Last year Bandai Namco gave us Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, a Persona-flavoured RPG that let players decide how much time they wanted to dedicate to breeding the perfect Digimon. Released this week, Digimon World: Next Order throws players into the deep end within the first 20 minutes.
Digimon World: Next Order for the PlayStation 4 gets players into the action relatively quickly. After choosing between a male and female protagonist, the player is plunged into the digital world, where a pair of friends they can't remember are doing battle against a massive foe. Here players learn how to use the left and right bumpers on the controller to issue commands to their AI companions during battle. The Digimon fight on their own, but the player can modify tactics, initiate special attacks and use items on their companions as the battle progresses.
Once the battle is over, the real work begins. WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon defeat their foe but fall themselves, their essences transferred into Digieggs of the player's choosing.
The Bearded Jijimon explains that he'd like to help the player get home to the real world, but would rather have their help taking care of a disturbance affecting the digital world first. Shiki and her two reborn partners are tapped to wander the digital countryside, defeating rogue Digimon and sending friendly ones back to help rebuild town.
The main menu. Good luck.
But before the trio can leave, it's training time. The two fresh Digimon must be taken to the training hut, where a revolving regiment of skill-sharpening, eating, using the bathroom and resting must be employed to evolve them to in-training and finally rookie Digimon.
At the core of Next Order is taking care of Digimon, which functions much like it did in the original egg-shaped toys that were all the rage a couple of decades past. If your Digimon is hungry, toss it some meat. If it needs to poop, find a restroom. If it's tired, rest. Icons indicating happiness, hunger, poop-worthiness and such appear above your partner's heads as you play.
You can feed your two partners at the same time, using up two resources in the process.
Every little interaction with your Digimon causes things like this to happen.
Training involves a game board-looking screen where your Digimon are placed using the left and right sticks.
Once training is initiated, the player gets to try for a bonus using a rapidly rotating meter. Land on the right spot, and frankly I have no idea what most of those icons mean. They seem good.
After the first few rounds of training, your fresh Digimon evolve into in-training Digimon.
Nine more rounds of training, with pauses to feed, sleep and use the restroom later, and they evolve into battle-ready rookies.
Then it's time to head off into the field to explore, gather resources and battle enemy Digimon.
I've been having a hard time getting started. Following the first couple of easy enemy encounters, I've had my two companions killed three times by enemies one level above them. I've only had the game since yesterday afternoon, and it looks like it's going to take me a while to get up to speed, but I am intrigued.
Playing the Japanese version last year, former Kotaku contributor Richard Eisenbeis wrote an article titled "Digimon Breeding Is So Complicated, I Had to Make Spreadsheets". If you want a more in-depth look at how deep Digimon World: Next Order goes, check it out. He's not wrong.
I'm going to keep banging away at my team, maybe spend a bit more time in the gym before trying to venture too far from home base. I have too many Digimon plans to let a few complicated systems get in the way.