Though the air is only filled with the familiar heavy clacks of a keyboard and light clicks of a mouse, in actuality these are the swung swords and loosed arrows of an epic war. A battle of gods and monsters rages on the digital plane, helmed by everyday people who, in the new reality, become much more than the physical. Some wield Digimon like weapons, while others treat them like companions. All recognize the power they hold. Though you may not see yourself as the main character, the hero of your own tale, your decisions and path will change the course of worlds.
Digimon Story Cybersleuth: Hacker’s Memory is the sequel to the cult hit of the same, minus the subheading, name. You play a young man who’s not quite sure what his place in life is, reserved to play whatever hand is dealt to him, until is he forced to become more than his sense of self-worth. Aided by fellow hackers, using the new tools called Digimon, you will solve mysteries, forge friendships, and battle powers beyond comprehension, all while questioning the stability of your reality. Every day teen stuff.
Hacker’s Memory takes place alongside the first game, its events interwoven with the previous installment’s, though never so strictly linked that you’re retreading the same areas (at least metaphorically). You play a young man who has had his account stolen, which in turn severely damages his reputation and forces him to leave school until he can clear his name. Ironically, to prove to everyone that he’s not a nefarious hacker, he must become a hacker in order to track down his account and punish those responsible for its theft.
The usual themes of the power of friendship and love linger within Hacker’s Memory; their inclusion seems almost unavoidable in a Digimon title. However, there is also the more mature aspects of questioning what makes a human a human, and what constitutes consciousness, layered within. In a world further along in VR than we are, people begin to question their existence. Are they the physical forms they use every day? Or are they the digital consciousness they upload to the Internet? It’s an interesting concept, but unfortunately is not explored with due diligence.
There is a serious problem with pacing in Hacker’s Memory. Big story strokes are separated by long meandering bouts of case solving and relationship building. While forging stronger friendships is pivotal to the story, how it’s handled brings the whole product down. Too often the player is asked to solve some inconsequential case just to fill for time. Story events are arbitrarily separated by the time spent on these often-silly cases.
Padding is the second biggest problem with the writing in Hacker’s Memory. Characters will ramble on incessantly, driving home the same point over and over and over. The game even mocks itself several times concerning this problem, but self-awareness is not an excuse for failure. If anything, being self-aware of the problem, but doing nothing to fix it, is much worse than blissful ignorance. It’s tempting to mash through conversations because you just want to get back to battling and raising Digimon. However, story tidbits and information on where to go next are hidden within these walls of text, so there’s no freeing yourself unless you have a walkthrough on hand.
Thankfully the game isn’t all boring conversations with the same few characters. The meat and potatoes of Hacker’s Memory is the raising and battling of Digimon. Battles play out in a 3v3 match up, with you at the advantage of having up to 8 other Digimon on reserve, in case things go south for the starting line-up. Actions are turn based, with positions determined by individual Speed values. Awareness of type and attribute advantages are key to smooth victories, much like in Pokemon. Battling is enjoyable with its leisurely pace, though that can be quickened by turning off attack animations.
A fair challenge exists in battles, though not necessarily in the random encounters spread out between you and the boss Digimon/trainers. At most, the roadblock you’ll face with random encounters is, if you do not have the proper type advantage, enemy Digimon become damage sponges, dragging battles out to interminable lengths. This is just more reason to vary up the types and damage elemental attributes you have on hand, so it never comes to that.
Raising your Digimon is far more complex than what you would experience in a Pokemon title. Whereas in Pokemon evolution is one-way and often linear, Digimon have far more freedom in how they both digivolve and de-digivolve (reverting back to previous forms). In fact, moving left and right on the evolutionary line is necessary to reach the furthest point of your Digimon’s growth. This means a lot of grinding, as the level resets at every form change, and some Digimon will require a lot of form changes in order to make it to the next level. This level of complexity and grinding will turn away a lot of potential players who are uninterested in investing that much time and energy into digigrowth. However, if you aren’t turned off by constantly breeding your Pokemon with Ditto in order to get the perfect IV spread and nature, then ABI and CAM grinding will seem like a walk in the park.
