My experience with Digimon Survive on PS4 is that I have completed the game twice now, my first playthrough being the Harmonious route, and then beating the Truthful ending on New Game plus. As I have beaten the game on the PS5 (Using a PS4 copy of the game as no PS5 version has been released) I will not be considering the potential issues that occur on other systems, so buyer beware of issues on other systems when consulting this review.
Digimon Survive is a Visual Novel game set in the franchise of Digimon and the first new console Digimon game released in 5 years and is released on several platforms being the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. The game sees the player character sent to an alternate dimension with some of their fellow classmates and must “Survive” in this strange new world filled with mysterious monsters (Known in game as Kemonogami but to us fans as Digital Monsters aka Digimon) and unknown forces while trying to find a way back home.
While the game is mostly a Visual Novel game meaning that the player follows the story through dialogue spoken between all the characters in text boxes it does feature an RPG battle mechanic that sees the player team up with their fellow classmates and their partner monsters to face off against a horde of opposing monsters.
This is without doubt the most fleshed out story in any Digimon game due to the lore of the world and the great written characters that unfolds at a good pace always leaving the player wanting to know more.
It also helps that this is the darkest and most mature that any Digimon game has been in the franchise’s history, even going beyond Digimon Tamers and the Cyber Sleuth games in tone. This is really refreshing as a fan of the franchise since its inception, as before this, most games were much lightly in tone with only some slight dark elements.
The games different endings all help elevate the story too, especially when the player takes the time to raise affinity with the other party members to learn their backstories as it helps raise the stakes since it is very easily to get invested in this story due to the quality of writing for the characters.
Without going into spoilers, Digimon Survive features 4 basic endings that any player can receive on their first playthrough, and 3 of those follow the players decisions when it comes to the Karma system in game with 1 other ending being the typical “Bad ending” that is normally featured in Visual Novels.
After the player receives their first ending, they are prompted to return to the game in New Game Plus for another playthrough but this time they can influence the playthrough to unlock the “Truthful” path and with it get a unique ending that explains more of the plot and characters, and it is worth another playthrough just to see how much is changed.
To get the Platinum trophy on PS4 the player will need to experience every ending apart from the basic “Bad” ending, so if the player decided to fully complete the game, then they will experience all the game has to offer and get the most out of its replay ability.
These are the best written characters in a Digimon game, as the writers definitely help make it so each of these characters have a fully fleshed out backstory and motivation, and for the most part (apart from one section later on) sees each of them having their own well written arc that helps explains their motivations and how they each want to improve themselves since they felt tied down in the old world. In this new dimension, through the power of anime and friendship, they each open up about their past issues and trauma and make strides to improve – if the player are able to level up their affinity during the downtime between battles.
We even see their character arcs influence how their partner Digimon, digivolve in their own side events, which was great to see, as rarely do we see a Tamer have a direct influence on the next stage of a Digimon’s cycle. The most we have in past media is seeing them get corrupted but never how they have an influence on the specific abilities of the new form and their armaments like we do in this game.
The art style featured in the game makes wonderful use of flat 2D sprites for the Visual Novel aspects with the portraits for the characters all looking clear and crisp while also highlighting the full range of emotions from the characters, as there are a large variety of different sprites for each of the characters.
Since they decided to go for a simpler art style with less details, it will also help this game age better than some of its other Digimon games from the franchise that went the 3D route and were on inferior hardware. Even then, all the Digimon games are given great sprites that resemble how they are traditionally supposed to look, with only some exaggeration (Tyrannomon for example looks great in its Digivolution cutscene – but during normal battle, the proportions do look off to a certain extent).
The environments in this game are nice and varied for a Digimon title, considering recently on console we have had the Cyber Sleuth games, meaning that most environments were either city based, or computer based with technology. This game takes the series back to its core as seen in the original Digimon Adventure Anime where players get to explore an island with varying locales on it, ranging from the basic forests to an amusement park and even more varied environments.
These locations are also not just for set dressing for the dialogue and story because when the players enter combat, the battlefield will also be an accurate representation of the current environment the player is at, and have varied layouts for those environments to help them feel distinct from each other and to not feel too repetitive.
One of the unique mechanics of this game is the Karma system. Throughout the dialogue segments of the game, the player can choose from one of three choices.
