Digimon Survive is not the RPG that some fans wanted it to be. Recruiting, training, and battling Digimon takes a backseat in favour of a very text-heavy story that unfolds through largely static scenes. In short, this is a visual novel first and foremost, to the point where some of the title's RPG elements almost start to feel like they're tacked on.
You'll probably know whether Digimon Survive is for you from that opening paragraph alone — but even if you have been waiting on an experience that's more in line with past titles, like Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, you shouldn't write Survive off completely. As far as Digimon games go, this is a fairly unique take on the property, honing in on a darker story that often surprises with its sinister themes. Get through the plodding first few chapters, and you'll find an engaging narrative.
The plot, of course, revolves around a group of high school students who find themselves trapped in a mysterious 'otherworld' — which just so happens to be inhabited by the titular monsters. Fortunately, the hapless teenagers are quickly partnered up with friendly Digimon, who swear to protect their new masters. Fans of the animated shows will immediately recognise this premise, but in not being bound to 20-minute episodes, the game is able to take its time in establishing its characters and their relationships with one another.
The ways in which the students' personalities bounce off their Digimon is a highlight. The creatures are a quirky, inquisitive bunch, with only a limited understanding of how humans live — yet they're committed to ensuring that their newfound allies, er, survive, and find a way home. In truth, the partner Digimon steal the show, with dialogue that's often comically blunt or endearingly daft. The enjoyable dynamic that forms between the beasts and the teenagers only gets better as the game goes on.
The plot itself will keep you guessing, even though the pacing can feel glacial at times. In typical visual novel fashion, the writing can seem longwinded — especially in scenes where every character feels the need to chip in — but it's the game's exploration sections that really start to grate. In order to progress the story, you'll often have to point and click your way through environments, picking out details or talking with specific characters. There tends to be a lot of backtracking during these scenarios as you check every little thing just to make sure that you didn't miss a vital clue or a secret that might alter upcoming events. Slow, but bearable at best — frustratingly tedious at worst.
There is some welcome player choice peppered throughout the adventure, though, which helps keep things interesting on an interactive level. Your main character, Takuma, is a bit of a blank slate in terms of personality — a distinctly average high school student, as described by the game — so you get to shape his outlook through your actions. Alongside decisions that impact the story directly, you'll increase individual friendship levels with your fellow students by siding with them during debates. What's more, your choices typically influence three traits that determine Takuma's state of mind, and in turn, the new forms that your Digimon can take.
Digimon evolution — or digivolution — is a concept that's introduced early on, and it plays a major role in combat, where temporary evolution leads to significantly increased stats and better attacks. Discovering new digivolutions is a highlight as you progress, and adds some weight to your aforementioned dialogue decisions. It's a good system, but unfortunately, it gets a bit buried beneath bog-standard tactical battles.
Combat takes place on a grid, with your Digimon team facing off against less amicable monsters. Everything's turn based, and positioning is important, as attacks from the side or behind deal additional damage. It's all quite straightforward, and seeing your digital pals gain experience and grow stronger is as addictive as you'd expect, but the system as a whole ends up feeling somewhat stunted. It never branches out from the basics, with digivolution being the only aspect that adds genuine spice to proceedings.
And it doesn't help that encounters are so few and far between. There are optional battles that you can attempt at any time, but they're rather mindless — little more than a way to boost your Digimon's levels in between story-based brawls. As it stands, combat mostly serves its purpose in providing respite from the dialogue-heavy plot, but it very rarely excites, and certainly shouldn't be considered a key selling point of the experience.
Digimon Survive's uniquely dark take on the standard Digimon storyline is enough to carry a title that's sometimes poorly paced and basic in its approach to gameplay. A visual novel with RPG elements bolted on, it's difficult not to feel as though the creature taming and combat aspects of Survive could have been bigger and better. But ultimately, a mix of endearing characters and eye-opening plot points make this another worthwhile adventure in the digital world.
If anyone's got any questions about the game, let me know and I'll try to answer them. Thanks for reading!
I tend to agree with this review, pacing DEFINITELY could have been better in some areas. But it shouldnt be lost or understated where Robert said the kid/Digimon dynamics is the highlight; I dont tend to like Visual Novels (But then again, I havent played one since the DS, so maybe theyve improved) but Digimon fans should definitely check this out.
