Saturday, November 7, 2015

Children's War Game: Digimon Pendulum, the D-Challenge and Second Grand Prix (1998-99)


Original photo taken and uploaded by Jay Llim. Clockwise from left; Digimon Pendulum 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0.
On October 14th, 1998, Weekly Shounen Jump and V Jump hosted the "Autumn Digimon Festival" (秋のデジモン祭り Aki no Dejimon Matsuri). This was where the second D-1 Grand Prix was announced; in addition to the new information on the franchise that was given out, fans could battle Digimonkey's Etemon at the event, and as part of a promotion Digimonkey evolved to a new variation on the mascot called "Super Digimonkey." (スーパーデジモンキー Suupaa Dejimonkii) The biggest announcement to come from the event was the launch of the Digimon Pendulum series, which would usher in a new era for Digimon and serve as the backbone of the second Grand Prix.

According to project leader Oota Kensuke, the Digimon Pendulum devices were originally named for the pendulum backbreaker move in professional wrestling. Oota had heard the phrase as a child, thinking it sounded cool, but when he looked up the definition of "pendulum" (in English) he was disappointed. Nonetheless, the name stuck with him and came back to mind when it was decided that the new device would have a pendulum feature. Although the difficulty of the word was taken as evidence that it would be impractical to try and sell to children, Oota felt the name would appeal to kids because it was difficult. And where the Digital Monster pets were modeled on cages, the Pendulum was designed to be a quintessential piece of high technology, the appearance of which Oota selected from a number submitted by WiZ's designers.

In terms of its setting, Pendulum moved the franchise away from File Island and onto the Folder Continent, used as a plot device to explain the stronger and more variegated Digimon found on the Pendulum pets. The lore for each Digimon at this time was distributed in V Jump's official guides, which went on sale in proximity to each pet's release date and both featured full color illustrations as well as text descriptions, that would later be used as the basis for the Digimon Reference Book in 2007. Graphically, Pendulum sprites evolved to a three-fourths view instead of a profile view. This particular change would remain popular to the present day, being the version of Agumon used on Digimon Web, though some games like -next 0rder- would stick with the Digital Monster sprites.

Pendulum 1.0: Nature Spirits with cage. Cages like this were sold at D-1 events as premium protection for serious tamers.
Official V Jump guide.
Ten days after the festival, Digimon Pendulum 1.0: Nature Spirits launched in two colors, silver on blue and silver on gunmetal. Its 1.5 update launched in January 1999 in clear on blue and clear on gunmetal. Focused on insect, jungle, and angel Digimon, Pendulum 1.0 completely shook the groundwork that the Digital Monster pets had rested on. Several aspects of the Pendulum ensured a near unanimous shift away from Ver. 1~5, primarily that all Pendulum Digimon register as group L when connected to an older model device. In practical terms this kept the Pendulum competitive, as now instead of investing all the trouble to raise a Monzaemon or Ex-Tyrannomon, a tamer could pick anything on the Pendulum for results that were already equal to those monsters but less difficult to raise. The Pendulum also added a sixth evolutionary level, Ultimate. Unlike the other evolutionary levels, there were two ways to reach Ultimate in Pendulum, either through traditional evolution or through the new Jogress function.

Joint Progress was achieved by linking two compatible Pendulum devices and fusing the two Digimon within, causing the original Digimon in each device to evolve into one new Digimon. Neither device was left empty, because it was truly joint progress that was being made, so both tamers ended up with a copy of the new Digimon.

Jogress was only possible between two compatible Digimon. This was related to the game's proper introduction of the attribute cycle, a first for the virtual pets. In this system each Digimon was classified as Vaccine, Virus, or Data, and was strong against one type while weak against another. Unlike later entries in the series, in Pendulum there were no non-elemental "Free" or "Null" Digimon. The outcome of the Jogress depended on which attributes were used, with two Vaccines creating a Vaccine and the same went for double Data and double Virus. When two different attributes were mixed the formula applied was Vaccine x Data = Vaccine, Data x Virus = Virus, and Virus x Vaccine = Data. However, these rules could only be applied to Jogressing Child-level Digimon to the Adult stage. When Jogressing to Perfect and Ultimate, under Pendulum rules both Digimon had to be of the same attribute or they would be incompatible. The Jogress system added a social aspect to raising Digimon beyond just battling, as which Digimon one could raise was directly related to the Digimon their peers were raising. It thus encouraged cooperation among children to ensure that everyone would raise Digimon that benefited an entire friend group, while not acting to the detriment of anyone that participated.

