Review: Digimon World Data Squad

digimon_world_data_squad.JPGPlatform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: BEC
Release Date: 9/18/07
Genre: RPG
Players: 1

For a licensed kid’s game, Digimon World Data Squad can be moderately addictive once you get past the usual trappings of a licensed product, the frequent, lengthy battle sequences and long load times. The game is a turn-based RPG that’s going to be like sugar to ants for its target audience, but parents (or adults like me that didn’t get games like these for favorite toys when we were growing up) probably might find a fair amount of fun here as well. Solid cel-shaded characters blend well with the 3D backdrops, the gameplay is simple enough for anyone to pick up. Look past the the Saturday morning dialog and there are enough familiar plot elements to keep things pretty interesting.

If you’re not familiar with the Digimon Data Squad TV show, the game drops you right into things with enough info to get you started – the rest you’ll learn as you play. The main story has you playing as Marcus Damon as he and the other DATS team try to stop a pack of evil Digimon from completing their invasion of the real world. In a way, it’s like a kiddie version of The Matrix, but with overly cute Digimon doing the fighting on your side. You’re up against a wide range of virtual baddies headed up by the evil Creepymon, who looks quite like something Go Nagai would have dreamed up after too much children’s aspirin.

As you navigate the often twisty, map-less overworld, random encounters occur with more than enough frequency to keep your Digimon leveling up fairly regularly. However, the gameplay revolves more around “Digivolving” your little guys into bigger, meaner guys (and sometimes back) as the game progresses. When a battle begins, you’ll see your fastest Digimon on screen surrounded by colored hex shapes. Red signifies Attack icons, Yellow are Guard/Defend, Green are Support icons and Blue is Escape. All you need to do is count up the shapes on screen, select the appropriate icon and watch the move(s) play out. This keeps the game from being too difficult for beginners, at least in the early hours. When attacked by a much faster creature or creatures, you might get jacked up a bit before you get in a chance to attack, forcing a retreat or some healing item usage.

Those kids who know Digimon inside and out will be absolutely entranced with all the combat and leveling aspects, not to mention the over 140 Digimon and 250 items in the game. The cool thing about the Digivolving command is that it can be done during battles to turn the tide fairly easily. It’s actually a double-edged sword, as often, you don’t know what your pet will evolve into, thanks to random conditions such as “Must use X number of attacks” or “Must use X item X times.” You only find out what the evolution path is as you experiment, so at times, you might regress into a smaller, weaker Digimon during a crucial battle. While this didn’t happen to me too many times, on a few occasions I got stuck with a less than perfect Digimon who wanted to run away after getting slapped around a bit too much during a boss fight.

Keeping your Digimon team happy and well-fed helps them fight better, while neglecting their in and out of battle needs will have you seeing the Game Over screen way too many times. The game definitely rewards true fans over casual players who happen to pick this up on a whim. Then again, I can’t recall anyone picking up a game like this because there wasn’t anything else in the RPG section of a game store, but you never know. Meanwhile, back at the review ranch, the brightly colored characters look super and the background environments are pretty large and very maze-like, which will lead to some getting lost by younger players. My suggestion here is to pull the camera way out using the right stick, as the default close in view makes it harder to navigate. As for the overabundance of random battles, well, just enjoy the levels, loot and items you’ll be stocking up on.

You’ll hear some decent enough sound effects, music along with all the voices from the show in and out of cutscenes and yes, all the voice actors give their 100% as usual for a game of this type. It’s hard to criticize cartoon-based games like these for having “bad” voice acting because you’d have to only toss a TV remote to hit another kid’s show that has the same voice actors doing different characters. I choose to rate it on my “Do the actors sound like they’re playing characters or just reading lines” sliding scale and the folks here are playing characters to the hilt.

So there you have it, short and to the point. Digimon World Data Squad is going to be perfect for fans of the show, but more mature RPG fanatics looking for a game with major advances in story, visuals or technology will probably find too much to gripe about to fully enjoy the ride. One great thing about this and other Namco Bandai anime-based titles is the company’s commitment to getting color manuals and stuff like stickers to fans without fail. I’m always up for trying out any type of game in the genre, so as long as these guys keep the anime game flame lit, I’ll be flitting up with my moth wings on, trying to stay warm without getting burned.

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