We'll admit, we've never really managed to spend as much time with the Digimon games as we'd like. With a special place in our hearts for Pokemon-style monster catching/battling/training games, we've been more than a little bit curious about the slew of Digimon games that have hit the Playstation 4 in the past couple of years, taking the much-loved creature catching, battling and raising formula onto the big screen. With the latest awkwardly titled instalment, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory kicking off what's set to be a bumper year for RPGs in 2018, we've finally had a chance to test out the series for ourselves - and we've hardly put the controller down for three days straight...
Set in a near-future version of Japan, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory follows the story of Keisuke, an unfortunate guy whose online identity gets stolen by an unknown hacker - and as someone whose hotmail account seems to get hacked on a pretty much daily basis, we can certainly sympathise. But when said hacker uses Keisuke's identity as a cover to commit a crime, he's not about to sit back and take it on the chin. Befriending a benevolent hacking organisation known as Hudie, you set off into a virtual world known as EDEN to reclaim your account, befriending various Digimon - digital monsters that inhabit the online world - along the way, to help you in your quest.
Life in Digimon Story is split between the two worlds - the "real world", a near-future recreation of Japan's Shibuya district, with its various electronic shops, arcades and cat-eared maid cafes; and the virtual online world of EDEN. A high-tech online destination, you can walk, talk and shop in EDEN on the surface as you would in the real world - but descend into its depths, and you'll find yourself in a murky underworld full of hackers and ne'er do wells. It's in these underground labyrinths you'll spend most of your time, searching for cyber criminals, looking for lost items and asking around for information to help you on your missions. The titular Digimon also roam the underworld, with many a hacker having tamed themselves a team of the digital monsters to aid them in battle. And that's what you'll need to do too.
To the surprise of no-one, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory plays very much like a Pokemon game, as you capture, battle and train up your team of digital monsters. With more than 300 critters to discover (to find out which ones, be sure to check out our full list of all 340 Digimon in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory), you'll have your work cut out for you if you want to catch 'em all, especially as many Digimon have branching evolutions to work your way through, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. That being said, 'Catch' is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, as in Digimon Story, you don't actually catch Digimon - instead, through encountering them multiple times in battle, you'll gradually amass 'data' on the creature in question. Once you reach 100%, you're able to digitise yourself a copy of said Digimon, and add it to your team.
Each Digimon also has a maximum level it can reach before you're forced to evolve it up to the next stage, resetting its level back to one in the process. However, it's not quite a case of going back to the drawing board, as you'll keep any accumulated stat points in your Digimon's attack, defence and the like, meaning the Digimon you've lovingly raised up will be more powerful than one you'd just caught/digitised.
Another major difference from Pokemon is that you can also evolve your Digimon back into their previous forms - de-digivolution to give it the technical term - raising the max level cap as you go. Stacking your extra stat points as you shuttle between the evolutions, this essentially lets you turn those adorable-but-oh-so-weak cute monsters into something approaching a half-decent fighting machine!
And fight you will, both against opposing hackers and against all manner of wild Digimon that inhabit the forgotten depths of EDEN. Battles are a pretty simplistic, turn-based affair, with you and your opponents' Digimon taking it in turns to attack, defend and use special skills. With up to three members of your Digimon team in play at any one time, you'll want to try and have a mix of Digimon types and attributes, as they all have their own relative strengths and weaknesses, rock-paper-scissors style. Fortunately, you don't have to remember all the match ups a la Pokemon, as the game does give you a visual indicator of whether your attack is something your opponent is weak to, or vice versa, via the colour of the targeting indicator on the enemy in question - red for super effective, and blue for not very effective.
However, Digimon fights aren't the only scuffles you'll get into, and when facing off against other organised hacker factions, you'll find yourself in a distinctly different kind of fight, known as a 'Domination Battle'. You'll require help from your fellow Hudie hacker buds here, with three of you going up against three opponents, as you vie for control of a board game-like grid. Each spot on the grid is worth a certain amount of points, and by capturing each one (by landing on them), you'll add to your team score, with the goal being to get to the target score within a set number of turns. If both you and your opponents try to take the same square, you'll trigger a Digimon battle, with the victor gaining control of the square in question. Requiring some degree of strategic thinking - you'll need to keep an eye on the number of turns left, as well as concentrate on both increasing your points while docking your enemies' - they're an interesting change of pace from the dungeon crawling, Digimon-battling grind.
As much fun as we had with Digimon: Cyber Story - Hacker's Memory, though, things did come a little unstuck when we came back to it a day later, having left it half way through one of the main story missions. You see, for whatever reason, Digimon: Cyber Story doesn't give you any kind of mission log, quest list or on screen prompts whatsoever, so you're often left wondering where the heck you're supposed to head next. While characters will usually at least hint at what you need to do next in cutscenes, with so many similar sounding areas of EDEN to visit, and no hints, you'll very often find you can't remember whether they said Lower Kowloon Lv 2 or Kowloon Lv 1 - and the only alternative is trial and error. Side missions fair a little better, as you can get the briefest of brief summaries hidden away in a menu (under the 'Player' section, then under the BBS tab), but it does seem like a bit of an oversight really.
Still, we did have a blast playing through Digimon: Cyber Story - Hacker's Memory - it may not do anything phenomenally remarkable, being a fairly by-the-numbers role-playing adventure with some Pokemon-style creature catching/raising/battling thrown in, but it's a combo that works well. Maybe it's because we're not terribly familiar with Digimon, but we particularly liked experimenting with all the different evolutions and forms, trying to find a cute enough team that didn't die instantly - and the ability to re-level and accumulate stat points on your Digimon is an interesting touch too. Oh, and did we mention you can buy accessories for your Digimon and dress them up?
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4