The best Digimon stories tend to explore the relationships in the Digimon/Human partners and how the Digimon complement their personalities with digivolutions reflecting their growth. This game goes all the way with it to a degree that (I don't think this is spoiling because it was advertised) some of the digimon/human partners straight-up don't like each other and the game explores the ramifications of that.
Very informative and clear review, Robert! Enjoyed reading it; seems like the game is worth picking up. I'll probably wait until it's on sale and I'm in the mood for a slower paced game.
Personally my only problem with this review is that it is talking about the game without taking under consideration (or at lest it looks like) the fact that the devs said this was a mini project to make between the big Digimon projects, obviously the 60 tag doesn't help but it's impressive they didn't canceled it as a result of covid.
We can't say "could have been bigger and better" from a game the devs never wanted to be big or to use that much time to finish it. And someone who is actually a true fan of the series should know that (not talking about the reviewer but the false expectations from people).
Again, personally knowing this all these years allows me to enjoy the game because it is what it was supposed to be, nothing more nothing less.
@ShogunRok Is Stingmon in the game? Every list I've looked at says he isn't.
@Enuo I don't... think so, but not 100% sure. Fairly certain I didn't see Stingmon in my playthrough, but I think that more powerful Stingmon might be in it (I forget its name). Hopefully that helps!
>Exploration tends to be tedious
Yay. Someone finally mentioned it! Both that and the detective/phone bit feels so pointless.
But good review, and definitely agree with it. It's actually a surprisingly good Digimon game, even for being a VN.
@ShogunRok Did you have performance issues with the game while playing it? I've been debating whether to buy on Switch or PS4 and heard that both versions have had frame rate issues, Switch in particular.
Thanks for this review! @ShogunRok Im still on the fence as the turn based combat was what I was looking forward to most and it seems there isnt much of it vs the The visual novel aspects. The story does sound good though. Cant quite figure out why this game took so long to come out even with Covid-19 if 70% of it is Visual novel but 🤷🏾♂️
@Sam_ATLUS I didn't notice anything particularly bad. The menus can be a little bit laggy, which is annoying, but it thankfully doesn't happen often.
@3Above Yeah it's a tricky one. If you're a big Digimon fan overall then I think you'll still like this, but it also depends on what you want from a Digimon game in the first place.
If you're looking for an RPG where the focus is on training Digimon and combat, then this isn't the one for you. But if you want a generally well told and interesting Digimon story, with just a bit of RPG stuff on the side, then that's exactly what Survive is.
How does this compare to the Utawarerumono series, as far as the division between visual novel and battle segments? Something like 70/30, 60/40?
@RicebinBernacky I think it's probably around 70/30 in favour of visual novel. Sometimes it feels like it's even higher than 70, though, because parts of the story can start to drag.
Always bugs me when a Visual Novel gets criticism for a slower paced story, feels like the reviewer misses the point of the genre a bit.
This review seems spot on from my 6-7 hours with it to this point. The game is really pretty to look at. My only complaint is I wish the hidden object/camera mechanic wasn't there. I'm fine just reading the story and managing the occasional battle.
@HeeHo There's a difference between slow storytelling and bad pacing, though. You can have a slow story that keeps you hooked, but if there are no hooks and the writing is just verbose for the sake of it, it starts to drag.
My biggest issue with this game are its characters. Especially shuiji. The digimon carry this game hard.
This review is pretty spot on but I do disagree with this part "As it stands, combat mostly serves its purpose in providing respite from the dialogue-heavy plot, but it very rarely excites" When the characters finally start working as a group with their partners I found that really satisfying. Problem with that it's pretty far into the game.
This will probably be the first visual novel game I ever try, once I find it on sale for $20 in a year or two.
Playing this right after Ai Somnium Files Nirvana Initiative, yeah pacing needs work. I get it’s a VN but like so was the other one and there was t near the amount of back tracking this one does. And I’m not sure pacing is the right word as it seems to be a “feature”. I don’t know.
That said I really like the tactical battle system. And the Digimon recruitment system.
@Enuo technically yes without giving any spoilers
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