One of the wonders of LCD games is that they effectively form a closed system isolated from standard game hacking tools, and so remain enigmatic years after their launch where console games have been picked apart endlessly. In both English and Japanese the Pendulum mechanics are less well documented than the Digital Monster mechanics, so much of what I'll be addressing for this chapter comes in translation from Japanese texts that are only mostly certain about the inner workings of the devices. If a section becomes too technical, I'd advise moving on past it. Primarily I am relying on the official V Jump D Project guide, as well as their Pendulum guides, with secondary information from the unofficial guides published by File Island, V-Tamer's Residence, NHOKO, and the now-defunct Keibunsha. Keibunsha's guides were some of the last they published prior to going bankrupt in 2002, for good reason. They were primarily V Jump knockoffs, with little additional content.

The Pendulum pets introduced a means of giving the tamer more influence in battle through the device's titular internal pendulum. This was the first such device with a "count" feature that allowed a tamer to increase their Digimon's power when prompted before a battle began or when doing training. By shaking the device up and down, the user caused the internal pendulum to detect the motion. Depending on the tempo of the tamer's shake, the Digimon's power would go up or down. The tamer's goal was to balance the count at a specific value, not simply to shake as fast as possible. Doing so, they raised their probability of dealing a stronger attack, and with perfect performance could guarantee their Digimon would use their special attack several times in succession.



This was also the pet that introduced Digimon Power, a point system necessary to evolve, train, and battle. DP was restored only while sleeping, hence keeping a good schedule and remembering to turn the lights off for a sleeping Digimon was necessary to be prepared for a long day of tournament play in the morning. If one didn't, the Digimon could get less than the 8 hours it needed to restore DP, could wake up in the middle of the night, or otherwise become fatigued and too sick to battle.

A Rundown of Pendulum Game Mechanics
Each Pendulum Digimon species had specific base weight, hunger requirements, DP, attribute, and sleep times, but only DP, attribute, and strength played a role in battle. Unlike the first generation pets, a Digimon's shot type in Pendulum was entirely independent unless one was battling a Digital Monster pet. Pendulum Digimon did not belong to the same group system as in the original series. Each Pendulum had three core lines, one for each attribute, which branched into two sub-lines of the same attributes. So in total there was one Vaccine, one Data, and one Virus attribute Child, then two Adults and two Perfects for each attribute. At Ultimate level the lines folded back into a single Digimon for each attribute, two of which could only be accessed through Jogress. Each Pendulum also received a +0.5 updated model a few months after its launch which replaced one of the existing Adult, Perfect, and Ultimate Digimon of a specific attribute with another one; Vaccine for 1.5, Data for 2.5, Virus for 3.5, Data for 4.5, and Virus for 5.5. (Pendulum ZERO was a special case, as it had no Virus Digimon and launched with one less Ultimate. ZERO instead had additional content that I'll address later.) The weakness system ensured a kind of game balance, but also the development of a more poignant metagame as new Pendulums were launched mid-Grand Prix.

One massive overhaul Pendulum made over the Digital Monster system was modifying training so that it would have a real impact on battle. In the original pets, training only mattered for meeting evolution requirements, while protein was the real way to increase the hidden power level value. (Not Digimon Power, but the power level stat of 0 to 2 discussed in the previous chapter.) Training sessions took the form of shaking the Pendulum to try and meet a Digimon's superhit (double shots rather than single shots) range. This modification was made possible by the introduction of a secondary gauge to hunger, (physical) strength, which was measured on the same four-heart metric. Strength was used to determine which Digimon's attacks would hit during battle, and a Digimon recovered strength by doing training, recovering one heart for each superhit scored during the session. Reaching the fabled five superhit count in training was touted as a major goal in V Jump guides, as this would create a "megahit" that would instantly raise a Digimon's strength to maximum even if it had been at zero before. The protein item was modified to increase strength by 1, and recovered DP by 1 per every 4 protein eaten, but also increased the probability of suffering a debilitating injury after battle.


