Retro Review: Digimon World


Digimon World Review

By: David Habinski

Developer : Bandai
Publisher : Bandai
Platforms :Playstation
Genre : Adventure, Virtual-Pet
Mode : Single Player

I wanted this game to be good. I really did. I wanted it to be good 12 years ago and I wanted it to be yesterday.

Digimon World is the first game based off of the once popular Japanese franchise….Kind of. What the game seems to be mostly based off of is the virtual pet toys that were similar to Tamagotchis. These toys were actually the starting point of Digimon and, from what I can tell, the game was developed and released before the anime in Japan, making the toys the closest thing to source material that the developers would have had to work with. So essentially, Digimon World is a game based off a different type of game, and it’s not all that good.

In Digimon World, you play as a nameable male protagonist, who, as shown in the opening cut- scene, loves playing Digimon (the virtual pet version) with his friends. Coming home to an empty house one day after school, the protagonist stumbles upon his glowing Digimon V-Pet and is, of course, sucked into it. From here, our hero is in the Digital World on a continent known as File Island. Where he is greeted by Jijimon (who may or may not be an actual Digimon)  as well as the other inhabitants of the war-torn town of File City, including the Digimon our hero had been raising on his V-Pet(Whose name you also get to choose)! As Jijimon explains, strange things have been happening in the Digital World, and he’s entrusting you and your loyal companion to get to the bottom of it! And thus begins our hero’s quest to save the Digital World and restore File City to the proud place it once was. He also has to train his Digimon. A lot.

Jijimon welcomes you...kinda.
Jijimon welcomes you…kinda.

The gameplay for Digimon World is essentially comprised of three different elements; exploring, battling, and raising. A lot of the areas within the game are almost exactly what you would expect; the volcano, the mountain, the frozen area (literally just called freezeland), and the jungle. Some of the areas on File Island, like Toy Land and Beetle Island are slightly more on the creative side, but they’re by no means original or anything we all haven’t seen at least a few times before. The game is set from an over the top, fixed, camera angle and set screens that allow you to transition from one screen to the next. There are a few screens where exits and passages to other areas and screens are unfortunately difficult to see or poorly placed. For the most part however, each area and the screens within them are designed decently and transition nicely from one to the next. My biggest issue with exploring File Island is that, although I really do enjoy most of the area music, it restarts on every screen. This becomes serious problems at later stages in the game as you have to do a lot of backtracking and you’re only on each screen for maybe a few seconds.

As you explore the island, you’re always discovering new areas and meeting up with new Digimon. It’s meeting these Digimon that actually progresses the plot of the game. During you’re explorations, you find out very quickly what the main objective of the game is going to be: find the right Digimon and convince them to rejoin File City. How you recruit these Digimon can range from bringing items, to simply discovering them in hidden areas of the Island, and, of course, by defeating them in battle.

Combat in Digimon World is really bad. First off, you don’t play this game as your Digimon, but rather the Digimon trainer. Because of this, you as a player are not actually doing any of the fighting, but you’re instead shouting battle commands to your digital do-as-I-say machine, literally. Your character shouts battle commands. Typically you would expect a system in which you are giving commands to a character you’re not actually controlling to work in a type of turn based system, similar to Pokemon, where you, as a trainer, would pick an attack and then your Digimon would perform it before selecting another attack or a different kind of command. Instead, when you engage an enemy Digimon in combat, your character runs off to one of the four corners off the screen and shouts whatever command you select at your Digimon as it wanders around randomly until it decides to perform said move. Once again, I really mean “shouts.” Our brave hero, chosen to save the Digital World, runs off and hides, puts his hands around his mouth and yells commands (which appear over his head as if he’s shouting them, which he is) to his “partner.” You can yell the commands as often as you want, too. They won’t do anything, but you can constantly mash the X button to fill your time between the actual action of the fight.

Finally got that ultimate Digimon! Now I can destroy all who oppose me, or just keep running from them...
Finally got that ultimate Digimon! Now I can destroy all who oppose me, or just keep running from them…

This combat system makes the Digimon battles more of a show than anything; shouting orders hardly makes a difference and all you can really do is throw some healing items at your Digimon and wait for the opponent’s health to dwindle down. Throughout the battle, both your Digimon and the enemy’s special meter will build. When the meter is full, you can command your Digimon to use its special attack which is dependent on what Digimon partner you have. When you activate your special you can mash L1 and R1 in order to increase the damage the attack will do. Performing a special is probably the most interactive part of the battle for the player, but it still feels tedious and annoying and I’d rather not have to do it.

Not only is the combat incredibly passive for the player, but it’s frustratingly broken at times. When you’re fighting multiple enemies at a single time, things can get really messy. Your Digimon’s attacks will constantly be interrupted by the enemy attacks and because of this, combined with the fact that when a Digimon blocks you do no damage at all, your MP is not going to last the entire fight, and if your MP runs out, you have to hope you survive long enough to use your special, and THEN hope your special kills the enemies, or else you’re gonna have to wait for another special.

All aspects of the battles are based off of your Digimon’s stats, which you build through a combination of training and battling (its mostly training). Of course your attack, defense, hit points, and magic points are all clearly defined stats with easily identifiable number values to match them with and give you an idea of how well your Digimon will fare in battle. The other two stats, brains and speed, determine what commands you can shout to your Digimon and the rate at which it will perform them. Like the combat, this stat building system is broken. The first problem with it is that training in Digimon world is not a natural occurrence like it is in most games. As I stated, the majority of your stat building comes from training as opposed to battling. This means that as a player you can’t simply run from one battle to the next expecting your stats to increase in close relativity to the difficulty of the enemies you face. Most games will allow you to level up and better your stats by defeating the enemies you encounter as you progress through the game’s main story. Of course, defeating other enemies through random encounters or optional battles will also allow you to make the main story and the battles within it easier. In comparison, Digimon World gives very little increase in skill for wining a battle yet follows a standard difficulty curve. This makes the game impossible to play without hours and hours of training.

