Digimon Survive Review – A Promise Fulfilled
Title: Digimon Survive
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure, Strategy RPG
After a long time of waiting, Digimon Survive is finally available. The game promises a unique spin on the franchise by reinterpreting its lore into a fascinating mix of visual novel and tactical RPG. This niche combo may not please everyone, but its core offers a compelling Digimon experience.
Digimon Survive tells the story of a group of teenagers who end up in another world after mysterious events. What was supposed to be a peaceful run-of-the-mill summer camp becomes a messy and dangerous trip. There is no guarantee for basic survival as the place has multiple monsters running amok, and they have no idea how to go back.
These kids find a world of beasts spoken of in legends, the Kemonogami, which players will recognize as Digimon. There’s no clear “digital”/”electronic” association to be made here, making the area and creatures seem closer to the stories of yokai and such for them. The legends also speak of human children used as sacrifices, an omen of the ill fate that may easily befall them.
The player will assume the role of Takuma Momozuka, a fourteen-year-old kid who is as average as they come. Despite his lack of noteworthy features, he’s a reliable person who can act calm and collected in the face of this dire crisis. As a result, the others often seek his perspective, leading to various moments in which his choices are essential and will impact the route development and ending.
Usually, when picking your dialog option, you’ll have three choices, each of which is associated with karma for one of the routes (Moral, Harmony, and Wrathful). Depending on the path, Takuma’s partner, Agumon, will evolve into vaccine, data, or virus types. The choice may also lead to the death of your allies, and losing some of them is inevitable during the first playthrough of this grim tale.
One aspect the player has to know before going into the game is that it features more story than strategical combat gameplay. Once battles are available, players are free to do more of them if they so desire, but, like with the Utawarerumono series, this is a visual novel first and an SRPG as a secondary element.
As such, expect lengthy dialogue scenes and a slow build-up as the kids try to understand the dangers they’re facing. Not only is it more on the visual novel site, as previously revealed by the developers, but Digimon Survive is a thriller with a Japanese ambiance, so there was no way it wouldn’t have slow pacing.
However, the story has a lot of redundancy, so it drags considerably. Advancing the plot can mean having to do some small talk and seeing the same kinds of conversations over and over. The result is the story feels a little padded at times, even when taking into account the slow nature of the tale. There is also a notable amount of typos and translation issues in the English version, making it feel slightly rushed and unpolished.
It’s a shame because these issues hinder the narrative at times. Nonetheless, Digimon Survive still expertly handles the slight horror atmosphere and the dread of its heavy atmosphere. It’s a story with a lot of heart, a charismatic ensemble of characters, and gripping mysteries.
The visual novel adventure side also offers map exploration as players can pick their next area from a menu. Each place can feature interactable characters and scenery objects with an in-game phone system to reveal hidden items, texts, and enemies. While the scenery is beautiful, the reuse of backgrounds can be staggering, with some confusing and padded areas like the park castle and the underwater tunnel.
While visual novel portions are the most frequent part of the game’s main story, players can also engage in free battles any time after unlocking the feature. As such, players can spend some time in it to explore the tactical options and evolve their characters or try to avoid battles as much as possible to face a challenge when they show up. The difficulty options and New Game+ stages can also help make this an experience for every sort of player who isn’t afraid of the time-consuming text.
Combat features a grid-based tactical system in which players can control multiple creatures to face the enemies. Besides Takuma’s Agumon, the group has eight partners to rely on in battle, each of which has an elemental affinity and virus/data/vaccine typing to consider. Positioning is also important, as being behind an enemy or at their side will increase damage, and height may increase accuracy but impede the reach of some attacks.
Besides movement and attacks, players should pay attention to the evolution and talk commands. ‘Evolution’ here follows a similar concept to the original Digimon Adventure anime series: Digimon Survive‘s partners can transform in the middle of battle.
Evolution will affect their strength, attributes, and skills, but they consume SP every turn to maintain their new form. The creatures will return to being rookies (the first form in Survive’s evolution tree) at the end of the battle or when there’s no more SP. Items and other mechanics such as the assist system can also restore those points.
Meanwhile, the talk system brings forth two different mechanics. Using it on allies allows the human partner of the current character to boost another creature with a pep talk. Talking with enemies initiates a negotiation in the vein of the Shin Megami Tensei series but with fixed answers based on personality, meaning there’s no risk of RNG altering the correct choice to get your new ally or some items.
These other allies follow a different logic, not having access to in-battle evolution or the talk menu. However, you can use special items to evolve them in the main menu, keeping them in their best form from the start at no SP cost. Besides how helpful they can be in exploiting enemies’ weaknesses, they also cover the team’s weaknesses due to a character’s death (which also removes their partner).
Despite the development complications along the way, Digimon Survive offers a final product that fulfills the original promise from its development team. With a tragic tone, it brings a new frame for the Digimon universe as a thriller VN with an enjoyable multi-layer SRPG combat. It’s become one of my favorite pieces of Digimon media, and it was worth the wait.
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