The Pendulum series also significantly revised battle rules. While battling an original Digital Monster the Pendulums still behaved using the old methods, but under the Pendulum ruleset each Digimon had three hit points, and would fire either single shots or superhits depending on whether the pre-battle count matched its superhit range. Only one Digimon would hit and one would miss every round, until a Digimon fell. Ordinary single shots dealt 1 damage, while superhits dealt 2 damage. In order to score a superhit, you had to shake the Pendulum with the right timing during the "count" to hit a specific count; a certain range of counts specific to each Digimon resulted in superhits. Hence the count feature worked like a rhythm minigame. When prompted, the pet would wait thirty seconds while tracking the number of times the internal pendulum moved. Matching the right sequence of shake speed would increase one's probability to score a superhit at the three "checkpoints" in a battle. In the V Jump guides these superhits were equated with that Digimon's special attacks, i.e. Vamdemon's Night Raid or Clockmon's Chrono Breaker. Which Digimon's attack would connect each round was influenced by strength, attribute, and training. The count system could increase strength by no more than 4, so it was chiefly important for scoring superhits. After all, if both players were throwing out optimal counts then their contributions to strength would nullify one another and whoever attacked first would be more likely to win just by dealing 2 damage on the first blow.

The default Ultimate was always Vaccine, requiring a win ratio over 60% to reach from one of two possible Perfects. Each Pendulum had two Perfect-level Digimon for each attribute. The first Vaccine Perfect and one other Perfect would always be able to evolve to the Vaccine Ultimate, while the second Vaccine would be the only Perfect incapable of evolving further. The other-attributed Perfect was also always the most versatile Digimon of that level, having a second evolution path. As a trade-off though, the Vaccine Ultimate would have a better average rate of making a superhit if it evolved from a pure Vaccine line. For example, in Nature Spirits both Atlur Kabuterimon (Va) and Ookuwamon (Vi) could evolve into Herakle Kabuterimon (Va), but Ookuwamon could also evolve into Metal Etemon (Vi), and Jagamon (Va) could not evolve further. Herakle Kabuterimon would have a higher average if he evolved from Atlur and base Kabuterimon than if he evolved from Ookuwamon. This could be further generalized; wherever a Digimon had multiple preevolutions, evolving from the first slot in the same attribute would always yield a greater increase on its superhit frequency. Exactly how much influence the attribute system had on battle still remains unclear. NHOKO has a full table of the Digimon for each attribute.

Because battles were a prerequisite for evolution even if one aimed for the default Ultimate, there was no in-game reason for Vaccine Ultimates to be inherently more prolific than the Data and Virus Ultimates even though the latter required Jogress. Everyone had to rely on a group of peers or owning multiple Pendulums in order to evolve, as there was no option to battle a computer opponent. While one would think that the non-evolving Perfects were created for the benefit of kids without a friend group to rely on, their overall lifespans and superhit averages were inferior to the Digimon that could still evolve.

The Pendulum pets included new elements to reward tamers not found in Digital Monster. Surpassing 999 wins on the Pendulum would blank out the numeric score entirely, replacing it with the "Champion" title. This was also the pet that introduced the traited egg, leading the long-term objective of raising Digimon to centralize around raising one well enough to earn the egg, building up a cumulatively stronger Digimon across successive generations.

Left to right; Digimon Pendulums Nature Spirits, Deep Savers, Nightmare Soldiers, Wind Guardians, and Metal Empire.
Unlike the first generation, the Pendulum series made an effort to make each device distinct beyond just its background and specific kinds of Digimon. They absolutely fulfilled their roles as literal windows into the digital world, including small bits of lore in the packaging, manuals, and game guides. The Nature Spirits Pendulum was host to the Spiritua Land (スピリチュアランド Supirichuarando) area, brimming with insect and dinosaur life. Deep Savers introduced the Savers Bay (セイバーズベイ Seibaazubei) area, the net ocean, and Digimon living in the waters surrounding Folder Continent. Nightmare Soldiers introduced the Nightmare Forest (ナイトメアフォレスト Naitomea Foresuto) occupied by Halloween spooks, vampires, as well as more demonic Digimon. Wind Guardians brought in the Guardian Savannah (ガーディアンサバンナ Gaadiansabanna) a dwelling ground for plant and bird Digimon. Metal Empire introduced the area of the same name, filled with machine and remodeled cyborg Digimon. Each pet had its own flavor and sense of place, using more intricate backdrops compared to their Digital Monster predecessors, and with a more developed world than tamers had been accustomed to previously. Several of the Pendulum profiles made available through Digimon Web also introduced supporting areas to the pets, like the Dark Area--a distorted space where deleted data was consigned, as well as the hideout of fallen angel Digimon Devimon and Demon.

