If you were raised around the late 1990s through the early 2000s, there’s a high chance you’re either a Pokemon or a Yu-Gi-Oh kid. What about that third option? I was that third option, a Digimon kid. It wasn’t for everyone. A young kid’s isekai without the cuteness of Pokemon nor the intensity of Yu-Gi-Oh. Digimon was an odd middle ground full of corny jokes and weird creatures. A weird show that boiled down to what makes humans so resilient, our ability to build relationships. But, throughout the years, the franchise never really grew out of being a property made for young kids watching TV. Even now, with its latest season, Digimon Ghost Game, it has some more real elements but feels made for kids at its core. Digimon Survive by Hyde and Bandai Namco steps away from those shadows.
Digimon Survive feels, at its base, very similar to the classic Digimon Adventure story. A group of kids on a trip find themselves in an alternate world full of strange creatures after an accident. Instead of being 10-ish years old, these are all middle to high schoolers. They’re wiser, warier, and have a harder time believing what’s happening around them is real. After shortly arriving, they’re saved by Digimon who say they’re their partners. There’s the classic Agumon and Lopmon (any fans of the Digimon movie?) and new Digimon who are given the limelight, like Labramon and Falcomon. Slowly but surely, these kids begin to work out how exactly they need to survive this world and its deadly threats.
First things first, this is very much a digital novel with some gameplay elements. Imagine Persona meets Digimon. Except, unlike Persona, there isn’t that much running around. The story is told through long cutscenes, almost like a visual novel. While I’m not normally a fan of visual novels, I loved how the story played out here. It was like a book I couldn’t put down. Since the VO was done in Japanese, it definitely felt like a large book at times.
Going back to the story though, as someone who’s always wanted a story to age with me, this is it. Digimon Survive is the darker story in a universe I love that I’ve always wanted. During the pandemic, I’ve rewatched just about all of the original 3 seasons, the sequel series Tri, and the follow-up movie, Last Evolution Kizuna. While the latter two tried to make the Digimonworld feel more grounded, they never really were able to raise the stakes beyond emotional ones. Stakes only fans who grew up with the original DigiDestined would have. Survive, though, is gritty. It’s dark and carries actual weight with decisions.
I mentioned before that not all kids could suspend their disbelief. Several of them just can’t trust their partner Digimon. We, the player, make decisions that change these relationships and how the game plays out. Let’s just say, not everyone has a happy ending. What I found most engaging was how impactful the choices were. Not just that they eventually determined the outcome of everyone, but how they affected how soon certain Digimon digivolved. These choices happened frequently and really had me understanding not only the main character, Takuma, but who I was talking to.
While I liked how the choices felt meaningful, they kind of lost weight through save scumming. Because the choices actually resulted in meaningful growth and quality in the story, I saved and restarted regularly. Did this affect my experience negatively? No, not really. It’s still easy to pull off just to get the optimal outcome for my first playthrough. Other choices, though, are also impactful yet have a much longer play. Every couple of minutes, you make a choice that changes the affinity of Takuma. These affect not only the ending, but how Takuma works with other characters, and, most importantly, how Agumon digivolves. As a person who grew up with one real path for Agumon’s digivolutions, like Greymon through Omnimon, it was a nice change of pace to have outcomes other than that.
There is more than just a visual novel, though. The last 10% of Digimon Survive is a tactical RPG. It’s weak, but it can be fun later on in the game. The combat tries to stand on its own by introducing some mechanics that come off as complex but immediately shoot themselves in the foot. For instance, there is a mechanic strictly about how your Digimon faces. If you hit a Digimon in the back, it avoids all blocking. Ending a turn, you choose which way your Digimon faces to try and limit the damage. Two steps, and that’s all wasted. Plus, by the end, as you get ultimate, mega, and super ultimate forms of Digimon, the combat quickly ends up being a contest of firing everything the fastest. Levels are meaningful, but they’re so easy to get that doing optional fights is kind of pointless.
That’s not to say everything about the combat is bad. I liked how they implemented digivolutions. They’re like a risk-reward. You get a more powerful Digimon that saps the Digimon’s SP, or points that let them do their special attacks. Once the SP runs out, they revert to their rookie form. But all it really took to end fights was circling an enemy Digimon and firing literally every SP move at them until they fell in just a couple of turns. While some awesome and impactful moments happen during combat, it still feels like it needed much more love and care to feel as worthwhile as the amazing story.
Digimon Survive feels like it was made with every kid who wanted to be a DigiDestined. It’s a darker twist on a fan favorite story. While the story is amazing, it is brought down by okay combat. 10 percent of the gameplay weighs down the other 90 percent. While I loved my 40 hours with Survive, I can’t recommend it. It requires a perfect storm that only specific kinds of gamers would truly find and appreciate. However, I think this is the most approachable entry point for those who want to see if they’d like the franchise as a whole. If you do check it out, be sure to treat it as a top-tier visual novel first that dares to explore corners other versions of the franchise doesn’t dare go to.
Digimon Survive is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Digimon Survive feels like it was made with every kid who wanted to be a DigiDestined. It’s a darker twist on a fan favorite story. While the story is amazing, it is brought down by okay combat. 10 percent of the gameplay weighs down the other 90 percent.