"Digimon World: Next Order is messy on almost every conceivable level. "
Taro Gomi's sage wisdom
has further application than my two-year-old self could have ever imagined. You see, it's not just organic life that poops — oh no, my sweet summer children. Under the right conditions, even digital lifeforms can poop. And poop they shall, ever onward, piling high into perpetuity, a dull-purple avalanche of electronic excrement to engulf everything in its haunting enormity.
Digimon World: Next Order is a video game full of creatures that poop. It is also an experience that can be likened to poop, one that kept me and two tenacious friends up into the night obstinately blazing a trail through its unique vision of creature-rearing hell. People like these games enough that six of them exist. How? Why? Has humanity transgressed so egregiously that somehow, in some twisted way, we've earned this misery? Will I ever be happy again? Why is there so much poop
In the ancient battle between the earliest Pokémon and Digimon games, the former triumphed thanks to its simple (yet deceptively deep) mechanics, while the latter opted for complexity at the expense of accessibility. Digimon World: Next Order continues this trend, building a tiresome, threadbare narrative around a dense and impenetrable creature-management simulation that relishes in gut-punching the player every time they make progress. But somehow, against all reason, that only made me more stubborn about not letting it win.
The game runs in cyclical fashion, despite having a banal story to tell. As a goofy-looking Digimon trainer who only talks in repeated interrobangs, the player is tasked with raising two creatures from egg to adulthood and using their abilities to clear insipid quests that typically involve fighting other Digimon. Some of them, when defeated, return to the player's home base, adding more facilities to streamline and improve creature development...until their partner Digimon die, and then the cycle begins anew. The story that serves as window dressing for the entire affair is so devoid of charisma that it might as well not exist, with predictable characters who spout one-liners about trusting in their partners and little else of value.
While fortifying the player's headquarters is reasonably entertaining, the rest of the game amounts to little more than wading through menus and watching AI creatures fumble around in battle. Every Digimon can and must evolve several times to become strong enough to progress through the game, and the player spends most of their time in a dojo selecting training commands to boost their monsters' stats. Every evolution requires certain stat values to reach a specific threshold, and these are initially obscured until their requirements are discovered via semi-random means. This makes for a ton of trial and error, especially considering how poorly explained the training mechanics are, and it remains frustrating until an option to eliminate unwanted Digimon evolutions unlocks in the mid-to-late game.
When not slamming their head into the dojo wall, the player takes their partner Digimon out into a relatively small overworld to fight and complete quests. Battles are almost fully automated and victory is subject to each Digimon's stats, with the exception of a few trainer commands (that feel more like suggestions, considering the creatures' awful pathing and general unresponsiveness), making combat a chore at best. Enemy balance is all over the place; I fought two foes of the same level in the same zone, one of which I steamrolled, while the other obliterated me in a single hit.
Keep in mind that the Digimon are pooping throughout all of this. Guess who has to clean it up?
Any one of the game's poorly designed systems could have dragged the experience down, but it's messy on almost every conceivable level. Its mechanics are opaque. Its controls are sloppy and often nonsensical — why does L1 correspond to my partner Digimon on the right and R1 correspond to my partner Digimon on the left, and why are there two different main menus accessed by two different buttons? Its soundtrack is short and repetitive, its voice acting is grating, its visuals are low-budget, its localization is full of errors and awkward, clumsily formatted text...the list goes on.
All of this mud-slinging comes with a single caveat: The more I think about Digimon World: Next Order, the more I admire its moxie. I've spoken poorly about it, sure, and I think it's a pretty bad game, but there's something bizarrely magnetic about it once you've gotten in deep enough. Perhaps I'm simply coming to terms with my latent masochistic tendencies. With that being said, I would have never put so much energy into the game had I not been playing it for the express purpose of writing this review. If nothing else, the continued existence of the Digimon World sub-series attests to the fact that there is clearly a market for this sort of obtuse, micro-level creature simulation. I'm not in that market, but damn if I was about to let it take me down a peg.
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.