In addition to the environments, the Pendulum pets continued to expand on the level of detail found in the original Digital Monsters with ever-more creative animations. For example, while in the Ver. 1~5 pets each of the monsters had similar or identical sleep animations of lying under a futon, in the Pendulum series Pico Devimon (being a bat) would sleep upside down, while Vamdemon slept in a coffin. Angemon would sleep on top of a cloud, Lilymon would fold up like a bud, and Kokuwamon would collapse on the ground like a dropped toy. (In guides he was shown plugged into a wall, but this was hard to translate to an LCD screen.)

Although it first arrived in late '98, the Pendulum series is primarily associated with '99 and ran its first TV commercials during this time. Unlike the Ver. 1~5, the Pendulum pets were far from identical underneath the hood. Each Digimon had wholly unique superhit graphs, which effectively determined their usability in tournament play by dictating which Digimon were more likely to score superhits at specific shakes per second. The only time two Digimon were identical was in the transition from .0 to .5 editions, where the "new" Digimon only differed on a graphical level. Diversity, individuality, and self-expression were all at the forefront of the Pendulum series. You could theoretically go to a major tournament during this time and play completely unique opponents every round, with no repeating devices nor Digimon, all of them distinct and separate from your own.

Beginning with the Adult level, attribute would begin to influence the frequency of superhits at final evolution. Raising a Digimon line of a single attribute (i.e. all members Vaccine) would produce above-average results compared to haphazardly evolving, with the frequency of superhits increasing by about five to eight standard deviations from the average. However, consistently changing attribute through evolution towards whatever attribute the previous form was strong against would produce an even greater influence on superhits. V Jump's Perfect Raising Guide (published in the back of the second Digital Monster D-Project book) acknowledges that the optimal superhit route would have actually been Data (Adult) > Vaccine (Perfect) > Virus (Ultimate), but this was impossible to execute in practice because no Virus Ultimates evolved from Vaccine Perfects. Hence it wasn't possible to raise a Digimon stronger than the ones that originated from evolutions of their same attribute.

The Nature Spirits Digimon had an average superhit frequency of 39, the lowest out of any Pendulum. A Herakle Kabuterimon (Holydramon in 1.5) raised on a pure-Vaccine line would have a considerably higher frequency of 43 points, but the values given for the 2.0, 4.0, and 5.0 imply that even then Herakle would always lag behind following pets in terms of giving the most number of opportunities given to the tamer to make a superhit. The average for Nature Spirits is given in the Perfect Raising Guide as 39, the average for Wind Guardians 58, and the average for Metal Empire 58. The other pure-attribute Digimon presented as examples in the guide were Pinnochimon (Superhit frequency 65) and Metal Garurumon (Metal Empire, 66).

Pendulum 2.0: Deep Savers launched in December of 1998 in metallic blue on metallic orange, and metallic blue on silver. It featured aquatic Digimon, with special emphasis on deep-sea species that lived close to the ocean floor. The 2.5 update was unique among the Pendulum series for being sold in Singapore and Hong Kong before it arrived in Japan. The franchise was on the path to globalization; one can only speculate, but it's a regular practice with Japanese companies to establish overseas production plants at major trade byways, which both nations qualify for several times over. The decision to launch overseas first was likely influenced by Bandai recognizing a foreign market in the vicinity of its production plants. Each of the Pendulum pets retailed for 2200 yen prior to tax, a moderately higher price compared to the original Digital Monsters. The price markup was likely done to compensate for the expense of pendulum technology, as the newer generation included more moving parts than the originals.

Scanned by Tuhka
During the interim between Grand Prixs in December, a little-known line of lesser competitions called the D-Challenge (D-チャレンジ D-Charenji) series was started up, but unlike the D-1 it has left almost no tangible remains. V-Tamer's Residence is the only website that I've found to acknowledge the D-Challenge. Officially, the event was advertised in the Japanese Digimon Pendulum guides published by V Jump, which contain the only known print references to the D-Challenge. Any posters, flyers, or newspaper ads that have survived to the present remain undiscovered.

According to V Jump's Nightmare Soldiers Pendulum guidebook (right), the D-Challenge event was a series of tournaments held in more than 400 participating stores. The Wind Guardians guide estimates each tournament at 50 participants. The prize for winning was a Pendulum 2.5, which was referred to as a "special version" in guidebooks, but this likely referred to how the 0.5s were tournament-exclusive editions generally. Participating stores were marked by purple banners, which followed a similar design to the cover of the official Nature Spirits guide. The events were coordinated both by telephone and through Digimon Web's tournament listings, and would continue to be held throughout the year.

