"...Hacker's Memory is more of a remix than a brand new release, and there's nothing wrong than that."
I was one of those kids who loved the Digimon TV series growing up, perhaps more than its Pocket Monster rival. It had me hooked with its dark storylines, unique monster designs and higher stakes, but I never really got into the games until 2016's Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2016, it proved the Digimon series could rival Pokémon in terms of mechanics and monster collecting, as well as surpass it with a great storyline full of twists and turns. Word of a direct sequel was a surprise to many, yet in 2018 we've been rewarded with one. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth — Hacker's Memory bears all of the hallmarks that made the first game great, but its strict adherence to the same formula results in a title that's not quite as memorable as its prequel.
Set parallel to the events of the first game, Keisuke Amazawa is an ordinary, quiet schoolboy whose account with EDEN — the virtual cyberspace where friends and hackers alike hang out with their avatars — is hacked. Framed for various hacking crimes, Keisuke becomes an outcast who, ironically, joins a group of hackers known as Hudie to get his account back and prove his innocence. The bond between the four members of Hudie is the centre of Hacker's Memory, but the events of the game are padded out with twice as much filler than the prequel. Events don't even begin to get interesting until chapter 10, and by that point I was bored. For a game that's easily 60 hours, the plot takes far too long to get going. Moments from the first adventure pop up in the background and are barely explained, making it extremely difficult for newcomers to follow at times. The second half of the game vastly improves the overall pacing, but it all takes a bit too long to get there.
Characters from the 2016 game return to my delight, such as the mysterious detective Kyoko and the over-zealous policewoman Date, but Hacker's Memory's new additions are hit and miss. Ryuji Mishima is the steadfast, stoic leader of Hudie who's determination is somewhat infectious, and Chitose is his flirtatious sidekick, which is yet-another-tired-trope that gets very old very quickly, although he does get some redemption in the final hours. My favourite was Ryuji's younger sister, Erika, a genius hacker who locks herself up in a cupboard full of computers and technology. She starts off being a typical whiny teenager, but she matures throughout the course of the game, and she develops a strong relationship with Keisuke. It's easily the strongest element of the game's narrative, especially in the context of some of the harrowing events of the story, which I won't give away here.
While Hacker's Memory offers a new perspective on the events of the first game, very little has been added to enrich the experience. The game plays largely the same as its prequel — you take on requests for troubled EDEN users and Digimon; you capture and train Digimon; you sometimes move the story along at a snail's pace. Things get very stale very quickly, especially as the first game was equally as long. Hacker's Memory is a real grind, and while I love my monster collecting, getting the Digimon to meet the specific requirements to Digivolve could sometimes take hours. I'd already done all this in 2016, and even with a few tips and tricks, some requirements are just a pain to meet. Stats like Ability and CAM aren't explained until around halfway through the game, but by then you've already had to root around the internet to discover these are vital stats for getting your favourite Digimon.
Collecting all of the Digimon is still this game's biggest draw for me, and capturing as many Digimon as I could became my goal. The first Cyber Sleuth had over 250 'mons (including DLC), and the sequel adds a further 80, with more free Digimon being added post-launch. At first, I focused on getting my favourites from the TV series — Angewomon, Wizardmon, Stingmon to name a few — but then I started picking up some of the newer ones to add to my roster. Lunamon is a cute moon-inspired creature who's Mega form Dianamon is extremely powerful, and then there's Raptordramon, a robotic flying dinosaur that Digivolves into the awesome-looking Ultimate Grademon, a dual-sword wielding warrior who slices everything he sees in two. I loved finding each one of these new additions and experimenting with my party. I could easily see myself try to, ahem, catch 'em all.
In terms of other new additions, there's one new battle mode that occasionally crops up throughout the story called Domination Battles. In these battles, you and two allies are pitted against three enemy hackers in a chess-like game where you move across a grid to capture the most spaces. You can sometimes pick which of your allies comes with you, but once you've picked your allies and your Digimon you can't change your mind. If you move onto a square an enemy has occupied, you have to fight them, and if the enemy tries to take your space, then vice versa. I found these battles got boring very quickly, with most of them just being a war of attrition and just wearing the same enemies down over and over to get enough points to win. They don't add enough variety, and the fact that they're fairly infrequent make them rather forgettable.
Outside of the new Digimon and Domination Battles, nearly everything is the same. As this game takes place at the same time as the first one, all of the real-world locations are identical. You return to places like Nakano Broadway and Shibuya multiple times, and I admit I felt nostalgic at times, remembering where events in the first game took place, but just a few more new areas would be great. There are a few more new dungeon maps to explore in cyberspace, but the same issue from its predecessor stands — almost all the dungeons look identical. Exploring the many linear corridors with a fixed camera that can only zoom in/out gets very dull very quickly. Masafumi Takada's soundtrack is also back, but it's as solid as it was in the original, and some of the new tracks are so funky you can't help but grove or bop along to them.
There's a lot I really like about Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth — Hacker's Memory. The core game is still as solid as the previous entry, and the extra Digimon sometimes make all the extra grinding worth it, but this is another 60 hours of what is essentially the same game. Die-hard fans will love it, and it's still way better than most other Digimon games out there, but as a sequel it only just hits the mark, and that's mostly down to the great foundations laid by the first game. Hacker's Memory is more of a remix than a brand new release, and there's nothing wrong than that.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.