These choices are Moral (Generally the option for justice and is aligned with the Vaccine attribute), Harmonious (Generally the option that is the most caring towards the player group and utilitarian while being aligned with the Data attitude) and the final Karma option is the Wrathful choice (This is not necessarily the evil option, but rather the most aggressive or self-centred option and is aligned with the Virus attribute).
As the player progresses through the game making these choices, it influences the player path in the story and steers the player between 3 basic endings on the player first playthrough. It also influences how the player’s partner Agumon will digivolve through the story. So, unlike the traditional Anime where we see Agumon naturally digivolve into a Greymon species, here we can see it take 2 other paths leading to different Mega level Digimon rather than ending in its normal path we traditionally see.
So it is very rewarding seeing how the player character acts in game having another tangible effect for gameplay but this time directly influencing the player Digimon to alter it whenever the players Karma balance changes, so it is worth doing repeated playthroughs just to see what different form Agumon will end up with, just based on how the player reacts to different situations in the story or just dialogue choices with other party members.
Due to this being a Visual Novel about a group of people it was only to be expected that there would be an affinity system mechanic in the game to boost the relationships between the characters while also getting more backstory and lore out of the characters. However in this game, they also have a much bigger impact on the battle side of the game, than would be expected.
Throughout the game the player has a certain amount of downtime between the story and the mandatory battles and during this time the player is left open to explore the world for hidden items or recruit wild Digimon. Another option is for the player to have brief conversations with the other characters. When the player gives the correct response to their questions or just the situation in general, then it will allow that character’s affinity to raise with the player character.
This mechanic is woven greatly into the game because aside from the extra lore it also allows their partners Digimon to digivolve to higher levels, making battles a lot easier. This is because the player will be constantly outgunned by the opposition otherwise. By doing this process to gain more affinity, it will have other effects in combat like increasing the likelihood that the particular partner Digimon of that character, will do bonus things in battle such as team attacks. After the character attacks, then that teammate will also follow-up with a basic attack too and this can be very helpful when going against later game enemies.
Hidden bonus elements.
When the player gets access to the point and click aspect of the game they can explore the different zones in the environment in first person, and they can find hidden items, fights but also hidden segments of lore.
Players are also rewarded for seeking out these extra segments of lore with an exclusive item that is given when all pieces of the story are collected, or the player can run into bonus fights when exploring the point and click segments. In my experience the Digimon found within, were normally a higher level, so it always felt rewarding to do since EXP (Experience Points) earned are shared between all members of the player party in the battle. So, if the player has a weaker Digimon that the player wants to level up, then they can keep it at the back of the battlefield during these hidden fights and have it level up slightly faster than if it was in a standard free battle.
Digimon Survive features a great soundtrack, which balances the tone of the story on screen at the time very well, being able to shift on the fly to changes in characters dialogue to compliment the mood perfectly.
Quality of life techniques for New Game Plus.
To speed up the player extra playthroughs on New Game Plus, there is the option to skip all dialogue they have previously read before in prior playthroughs. This is a nice feature as it means the player is not bogged down with the repeated Visual Novel dialogue that the player will have already experienced and can more quickly get to the new dialogue and new content.
There is also the auto battle feature that is quite useful when going through the Truthful route, until I got to the new content part way through the game. Thankfully the A.I is decent in that it knows type matchups and also the benefits of positioning, so it will flank enemy Digimon before using the player’s most powerful attacks. All whilst also Digivolving the player party’s Digimon to their highest level and the form with the best attribute for the battle.
This will be the main negative aspect for a lot of players, and it is understandable for the people who have not kept up with the Japanese trailers and interviews for years. But Digimon Survive is a Visual Novel game at its core and due to that specific genre choice, it comes with an extremely specific downside for some players.
It is extremely text heavy, and players will find most of their time reading dialogue boxes with some being voiced while others are not. This means that if players do not like reading or do not read standard books and novels, then they will get bored very quickly and grow frustrated (As we saw with the initial review bombing on review aggregate sites), so I would recommend those players either see a short segment of the game beforehand before they complain.
Too simplistic RPG tactics.
During combat players have a limited amount of combat actions to take with these normally being either attack or use items.