In addition to joining tournament battles, participants could get rare Digimon goods on-site, including a Digimon cap, and D-1 coins in gold, silver, or copper colors. The coins featured the D-1 logo on one face, and one of fifteen possible Digimon on the other.

D-Challenge tournament in progress.
Due to the timing of it, the initial metagame would have revolved around just Nature Spirits and Deep Savers. As stated previously, during the initial D-Challenge format tamers were pressured towards Pendulum use as a result of every Pendulum using the Monzaemon/Vademon/Etemon/Digitamamon/Ex-Tyranomon slot when connected to a Digital Monster. And as will be elaborated on further down, in 1.0 and 2.0 the metagame was centralized around Data Digimon as a result of Vaccine being the most populous attribute. The first real changes to the metagame came with 1.5 and 2.5 editions. Although these devices only substituted out one Vaccine and one Data line for another, in doing so they introduced more unique species to those attributes, increasing the probability they would appeal to a tamer.

Hence during the D-Challenge format there were 3 possible Vaccine, 3 Data, and 2 Virus Ultimates. Data became the attribute with the least number of weak matchups and the most number of strong matchups, while the continued popularity of Vaccine empowered Data. Functionally the attribute triangle was a type of janken game. And like with any Rock-Paper-Scissors derivative, it was not purely a game of chance. Particularly because of inherent personal biases, tamers favored certain attributes. That favoritism can be directly compared with similar favoritism in RPS; consider the proportions for how frequently each throw occurs in the international world championships, published by the World RPS Society;
Rock 35.4pc
Paper 35.0pc
Scissors 29.6pc
Though we cannot get similar data for Pendulums, we can infer certain biases suggesting Vaccine to correlate with Rock, Data with Paper, and Virus with Scissors in terms of levels of usage. The most popular, fan-favorite Digimon fell squarely into the Vaccine category. War Greymon and Omegamon both fell under this attribute, as did contemporary favorites Holydramon, Hououmon, and Herakle Kabuterimon. (Note that the Kabuterimon line had and continues to have a particular fandom in Japan because of the popularity of insects and beetle-collecting as a boys' hobby. Compare Heracross in Pokémon, or the various beetle-themed Kamen Rider characters.) Moreover, the Virus attribute had fewer such fan favorites than any other category. While the proportions may not be the same, it can be said with some certainty that Vaccine was the most used attribute, Data the second most used, and Virus the least.

(Another point is that in both janken and in Digimon, decisions are gendered. Boys are more likely to pick both rock and Vaccine, and Digimon at this time was firmly a boy's game.)

This created a hard choice between using Data Digimon based on being more likely to encounter Vaccine Digimon in a tournament setting, or switching to Virus in hopes of getting an advantage versus the metagame choice of Data. Alternatively, one could jump to Vaccine in the hopes that many tamers were attempting to capitalize on the number of Data Digimon by running Virus, in turn accepting one's vulnerability to the metagame pick of the day. This sophisticated set of choices was formed in part by the popularity of janken in everyday life. Japanese schoolchildren were already familiar with the ins and outs of janken from needing to play it to resolve disputes on a daily basis, making them more than prepared to anticipate a developed metagame. But unlike in janken, in the Pendulum series one's attribute was set in stone once chosen, as they couldn't switch mid-tourney. Moreover, the problem with trying to extend beyond choosing Data is that it depended on presuming increased complexity among tournament strategies, and moving away from Data as a strategic position automatically exposed massive vulnerability to the most popular attribute. During the D-Challenge the primary choices for someone trying to top were thus Saber Leomon, Metal Seadramon, and later Plesiomon. The incentive to use the new Holydramon and other Vaccine Ultimates was undercut by Virus Digimon not making up an equivalent portion of monsters played.

