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Digimon Survive Review

Digimon Survive Review

Digimon Survive is a visual novel strategy RPG by Witchcraft and Hyde, and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. First announced in 2018 and slated to release the following year, it was delayed for three years — due to changing developers and engines halfway through production — before finally releasing on the 29th July 2022.

You play as a high school student, Takuma Momozuka, who is spending spring break camping out in an abandoned school building along with his classmates. However, a quick trip to a shrine turns into an adventure with their lives on the line as they are whisked away into another world. Can they work together with their Digimon to find their way home, or are they trapped within the Kemonogami (Beast God) World for the rest of their lives… if they even live that long?

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They aren't called Digimon in the game, but I’m just gonna refer to them as Digimon.

A word of warning. The story gets really dark after a few chapters, sometimes shifting into horror at some points. Digimon Survive deals with themes of abuse (mental, verbal, and physical), betrayal, loss, and grief. Plus, they’re all just kids trapped in a survival scenario so tensions can run high. It’s pretty enthralling. The decisions you make do have consequences, with some even leading to characters dying rather gruesomely. Don’t expect a purely fun journey like the Digimon Adventure anime series.

It doesn’t have an English dub, so anyone not fluent in Japanese is going to have to read a lot. However, I can tell the voice actors are pretty good and can really sell that they are living, breathing characters. The translation can be iffy at points though: there can be missing words, referring to the wrong Digimon, or even getting characters’ gender wrong in the same scene. I hope at least some of it is fixed in a later patch of some sort, but I really don’t mind it as the story itself is very well written. At the very least the cutscenes are well animated, with the character portraits and Digimon being varied and expressive, both in and out of combat.

Speaking of which, combat is set in an isometric grid, with win and lose conditions specific to each battle. Each turn you can move, attack, talk, use items, and evolve your Digimon. If you’ve ever played a Utawarerumono game, you should find yourself in familiar territory.

There's a bunch of considerations you have to keep in mind when attacking an enemy. Vaccine-type Digimon beats Virus-types, Virus beats Data, Data beats Vaccine. Standard rock-paper-scissors, nothing too complicated. However, you also have elements to attacks like fire, water, wind, earth, light, and dark. There’s also your chance of hitting the enemy, your Crit Chance, the chance for a counter-attack, and if they'll resist the attack or are vulnerable to it. If one of your allies is close by, they will aid you either by following up on an attack, increase your attack power, or recover HP or SP.

You can choose to evolve your Digimon in the middle of battle, from Rookie to Champion, then to Ultimate and Mega. It costs SP to evolve and will drain some every turn, but in exchange the Digimon gains more attack, health, and a different ability. You can devolve them at any time to conserve SP, so knowing when and where to evolve can turn losing battles into winning ones. However, the type of Digimon you can evolve requires certain conditions to be met such as story progress, using items, or through the karma system (which will be elaborated on later).

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Digimon Survive doesn’t pull any punches in both story and combat.

At the end of your turn, you can choose which direction you're facing. This is important as if you're attacked from the sides or behind, you'll take more damage. However, you can take advantage of this mechanic by outflanking the enemy yourself. Also, if you don’t use an attack, you'll defend when ending your turn, although it only works if you’re facing the attacker. I love needing to think through what I do each turn: it makes combat just as important as the story, and if you don’t put in some forethought, you’ll be losing the later battles in the game. And don't worry about your Digimon getting defeated, as they'll still get EXP at the end of combat if you win. If you find the combat sections too hard and would rather focus on the visual novel sections, there is a Very Easy difficulty you can choose right before starting a battle.

However, it isn’t all about fighting. Digimon Survive has a system similar to the Demon Negotiations from the Shin Megami Tensei series. By using the Talk command in battle, you can either encourage your Digimon to give them a buff, or talk to an enemy Digimon for a chance to recruit them to your side or obtain items. If you do manage to recruit a Digimon, it removes them from the current battle so it’s worth talking if you find yourself in a bad situation. While you can figure out the best response through trial and error, you're better off just looking up a guide. It wastes less time, and even if you do get it all correct, there is a chance that they won't be recruited depending on the type of karma you have. Plus, there are 113 Digimon to collect with their own questions and preferred answers. Please maintain your sanity.

