Digimon Survive is a very different experience than what I’m used to when it comes to Digimon games. Usually, the games tonally are lighthearted and gentle but this game was very dark and ominous so it’s easily a stand out of the Digimon games. The gameplay also is very different as most Digimon games opt for turn-based combat based on random encounters similar to Pokemon, most of the encounters in Survive are fixed and involve turn-based strategy combat similar to Fire Emblem. With these stark changes from typical Digimon games, I was excited to get my hands on this and see if these changes made for a new and exciting experience and so I can’t wait to get into this review.
The concept of the story starts off similar to the original Digimon anime where a group of kids suddenly found themselves in an alternate world. Where the story differs here is that while in the anime the show is about bonding with Digimon to stop the evil Digimon, Survive is all about bonding with Digimon to literally survive. The story has implied gore and the Digimon are very vicious and the threats feel very intense. You really get a feeling you can lose any of your characters at any time and it does present a feeling of dread that is executed perfectly.
The characters are also very interesting and all very different making for a wide variety of interactions. Overall the story clearly sets out to create tension that is similar to a horror game and it does a great job doing that. What I also love about the story is how you can build up traits in morality, harmony, and wrath which decide a lot of things in the game. The main character’s partner Digimon is Agumon who will digivolve into one of three Digimon per stage depending on which trait is the highest and the game also features five different endings. Three are depending on if you have enough points in a specific trait by the time you get to a certain chapter. While about two-thirds of each path is roughly the same game the last third will vary widely depending on which path you get and it does motivate replaying the game, especially since the best ending is locked to a second+ playthrough.
The story and the choice mechanic are not flawless though. Since the first two-thirds of the game is roughly the same each time there’s a lot of dialogue you are just skipping in subsequent playthroughs because you’ve seen it before. Also, some chapters do feel like they drag on, for example, chapter five had an interesting concept but it took so long to get through it that it got tiring very quickly. Additionally, it’s very easy to figure out which choice for improving traits affects what trait. Harmony is always on the right, morality on the left, and wrath on the top which means it’s easy to just game the system and spam the one you want to raise the most. The reason I have a problem with that is due to a similar mechanic in a game called Triangle Strategy where you didn’t know what trait was improved upon on a first playthrough so it motivated organic replies rather than ones strategically made for stat improvement. Plus these choices change nothing about the game till you make the one that decides which ending you want. Some of these choices are completely different but the game will force the same result for all three choices so the sole purpose of the choice is to improve the stat which is a bit frustrating.
Survive is partly a visual novel and part strategy game with the visual novel portion making up most of the game so you’re going to see a lot of dialogue with no gameplay in between. I can see how this will deter some players that are not a fan of the visual novel genre but I found it to be rather entertaining. The visual novel aspect is a very detailed story and gives you a lot of time with the cast of the game and in that time you get to form bonds with the rest of the Digimon users. The game heavily rewards high bonds with characters from support in combat to ultimately unlocking new and more powerful forms for their respective Digimon so it was a lot of fun to see how the higher affinity levels really added a lot to the game. The only downside to this, and it’s a minor one, is when this unlocks a new form the process is very cut and paste. The character and Digimon are fighting an enemy in one on one combat that is too powerful and they find inner motivation which summons a new form. This is a cool concept but you have seven characters to bond with and each Digimon has two forms that unlock via this method so seeing this scene 14 different ways got really old really fast. The combat gameplay is very much like Fire Emblem where you have a grid for a map and each character can move a set number of spaces. The thing is I don’t really have a detailed summary of this as there really isn’t anything here that separates Survive’s take on this style of gameplay from all the other games that did it. It’s still a ton of fun it just doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it worked out well doing that.
Overall Digimon Survive has a really interesting story that takes a darker turn for the franchise that worked out well. However, while every aspect of the game was entertaining a deep look into the game does show that this is a new endeavor for the series as you can find weak points in every aspect. By no means does this ruin the experience but rather instead shows that Digimon has room to improve to make a much better version of an already enjoyable game and I hope we see that day come. If you like Digimon, visual novels and strategy gameplay I highly recommend this but if you are not a fan of any one of these elements I don’t think you will enjoy this like I did.