Digimon World Re:Digitize Decode

So, a while back I reviewed Digimon World Re:Digitize. The fan translation for the 3DS port, “Decode”, was recently finished. I decided to give it a whirl at the behest of the Digimon community’s insistence that its new features fixed all my complaints about Re:Digitize.

In general, I found it an improvement — it follows up on a lot of dropped plot threads from the original, adds lots more NPC dialogue with genuinely helpful tips, and adds several new side quests that provide useful features. But it still doesn’t fix any of the fundamental problems I had with the original.

File City still doesn’t visually change over the course of the game. Digimon still don’t have eating animations. The digimon characters still become nonentities after the early bits. The story extension that gets tacked on after the end of the original game is a complete non-sequitor that seemed to assume a lot more familiarity with Digimon’s canon than I had. (It also had some really awkward power creep, in that the main game was already balanced to end with Megas so there is no immediate way to tell how strong you’re supposed to be if you keep ramping it up after that.) And despite that extension, it still didn’t fix the problem that there are way, way more digimon than you can ever use, and in fact worsened it by adding even more. I beat the entire game with only 2 reincarnations, and that ended up screwing me over because I ended up with mostly the same types every time, limiting the techs I could learn. (Incidentally, random tech learning: Still a thing, still awful. At least they give more rewards for battles now, but still, yeesh.)

The sidequests I think I would have liked in theory, but their execution was a mess. They try to provide a stronger narrative by reusing existing characters and making them interact, but in practice that just means it’s far too easy to miss one piece of the chain and end up forgetting about the whole thing, or worse, not realizing there’s even supposed to be more to do. There’s a ton of cool stuff like Wizardmon’s brews and the sea tanker that I just never discovered until the very end of the game, at which point it was too late to do anything with them. And I’d have never figured out how to advance Whamon’s plotline without a guide, which is a pretty big problem considering it gives you an item that’s required to beat the final story boss. In the original, every digimon’s quest was self-contained: Once you recruited them, they were done and you could file them away in your mental ledger. Here, the number of digimon I had to keep track of and follow up with was just dizzying.

Mt. Infinity was initially exciting as a callback to the first game, but was actually just tedious. After the first zone it doesn’t come up with any new mechanics, it’s just 90 more floors of the same with progressively bigger numbers. Lazy, lazy design.

DigiTwitter was adorable, though, and I loved it both as a gameplay aid and as fluff.

Ultimately, it made me think even harder about what the actual appeal of the game is and what’s getting in the way of that. I think the V-pet elements of raising your digimon and seeing what it grows into is fun, as is exploring the open world. But in between those set pieces, the actual gameplay is decidedly unfun — training is repetitive and boring, and even the battles you can’t win just by letting them run are decidedly repetitive too. I found myself wishing for some sort of auto-train and auto-battle mechanic, which is pretty dire when that’s most of the gameplay.

Some of these, I think, have pretty easy fixes: A more interesting battle system with more input from the player; less time spent on training (and letting the player commit multiple hours to training at a time instead of having to click through it every time); scaling the digidex to an amount a player could conceivably finish in one playthrough; and less confusing quest design.

But there’s still the core issue that open-world games need to make just existing in the world — without set pieces or story events — fun, and that would require a more fundamental overhaul. You’d need stuff like Far Cry 3‘s complex island ecosystem that could be manipulated into fun situations. A mons setting would actually be great for that — instead of 99% of the digimon I meet being mindless battle-bots, give them all distinct behavior patterns that I can’t just bypass the exact same way every time. The cards you collect on each digimon insist that there’s all this really elaborate lore on how different types of digimon are supposed to behave and how they interact with each other, but that’s never reflected in the game. Even among the story characters, the supposedly demonic Virus-type BlackGatomon is just… a restaurant chef? What? Digimon has so much potential for great ecosystems where the NPCs feel like a part of the world instead of just obstacles for the player, but for some reason it always stops short.

That all sounds like a lot of work, so it’s probably beyond the scope of the fangame I’m totally going to make one of these days. But it’s still interesting to see what we can learn from this.

Next up: Digimon World: Next Order, just as soon as I get a PS4. So, hopefully sometime before the Sun burns out.

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