Digimon has always felt like the weird cousin of the monster collecting games, not quite as stylish and dramatic as its more celebrated counterpart. However, Digimon has a charm to it after you get past the absolute bizarre nature of cute faced blobs with fully adult voices, providing services and fighting battles.
Digimon World: Next Order is simple, open, and free. A JRPG / monster nursery adventure, the game sets you in charge of raising and training a team of Digimon from egg to urn, while rebuilding the village that serves as your home base. A very hands-off battle mode provides fun strategy amidst a large world.
On a whim, you find an old Digimon game and turn it on to see if the levels are still high. Suddenly, you are pulled into the game, and help, in vain, to battle against some dark force, ultimately ending up in the Digimon village of Floatia. Through battling, Digimon raising, and rebuilding a community, you proceed to unearth the answers you need to get back out of the machine.
Your trainer is a male or female based on your choice, and you are able to unlock special skills along the way that enhance relationship building, training, and many other facets of raising Digimon. You have a team of two allies, which begin as eggs. By taking these digimon out to battle, or via training in Floatia, the Digimon “digi-volve” into bigger and better versions, depending on your choices.
Perhaps I am a Digimon Philistine, but I find it incredibly disappointing not hearing “Poyomon DIGI-VOLVE to Sabugaruyomon!” at every single instance of the evolutionary jumps.
The battles are very simplistic but not at all boring or unchallenging. The digimon battle in a circular arena, and move freely on their own. You sit back, dispense items, and bark orders as the Digimon attack on their own accord. I love the use of the L1 and R1 buttons to control the two respective Digimon, while the main buttons are used for items, tactics, and “Support”, which are words of encouragement.
By supporting your battling Digimon, they gain order points which build and allow for use of powerful finishing attacks and special Cross-Evolutionary abilities. These abilities unlock and change depending on the Digimon you use. As your Digimon grow, they eventually will age and die. Upon death, you select two digimon for rebirth, and start the process all over again.
World exploration is a real pleasant surprise in this game, as I had very low expectations considering the subject matter. The world is dynamic and full of neat designs, and the map is an amalgamation of Earth and a Motherboard, with conductors, servers, wires, and other electronic components scattered across lakes, valleys, deserts and more. There are plenty of items and resources across the map, and the difficulty gets more and more daunting as you travel further from town.
While traveling, or training, you’re expected to feed and find bathrooms for your Digimon. If they don’t eat, they get cranky, and if they don’t find a bathroom, you’ve got a big bright pink soft serve to look at. This, along with fatigue and time, keeps most trips focused and short. This lets you take in the zones a bit more intimately, and extends the gameplay out in a fun way.
As you explore, you’ll meet friendly Digimon who will have a task for you. Once completed, they will go to Floatia and take up some task for your community, such as shop keeping or warehousing.
The only real drawbacks are with the speed of the trainer and overall navigation both automated and manual. You move like molasses in this game, with no sprint or run option, and no jump option to break the monotony. This makes returning to the home base a slog chore that kills the fun just as it ramps up.
The maps can be a bit confusing to navigate, but the real navigation ordeal is with your CPU Digimon, who get stuck, walk into walls, and sometimes in battle get stuck to walls and are unable to attack. This happens to enemies as well. A rare glitch sent the camera view flying across the map, freezing the game for a few moments before coming back. This is a big-time annoyance that can sometimes lead to unwarranted defeat in battle.
I also don’t like how so many Digimon look so unbearably strange, even by the series’ standards. With eyes that border between cute and jaundiced, Digimon at their youngest stages are creepy and shouldn’t be talking so much. That’s a series-wide complaint that simply carries over to this game. In general, despite this, the graphical quality is high, with lush cartoon colors and well executed use of depth of field to bring certain zones to life.