Since 1999, the Digimon franchise has had a constant presence in the video game industry, with dozens of entries in all different genres. However, 2015’s Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth put the franchise back on the map, surprising both fans and newcomers to the series with how well crafted it was. Media Vision has returned to the series with Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker’s Memory looking to capture the same lightning in a bottle as the first game.

Hacker’s Memory is another entry in the RPG line of Digimon games, returning to the turn-based, catch ‘em all gameplay from the original Cyber Sleuth. The amount of digimon available for you to befriend and control has taken a jump from 249 to 340, giving you even more freedom and variety in what digital monsters you use.

In fact, the amount of digimon available, combined with the ease in which you’re able to acquire new monsters and level them up, means you have the freedom to keep your team flexible and constantly change it on the fly if you feel inclined to do so. This also results in you never being forced into any heavy grinding sessions by coming up against a tough enemy in the story that has a type advantage over you, as you’ll always have plenty of monsters to choose from of the different types in your possession. If you do still need to track down a specific type, it’s a quick and easy process of merely needing to scan them a few times in battle.

Unlike the Pokémon series, which has a multitude of types to remember these days, here there are just four types. The Virus, Vaccine, and Data types work in a paper-scissors-rock type setup, while the fourth type, No Relation, has no dominance or weakness over any of the other types. Things get a little more tricky when you introduce the nine different elements for attacks, but thanks to a handy little target ring that shows up during battle, you can easily determine whether something will be effective, neutral, or not effective.

Battles flow incredibly fast in Hacker’s Memory, with not a whole lot of time being spent on overly extravagant attack animations, and moving through the battle menu is extremely easy and fluid. Even random encounters later in the game with enemies that you’ll easily crush aren’t much of a nuisance, as the vast majority of the time they’ll be over in a snap of your fingers and you’ll be back to exploring.

During your time with the game you’ll become quite familiar with the Digi Bank, a multipurpose area that helps you additionally develop your digimon. Here you can adjust your party, digivolve or devolve your monsters and digiconvert monsters that have been scanned to 100 per cent. You also have access to the Digifarm that has a number of handy features like allowing digimon to train, find items, or even discover new side quests. While inside the farm, your digimon will periodically message you, which actually helps build a bond with the members not currently in your party.

Hacker’s Memory uses a “memory limit” for your party to determine how many digimon you can have at once. Each digimon takes up memory depending on how strong it is and you always have to be mindful of the cap. If you manage the cap, you can fit in a maximum of nine monsters in your party. However, only three can be on the battlefield at once. The cap on your memory is a nice feature, as it prevents you from ever becoming too powerful through evolution and forces a bit more thought and strategy to go into your party. You need to decide whether a few extremely powerful monsters is best for you, or whether you’d rather slightly weaker monsters but being able to max out your party slots, or a balance of the two. Along your journey you’ll find items that increase your memory limit, allowing you to bring along more tough and intimidating looking digimon as the game gets progressively harder.

Occasionally you will come across moments where you’ll find yourself about to do battle with a larger group of enemies and this results in a domination battle. In domination battles you move around a grid and gather points for capturing areas, with the goal being to reach the target point total. As you do this you’ll run into members of the enemy group and engage in the traditional turn-based battles for supremacy over an area. These battles are a fun change of pace most of the time, but on occasion they drag on for way too long and become tedious.

As is probably obvious from the game’s title, there is a huge emphasis on story here and thankfully it’s quite an entertaining and engaging narrative. You play as a school student in the near future where an advanced version of the internet known as EDEN dominates everybody’s lives. As a result, cyber crimes are rampant and you find your account and identity being stolen and used nefariously, leading you to seek out Hudie, a group of hackers trying to keep EDEN safe. This leads you to becoming friends with Ryuji, Erika, and Chitose, a motley crew that each have well fleshed out personalities and backstories.

The story is smartly written and quite comedic at times, too, particularly in the side quests. The main story has plenty of twists and dramatic turns that keep you well and truly engaged throughout the dozens of hours on offer, and getting to that next cutscene always feels like a reward. It also benefits from being more of a supplemental story to the original Cyber Sleuth rather than a full fledged sequel, meaning you don’t have to have played it to enjoy Hacker’s Memory.

Unfortunately, there are times where it seems like Media Vision is simply padding for time. Too often we were forced to complete a string of side quests, sometimes four or five in a row, before the game would then continue on with the story. Many of these side quests are quite enjoyable and humorous, but they can also be lengthy, and forcing players to go through a bunch of them in a row while the main story is shifted to the sidelines hampers the game’s momentum. Having a huge bombshell twist in the story dropped on you only to be forced to spend the next 20 minutes scoping out great places to go on a date is just a tad lacklustre.

Arguably the biggest issue with Hacker’s Memory is that it can often be hard to navigate the overworld. In the real world your map is entirely unhelpful, and in EDEN you’re given a tiny mini-map which is useless a lot of the time. Without an objective marker or anything to point you in a vague direction, you’ll often have to find things through a lot of trial and error. This can be bearable sometimes, but if you’re returning to the game or simply missed a character saying where to go, things can get frustrating. For some bizarre reason, side quests have an always accessible log of things you need to do, but main quests have nothing like this. The only hints you get are from the woman running the Digi Bank, and many times these are vague and unhelpful at best, and you can’t always return to the bank conveniently.

Conclusion

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker’s Memory is an impressive take on the monster collecting Japanese RPG format. Collecting and levelling up the digimon may seem a little too simple for die hard genre enthusiasts, but the typing, elements, and memory limit all help to add extra layers of depth to the gameplay. The DigiFarm and the interactions with your monsters also help create a bond, making them more than just tools at your disposal - something that other similar games miss. Hacker’s Memory is an enjoyable romp overall for both Digimon fans and non-fans alike.