Due to Digimon only having 2 types of attack (Basic and Signature) this really limits damaging options during gameplay. Most fights boil down to Digivolving into the player’s most powerful form and then spamming the signature attacks until all the opponents are defeated. The player will normally have 6 Digimon on their team at once, so it’s very easy to flank enemy Digimon and spam the player attacks from all sides until the battle is over.
Then due to being stuck with 2 moves it limits creativity in battle, as Pokémon for example allows 4 moves per Pokémon with a greater variety in those moves that are not pure damage and had more utility. Since with Digimon and that the most powerful moves only have a small chance of inflicting status effects, this leads to most battles being a damage race without the chance for a more in depth strategy.
This could easily be remedied by allowing Digimon to have several more moves to choose from rather than limiting players to only 2 attacking moves or using an item and the Talk command to give temporarily buffs to other Digimon.
Limited Digimon Pool.
With Digimon as a franchise celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it was only natural for the roster to keep growing year upon year with every new game, Anime, Manga, or video game always including at least one new Digimon.
In total there are over 1,400 unique Digimon now. It was to be expected that the roster would have been reduced for this game, but in total it was reduced to just 113 and that includes both the player party’s roster of Digimon, and all the wild Digimon. Since each of the player Digimon can digivolve at least 3 times as a minimum (and to avoid spoilers I am only mentioning the total amount of party Digimon shown off in trailers) but the player party consists of 8 core party members, so with taking 3 Digivolutions each into account then that’s a minimum of 32 Digimon accounted for.
This leads to a lot of Digimon getting repeated in the wild battles but also in the story-based missions. With the Digimon breaking down into 4 different types, it also limits the variety of Digimon that the player can use in battle if the player are facing off against a Virus Type Digimon. The player wants to counter it with Vaccine Type Digimon then they may have to use multiple of the same Digimon due to the lack of variety since there are 113 in total but there are 4 stages of Digivolution in this game (Rookie, Champion, Ultimate and Mega) so there are even less Digimon at each level and since they will want to be using Digimon of the highest level as they are typically more powerful than their lower level forms leading to more repetition if the player does not unlock the higher forms of the player party members Digimon with the affinity system.
Random difficulty spike.
I played through the game on Normal difficulty and had little issue going through the game. This all changed when I got to the end of Chapter 8 where the players are thrust into a very difficult boss battle where they are only left with the main Digimon and any wild Digimon recruited along the way. But, if the player has been doing well in the game and getting high affinity with the player party then they will be higher than any Wild Digimon that would have been recruited by then.
Due to gameplay it is very difficult to recruit wild Digimon along the way, so most players will just avoid recruitment and be left with a single powerful Ultimate level Digimon verses a Mega level enemy who can avoid most attacks. This means that playthrough comes to a screeching halt as the players are forced to recruit more Digimon or just grind up the player party with levels and training items (This is what I did).
Thankfully this was only a problem for me with a high difficulty spike in the one fight due to how I feel the game did not do a good job preparing the player for the encounter. After that fight the game is back to its usual good pacing for combat where the enemies offer a decent challenge on Normal as long as the player are not vastly over levelled or continuously pumping the player Agumon with the abundance of training items littered throughout the game. When these are all used on Agumon, it will allow him to nearly one-shot most enemies in the game solo (Bar the late game bosses).
Certain writing choices.
This was a major problem I had on my first playthrough but was not as severe on the Truthful path, because after a certain chapter it has most of the party acting out of character, and going backwards on their character development.
It felt like this character turn should have happened earlier in the story rather than the place it happened, as no matter how high the player affinity with the characters, the result will be the same regardless. The writing did not feel organic but should have been reworked so it flowed better in the story.
Method of Digimon recruitment.
To recruit the wild Digimon in free battle it uses a dialogue system where the player is asked a series of 3 questions and will get points based on how that Digimon reacts to the player answer. If the player gives an answer that the Digimon is very receptive to then the player will get 1 or 2 points or if it does not like the player answer, then the player will get -1 or -2 respectively.
The problem with this system is that the player needs to get at least 3 points but even if the player does get the full 6 points, then it does not increase the player’s odds of recruitment. Even the answers that the Digimon give, goes against their established characters in other media or their descriptions, and each Digimon has over 6 questions that they can ask at any time so it’s very difficult to remember what all 4 answers do following each of the 6 questions.
