Friday, February 3, 2017

Digimon World: Next Order (PS4)

From the trailers to the box art, and the opening cinematic I thought for certain "Digimon World: Next Order" would be some sort of grand JRPG adventure with game changing character involvement, a deep seeded plot, and an endgame scenario. Instead it is being marketed as a monster training/raising simulator with slight JRPG elements. The game itself starts off as a JRPG would with an interesting interactive cinematic battle that looks like it is going to set the stage for a later climactic encounter between some heroes, and a formidable foe. Past the female, and male protagonist selection though this foe is only hinted at, and lost in what turns out to be a glorified Tomagatchi-like experience. This raising, influencing, and evolving of digital monsters that you are tasked with after the initial loss of your evolved Digimon partners definitely feels like it's a bit lacking. It has you tending to two infantile Digimon who require real-time attention in the form of feeding, discipline, caring, and training. You even have to take these creatures to potty when a poop icon floats above their head. It is a tedious undertaking wrought with sub-par voice acting, and gameplay that is only made intricate by the micro-management menu system that has you doing things for both your character, and your Digimon in a simultaneous or individual sense. As far as plot goes there are objectives, but even those are burdened, and dwarfed by the parenting duties that have been forced upon you.

When you first get into "Digimon World: Next Order" you will be blessed with an anime inspired cinematic that seemingly sets up the gameplay premise thereafter. It is filled with character cameos, epic Digimon battles, and basically everything a Digimon fan would be excited for. Past that though things begin to decline in quality. The first thing in this decline being the forced protagonist intro where you select from either Takuto, or Shiki who can be named as you like. The first being a male character, and the latter the female character. After your selection you enter a 3D rendered cutscene where the protagonist slaps on a Digidevice bracelet, and gets sucked into the Digiverse dimension. The character acts confused even when confronted by his evolved Digimon partners from his Digidevice. This confusion is not fully explained within a reasonable amount of time, and in the midst of an unseen confrontation with a metal monstrosity (Machinedramon) of the Digimon kind he/she is forced to command his/her Digimon duo regardless of a lack of mutual understanding. An epic battle which incorporates a hands on tutorial that introduces the game's key controls.

The controls that you learn in this supposedly epic battle against formidable odds are simple. Basically the "R1 & L1" shoulder buttons let you swap between Digimon while the "Left Thumbstick" allows you to choose an attack, or action in regards to the battle. Pressing "X" executes the command, and the Digimon do your bidding. Of course commands, and interactions aren't limited to only that though. You can raise the points needed to use the attacks by pressing "X" before making an action selection as well. This not only gains you the needed "Order" points, but allows for a special assist when timed right. You can also press "R1 + L1" to trigger an "ExE/Digifuse" Digimon transformation in which your dual set of Digimon combine in Voltron  fashion. It's not hard to pick up on, and the tutorial explains things well enough in this intro battle. The only time things get complicated are when the Floatia village is introduced, and your Digimon raising begins. It's then that the micro-management through menu options is explained.

In-game battle controls, and village controls throughout the experience meld together in a similar way in that you will basically be tending to the right (R1), or left (L1) Digimon as you raise them for battle. The "R1", and  "L1" control scheme applies in each situation, though slightly different in some cases. All of the menu system tie-ins reflect this sort of dual command/control setup, and only become non-applicable when tending to the "Tamer" menu skill trees. Skill trees which ultimately influence how efficiently you raise your Digimon via buffs.

In Floatia village, where you meet the caveman-like person (Jijimon) who caused the encounter with the evil/corrupted Machinedramon you will find an odd assortment of Digimon, and outlets with which you can spend your time. The village hut where the Jijimon resides houses a special chest which allows for the receiving of presents through the game's multiplayer experience. The multiplayer experience, as it were, is battles between your duo of Digimon, and others who are playing the game as well. Of course there's rewards for your efforts in the form of special points that can be spent on shop related gear for your evolved Digimon. It should be noted that the game has 200 series Digimon for you to evolve, and that said evolution depends heavily on your interactions with your Digimon. The way you discipline or praise them as well as how you care for them (feed, potty, rest) will determine how they evolve, and what they evolve into. The village elder, after explaining the situation, actually gifts you the choice of two Digimon eggs which each house a certain base level Digimon creature. Once selected you will be tasked with an initial village tour in which you'll learn the ropes of how to care for your Digimon.

