Digimon “Digital Monsters” have shown up in manga comics and TV shows, they’ve been virtual pets and movie stars. And of course, they’ve been part of numerous video games as well. However, the newest Digimon game, Digimon Survive, takes something of a different tack in genre and tone from past entries.
Fans expecting a straightforward role-playing battler might need a little time to adjust. And they’re given plenty of that.
Digimon Survive is primarily a visual novel with survival game-like tactical role-play battles mixed into the tale. In fact, the story feels a lot like a very slowly building horror mystery.
Gamers play as a level-headed young student named Takuma. He and his close pals, Aoi and Minoru, head off to a camp-like retreat with a number of other students. But during a hike, they accidently find themselves detoured to a nearby shrine that isn’t exactly what it seems.
The shrine is revealed to be part of an alternate world or reality that the students now find themselves trapped in. It’s much like a mirror image of their real world, only with slightly dilapidated changes, dark, swirling fog and unexpected emptiness where there should be people. Oh, and it’s populated by mysterious creatures. A wandering professor describes these beasties as spirit beings called Kemonogami.
But, of course, that’s all a tall tale born of legend, the prof assures them. They can’t possibly be real. But they are real. Some are dark and dangerous and some—the Digimon—are good and rally to team-up with the students in an effort to protect them from harm.
As the title states, this then becomes a story of survival. The conversations and choices you make not only shape how the story plays out, but they also determine which characters become close friends with you, and ultimately, who will make it through to the final chapter. The game offers plenty of branching storylines to explore based on decisions made.
Your choices also impact your Digimon partner. How you interact with and choose to bond with those personable creatures effects their ability to evolve (or digivolve) into more powerful versions of themselves. And that’s where the combat comes in. The students are sometimes attacked by one or more bad creatures—some dark and ghosty, some fiercely animal-like, etc.—and send their Digimon partners in to fend them off in turn-based strategic battles.
Players are also given the chance to take part, as many times as they choose, in a Free Battle—a contest designed to give you a good idea about strategic moves and terrain effects available to you and your Digimon while upgrading your champions. These contests also allow players the opportunity to recruit new Digimon onto your team.
You simply have to go up to a foe and start a conversation. Then a minigame of several questions and answers takes place. And if you can guess the foe’s personality and answer their questions correctly (often based on a wild guess) they’ll happily join you, a kindred spirit. If you fail, they grow red-hot with anger and power.
It should also be noted that this game, much like a Japanese anime, is voiced in Japanese with English subtitles.
Though slow-feeling in the character interactions, this game’s story is well crafted, and its twists and turns are interesting. And though there are a variety of different personality traits among the students and Digimon—some shy, some grousing, some brave, others fearful—they’re all generally ready to do what it takes to protect their friends. And in some cases, your choice of being brave and protecting others will spur the Digimon partners to new digivolve feats.
As mentioned, there are dark foes in the game with special powers and abilities. Some appear as ghosts, dragons or ferocious beasts, but others look demonic. It’s all part of a broad Eastern spiritualism that’s not fully explained but which swirls around in this Digimon-populated alternate reality.
We also see dark spiritual manifestations that impact or harm others, such as a black cloud filled with arms and hands that pull a young girl in. And the professor discusses a past legend that stated that children were supposedly “sacrificed” to evil spirits.
In the RPG battles, players also move their characters around on a grid-based battlefield and have them perform attacks on foes that include blows, kicks, slashes and blasts of power.
Those on-field attacks aren’t messy, but characters can be injured or killed, which result in mild bloodiness in the form of black splashes. And we feel an overall sense of a perilous danger that’s ever present—emphasized by the musical underscore and shadowy visuals.
Language here isn’t terrible, but it can be a little messy, too, with uses of the s-word along with exclamations of “dam–t,” “h—,” “b–ch,” “holy crap” and “p-ssed” in the mix. Students sometimes make some crude, off-color comments, as well.
Digimon Survive has a lot to draw fans and newbies in with, including a compelling and emotional story, enjoyable RPG battles, and a high replayability factor. But a number of darker, if undefined, spiritual factors might well keep younger gamers at bay.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.