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Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4)

Set in an alternate universe Tokyo, the barriers between the physical and virtual worlds have become almost indistinguishable. This is thanks to the creation of EDEN, a super internet, where business, entertainment, and social gatherings can take place with real time avatars. However, this seemingly virtual paradise is far from perfect. Hackers run rampant, threatening the freedom and safety of other EDEN users with strange creatures known as Digimon. Where did these creatures come from and what is their true connection to EDEN? All of these questions will be answered when you (the player) become unwittingly involved in the events surrounding this mystery, becoming the Digital World's Cyber Sleuth.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth was originally a Japanese-only release for the PS Vita developed by Media Vision and published by Bandai Namco. However, it was later released overseas for both the Vita and the Playstation 4 in early February 2016. The character designs of the game were done by none other than Suzuhito Yasuda, who is notable for the character designs of both Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor games and the light novel/anime series Durarara!!.

I'll admit, going into this game, I thought I knew exactly what I was going to get from it. A wacky adventure with some shades of mystery but more focus on the raising and evolving of Digimon. Much like the Digimon video games that came before. What I got however, was a much darker, mysterious and (dare I say it) deeper experience than I have ever had with the franchise.

And it was glorious.

The first thing that this game needs to be praised for is its visuals. While most of the presentation still fits more for the PS Vita than the PS4, there is a good deal of polish on the animation. Primarily in the large scale cutscenes which are breathtaking to behold. The design of the EDEN hub reminded me of Mamoru Hosoda's design for Oz in his film Summer Wars. Ironic, given the acclaimed director's experience with the Digimon films.

Even outside the cutscenes, the backgrounds for the virtual world of EDEN still retain their splendour and are constantly in motion. Other areas can vary from being visually spectacular, surreal and everything in between. Making the virtual realm both familiar and alien all at the same time.

It is the story however that really caught me by surprise. Digimon has never been a series to shy away from taking some pretty big dark turns (I'm looking at you Digimon: Tamers), but the extent that this game took it's narrative makes it most likely the most adult tale of the franchise.

No more than 30 minutes into the game's prologue chapter, the main character is attacked by a tentacled digital abomination and literally torn out of his/her physical body. Forced to solve the mystery of what happened as a digital construct. I won't say more than that, since the twists and turns that follow are too good to spoil, but Cyber Sleuth's story seems take more inspiration from Shin Megami Tensei rather than it's own franchise.

At the end of the day, Digimon are still the driving force behind both the story and the gameplay. Using the DigiCapture device, Digimon that are encountered in random battles can be scanned for their data. Once that data reaches 200%, the same Digimon can be replicated and added to the players main party. From there they can be trained, levelled up through battles and digivolve once they reach a certain level.

A system that seems to have been taken from previous digimon titles. Even reversing evolutions in order to pursue new paths and unlock new Digimon types is encouraged as the game progresses. Pretty much any Digimon that has made an appearance in the series is available, including Diaboramon and Omnimon, two Digimon that initially appeared in Our War Game!

Still, despite all of the incredible innovations, Cyber Sleuth is far from perfect. Several of the bonus bosses which need to be beaten in order to unlock the higher end evolutions are extremely difficult, at least compared to the main story bosses. Another misstep is that the game's “Dungeon” areas are short, but as a result game expects you to spend a good amount of time running around. Leveling up and evolving your Digimon so they are ready to take on the area boss. Which can be frustrating if you are playing more for the story and not a full completionist run. The biggest issue however, is with the is the dialogue translation. The game was not dubbed in English, supposedly because the game wouldn't earn back the money it would take to cast a dub. Leaving the story to be completely told through the translated text. Which varies from extremely well done, to strange and awkward. Primarily during the points were the more complicated aspects of the game's plot are being explained. Not to mention several awkward mistranslations where the female avatar is addressed no differently than the male avatar.

All problems aside, this is still an impressive game. It took a franchise that has been somewhat fading from the limelight and brought it back with a vengeance. Appealing to not just curious newcomers but also the hardcore fans who grew up with the series. The fact that this title got enough support to be localised was a huge triumph for fans of the franchise. If this is the new direction the Digimon games are going to take from here on out, I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth for the PS4 and PS Vita on Amazon and Gamestop.