What you do outside of combat is just as important as what you do in it. There is a karma system that not only affects the story, but the type of Digimon you can obtain and what Agumon evolves into. They are split into Harmony, Moral, and Wrathful paths. Harmony involves working together and makes Data-type Digimon easier to obtain. Moral is about enacting justice and doing the right thing and makes Vaccine-type Digimon easier to recruit. Finally, Wrathful is direct and all about getting the objective done at all costs, making Virus-type Digimon easier to turn to your side.

Now, you don’t have to worry about picking the wrong dialogue choice if you want to go down a particular path. By hovering over one of the options, they will flash a certain colour to indicate which path it will take you down: red for Moral, green for Harmony, yellow for Wrathful. It made some choices easier to make since I didn’t have to worry about screwing up my alignment. The colour is subtle however; yellow on white is never great for the eyes but it works. Plus, at any time outside of combat, you can pause to check your menu or save before making a decision. If you’re looking to do a perfect playthrough or want to experience all the different dialogue before setting a choice in stone, it’s a nice feature to have.

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Every choice you make affects how you do in combat. Pay attention to it.

However, there are also choices that affect your affinity with certain characters, which influences the Battle Backup they can provide in combat. You'll get opportunities to raise affinity throughout the story and on your own time in two phases: Exploration and Free Action. Explorations are all about investigating and looking out for clues to advance the story. During this time, you can talk to other characters to raise affinity and use your camera to hunt down bonus battles and items. There's also Free Battles you can do to earn some experience and items if you feel that you're lacking in power. You can take these sections at your own pace and move on when you're ready. Free Action, however, gives you a set number of interactions before the story advances, so you'll have to spend your time wisely as these parts give you better items and raise affinity faster.

I love this system as what you do in the visual novel sections affects how you do in battle. Your greatest friend is your greatest ally on the battlefield, and it makes what you do matter more. Would you rather improve the affinity of a few characters or many? What dialogue would you choose to get the best Digimon evolution? Is it worth the type of ending you get? All of this works together to make a better experience. However, I did find myself thinking more in numbers and optimisation rather than paying attention to the story at times.

The graphics are quite lovely to look at. The various areas you can visit throughout the game are masterfully done, combining both flat sprites and 3D assets to give these places life. While in the visual novel sections, the camera is dynamic and moves from one character to another when talking, which I enjoyed. None of the characters have 3D models, but it at least makes it seem like you’re having conversations in real areas with space. As for the music, I’d describe it as more atmospheric, with the main theme forgoing anything bombastic and adventurous for a more subdued piano tune that makes it feel a little sombre. I felt it was more appropriate for the type of story that is being told here, but there aren’t that many memorable tracks I would listen to outside of play sessions.

I do have some other criticisms. The combat tutorial is broken up by several hours of visual novel stuff when it would’ve been easier to just either teach it all at a later point or do it at the beginning of the game, which throws you right into a combat section. The game’s first couple of chapters are slow going but once it picks up, it gets better from there. But if you don’t like reading, too bad — it can take hours before you get into another fight.

Digimon Survive very much benefits from what the previous titles in the series, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and its sequel Hacker’s Memory, did in terms of tone and target audience — being more directed towards older players that explores more mature themes. The story is great no matter which path you take, with plenty of heart given to each and every character as they fight tooth and nail for the chance to return back to their original world. Plus, the combat system is both challenging and engaging as every decision you make in and out of it is equally important to mull over before you set them in stone. Its beginning isn’t the greatest, with a very poorly paced combat tutorial, and there some minor text and translation issues, but they’re ultimately mitigated by everything else the game offers. And if you feel like you aren’t finished after playing through its 40 hour main story, there is a New Game+ which unlocks a new route to pursue.

9.50/10 9½

Digimon Survive (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

Digimon Survive has both a well-made story and a deep combat system that will engage players through each route they may take, but the first few hours are ill-paced with long breaks away from combat.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Dylan Pamintuan

Dylan Pamintuan

Staff Writer

An Australian-born guy whose trying to show everyone why games are awesome.

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