The village which is run by base level Digimon contains vendors, and outlets meant to help you raise your Digimon duo. There is a meat vendor that will gift you a daily supply of meat for your Digimon to feast on as well as a potty for Digi-dumping (Lol!), and a training center where you can boost your Digimon's stats by assigning stat training tasks. Inside the training center is also a bed that allows fatigued Digimon to recover MP/HP when needed. Two things which are vital for successful training, and Digimon raising in general. Speaking of training as you assign stat based training tasks (you literally assign one Digimon or both to a specific stat) that training session can become even more beneficial through the roulette bonus that has you clicking the "X" button as the digital cursor passes rapidly over squares with a blank surface, smiley face, clock, circle, W, or heart symbol in order to gain a potential bonus. Each symbol, such as the heart will gift an added bonus to stats or roulette duration allowing for more quickly evolved Digimon. The evolution of which I speak happens within the training room when a Digimon reaches a certain level. After leaving the training room you'll also sometimes be met by a choice of disciplinary actions. If your Digimon are quoted as being satisfied, for example, you can praise them and it will boost certain stats. If they fail to do as commanded you can opt to scold them as well. The final choice being that of a neutral ignoring of their disobedience or praise worthy satisfaction.

Aside from JRPG stats Digimon are also governed by an emoji system which reflects their state of happiness, or lack thereof. If they are happy the emoji will be yellow with an obvious smile. Other emoji states include an unsatisfied straight frown, as well as a complete frown. To keep the Digimon emotionally happy you will have to feed them when hungry, take them to potty when prompted, and go on outings where objectives and battles are the focus. This upkeep alone is done in real-time leaving the gamer no chance to really delve deep into the objectives, or plot inclusive tasks. Sure you can let the Digimon sleep on outings, but the food, and portable potty items unless stocked will have you returning to the village often for relief which in itself makes for slow progress forward. Thankfully there are vending machines along the way which sell such items for the in-game currency.

As far as outings go you will initially be tasked with finding departed Digimon, and having them return to Floatia village to fulfill their roles as a participating vendor. Each vendor in turn will help rebuild the destroyed village, and offer specific services for your tamer, and Digimon to partake of. Rebuilding the village also requires the collecting of materials, and ingredients on outings. Materials, and ingredients which will be sent directly to Floatia for use.

Now for the complicated bits ...

The game's tedious parenting tasks go further than simply raising Digimon to the point you don't have to baby them anymore. In the menu system you will find that you will also be building upon your tamer (protagonist) via a skill tree system that uses TP/TF points. Points which are earned in battle out in the world. The skill trees basically help the tamer to better train his Digimon, and in some instances will boost or buff certain aspects of the training/raising experience. There's that, and the Digi-mail system which will give you objectives to take on as you continue training, and raising the Digimon in your care. Needless to say Digimon aren't the only things you will be taking care of. Another thing to note is the ability to assign a battle focus via the "TRIANGLE" trainer menu. You can have your Digimon to attack aggressively, act defensively, or approach the battle neutrally. From what I understand these are "Tactics", and can be switched between in battle by pressing "SQUARE", highlighting the desired choice, and following up with a pressing of the "X" button. While in battle you can also press "TRIANGLE" to use recovery items stored in your inventory.

About the graphics ...

The visual presentation that makes up "Digimon: Next Order" is a mixed bag of tricks. The intro is a mixture of anime cartoons, and 3D models while gameplay fully utilizes the cell-shaded 3D model look. To me the graphics seem oddly dated outside of the main character designs which seem to lean on that "Tales of Berseria" build that has animated facial features to give the characters, character. Mostly though the characters, and Digimon carry a stiff physical animation which detracts from the overall visual appeal. The battle animations, which are also meant to be a key focal point are only visually impressive in the sense that they take on a cinematic appearance when certain attacks, or fusions are activated. Most of the time these flashy sequences feel out of place in regards to emotion, and sometimes overly so. It's like the developer was trying to compensate for the lack of interesting gameplay elements by spicing battle up superficially, and visually so. After playing through the game to the point that I lost interest I couldn't help, but feel that this did not seem like a Bandai Namco game. The visual quality, and sound quality was just not up to those kinds of set standards.

The verdict, as it were ...

After having been blown away by the anime intro only to be introduced to the overbearing, and cumbersome tasks of raising Digimon I found myself deeply disappointed in this game. To be totally honest I think it's gonna be a hard sell for Digimon fans, and even for monster trainer enthusiasts. The game's presentation, though creatively mechanics driven is lackluster, and aged in a sort of retro remastered sense. It feels like a modern remastering of something that would have been on the PS2, or PS3. As harsh as that may sound it's how I feel. With all things weighed I think this game falls short of being great like Bandai Namco games such as "Tales of Berseria" are. I don't think it does the Digimon franchise any great service, and it kind of leaves a lot to be desired, if I were to be honest.

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