When people think of “monster tamer” or “creature collector” games, Pokemon usually takes the spotlight. However, I would argue that Digimon deserves just as much praise if not even more.
My first interaction with the Digimon franchise was Digimon World Dusk for the Nintendo DS. It is an RPG much like Pokemon with a few twists. Since Dusk, I have played Digimon World Championship and Cyber Sleuth. Despite my lack of exposure, I’ve fallen in love with the franchise and could not wait to dive into the latest Digimon iteration: Digimon Survive.
Digimon Survive is not like any other Digimon game before it, nor is it like most other monster tamers. Instead, It is a visual novel with a focus on story over gameplay. This was also my first time experiencing a visual novel and I found it somewhat enjoyable.
When it comes to digimon designs, they are some of my favorites from any monster tamer game. Each one feels so creative, unique, and filled with personality. I could easily go into digimon as a whole franchise, but that would take forever, especially considering there are more digimon than pokemon.
Each Digimon has a progression from their baby form, to child, adult, champion, ultimate and mega. Some even have forms beyond mega. On top of that, multiple digimon can evolve into the same digimon so they are not locked into a single evolution line. For instance, your partner digimon has three different mega forms it can evolve into.
Speaking of your partner digimon, Agumon has always been a fan favorite to the franchise. Agumon is to Digimon as Pikachu is to Pokemon. It is also one of my personal favorite digimon. Despite this however, I would have preferred if they had chosen a different, lesser known digimon as your partner. At least they gave Agumon some evolutions that I have never seen before like Tuskmon and Dinorexmon.
Besides Agumon, the other characters also have partner digimon. These don’t have as many evolutions as Agumon, but they are noteworthy nonetheless. Minoru’s partner is Falcomon, a ninja falcon. If you know me, you know I love my birds and the fact that it is a ninja is that much more appeasing! Aoi’s partner is Labramon, another digimon that I have never seen before until this game, including its evolutions. If its name wasn’t a giveaway, Labramon and its evolutions are designed after dogs.
Despite seeing the rest of the other partner digimon before, they are still some of the coolest designs. Kunemon for instance is just a yellow caterpillar that only says “kew”. Lopmon is basically a pink, cuddly rabbit. Floramon is an elegant flower monster that evolves into a poop throwing weed. Despite being a clam, Syakomon is another amazing design that got a ton of love in this game. The evil Dracmon is like your rival, which evolves into a vampire. All of these digimon are filled to the brim with personality and I love every one.
Truthfully, this score could possibly be a nine or ten. The main thing holding it back is that there is only a total of 118 digimon available to the player. Coming from a franchise that has over 1,400 different designs, it’s underwhelming. I get that the creators wanted to focus on some of the original designs that did not get much love on the first go around, but I felt like having only 118 was a wasted opportunity. If they doubled that number and gave the player more options, it would take the game to the next level.
Creature Designs = 8 / 10
This is a visual novel, so the story is already going to be better than most, if not all monster tamers that came before it. To compare this story to, let’s say, Pokemon, would be like comparing a polished bejeweled crown to a turd with sprinkles.
Digimon Survive follows a group of teens who are teleported to another world inhabited by creatures called Kemonogami. There, you are in charge of keeping as many of the characters alive as possible. This gets more difficult when you encounter a group of Kemonogami that appears to be trying to kidnap the group to sacrifice them to the so-called “master”.
Throughout the story, you will be presented with various choices for your characters. Some of these choices will impact the ending, who lives, and who dies. If it was not already stated, this game can have a very dark story depending on what you choose. So choose wisely!
Upon completing chapter eight, the story will lock into one of three endings. For my playthrough, I chose the moral ending where most of the characters live. It was a pretty cheesy ending, but I was okay with it because I did not want to see anyone else die. The other two endings will have two more deaths each!
While I do not normally cover post game content in the reviews, I should point out there is a fourth, secret ending after your first completion. I have yet to play through that one, but it is called the “true ending” so I plan on playing it at some point.
My only gripe with the story, and much of the reason why the score isn’t a perfect ten, is that it felt like certain scenes were unnecessary. It felt as though these scenes were added just to make the game longer but they just dragged on without much enjoyment.
Overall, a near perfect score for the story.
Story = 9 / 10
The battle system took a different approach than most other monster tamers. Instead of the usual turn based system you see in the likes of Pokemon, Digimon Survive tries its hand at a tactical RPG system and I love it.
It was as if I was playing chess with digimon. You have a map in a grid format and need to navigate the map to defeat your opponents. Each digimon and enemy has a specific turn, with the order determined by its own speed stat. On top of that, each digimon has a different distance they can move. Some are able to cross the map in a single turn while others are slow but deal a large amount of damage.
Once unlocked, you can digivolve and devolve your digimon at any point in the battle. The higher stages your digimon are at, the more stamina it requires to do any of its attacks. The only way to recover stamina outside of items is to degenerate to the digimon’s first form and wait a couple turns. So, it is extremely important to balance attacking with recovery in these battles.
I would love to see more monster tamers take on the tactical RPG format for their battles. Unfortunately, what drags the score down for Digimon Survive is how rare the battles actually are. It’s a visual novel, so it’s to be expected. I just wish there were more battles.
Battle System = 7 / 10
Hands down, the game is beautiful. The characters and digimon are well designed. However, outside the intro, the game is mostly made of still pictures. There were many scenes that made it hard to follow what was actually going on, requiring the characters to tell instead of showing the player.
I feel like there needed to be at least a couple more scenes that had moving parts to help make things flow. One of the biggest let downs was that the moral ending did not have a cutscene like we saw on the intro. It is probably due to the game being a visual novel, but it definitely holds the score back.
As one final nitpick, I literally could not tell what the final boss was. The still images did not do it justice. If the final boss had even a mini cutscene, this score would probably land at an eight.
Graphics = 7 / 10
In regards to the other mechanics, there is a ton left to be desired. The gameplay focuses on making choices that influence the story and your partner’s evolutions. However, the game color codes each choice so you know what ending you can get.
On one hand, that allows players to choose the paths they want. On the other hand, if someone wanted to go into it completely blind, these hints spoil that for the player. For me, I wanted to do it blind so being told what does what really disappointed me.
There is also the camera function. At certain points in the game, you must pull out your camera and find something that is hidden in the scene. The way it is implemented is very poorly done, since you don’t actually have to search for the item. Instead, just press two buttons to rotate through the scene. If there is nothing there then the game tells you. If there is something there, the game tells you exactly where it is. I’d much rather search for it than be told where the item is.
Lastly, the evolution of non-partner digimon is permanent. You cannot go backwards in the evolution with random encounters and you need a specific stone to evolve the digimon.
Mechanics = 2 / 10
While I don’t think I will play another visual novel any time soon, this game was quite enjoyable. Digimon always has some of the best monster designs and gameplay. The story is one of the best I’ve seen from any monster tamer and the graphics were above average. What held this game back from a higher score was the mechanics. It is a shame since this game had such high scores on the rest of the categories.
I feel as though Digimon Survive laid down the groundwork for an amazing line of games. If future iterations add more gameplay, another hundred digimon, and rework the mechanics, those games will be astounding.
I’m not going to lie though, I think I’d rather see another Digimon Story game over another visual novel.
OVERALL SCORE: 6.6 / 10
This article (Digimon Survive Review – Exceptional Story, Poor Mechanics) originally appeared at Phillip Schneider and may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author credit, and this copyright statement.