After 70 hours, I finally completed Digimon Cyber Sleuth on Vita. 30 hours of that is used for grinding because I want to collect all the cool looking animals. It can be easily completed in half the time if I didn’t bother to digivolve and min/max most of my pokedigimons.

The secret is that I don’t care about Digimon. I watched some of the first 3 seasons of the anime and  fiddle with Digimon World 3  before but it got pretty tough right from the start and the load time killed me so I gave up after an hour in. From that, I gather that Digimon games have a rather simplistic plot to push you towards rearing and growing your digimon. Your goal of that game is to collect and evolve these Digimon to build your team and the stories are there just to serve as a motivation to collect and grow more digimon. Cyber sleuth do have that as well but it’s not really the main focus; Digimon in this game acts like Persona in the Persona games; tools that you used for battles to advance the plot that surround the casts. I described it as more of a cyber detective story with a sci fic setting that just happen to have digimons.

Digimon in the game acts like your usual npc in a jrpg. They are analogs for your villagers, big bad boss, pets and mecha machine you ride in instead. You can sub out all the digimon and replace it with generic animals/races and nothing will change. The main focus is all the tiny stories it tells, stories that range from supernatural tragedy about a lost pet to a goofy comedic doctor that uses digimon’s feces to make medicine. The whole idea of growing and rearing your digimon takes a backseat for the story it wants to tell.

I always thought that video game stories are pretty good at crafting entertaining character moments. It’s difficult to weave a complex narrative with so much pause in battles and exploration so the whole narrative might not be up to standard but the individual character interactions can be charming and interesting. Well regarded stories such as FF6 and the Mario& Luigi RPGs are not well regarded because of its strength in its overall theme but more of the individual character moments. We remember Cyan bidding farewell to his families and the tantrum Baby Bowser threw instead of a clown destroying the world for no reason or aliens. It’s the interactions of the casts that makes the sum of the whole and an enjoying experience than the whole overall narrative.

Cyber Sleuth did it pretty well in this aspect. It has full of moments like those and it hits pretty well especially when Digimon acts as an analog of a pet. We have lots of heart warming moments of the interactions of an owner interacting with their pets and the pets response back to their owners’ kindness.

The main casts of characters are also pretty well written with it own unique quirkiness that are familiar but not generic. I especially love Nokia as a character.  She is a spunky energetic girl who isn’t embarrass to shout “LOVE! PEACE! MIRACLE!” in broken Japanese English for no reason. Her energy bring in a lot of the best moments in the game such as how she pose like a super robot hero for the “gattai” of two digimons without realizing that they can actually combine. She just do it because it seems right was utterly surprise that it works. It’s amazing and she supply bulk of the comedic moments like these. You can watch the moment in this video

The self insert main character is also pretty well written. I always thought that Persona 4 main character is way better than the Persona 3 one because he actually has his own snarky but cool personality that seep through from all the dialog choices in the game. The dialog choices clearly portray a character with personality instead of a generic blank slate. I played Dancing all Night where the main character was no longer a blank slate and he was totally what I imagined to be; cool, aloof but confident. Compare that to P3 where I don’t really know who the hell he is or why would he do what he do, I think the way P4 handle its dialog choices work way better. Cyber Sleuth deals with its silent protag the same way.

Actually, silent protag is a misnomer because they sometimes have their own dialogs and well defined personality. He/she is aloof, kinda happy go lucky but sometimes very witty with their comebacks. Characters describe your main protag as very laid back and half ass but effective; their words, not mine. This clearly shows that the character actually has a well defined personality and it’s not really a self insert. They have their own agency and the dialog choice you choose portray a specific character trait that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. They do what they do and you understand why they choose what they chose. Characters also break the fourth wall sometimes and wonder why the main character just stand there silently and stare at them. It’s funny because it has that type of self awareness.

My main criticism for the game is actually the game part. For one, the load time is sometimes unbearable. You have to load every few minutes of play. Transitioning screen takes 3 to 4 second to load and you hit those regularly for every 10 to 20 steps. Battles animations are of ok length but sometimes you really wish that you have the option to turn them off when you grind. Luckily, the mechanics for grinding are all very friendly because experience points come easily and you have ways to avoid/trigger battles at will after a certain point in the game. You also don’t really need to grind to complete the game but I enjoyed grinding and looking at all the numbers going up. I also like to collect all the cool looking digimons but it’s not really that necessary.

