Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is arguably the best Digimon game that's ever been localised here in the West. Although it's true that the property has never set the bar particularly high with its licensed titles, strip away the franchise's wrappings and Cyber Sleuth would still come with a hearty recommendation from us – especially if you're a fan of role-playing games. Simply put, it's one of the most enjoyable Japanese RPGs available on the PlayStation 4 right now – digital monsters or not.
Cyber Sleuth takes place in our world, or, to be more specific, it takes place in Tokyo. Technology is more advanced than what we have, though, which creates the perfect setting for an unsurprisingly tech-heavy storyline. EDEN, an online virtual reality network, is all the rage, with people of all ages using it in day-to-day life. It's essentially a digital mirror of reality, and as such, it comes with its own problems.
Troublesome hackers are just one of those problems, using the network to steal information and gain access to private areas and accounts. Usually, this is where you come in – a Cyber Sleuth who likes nothing better than to get to the bottom of these cyber crimes. The story starts off at a slow pace, as the game introduces characters, themes, and a whole load of technical mumbo jumbo, but stick with it and it gradually pulls you into a fairly interesting plot that deals with some imaginative concepts.
Proceedings really start to accelerate in the story's latter half, however, when the digimon themselves get to play a bigger part in the overall narrative. It's at this point that the release goes all-out with twists and hectic storytelling, making you forget all about the comparatively humdrum events of the first ten or so hours of plot.
Generally speaking, the writing's not bad, and it's nice to see that the localisation team has left many specifically Japanese references untouched, which can be a rarity these days. Likewise, the main cast are a likeable bunch, even if some of them can drone on for what feels like an eternity. The only real issue that we have with the narrative is that some of the dialogue seems horribly out of place at points – and we're not just talking about verbose descriptions of unfamiliar Japanese phrases. There are rare times when characters say something that appears to have no bearing on the current situation whatsoever – almost like the text has been put there by accident. Nothing to truly shout about, but bizarre nonetheless.
As a whole, the story's worth experiencing, then, but the gameplay is the real reason that you'll stick around. Aside from some tediously repetitive, optional fetch quests, the gameplay loop is hugely addictive. In between main story chapters, you'll usually be left to take on various detective cases or train up your small digimon army.
The former isn't anything like you'd find in a point and click puzzler – there's no genuine detective work to be done here. In short, cases are basically separate storylines that feature secondary characters. Some set up intriguing premises, while others throw a digital dungeon at you, complete with boss enemies. There's a nice mix, and many of them offer quick thrills that prove to be an enjoyable escape from following the main plot.
Mulling about and helping people with their problems is standard RPG fare, but much like Pokémon has taught us, place a fantastic monster raising system on top of all this and you've got a game that'll keep you entertained for hours at a time. Featuring almost 250 fully modelled 3D digimon, it's possible to spend days just hatching new creatures and evolving others until you form a rock solid team.
The actual process of raising and training your 'mon is quite accessible, although the title doesn't give you much of a tutorial. As such, you're left to work out a lot of the finer details for yourself, but this at least means that you're always experimenting. It's rewarding to take a risk and evolve – or digivolve – your favourite creature and watch as they transform into an amazing looking monster. It's even better when they turn out to be absolute beasts in battle, too.
Combat is turn-based, and again, pretty accessible. All digimon have access to standard attacks and special skills, which range from damaging super moves to buffs, debuffs, and healing spells. Again, much like Nintendo's pocket monster property, things are easy to get to grips with but there's a good amount of depth and variety hidden beneath the colourful surface.
Digimon types work like rock-paper-scissors, while elemental-based attacks can deal bonus damage when used against a foe that has a specific weakness. In essence, that means that there are two layers of damage-altering mechanics to memorise, and it's in your best interest to do so. While levelling up and increasing your critters' statistics is obviously a good idea, making sure that you have a balanced team of different digimon types is far more crucial to success – especially if you want to tackle the title's brutal Hard difficulty.
Speaking of difficulty, there are some surprisingly unwarranted difficulty spikes dotting the release, even when you're playing on Normal. The vast majority of random encounters that you find yourself in will likely be over in seconds if your team isn't purposefully underpowered, but there are certain boss fights that ramp things up considerably, and can quickly wipe away your confidence if you jump into them unprepared.
Tough bosses aren't necessarily a problem, but it often feels as though there's no warning as to how strong a particular baddie will be. That said, it's definitely possible to power through rough patches thanks to the hit-and-miss nature of the artificial intelligence, which sometimes seems to make completely random decisions in combat. Overall, though, the battles are a great example of a cohesive and engaging turn-based combat system.
In terms of presentation, Cyber Sleuth is a very neat and tidy RPG, and it's bolstered by a great art style. On PS4, its handheld origins are clear with blurry environmental textures rearing their ugly head on a regular basis, but they're relatively easy to overlook when the character and digimon models are so pleasant. Of course, there is a positive to not looking so hot in that the load times are almost non-existent.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack boasts a slew of catchy, quirky electronic tunes, but they're not used as well as they could be. When traversing dungeons, for example, the music loops back to the beginning of the track after combat, which can slowly gnaw away at your sanity if you're getting into plenty of random fights.
Last but not least, we should probably mention that you can partake in competitive multiplayer battles. The thought of testing the might of your digimon team against the world is attractive, but in reality, it takes a lot of time and effort to reach a point where you'll do well on a consistent basis. This is partly because many players that you encounter will be Japanese, and they've had the game since March 2015 – in other words, you'd best be prepared for a walloping. Still, even if it feels a little tacked on, getting stuck into the multiplayer isn't a bad way to extend the life of the release, particularly since success requires so much grinding. And, if challenging others isn't your forte, there's always the thoughtful New Game Plus mode, which allows to play through the title again with all of your digimon and items from a completed save.
Easily one of the most addictive RPGs on the PS4, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth features an enjoyable story and a great setting for a fantastic monster raising system. Although many of its components aren't perfect and proceedings do drag at times, the process of building and perfecting a team of powerful digimon is just too rewarding to walk away from. The phrase "digimon are the champions" has never been more fitting.