After being in development hell for what felt like an eternity, Digimon Survive is finally out—here’s our spoiler-free review of the game! The game was released a few days ago worldwide on 29 July 2022 and is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC via Steam.
Note that this spoiler-free review of Digimon Survive is based on my experience playing the game on Switch. The game is a visual novel with SRPG combat, similar to Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. According to Bandai Namco Entertainment, the game is described as such:
Digimon Survive sees a brand-new group of teenagers, led by Takuma Momozuka, get lost on a school camping trip, finding them transported to a strange new world of monsters and danger. As they fight their way back home through an animated world of difficult decisions and deadly battles, players’ choices throughout the game will impact the evolution of their monster allies, and the final ending. Battles in the game are fought in 2D, in a more classic SRPG style.
With that out of the way, let’s get into this spoiler-free review of Digimon Survive!
Writing plays an integral part in visual novels, perhaps more so in this genre compared to other games. Now, despite being a Digimon game, I dare say that the game’s story, characters, atmosphere, and basically every aspect of it so well written, you can replace the Digimon with other random creatures, and it’ll still be an extremely good game. In fact, I’d even go a step further and claim that this is one of the best visual novels of all time.
Survive portrays the main cast of children so realistically and naturally that I was blown away. I came in with the expectation that characters will fall into the typical anime archetypes, but no. This isn’t Danganronpa where the main cast are all students who are the best in the country at something, the children in this game feel exactly like the kind of friends that I had back in school. The children present themselves as flawed individuals whom I can deeply relate to. To see a group of children trying to survive in a foreign environment where almost everything wants to kill them is horrifying, and the game encapsulates this with its atmosphere perfectly.
With the party consisting of 11 – 16 year olds, the game is at times, heartbreaking, and at times, lighthearted and wholesome. The children get into arguments and disagreements, joke and make fun of each other, and even console and support one another. Seeing the children react to and face the consequences of the players’ choices is incredibly engaging.
For example, the player may have to make a choice between saving other children who are separated from their party or finding food and water for the current party to survive. There are no right or wrong decisions—we can only pick what we feel are the good decisions from the bad, and most of the time, whatever choice we pick is bound to have far-reaching and heavy prices. Sometimes that’s the death of one of the children.
During my playthrough, one of the children died. I really REALLY wanted to save this child. Heck, I even trained the partner Digimon up to be the highest levelled in my team (it disappears when the human partner dies), but the choices I made resulted in this particular character dying. However, that’s not the worst part—the worst part is seeing how the other children come to terms with the death. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching, and the effects of the death sticks with me for the rest of my playthrough.
These are JUST the interactions and development for the human characters. Even when it comes to the interactions between the children and their less layered and multi-faceted Digimon partners, the quality and realism in the writing are still there. The relationships are varied, interesting, cute and heartbreaking for many of the pairs. For fans of the anime, you’re bound to enjoy this aspect of the writing a lot. While the game maintains the cliché of having the human acknowledge and confront their insecurities for the Digimon to Evolve and become stronger, it’s still breathtaking and cool to see it happen each time in the game.
Overall, it’s really hard for me to criticise the story and writing. It’s not just how the characters interact or develop, the atmosphere of the game is absolutely perfect. Even though death is such a heavy issue and the whole party is constantly teetering on depression, I’m completely sucked hook, line and sinker into the story. I want to see the children succeed. I want to see the children survive. This is seriously an incredible mystery/survival visual novel that can compete against some of the best ones out there in the market.
The combat, while not amazing, is fine. Of course, compared to the phenomenal story, the quality difference is huge. But like in many visual novels, the gameplay (if any) is there to support the story/atmosphere. It’s alright if the gameplay isn’t a one-two punch package of top-notch story and gameplay ala Hades.
As a traditional Japanese SRPG, during combat You move your Digimon around the map which is separated into boxes, and defeat your enemies, dealing more damage to them if you hit them from the side or the back.
One thing I really like about the combat is how Evolution works. For the partner Digimon, they can choose to Evolve into different forms, which adds a lot of tactical depth. Like in most Digimon games, typing is divided into Vaccine, Data and Virus, which basically behave like Rock Paper Scissors. Evolutions carry with them new abilities, resistances and weakness, and sometimes a new type altogether which can really change how a fight can go sometimes. Even though a higher Evolution form has better stats and skills, every turn the Digimon spends in an Evolved state costs SP, so the player will need to decide when to change between forms in battle and when to Devolve into an earlier form.
