Digimon, digital monsters, Digimon are the CHAMPIONS! I had to get that out of the way first. Hopefully, the OG theme song is stuck in everyone’s heads now. The Digimon franchise has been around for over 20 years and still has an incredible fanbase. While most games are turn-based RPGs, they have a variety of other genres such as card battles, racing, and even fighting games.
In comes, Digimon Survive! A tactical RPG with a heavy emphasis on being mostly a visual novel. Yes, Digimon Survive is a visual novel first. Developed originally by Witchcraft and then given to Hyde, this game has a lot of charm and potential, but can fall short on many aspects of what is considered a “video game”.
Digimon Survive has you play Takuma, a high schooler who’s getting ready for a field trip with his friends near an ancient shrine with folklore about evil demons lurking about seeking revenge for being forgotten. When your team of friends and misfits find their way to some ruins, the ground crumbles beneath them. They then find themselves in the middle of the forest full of friendly and dangerous Digimon, trying to find the answers as to where they are and who are these weird unknown talking creatures.
Survive has a great anime art style. Colorful and expressive characters and environments bring on par with most animated Digimon series we have grown to love. There is a large focus on character development from humans and Digimon alike. Each has its own likes, dislikes, personality, fears and so much more. Takuma’s friend Minoru for example has a lot of corny one-liners and old slang words. Aoi is seen as an innocent, gentle, motherly figure. Ryo has a no-nonsense independent attitude that continues to cause tension throughout the story. As tradition with Digimon games, each is paired with their own Digimon. Agumon will be the players main Digimon for Takuma.
Players who love story-driven games might enjoy Survive more than others but there is one problem. It’s all story-driven. I remember seeing marketing trailers and gameplay footage of this game with excitement, thinking it was going to be an in-depth tactical RPG with my favorite digital monsters. What this game really is, is a visual novel with tidbits of tactical battles to break the incredibly long-winded, sometimes excruciatingly boring filler dialogue.
Before I go into a rant about what is negative about Survive, it wouldn’t be fair to at least give readers the positive first. When players enter battle mode, you can select up to 6 Digimon to place on the field. Eventually, you will be able to unlock a skill tree full of special attacks and evolutions which will cost SP. Attacks can hit for more damage at an enemy’s side or behind incentivizes some strategy and thought.
The game also introduces a morality system that increases particular personality traits in each human character. Those choices will help your battles whenever friendly Digimon are near each other or when you use the talk option to give them a good cheer. The talk option also allows you to attempt to speak to enemies, similar to the Persona series. If you make the right responses to each conversation, you have the opportunity to have them join your team or give you an item. In my experience, all they ever gave me were healing items.
Battles are too far and few between during story content. During times of “exploration” you can choose to battle on your own to grind and level up the Digimon of your choosing, but the game is just too easy and simple. There is nothing challenging or exciting during any battles that aren’t part of the main story beat. Boss battles are decent and can get you going, but again, they happen very infrequently.
Mechanics such as the old rock, paper, scissors method of elemental damages don’t help much when most quick battles can be fought with simple attacks and random placements. Having 6 Digimon available to players while the battle gives you only 2-3 enemies to face is insignificant and baffling. Even if the enemies were difficult, once completing a match, all your Digimon instantly heal back up HP, SP, and all. This could have been omitted to make things more challenging. Allowing players to play more cautious and strategic. I assume gameplay is left easy to complete to focus more on continuing the story.
A survival story
The story itself is interesting. I reiterate the characters have a lot of development and personality. There is one problem I personally have that I know a lot of players won’t. I feel it is unacceptable in a generation where this franchise is worldwide. There is no option for dubbed dialogue! As an anime fan, I love reading subtitles. Only, not for my video games. Many do not want to sit there reading everything. Especially when there is so much padded dialogue that is unbearable to skip through since you’re constantly pressing the “X” button or allowing the dialogue to “auto-skip”. Which is actually slower since the voice acting has to be complete before moving on to the next lines of dialogue.
“Exploration mode” is a joke since all players need to do is use the bumper buttons to highlight any items, people, or objects of interest without actually exploring the area. There is a “free action” which is exactly the same as exploration mode, only with limited moves. This is to think about which characters you want to pursue dialogue more with and raise your affinity (friendship).
I cannot stress enough how boring of a game this is. I love the art, characters, and in some ways, the story. Unfortunately, I came here to play a game, and there was none. There was potential for deep RPG and tactical elements. Players are given a shell of both. I do not place any hate on visual novels, but if you market your game as a tactical RPG, there should be more of that than your visual novel elements.
The icing on the cake was the no quick play option when I turn off my Xbox Series X. Loading times are decent but turning on my system and starting immediately is a luxury I am already used to. I really want to like Digimon Survive, but my heart can’t continue pressing X on mundane, pointless dialogue and filler exposition for hours on end, then given 5-minute battles on easy mode once every hour.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Digimon Survive for Xbox Series X provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment.