Digimon Survive has been a title that many Digimon fans have been anticipating. However, it stands out in the sea of other titles in the franchise with a focus on story and strategy RPG elements. We may never see another title like this, but it’s a game that producer Habu Kazumasa wanted to create. So much so, that he has stuck with the project across multiple delays and even a new console launch.
To learn more about this game, we had the opportunity to sit with Kazumasa-san during Anime Expo 2022 and discuss the game’s unique story elements.
Azario Lopez: So let’s start by asking, why bring the Digimon series to the strategy RPG genre with visual novel elements now?
Habu Kazumasa: The first concept came from my wanting to reflect on the setting of the anime, where the Digimon is considered to be a living partner of the humans. This is something I’ve never done before. One good part of the anime is when you see the Digimon digivolve into stronger Digimon, which is linked to the heart of the human character.
If the character is good, the Digimon will digivolve into a good Digimon, but if the character is bad, they’ll be evil. I wanted to bring this to the video game, and all the different choices characters could make that reflect the personality of the Digimon. I believe that the visual novel portions of the game are where players can make choices that change the story and the lives of the partners.
Another challenge I wanted to take on from my previous works is that I found fans were interested in the original story aspect of these titles. So, I took that to build a game that is heavily influenced by its story in a new genre that I think fans will enjoy. I want players to be more emotionally invested in and feel this story than any Digimon game that has come before.
AL: Does the Karma system affect the human character and the Digimon character?
HK: You understand correctly. Going back to what I said about the anime Digimon Adventure, the Digimon of the human character reflects their heart. So, in Digimon Survive, I want the characters to understand that bond.
AL: Throughout Digimon Survive’s development, there have been several delays. With the release date approaching, do you feel like the product is finally up to standard for release?
HK: First off, I want to apologize for the project being delayed for so long. This began as a small project where I wanted to take the Digimon series into a new genre. We worked with a developer with a small team, but that didn’t work out too well, which led us to work with a larger development team with a bigger budget. At that point, delays were inevitable, but the current product made by this second team is what I wanted from the very beginning, and I think fans will enjoy it as much as I do.
I began this project with the desire to keep it on an indie budget instead of the large budget that Digimon games typically have, but it didn’t end up that way.
AL: Does this reflect your determination to release this game where other studios might cancel the project entirely?
HK: There are a few reasons why I stayed with this project. The first one was that when the project was first announced, many people were excited, and I didn’t want to let them down. The other is that we were able to use a smaller team than usual on this project, which led to fewer risks. This allowed me to convince the stakeholders to give us time to complete the game. However, the smaller team also meant that development was just a little longer than usual.
AL: Were there any visual novels or RPGs that you used as inspiration?
HK: If we’re talking about a Bandai Namco title, I was influenced by the Summon Night series. In terms of other titles, the Utawarerumono series was something that influenced the project.
AL: I have to ask, am I going to cry during this game?
HK: I’m not sure if I want to make everyone cry, but there’s a condition that I had in mind during development. This game was created for a niche group of the larger Digimon fanbase. When I was designing the story, one thing on my mind was how the Digimon player base has their own idea of what Digimon is. Is it a monster, an animal, or maybe a virus? Digimon fans come to the Digimon world from different places and products, toys, games, and anime, the settings for these products are different.
With this title, I’ve been trying to give everyone an answer to “what is a Digimon?” This new story is based on this, which gives players a chance to come to that conclusion. I had the opportunity to speak with the director of Digimon Adventure, Hiroyuki Kakudo, and we discussed why the word Digimon comes from the words Digital Monster.
Kakudo-san shared that the naming doesn’t really mean anything right now since this series was created over 20 years ago during a time when the name was only meant to reflect the monsters that people see in the digital world. The fans now, who have access to laptops and cell phones, understand the world “digital” more than ever before, but when the series was created, we didn’t have that foresight. We see now that Digimon could be more of a being in this regard.
AL: Following this title, what are your plans with the Digimon series? Would you like to return to the Story or World series?
HK: We have several projects in development right now, one being in the Story series, which is considered to be a large project. Because of this, we need time to ensure it’s the level of quality that we need it to be before the reveal. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to first complete this smaller project.
The Digimon production team has grown to reflect the scale of these upcoming projects. We hope to reveal more of what we’re working on soon.
AL: I could use another Rumble.
HK: I have heard this from a lot of fans. So I’m curious about which entry you’re talking about.
AL: I played it a lot on PlayStation, but All-Star Rumble was fun.
HK: I know it’s weird for me to ask questions during an interview; I just wonder what elements Digimon fans are looking for. When I created Digimon Survive, I wanted to focus on the story instead of the RPG elements, but I received feedback that fans wanted more RPG elements and more Digimon. So in my mind, I want to emphasize the story, but since you mention Rumble, which also doesn’t include RPG elements, I fear that fans will continue to criticize the direction of the game series. What do you think about that?
AL: I think Rumble provides an extra dose of nostalgia for me since I played it with other people growing up. However, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth changed what I believed a Digimon game to be in terms of story, style, and gameplay. So when Digimon Survive was announced, it happened to be what I personally wanted, coming off of the great story elements of Cyber Sleuth.
If I’m going to create a game that a lot of people can enjoy at the same time, does it have to be a fighting or action game? Or would a game where players can interact with each other in the same world be enough?
AL: I would love a Digimon World game where I can raise Digimon with friends.
HK: I like that idea, too.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to share with fans awaiting Digimon Survive?
HK: I want to say sorry to everyone who has been waiting for so long. I also want to tell everyone that this story will be very unique and comes from something that I have been thinking about for a long time. I want to express my understanding of Digimon following a group of kids being sucked into a new world where not everyone will react the same. You can imagine how some people might not make the right decisions after finding themselves in such a dangerous situation. We explore the human drama that stems from this, which is sometimes between strangers but also friends.
Now when these people partner with Digimon, they become a reflection of their human partners. Some will rise to the occasion and appear strong even though they are afraid. However, some humans will push back against this reflection aspect when they can’t see themselves in their partner, which could lead to fights and even abuse. We’d have to face this if Digimon was actually based in reality. Because there are so many interactions between the characters and their partners, an overall dark theme manifests, but I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to take this as just a possibility for the Digimon series.
Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, I know Digimon fans come from different products. Here, I want to show them my understanding of this universe, and I want everyone to discuss it after completing the game.
AL: Yea, I’m going to cry.
Digimon Survive is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam on July 29, 2022.
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