The turn based combat is serviceable but the whole element system is whacked. I don’t even know which elements are effective against which because it’s not illustrated clearly. It doesn’t really matter though because adv/disadv are tied more to the type of digimon rather than the elements themselves. Near the end of the game you will have powerful spells that ignore the defense of the enemies so it doesn’t really matter anymore.

For the first 5 or so hours, the battles are idiotically simple because you can go through them just by pressing “A” nonstop. Even after that, you can win almost every battle through auto battles. It’s not a challenging game barred some optional missions. Some of the optional missions are pretty fun where you really need to strategize on which digimon with what skills to bring. That is when all the buff/debuff system comes in as well. I judge a good turn base jrpg combat by the necessity of buff/debuff. I don’t really like the combat in games like Final Fantasy and Pokemon because I can go through the whole game without using any buff/debuff. Compare that to great combat situations like SMT/Etrian Odsessy where buffing can mean kill or be killed, games like FF/Pokemon just don’t have that strategic fun in their battles.  This is secretly why FF8 has the best combat system in all the FF I played because you can turn off the encounters.

The whole loop of evolving and devolving your digimon is surprisingly additive as well. It utilize similar system like those in Persona where you learn a set of skills that can be inherited except that you don’t combine two monsters together(even though sometimes you need to for certain evolution). Instead, they just evolve or devolve as one entity.

To evolve to the next stage, it requires a set of stats, potential and level that a digimon has. Potential affect your level cap and how much stats can be enhanced by using items or training in your digifarm. Some criteria in evolution can only be met with enough potential and enhancement because the monster cannot reach that stats even when they maxed their level. You can improve their potential by going through cycle of evolving and devolving. The whole enhancing of stats process is done by leaving your digimon in the digifram and wait for 30 mins to 2 hr in game time after you ordered them to train. You can continue with your story if you actually planned it well to make the wait as painless as it can be. I find the whole process to be pretty friendly and easy to understand so it was serviceable. I really enjoy grinding and making my party overpowered in JRPG so I like the process. Again, you don’t actually need to go through that unless you want certain overpowered digimon.

The way you capture digimon is by scanning them via random encounters. For each digimon you met in battle, there’s a scanning gauge that fills up. Once you reach 100% or over, you can hatch them to your storage. This makes random encounter meaningful but it quickly became moot once you collected around 20+ digimon which you can get within 10 hours of the game. By the time you can digivolve all kinds of monsters, the thrill of capturing a new one is not fresh anymore. However, it’s a way to freshen up the encounters and motivation to want to have random encounters. After a certain point, you can have skills that let you avoid all encounters or trigger any encounters so it did pretty well in that aspect.

The dungeon are really kinda uninspired. You just go through corridors to find an exit. There aren’t interesting puzzles to solve or anything creative. The quests in game are also similar in that they are a bunch of fetch quests or “fight this digimon” stuff. However, the stories from all the quests are pretty interesting and supplied a lot of heart warming moments I mentioned above. All in all, the game play is kinda serviceable but stale. It’s painless and ok enough but the solid writing and presentations carried the game. This conclusion actually applied to all the Legend of Heroes games as well; serviceable combats that had some strategies, stale game play, corridor dungeons that are not fun to explore but they are carried by an interesting casts and good writing.

The best 2015 game I completed is actually kinda stupid because that is the only 2015 game I completed. I guess technically the Chinese version of Phantasy Star Nova is 2015 but it’s originally a 2014 game anyway. I actually completed a lot of games this year but none of them are entirely new. However, they are games that are among the top of my list. Namely, Shadow Hears 2, Xenoblade on wii, Mario Luigi PiT, Last Story, Bayonetta, Super Metroid, FF9, Persona 4 Golden, Phantasy Star Nova, Digimon Cyber Sleuth, Legend of Heroes 6 FC, LOH 5, Super Mario 3D World, Fire Emblem 11,12 and 13, Azure Gunvolt, Zero Escape 2, FF6, Mother 1, Tales of Abyss, MGS 1 and maybe some others that I forgot.