Despite that, the combat is still very simple overall and serves as a way to pace the story sequences better. If you’re a strategy game fan, don’t expect a challenging fight. This is because the biggest issue (or positive, depending on how you see it) with that combat is that it’s too easy. Before each fight, you can actually choose which difficulty you want between the options of Very Easy, Easy, Normal and Hard. The AI and its behaviour stay exactly the same no matter the difficulty—it’s just that the harder difficulties increase the stats of the enemies, so they take longer to kill and they deal more damage. No new enemies, challenges or scenarios, too.
Because the game doesn’t give you any extra rewards or new unlockables for fighting in harder difficulties, I feel like there’s no reason to play harder difficulties. To me, Hard difficulty feels like normal difficulty in a Fire Emblem game, and it gets easier the more you grind in Free Battles. In the end, I found myself playing in Very Easy just so that I can one-shot everything and get on with amazing story quicker.
Other Gameplay Elements
As I mentioned earlier in this spoiler-free review, you have to make a lot of decisions in Digimon Survive. Depending on the decisions you make, you’ll sometimes get a point in Moral, Harmonious, or Wrathfulness, which are the game’s alignments, similar to how you can go with Chaos or Order in Shin Megami Tensei games. Depending on your alignment, a lot of the later outcomes in the game will be affected. Your alignment also determines what kind of Evolutions your MC’s partner Digimon will get. For example, a Moral player’s Agumon will Evolve into Greymon, but if you’re Harmonious, it’ll Evolve into Tyrannomon.
Your Alignment also makes it easier to recruit certain kinds of Free Digimon, the wild Digimon you can find in random battles. If you’re Wrathful, you’ll get a higher chance of recruiting Virus Digimon, for example.
Recruiting Digimon works exactly the same way like in Shin Megami Tensei games. You have the Talk option, and when you talk to one of the enemy Digimon, it’ll begin to ask you a series of questions like in said games. Answering the questions that the enemy likes will make them like you more, represented by a bar on the screen. Once the bar is half or more, you can ask them to join your team (has a fixed chance of success/failing) or ask them for an item. Even if you fail to recruit them, the only punishment is tedium, since there’s a button to restart the fight from the beginning in the menu, which also lets you Talk to the enemy again.
Throughout most of Survive, you’ll spend most of the game in Exploration, which is basically the player entering an area from a menu, then interacting with characters or objects to progress the story. Sometimes, you’ll also need to use your smartphone to take photos, revealing hidden items or enemies, which is pretty cool. There’s also Free Action, which is basically Exploration, but the focus is more towards improving your Affinity (relationships) with the other children. You have a set number of Free Action at the start of each Part or chapter before Exploration begins.
Affinity basically behaves like Social Links in Persona, but instead of 10 levels, it’s a heart with a score from 0 – 100. You can increase your Affinity with the characters by choosing certain options in dialogues. Your Affinity affects how often the character’s partner Digimon backs up another Digimon in battle, like giving Encouragement for an attack to hit harder or following up with their own Team Attack. It also affects the kind of Evolution your party member’s Partner Digimon will get.
That’s pretty much it for this spoiler-free review of Digimon Survive. It is, in my opinion, not only the best Digimon game of all time, but it’s also one of the best mystery Visual Novels of all time, up there with the likes of Umineko, Danganronpa, the Zero Escape series, and more. Yes, I know it’s priced a lot more than what we usually pay for visual novel, but my experience with it so far feels that it could compete with other amazing 60 USD triple A titles. It’s just that good.
Additionally, I also think this is the best game for non-Digimon fans to get into the series. It’s an extremely well-written and impactful story that works even if you have 0 Digimon knowledge. It’s also very similar to the anime, in terms of the partnership between human and Digimon, making this is the perfect entry point for those who don’t know Digimon.
If you’re a fan of the previous Digimon games, you have to know that this is NOT a JRPG. This isn’t a grind-heavy JRPG like World 2 or 3, World DS, World Dawn/Dusk or Cyber Sleuth. This also isn’t a raising simulator like the original World, Re:Digitize or Next Order. This is a Visual Novel first, SRPG second. Sure, I’ll love a new JRPG or raising simulator, but Survive is such an incredible story-driven experience that makes it worth the development hell it was in.
|Wonderfully written characters with an amazing, dark atmosphere||Tactics-based combat is too simple and easy|
|The moral dilemma and consequences of the choices you make will stick with you for the rest of the game|
|The perfect entry point for non-Digimon fans into the franchise|