Digimon World DS

…is what I said to a friend during my early teen years when presented with the option of watching either the Digimon or Pokemon cartoons. My friend, a ‘digi/poke’-freak, lectured me for an hour or so trying to explain the differences, and I still didn’t get it; nine years on I’m still none the wiser.

Growing up, I never got into the whole Digimon/Pokemon thing; they’re both a little too ‘out there’ for me. In all honesty I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Aldamon and Pikachu, and I only know those two by looking them up on wikipedia. The whole craze passed me by, yet here I am trying to review Digimon World DS. While it’s obvious that this will send fans of the series into Digimon nirvana, people like me, however, will still be left wondering what the fuss is all about.

The adventure starts when a schoolboy, curious about the ‘digital monster thing’, suddenly finds himself warped into the world of Digimon via his PC monitor. After a near endless barrage of dialogue to get through, the schoolboy-come-digitrainer picks a Digimon and starts his quest exploring and meeting all manners of the bizarre, extravagant inhabitants of the Digimon world.

Digitrainers are given Digivices, a Digimon to raise on the Digifarm, to feed…Digifood, and to battle other Digimon. Your little critters can evolve or rather ‘digivolve’ into fiercer killing machines. Fans of Pokemon will be screaming ‘rip off’, and while that may be true, Digimon World DS does have a few interesting ideas that separate it from its pocket monster rival.

For one, interaction with your monsters plays an integral part to your progress. Unlike Pokemon, your beasts actually talk — this is vital as it helps to build bonds with your Digimon, lowers stress levels, and increases their affection towards you. The Digimon will also grant you access to side quests the completion of which earn points for items and earns you even more ‘digilove’ (I made that word up, to keep in the ‘digispirit’ of things).

Customization plays an important role: You can have up to six Digimon in your team, and in keeping with RPG tradition the Digimon in your team can be equipped with various items and weapons. Some of these items are dependent on the level they’ve achieved, while some are breed-specific. Equipping various accessories and armor allows new special moves to be learnt as well as adding a layer of tactical depth to proceedings. The greatest aspect is that it makes you feel as if this team of monsters is unique to you, instead of having the game guide you; this also opens things up a bit and makes combat far less linear.

There are also more customization options with regards to the evolution of your team, with three different forms available all with varying attributes. It encourages you to collect multiple versions of the same Digimon. What’s also a nice idea is that you pick when and if your monsters evolve. Tactically this opens the game up a lot more, and RPG fans who like to organize stats, menus and customization options will greatly appreciate this.

Collecting new Digimon is also done differently — there are no ‘balls’ used to capture them — instead, you have to have enough encounters with them (I found that about nine or more is enough). Once the new monsters have been scanned and enough data has been gathered, you can copy them and have your own monster. This allows you to always have enough monsters, without the worry of catching more. While this is largely a welcome contrast, some fans will argue that capturing the elusive Digimon is now far harder, as your encounter rate has to be exceptionally fortunate, and the patience of even the most determined collector is likely to be tested.

Once your Digimon has been caught, they get sent to your digifarm to gain experience, train, and so on — this way you use all your monsters instead of having surplus Digimon. This allows your A-team as it were to take care of business, freeing you up from the hassle of leveling up your newer Digimon.

Frustratingly, you have to have a bank balance larger than Donald Trump if you want to take care of all your Digimon. If you don’t, you have to fight and fight and fight until you’ve got enough money to maintain your digifarm. While this was obviously done to extend the length of the game (you do have the option of taking them to the battlefield with you early on, which is cheaper and easier), it’s still a nuisance. one that could have been easily avoided.

Players can trade and train other Digimon via the limited wi-fi options, but in terms of new ideas that’s it. Fans will love the cheesy 80’s techno music and the squawks and screams of the quirky Digimon. The story, derivative as it is to me and I imagine a lot of other people, will no doubt please those into the whole Digimon, kiddie J-pop culture.

But if you’re not a fan, then this isn’t going to make you want to buy a Digimon lunchbox. As a game, it’s been seen and done before, and in many instances a whole lot better. The cold truth is that the gameplay is stale, unoriginal and (unlike your monsters) hasn’t evolved since, well, since whenever the first Digimon game came out. While there are many areas to explore and loads of NPCs to interact with, all you really do is battle. Digimon World DS is unlikely to attract newbies to the cause, but as long as the digifanatics are kept happy, then that’s all that matters.

This is a fact I’m sure that Bandai Namco are well aware of — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? As far as my own personal exploration of the digiuniverse goes, this will be enough. It’s still a little too out there, even for my friends who were hooked all those years ago. Nonetheless I’m glad that I’ve finally experienced this truly bizarre slice of Japanese culture. Still, I’m none the wiser to the series’ appeal now compared to when I was 13, and I think this is one craze I can live without.

RATING 4 / 10