogami name.

For the most part, this works well. It doesn't fall into the usual trap of, "We're making a kid's property darker." The adorable monsters are still adorable, and the plot still has the expected beats of friendship and optimism. When things go bad, though, they really go bad. There is at least one death scene, and even though I could see it coming, it caught me genuinely off guard by how horrifying it was. My first ending was a mix of relentlessly grim and surprisingly optimistic in a way that I also hadn't anticipated.

The biggest barrier to enjoying Digimon Survive is that the cast is intentionally unlikable. They slot cleanly into the character archetypes of a Digimon story but taken to certain extremes. Not every character is that way, but a number of them cross the line from bad to awful. There's at least one character who spends a significant portion of the game brutally insulting and abusing an adorable little bunny creature; I really wanted him to get eaten by the nearest possible monster so he would go away. It doesn't necessarily ruin the game since the bad characters are intentional, but it can grow frustrating as things progress. It makes it more satisfying when characters evolve, though.

Another problem is that the game is largely on rails in the first playthrough until near the very end, where you choose a path. Specific events happen no matter what you do and no matter how many precautions you take, and it isn't until a New Game+ that you have more flexibility over how the story progresses. While I understand the need to ensure that the game's moments go off as intended, the game would hit harder if the player felt like they had more of an ability to influence the story.

The core gameplay of Survive boils down to about 70% visual novel and 30% strategy RPG. In the visual novel segments, you wander around various areas and talk to characters. In some cases, this can trigger special events or increase your friendship with a character, which allows them to evolve their Digimon to new forms. While there is a set core plot that you follow, there are a number of secret events or side events that you can discover during Free Time moments to earn special items, new Digimon, or influence later events in small ways.

Dialogue choices boil down to one of three karma types: Moral, Harmony and Wrathful. The three karma types are set in a specific location on the dialogue option, with Moral being Left, Harmony being Right, and Wrathful being Up. The karma names are slightly misleading. Wrathful isn't evil or cruel; it tends to be choices that are straightforward or brazen. This can include selfish decisions, but it also can be things like, "fight an enemy to protect someone instead of running away." Moral is making a choice based on the greater good, which can be heroic and brave but also includes things like "run away." Harmony is probably the most straightforward and emphasizes teamwork and communication. The negative can be attempting to talk or understand something that turns around and tries to murder you.

These dialogue choices eventually lead to one of three different endings. The ending choices are determined by the total number of specific points you earn, rather than whatever is highest, so you can potentially unlock the choice for all three endings in a single playthrough. This is a nice feature because it means you can choose what is right for the moment instead of picking one of the three "moods" to force an ending. There is a fourth ending, but as mentioned, that is locked behind a New Game+.

Between visual novel segments, you'll engage in Digimon battles, which are standard strategy-RPG skirmishes. The player and enemy are both placed on a battlefield, and each side takes turns moving their Digimon based on the creature's speed stat. The goal is to defeat your foes before they defeat you, but a few missions have unique elements, such as protecting a human who is trying to escape or reaching a certain point on the map.

The Digimon are doing the fighting. Each Digimon in the game can attack, perform one special move, and has a passive ability that changes how they play. Crowmon can sacrifice its attack for a turn to move twice instead. Some Digimon do more damage with certain elemental moves or automatically guard after a turn is taken, and so on. Special moves use SP and have different elemental types, with some Digimon being strong or weak against those types. Some are buffs and healing, but most are various kinds of attacks. You can also equip items that allow Digimon to use new attacks, with up to three different special attacks per Digimon in addition to the standard attack.

Digimon are divided into two types: Partner and Free. Partner Digimon are the plot-mandated Digimon, and each is tied to a human being. These Digimon always begin at a weaker "rookie" level, but as the game progresses, they unlock the ability to evolve (and devolve) into different forms. Stronger forms slowly drain your MP over time but are naturally more robust. The advantage is that you can swap forms based on what is needed. To use the aforementioned Crowmon example, you can Digivolve into Crowmon for additional movement speed and shift into a more combat-heavy form once you reach the enemy. Each Partner Digimon also has a once-per-battle ability to have their trainer use a Talk command that issues a temporary buff to any Partner Digimon on the field.

You'll encounter Free Digimon during optional battles and can recruit them by using the Talk command on them. They have different evolution trees from a Partner Digimon, and once they evolve (using special items), they remain permanently evolved. Once evolved, they don't have the constant MP drain that a Partner Digimon has, and unlike Partner Digimon, they don't need to hit certain plot beats to evolve. As long as you have an item, you can evolve that Free Digimon, making them far easier to customize and generally a bit stronger. They also remain in your party no matter what, while Partner Digimon will leave based on plot events.

The combat system in Digimon Survive is standard for an SRPG. It's fun enough for what it is, and the level of customization is good. If I had one complaint, Digimon Evolution is way too big of a factor in combat. Outside of edge cases, your Digimon should be at the strongest level possible. The difference in defense and damage between a Champion-level Digimon and a Mega-level Digimon is so significant that the weaker ones may as well not exist unless they have a really good passive or skill.

Visually, Digimon Survive is a pretty nice game. It uses the standard still images like a visual novel, but they're well drawn and animated, and there are some incredibly effective uses of specific imagery that are genuinely haunting. The battle animations are done using basic sprites, most of which are very cute but not particularly well animated. The voice acting manages to do an excellent job of conveying the character's emotions, but fans should be aware that it's subtitle-only. The music is nice if not hugely memorable, with few particularly noteworthy songs to its name.

Digimon Survive is an interesting experiment that largely succeeds in taking a beloved children's franchise and giving it a darker tone without completely losing what made it so beloved in the first place. The story is largely engaging and has enough twists and turns to keep things moving forward at a comfortable pace. The gameplay is enjoyable but unexceptional, but the story is the main draw. If you're a fan of Digimon, then Survive is absolutely worth your time. Even casual JRPG fans will likely find the story to be worth a look.

Score: 8.0/10

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