What do we get when you mix turn-based battles, digital monsters, survival elements and an interactive short story, the answer is Digimon Survive. This adventure spans nearly 30 hours of gameplay and my initial impressions were quite strong as I was expecting a lot. Immediately, I'm greeted by a menu that touts great art and design by Ukumo Uiti. After that, I'm treated to an incredibly beautiful theme by Tomoki Miyoshi. I loved the art which builds up the interactive short story side of the adventure, and the music that accompanies it. With both the visuals and the music being of such high quality, I hoped the rest was just as good. I can say right away that I was not disappointed despite a devastating bug that cost me 10 hours of playtime.
You won't be completely thrown into this game without prior knowledge. The game opens rather slowly and introduces you to the story and universe. This narrative focuses on a group of teenagers and children who are drawn into a mysterious world, and your goal is to try to survive and make it back home. Along the way, you'll encounter Digimon who want to both kill you and help you. When I write kill, I mean it. Without giving too much away, this is the first time I've seen blood splatter with this license, as more or less any character can die, as depending on your choices, only a few characters are safe. If a character dies, so does their Digimon which means a loss in combat as well.
This is not a traditional licensed game as you probably already understood. Cyber Sleuth and previous titles had role-playing elements and focused much more on complex game mechanics. This time everything is scaled down, refined and much more focused. I'd say it's a bit reminiscent of what Pokémon Legends Arceus did for the Pokémon brand. The core monsters and battles are still there, but a lot is different. It's the first time in a Digimon game I feel that the monsters (they don't like to be called that), talk as much as they are allowed to. It lets the developers build up their distinct personalities and also allows the short story approach of listening, clicking on characters and moving around via a menu to allow the storytelling to take on more space. I like it as I often feel that just as Michael Bay botched the robots in the Transformers films, the same thing happened with this license. Now the digital monsters are given personalities, lots of dialogue and take their place alongside the humans.
The characters are well written in this title and I like how diverse the people are. Certainly you can develop your relationships with the characters and their lives can hang on it. Not only do you talk to the characters but you also have the opportunity to improve how much they like you. This helps along with other choices of who dies or survives. It's not entirely common for us to see people die in these games, but here many of the main characters can die depending on your choices. This creates some extra tension and seriousness. Dialogue choices also control how your character's partner Agumon develops. Certain dialogue choices score you in three categories, Wrath, Morality and Harmony. The former is a bit like it sounds with seeking conflict, caring more about yourself and throwing yourself into the fire when the chance arises. Morality is about doing what feels right, such as saving others and a focus on doing the most good-hearted actions in every situation. Harmony is more about prudence in considering situations and communicating. Each Digimon is classified as one of these three types, which are respectively weak and strong against each other. Imagine fire, grass and water in Pokémon, they form a triangle based on the rock, paper, scissors mindset.
The battles lean pretty heavily towards the types that Digimon are divided into. This means that the karma system is not only intertwined with dialogue, but also your Digimon's evolution and what it is strong or weak against in battles. Combat is a fairly simple turn-based affair, especially with the support of items you can use. That's not to say it's completely devoid of depth, but that it's very easy to get into. You can fight yourself or let the computer do the fighting for you. Both ways work really well. If anything, the combat system is a little too easy I think. You do more damage if you attack from behind or from the sides, the problem is that you can easily do these attacks. I would have liked to see a mechanism like Battle Brothers has, where if you get too close you are locked into melee combat, alternatively if you try to escape the enemy gets a free attack. I would also have liked to see the enemies scale in level with you. There is certainly the option to change the difficulty, but for those experienced with this combat system, even the hardest will probably be a bit too easy. Still, I think the battles are just fine for variety in gameplay.
It's also fun to try out your monsters on the battlefield. You can take a peaceful route, which is fun. You don't get as many experience points but you can talk to the enemy. Then you get three dialogue options where you have to answer correctly three times. If you manage to fill the meter, you can persuade the opponent to join your team or give you items. This is the way you get new Digimon. It's important to do this so that you can build out your team with 'wild Digimon'. These chaps can be developed using items versus solely important events in the story, which I think is an interesting approach. I quickly learned that the choice of development line is important here as the choice is permanent.
The nicest thing I can say about the game is that the combat, story and gameplay work in harmony with each other. Everything feels intertwined with a common thread that ties everything together. The menus are also easy to navigate, it's always easy to find and get the right information. I have to admit that I also liked the story and the voice actors, both the people and the creatures sound great. The only criticism of the voices is that some of the evolutions don't sound quite right. They maintain the same voice inflection, which sounds weird in some contexts. For example, I would have liked Machinedramon sound much more like a machine. The new Digimon series has solved the sound design properly, so it's a shame it doesn't sound as good here.
Despite that criticism, the story makes a good impression with its tale of young people drawn into a mysterious world. The battle system works well and there are always visible dangers with characters that can die, making it hard to put down the controller. I'm surprised by the production values due to the fact that the genre of interactive novels isn't usually so lavish. Even the villains are introduced with a good pace and have good voice actors. I also find that the motives they have are presented well and are believable by the standards of the series. Despite the slightly too simple battles, this is the best Digimon game I've played. It's far better in many ways than any of the previous titles within the brand. It also has replay value, as you have four endings and a New Game+, which offers more dialogue. It's like playing one or two seasons of the TV show.
But, it's not without its flaws. I've mentioned that the combat is a little too easy. There are also some bugs that aren't fun. One of these deletes save files which is a shame. I've identified that it only happens if you verify the game via Steam, I lost around 10 hours on that bug. Another weakness is the amount of Digimon. In this game there are 117 in total, and considering that there are over 1400 of them today, that's a bit low. At the same time, I don't think it's that noticeable in this game. It took me almost 30 hours to finish this and I was happy with the variety. During that time I missed a number of monsters but there were also many of my favourites in the base game. If you like Digimon and can accept a game in this genre, I'm sure there's something here for you. It's just really well made and genuinely good. It even sits in as one of my favourite games this year.