|Publisher:||Namco Bandai Games|
|Official Website:||English Site|
This is a review of the latest console Digimon title. Before I review it though, I'm going to talk about a completely different game. That game is Evergrace.
Evergrace was made by a small-time developer, known for the Armored Core series and a bunch of mediocre RPGs. That company is "From Software." From Software began their development of Evergrace for PlayStation One, but then ported it over so it could be a near-launch title for PlayStation 2. The results were disastrous: programming errors, awful loading times, weird graphics... it was terrible.
But at least they had an excuse. It was one of the first games for the PlayStation 2, from a small third-party developer, and it was transitioned from PlayStation One. Contrast that with Digimon World: Data Squad. Released in Japan in late 2006, the latest in a series of Digimon console titles. The game features cel-shaded graphics, voice acting, and simple in-game animations (on field and in battle). So here's a question for you: six years after a console's release, how long do you expect load times to be? If your answer is "virtually zero," you'd be right. So let's talk about Digimon World: Data Squad.
I put both the preview test disc and the retail copy of the game in three different PlayStation 2 consoles and one PlayStation 3. The results were almost all the same. When transitioning from field to battle, the time spent waiting for the opportunity to press any buttons came to 12 (twelve) seconds. The average battle animation (and subsequent "return the camera to panning around the battlefield") averaged 8 (eight) seconds. Keep in mind, these are for short, underwhelming battle animations. The load time from ending a battle to returning to the field is approximately 5 (five) seconds. Before each and every piece of voice-acted dialogue, a pause (somewhere between .25 and .50 seconds) takes place to load the audio. Wait times when changing from one screen to another on the field was generally 3 (three) seconds.
Is this acceptable for a PlayStation 2 game in 2007? Absolutely not. It is totally unacceptable. Even an early-era PlayStation 2 game could do better than this. Most PlayStation One games even do better than this. Sitting through these load times is torture.
Are we having fun yet?
It gets worse. I dare say it, but at the least the loading times bore me in the sense that they are essentially nothing. It's better to be bored by "nothing" than it is to be bored by "something." And that's exactly what this game will do: bore you.
Here's a layout of the gameplay. In Digimon World: Data Squad, battles take place through random encounters on the field. Though the primary interface seems simple enough (attack, guard, support, or flee are your four main options), there are some unique features to this RPG. First and foremost, your digimon have a will of their own. They have ideas as to what they ought to do, and this is displayed on the menu screen in a unique way. For example, Agumon may want to use a flame breath attack; however, he is also considering using an "attack up" skill to boost his parameters for the battle. While the choice is yours to make, you would do well to pick the one Agumon wants to do most. You can tell what it is he wants to do by the number of times that particular command appears on the menu screen (in little hexagonal boxes). Furthermore, you cannot order your digimon to do something that he is completely unwilling to do (that is, the option is not displayed on the menu). So if you want to flee from battle, you cannot unless your digimon is content to flee as well. In other words, you generally cannot flee from battle on your first turn. Talk about a time-waster.
The other unique system in the game is that of "digivolving." Okay, so maybe the concept was ripped from Pokémon, but there are some noticeable differences that may pique your interest. First of all, your digimon does not just digivolve down one set path. There is actually a map with a unique star system for each digimon, and different paths are mapped out. The requirements for digivolving down one path or another may vary, but you have your options. The other major difference is that if you think you made a mistake in taking your digimon down a road you didn't want, it's never too late to turn back. Unlike a Pokémon creature who, once evolved, could never go back, your digimon can change back and forth with relative ease. As to why you would want to do this? Different forms have different skills and attributes; some will be more offensive, others will provide much-needed support and defense.
All in all, the gameplay showed some promise. But monotonous battles, small fields (with no map) coupled with a high encounter rate, and the awful load times kill any semblance of fun that I could have had.
So what's it all about?
So the Data Squad game is based on the anime series of the same name. Yes, they're still trying to cash in on the Digimon series, which will forever be inferior to Pokémon (in terms of quality and sales). Let's give a basic plot rundown.
The game opens with seemingly no background information or story. You are literally thrust right into the middle of a mission in the digital world. The player immediately takes control of protagonist Marcus Damon (the lead character of the Digimon Data Squad anime series). Marcus' digimon, the now-infamous Agumon, is sent to battle some wild digimon in the "Digital World." In this mission, however, Marcus and Agumon encounter a villainous digimon named "Creepymon." This creepy bad-guy nearly defeats them, but he runs off at the sight of Marcus's Digivice (the device used to call digimon and lets them "digivolve").
Shortly after, Marcus meets up with two more members of the DATS (Digital Accident Tactics Squad) team: Yoshino, who controls "Lalamon," and Thomas, who is partnered with "Gaomon." Eventually, they also get together with Keenan Crier, whose digimon is "Falcomon." These four make up the main team in the game.
The plot basically involves saving close friends and family from the real world who have been kidnapped and taken into the digital world. Conceptually, this is a neat idea, but the execution (particularly the voice acting) is terrible. The story goes nowhere fast, and as for the ending? I don't know, because I didn't get there. I generally make it my policy to beat any RPG I plan to review, but not this one. It's not happening.
In a few words, the cel-shaded stuff is decent and would've been impressive in 2003. These days it's standard, but apparently the developers didn't know how to program cel-shaded characters without causing extreme load times. The music is standard fare, occasionally borrowing themes from the anime. The voice acting is awful, particularly for Marcus (the game's protagonist). The best voice actors were those who performed for the digimon, since they had license to sound more like an animal and less like a person.
The end, and thank the heavens!
I can see no reason why anyone would want to play this game to completion. With a lot of work, and a completely different development team, the game had the potential to be average (the source material is, let's face it, pretty weak). In its present form, the game is terrible. Some have called Evergrace the worst RPG for PlayStation 2. Friends, I offer up a new contender. Digimon World: Data Squad is worse than any RPG I've played for this console, and I hope it is the worst, because if something came out that's worse than this at the end of the console's life, then I'd have to give up on the gaming industry in general. Note to Namco Bandai: higher quality next time, please!
Oh, and if you are one of the faithful few that do still enjoy Digimon, let me point you in another direction. Namco Bandai simultaneously released a pair of DS games, "Dawn" and "Dusk," in the Digimon lineup. These play out much better than the PS2 title, so feel free to check those out.