Even when you’ve trained your Digimon partner to a point in which most battles are winnable, with the exception of encounters within the first few areas of the game, no battles are going to leave you unscathed and ready for another fight right after. This is probably the most frustrating part of the game because you don’t actually heal after every fight unless you’re using items. What makes it worse is that enemies appear on almost every screen of the game, and due to their random running around, they can be very difficult to avoid. I’ve played through Digimon World three times, and every time I’ve had to memorize where all the random encounter enemies appear in the game just so I can avoid every single one of them on my way to the next story advancing fight or encounter. Even when I’ve got enough money and healing items to never have to worry about starting a fight low on HP or MP, or even dying in battle because I can just use reviving items, I still avoided all of the regular enemies. The reason I never want to fight in Digimon World is because it was just never fun and, since you don’t gain much experience, there’s no real reward.

The Second Problem with Digimon World’s stat building system is that you don’t really know how much you should be raising each stat. For example, I’ll reach a point where I know I can’t beat a Digimon and recruit him to my city, but I have no idea how much I should be raising my strength stat in order to do any considerable damage to him. Only the brain stat, which unlocks a new command every 100 points or so, has a clear, identifiable degree of progress for you to gauge yourself against, and every other stat is overloaded with trial and error where you have to raise it, see if it was enough and, if not, raise it some more.

As if that wasn’t enough, chances are if you’re raising your Digimon’s stats, but you’re not training an ultimate form Digimon, or at least champion with a good set of moves, it doesn’t matter how high long you train. You’re Digimon is going to die before it’s strong enough to win whatever battle you’re going for.

This brings me to the final component of the game, the Digimon raising, which is probably the most appealing part of the game…In theory. The Digimon raising component of the game works simply enough…In theory. Your Digimon has five stages of evolution: baby, in-training, rookie, champion, and ultimate. When you first receive a Digimon, with the exception of the game’s beginning, you chose an egg, from which a corresponding baby level Digimon will hatch and will quickly evolve into a pre-determined in-training Digimon. From this point on, the next stage of evolution for you Digimon is dependent on how you raise it and works more like a tree than a straight evolution. At a certain age within each of your Digimon’s life, it will have the opportunity to evolve, or “digivolve.” While the possibilities per Digimon is limited, normally to two or three different Digimon, the next form your Digimon takes is dependent on three main factors; it’s stats, discipline/happiness meters, and the number of care mistakes you have.

Training has to start at an early age...and never stop.
Training has to start at an early age…and never stop.

The stats are pretty self-explanatory as you can easily view them from the menu and the two meters are almost omnipresent in the bottom right corner of the screen. Care mistakes on the other hand…Nowhere. You gotta keep track of these things yourself. Care mistakes basically involve the other factors of the game that I haven’t yet mentioned, which are the components involved in taking care of your Digimon like the virtual pet it is. So if you’re trying to keep your level of care mistakes to a minimum, you have to make sure your Digimon gets food when it’s hungry, sleeps when it’s tired, doesn’t get over worked at the training gym, and makes it to the toilet before it goes on the ground (further incentive added to potty training your Digimon comes from the fact that if it poops on the ground, it will stay there unless you have the poop eating Digimon, no joke.). On top of having no way to keep track of your care mistakes, to this day there is debate about what factors take priority when digivolving to the next stage. For example, if my Digimon’s stats meet the requirements of two different next-level potential Digimon and one requires +50% discipline while the other requires maximum happiness, which one will I get? It just becomes a big garbled mess where if you want to have a particular Digimon, you basically have to look up a Digimon in an externail, probably fan made, guide beforehand, pick the right egg, and train towards that ultimate form Digimon starting immediately. It’s tiresome and when you finally get the Digimon you want, it doesn’t feel nearly as rewarding as you would hope it would be. On top of all that, when you finally do get that Digimon you’ve been working so hard for, it eventually dies and makes you start over with minimal roll over stats and techniques.

Overall, Digimon World is a game that flirts with being halfway good. In the world it creates, training mechanics, and even the combat, you can see the ideas and concepts they were going for. You can even appreciate the attempt that was made to make a full length video game based on a virtual pet toy. Everything just falls flat, though, and nothing is as fun or as enjoyable as you’d hope. The combat is annoying, tedious, and occurs way more than you’d like, the training and evolution trees are cryptic and almost impossible to figure out, and the game’s ending (without spoiling anything) is stupid, contrived, and makes you wonder why you even bothered trying to save such a lame island.

When writing reviews, I like to think I look at games a little more objectively than what my own personal opinion would allow, avoiding the nostalgia trap and not necessarily favouring games in genres I’m more inclined to like. That’s why writing this review has made me question why I’ve bought and sold this game 3 or 4 times, every time playing it all the way through at least once, and I think I’ve figured it out.

Why do I keep buying it?

There’s a weird challenge to it that I just can’t ignore. Trying to get that specific ultimate stage Digimon I’ve been aiming for, learning those techniques that you know are going to help you get through the game, and throwing enough healing items at your Digimon to beat the tougher opponents  are all challenges I feel like accepting every couple of years.

Then why do I keep selling it?

Because when I finally accomplish those things, it just feels like I’ve wasted my time.

THE GOODS

  • Familiar faces for the nostalgic types
  • Visually well done and still looks pretty good

THE BADS

  • Broken gameplay in almost every way
  • Tedious training sessions take up most of your time
  • Leaves you with an empty feeling inside

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