Most of that could be forgiven but the major problem I have is that even if the player does answer correctly, then the game does not save what dialogue options gave the correct results so it is down to the player to write down which answers were correct. Digimon themselves have such poor level of odds for recruitment, so this leads to having multiple different Digimon’s dialogue options back-to-back and if the player does not write down the correct answers or refer to a guide, then it is very easy to mess up the recruitment and have to restart the fight or move on to another battle.
Low odds of Digimon Recruitment.
Throughout the game, the odds of recruitment are never that great, as even in the final chapter of the game, some Rookie level Digimon only have a 51% chance of recruitment – meaning that half the time the Digimon will flee. But it is even worse for higher level Digimon, as at the end of the game I found a Mega level Digimon with odds of 8% meaning multiple restarts.
The major annoyance to these low odds is that there is nothing the player can do to increase these odds in battle to help make recruitment easier, so the player is just stuck there repeatedly if they are very unlucky with the odds chance.
Poor translation in parts.
While most of the game is translated fine into English, they were multiple times where the translation was either completely wrong or kept changing between 2 formats.
Without spoilers I found this happened to the character of Labramon (Who is a main party Digimon that the player meets shortly after getting the character’s Digimon) is normally referred to with female pronouns through most of the game, except in one chapter where the translation flips between female and male pronouns even in the same conversation one dialogue box after another. In another instance they swapped the names of 2 Digimon that the player are talking to in dialogue but also in their names.
This could easily be remedied as it is only in dialogue and not spoken, so the game just needs a proof-reader to go back over the script to double check for these mistakes, as the game was in development for 5 years. Whilst it changed developers, the dialogue could have been rechecked before it was shipped or can be changed now in a patch.
Due to the limited number of Digimon in the game, it is annoying where the player goes one chapter too far in the game and are then locked out of specific Digimon until the next playthrough and even some Digimon can only be found and recruited through dialogue boxes that are quite easy to miss.
Using the free battle system, there should have been at least one battle with each of the rookies found in it at the end of the game to spare the player having to do repeated playthroughs to find one Digimon, or there should have been a warning at the end of every chapter saying that if the player proceed beyond here then the player will be permanently locked out of these specific Digimon.
Missing story segment.
Throughout the game we see all the partner Digimon digivolve from Rookie to Champion and beyond with great cinematics and dialogue around the event, but for some reason this is skipped with one party member where when they are added to the party shortly into the game their partner can already digivolve to Champion offscreen.
Given that flashbacks are a common occurrence in this game this could have been easily fixed with having a flashback after they joined the party of what situation led to their partner Digivolving for the first time or just make it so that they only get to the Champion level after the player have levelled up their affinity like every other party member.
Recruitable Digimon spoil Digivolution lines for party members.
Due to the limited number of Digimon featured in this game, it can spoil what the party members Digimon can digivolve into, as this happened to me on my playthrough. One of the Ultimate Digimon in the tree was spoiled by fighting a wild version of it, because when this happens the black shadowy figure in the Digivolution tree is filled out in colour with the Digimon displayed.
They should have just left the partner Digimon’s trees in shadow, so players were not spoilt by not choosing that specific karma path during their playthrough.
Camera control in battle.
Just a minor issue but during the battles in game when the player goes to change the camera, the player is forced to use 1 of 4 camera angles rather than a free control camera where players had a full 360 degrees of freedom in battle, as it is now enemy Digimon can be blocked behind terrain, so it was easy to lose track of them where there was 10+ characters on the field at once.
This is easily the best Digimon game narrative wise in my experience, and I would highly recommend this game to all Digimon fans or even newcomers for the franchise due to this being a great jumping on point. This is now my favourite Visual Novel game that is only slightly bogged down by its battle system and slight padding issues. When playing the game, make sure to go for the Truthful ending on New Game Plus to get the full and best ending as it really heightens the rest of the game.
I would say to any potential players to go into this game with an open mind as it was always advertised for years as visual novel game with light RPG elements even with changing developers part way through, so if the player enjoys Visual Novels then the player will get more enjoyment out of this game than the average gamer and all the issues I had with the game were only minor in the grand scheme of things.
I wish this game would be adapted into a future Anime as more people need to experience the world of Survive and its characters.
7.5 (First playthrough only)
8.5 (Truthful ending)
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant
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