Despite being a fan of the first season of Digimon in my younger days, I have not previously put a decent effort into getting into any of the series’ many games. Last year’s Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth release caught my interest initially, but I never made the time to get far into it despite enjoying it substantially. Now Digimon World: Next Order has come out, and I figured it was finally time to commit to it and see what such a game could offer.
Straight out of the gate, I give you a warning: this game is rough. I started my journey with a confident smirk as I chose the normal difficulty, despite the game telling me that it was recommended only for people ‘familiar with Digimon games.’ A mere hour later, as my little partners were wounded, sick and weaker than even the most basic enemies, I realised that I had taken on more than I had anticipated. If you are new to Digimon, or even the Digimon World series, the easy difficulty is definitely the place for you.
The relevance of this warning is, however, quite debatable, as only the most ardent of fans will find any joy here. All the popular monsters return, and there is an undeniable satisfaction in seeing your Digimon evolve through the ranks, from the pathetic Baby form up to the destructive force of Mega. Recruiting NPC versions of the classic Digimon into your hometown and seeing its features expand also gives a good sense of progression. Unfortunately, this is where any praise I can offer the game comes to a sudden halt.
Let’s start with the combat system: your Digimon will fight their opponents on their own, while you push a button to cheer them on. Cheering gives you a resource that you can spend to make them use their regular moves again, a more-powerful ‘Special’ move, or to fuse them together. All in all, this means that most of the time you are simply watching your Digimon wander around the battlefield and use the same two or three moves over and over. I was bored of this repetitive nonsense ten fights in, so the prospect of countless more rounds ahead caused me a deep sense of despair.
This is not helped by travel between each encounter being just as slow. The meandering pace that your character employs to traverse the world could have been easily remedied during the early design stages of the game, but I suppose the world wouldn’t feel as ‘large’ if it didn’t take you ages to get around. While the town does eventually provide you with a fast-travel system, it only takes you to particular points, from which you must still travel to your actual destination.
So, now we have an overworld that is painful to explore and even more painful to fight in. With this in mind, consider the fact that the structure of quests tends to go like this: Digimon A would like you to talk to Digimon B, you travel to Digimon B and fight him, then head back to Digimon A and fight him as well. As you can surely imagine, such quests only emphasise just how bland the experience of journeying in and interacting with this world can be. Quest variation is minimal, featuring ‘provide me with X items’ or ‘go pick up X.’ They show no originality, thought, or even eagerness to entertain. It’s just a showcase of quest-givers talking about themselves and what they want.
Even training your Digimon to make them combat-ready is unintuitive; instead of gaining experience, your comrades gain bonuses directly to their stats, such as strength or stamina. However, going out and fighting others is a very slow way of doing so, and not how the game wants you to achieve this. Instead, you are directed to your town’s Training Hall, in which you choose a particular stat you’d like to have improved, and then some in-game time passes. As this is by far the best way to improve your partners, it appears that repeatedly doing this is the intended approach. It’s mindless, it’s absurd, and I hope I never encounter it in another game.
As expected from a game without a clear levelling system, it’s exceedingly difficult to gauge an opponent’s strength before engaging them in combat. As your partners have no set ‘level,’ labelling a wild Digimon as ‘Level 3’ means absolutely nothing. Worse than that, another ‘Level 3’ right behind it can be suddenly much stronger because it’s at a higher evolutionary stage, which is impossible to know without knowing each Digimon individually. As the cherry on top, the wild ones you can talk to and start combat with won’t even tell you their level until you’re already fighting them. I have died many times to a sudden ‘Level 40’ encounter, to the point that I was saving before any kind of conversation outside of the town.
This lack of clarity in relative power causes another issue: it is never clear whether you are at an appropriate strength to progress in the story. Despite having a team of Digimon up to their Mega form, the highest possible evolution, I frequently found myself at story bosses who would easily defeat me. This is where the fusion feature, known as ExE, should become a useful tactic, giving you the boost required to win, but the resulting Digimon is so strong that now it is the boss that has no chance of victory. As you can only use this fusion while meeting certain conditions and only once per day, I honestly cannot tell if I’m supposed to only progress when able to fuse, or if I am simply very much behind the levelling curve of the game.
All of this aside, I made it through three chapters of the story, most of which is made up of requests to go recruit more allies to the town, through the aforementioned ‘quests.’ Despite everything I could, and have, negatively observed about Next Order, its story’s only fault is that it is fairly standard. While never shocking nor featuring any real originality, it was at least as entertaining as any standard season of an anime, and did keep me playing as long as I did.
Perhaps there is a myriad of loyal Digimon fans out there enjoying Digimon World: Next Order as we speak, but, talking as an outsider, this game is a collection of design mistakes and wasted potential. The concept of roaming the digital world with my monstrous pals had intrigued me, but I can confidently say it’ll be a while before I go back after my experiences there. I would have a far more engaging experience re-watching the first season of the show itself. In fact, I might just go do that now.