In addition to regular battles, Hacker’s Memory adds some unique battles for the player to engage in. These Domination battles act as boss encounters, of sorts, testing your ability to pick a good starting 3 (since they’ll be your only three for the duration) and strategy for positioning as you fight for control of the field. It’s a nice change of pace and a welcomed addition.
Between battles, and story beats, are cases that must be solved and cases that can be utterly ignored. They come in waves, prompted by completion of story events. Some are not connected to the major story at hand, but still must be completed so the game can say time has passed and events have taken place that need your attention. While the premise of each case is different, the means of completing them is almost always the same: battle some Digimon. This is fine, since battling is the highlight of the game. All cases come with their own rewards, and some even grant you partner Digimon you can call on to aid you in future cases.
Exploration is aided by hacking functions, while in the digital world. These controls let you create floors over gaps, increase your movement speed, increase or decrease encounter rates, etc. The accelerated movement is the most welcomed addition as players of the first game will find themselves very familiar with the locations of Hacker’s Memory. Nearly every location that was in the first installment is in the second, forcing players to retread locations they’ve likely been to a lot (one for exploration, and two for grinding). Real world locations are reused as well.
If you’ve played the first Cybersleuth game, then everything Hacker’s Memory has to show you in sight and sound will be abundantly familiar. There is a staggering amount of asset reuse in this title. So much so that it makes the $60 price tag rather offensive. That’s not to say work wasn’t put into this game, but to say it had the same level of developer involvement as the first one would undoubtedly be false. It would have been preferable to just release an expansion pack for the first game, so players could keep their hard-earned teams while going through new challenges and capturing new Digimon.
Since nearly every asset is reused, the game’s graphics and audio are graded the same as its predecessor’s. Graphically the game looks very nice, opting for style over realism, which is, and always will be, the best path for a video game to take. There’s not much in the way of character model movement, however. Models give an expressive movement and are stuck in that position until the dialogue says otherwise. Models are positioned like in a visual novel, standing on either side of a text box that sometimes they’ll read but most of the time you’ll be going over. Hacker’s Memory has surprisingly depth for its musical quality, enough to prompt one to want to listen to the tracks outside of the game. The songs in this game fit the tech-aesthetic perfectly and are so absolutely cool. Where Persona 5 utilized jazz rock for its stellar soundtrack, Hacker's Memory uses techno and electronic for some toe-tapping hits.
Digimon Story CyberSleuth: Hacker’s Memory is a near identical sibling to the first CyberSleuth entry, with some new additions but also new problems. The abundant asset reuse is grossly overdone, and makes one feel that it should have just been an expansion pack. Gameplay is the same as it was before, which is a positive, along with some quality-of-life improvements that make the second quest through the digital battles more enjoyable. Writing needs a lot of work, as its interesting themes of consciousness and self-identity are bogged down by nonstop inane character chatter. There’s also the missed opportunity of allowing your character to pick from all the NPC models for their digital avatar, since they’re using a loaner account anyway.
At the end of the day, if you enjoyed the first game, you’ll enjoy Hacker’s Memory almost exactly the same amount. A full price purchase can only be recommended to those who deeply enjoyed CyberSleuth and wanted more. Hacker’s Memory comes with nearly 100 new Digimon, so more is exactly what you’ll be getting. But with more features comes more problems. Regardless, none of them should come as any surprise to players of the first game, so if they didn’t bother you enough then, they likely won’t bother you now. Though this review covers the PS4 version, and thus cannot comment on the quality of the Vita version, the Vita version is $20 cheaper, so consider that when thinking of which version to buy.
Do you agree with this take on the Digimon sequel? Are you planning on buying the game or will you pass? Let us know in the comments below and thanks for reading!
|+ Nearly 100 new Digimon, for a total of 340!||– Abundant asset reuse.|
|+ Amazing OST.||– Meandering dialogue and stilted pacing.|
+ Combat is enjoyable, with worthy challenges.