Fans of the Digimon series have been starved for a Western release lately, even as Bandai Namco has released many well-received entries in Japan. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth changes that, meeting fan demand with a full RPG adventure that its supporters have long craved. Developer Media.Vision has become quite adept at shepherding franchises, so even though it’s primarily a Vita project, its scale and quality justify its release on both platforms.
In Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, you’ll be traversing both real and virtual locations to track down mysteries for clients and ultimately solve your own case: the one that separated you from your physical body and left you as a digital being in the real world. These cases just generally have you walking from place to place and triggering Digimon battles rather than doing actual investigation work, but it’s a suitable enough framing device. It often feels a lot like Mega Man Battle Network: you’ll solve problems with electronics and get from place to place by “jacking in” at terminals and appliances and solve their issues by defeating the monsters within.
The environments and general aesthetic of the game feel inspired by Persona, and they work very well: it’s a stylish look, and a consistent one.
The environments and general aesthetic of the game feel inspired by Persona, and they work very well: it’s a stylish look, and a consistent one. Outside of virtual world EDEN, you’ll be visiting facsimiles of actual Tokyo locations, often with accurate company logos and lots of cool decorations. You have no camera control, which can be difficult to get used to again in the modern era, but it does allow for stylized angles and placing things exactly where you’ll see them. The music feeds into this, making it a singular Digimon experience that projects an evolution of the Dreamcast’s signature feel.
Getting to where you need to be can be a bit of a chore, which is unfortunate given how linear your journey generally tends to be. It’s easy to lose track of where you’re going next, and the game’s remedy for this, talking to DigiLab proprietor Mirei, can often be vague or behind a step or two. It would be much less painful if your destination could be easily checked in the menu. Instead, the menu constantly prompts you to have irrelevant, automated one-response conversations with friends and Digimon. That’s… yeah, that’s not a thing that should be there at all. Feel free to ignore that.
It also doesn’t help that the localization was held back by what was clearly a shoestring budget. Let’s be clear: this isn’t a machine-translated release like many iOS titles, and at times it even shows some intriguing personality. Nevertheless, the disjointed feel — it often seems like individual text boxes in a conversation were translated independently and without context — mars the experience. Given these issues, it’s a relief that localization funds weren’t siphoned off for English voices, though the Japanese tracks don’t do a lot for the game either.
Still, though, none of these things are about the training of Digimon, and Cyber Sleuth is all about the training of Digimon. And here’s the thing: it’s incredibly addictive. With a full party of monsters and farms full of them in the DigiLab, you’ll have those levels going up and then precipitously down again over and over in a continuous march toward progress. There are so many choices in this process, from which digivolution branch to take to which monsters and movesets with which to outfit your protagonist, that it’s not just a well-crafted Skinner box.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is all about the training of Digimon, and here’s the thing: it’s incredibly addictive.
It does it despite a maybe-too-friendly difficulty curve. Most random battles will be quick and painless, which can be frustrating if you want engaging combat, but these serve a different purpose: scanning foes to eventually use yourself. The more intriguing fights are at the end of your journey, with foes that clearly outmatch your team but don’t have the backup or tactics that you’ve been building. As long as you can remember what to do since your last boss encounter, these are compelling tests of skill.
If you really want to be tested, though, you should take your team online. Though there’s no option for taking on a specific friend in the PS4 version (though the Vita release offers local play for that), the ranked three-on-three competition really puts your monster-raising and team-balancing skills to the test. It’s a bit like Pokemon Stadium in its setup; teams are balanced to level 50 and there are certain restrictions on what sort of team you can bring to the fight. This doesn’t seem to have any real effect on the rest of the game, though, so if you’re not about fine-tuning a squad and are more about trying out that new weird monster you just found, feel free.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth has a lot of rough edges, but it accomplishes its goal: translating a Digimon game so that you can play it. And it’s a stylish and fun one at that. It’s a solid pickup on either platform, and hopefully a sign that more from the franchise will find its way to the West in the future.