V-Tamer ad from NSo V Jump guide featuring Taichi holding a Pendulum 1.0; this does not happen in the manga proper.
As the virtual pets were undergoing these evolutions, the metafranchise phase of Digimon began to seriously develop. Yabuno Tenya and Izawa Hiroshi, the artist and writer behind C'Mon Digimon, began serializing the manga Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01 in V Jump magazine on November 21st, 1998, following the Pendulum's lead in bringing the setting of the digital world to Folder Continent. The manga would go on to become Digimon's longest running single work, becoming an incredibly popular storyline that outlived the entire original series. It followed Yagami Taichi in his journey across the digital world to defeat Demon, a Digimon created for the manga that plotted to conquer both the human and digital worlds with a legendary Super Ultimate Digimon. This setting was really just the backdrop for Taichi's relationship with Zero, his V-dramon partner (also created for the manga). V-Tamer took pains to investigate what the true meaning of being a "tamer" and "Digimon" was, and played with the question of Digimon's inertia. When we put the toys down or hit the reset button, does that Digimon still exist somewhere? The involvement of other human beings eventually turned the story on its head. Despite having grim moments, the manga kept an upbeat pace, and broke up Taichi's constant battles against new Digimon with daily gags.

To this day V-Tamer 01 is more than recommendable, and I would go so far as to say that every Digimon fan should read it, as it's the one work that can be said to portray Digimon's essential spirit. Each anime series over the years has attempted to modify the Digimon brand, changing what it meant to evolve, what Digimon are, and their relationship to human beings. V-Tamer instead took Digimon's original concept and applied it to a storyline without trying to change the meaning or presentation. Digimon undergo Pendulum evolution, they're both pets and partners, and the children portrayed are tamers as the series' concept first envisioned them to be. V-Tamer is the only work in the franchise that you could look at its content and say with confidence that it was actually written by Hongō Akiyoshi. It was also an extraordinarily well-written series, its lone flaw being that several later chapters expanding on some of its ideas were cut in the preproduction stages, because of time and funding constraints.

At the time of V-Tamer's debut, early designs for Digimon World's original Digimon were being previewed in both Weekly Shounen Jump and V Jump. By then the team behind the Hongō Akiyoshi name had already existed and been prepping the different manga, anime, and film branches of the franchise for around nine months. To promote the upcoming video game, in January 1999 memory cards containing Metal Etemon data for Digimon World were distributed to the general public.

On January 28th, 1999, Digimon World launched on the original PlayStation in Japan. Although in the west Digimon World is remembered as a bizarre, poorly-translated fountain of playground rumors that manages to maintain its mystery today (largely as a byproduct of poor documentation both officially and in fan circles), in Japan the game is regarded as a masterpiece of open world exploration and raising simulation. It falls into a category of kessaku game (傑作ゲーム) or kami game (神ゲー) in the same class as Super Smash Bros. DX, Legend of Mana, Phantasy Star Online, Dark Souls, NieR Replicant, Virtua Fighter 2, and Final Fantasy VII. The game's bugs are a noted flaw, but speaking from an American perspective the Japanese game is nowhere near as buggy as the international copies. Digimon World has one of the most botched and malignant localizations in video game history. In spite of this, so much love was breathed into the game that it took on a life of its own and can't be talked about as something that once was. Rather, Digimon World continues to carry a particular influence on our world today as a living work.

Dragon Eye Lake. Ripped by Romsstar
What should be kept in mind is that Digimon World is not an RPG. It has role-playing elements, but is foremost a virtual pet game writ large. Where Ver. S had players speeding up or slowing down a real-world clock at their leisure to translate the virtual pet experience 1:1 to the Sega Saturn, the Digimon World team instead reworked the system from the ground up to compress the time frame of a Digimon's life cycle into several hours rather than a week or two. Broadly speaking, the game can be broken up into two parts. The first is the monster-raising simulation, which includes all the quintessential elements of a virtual pet, from training, to feeding, to treating illness, and getting them to bed on time. The game encourages the player to make mistakes and learn from them; their first Digimon isn't supposed to live for very long by the game's standards before it dies, but is more powerful than anything the player has the resources to raise starting out and so can accomplish quite a bit before that.

Screenshot from OFS' Let's Play.
The second part of the game is open exploration. The player is supposed to build up an initially-empty town by pacifying stray Digimon that have gone berserk, but they are also expected to search through a strange, unmapped world. File Island is a hauntingly beautiful product of late 90s prerendering, and structured as a virtual sandbox. The paradox of Digimon World is that it encourages the player to use guides to strategically train up Digimon into select evolution lines, just like in the virtual pets--while also encouraging them in equal measures to put the guides down and go explore. The player can go from one side of File Island to another whenever they want, as long as they prepare the appropriate resources to survive the journey.

This creates for a disparate, research-oriented trek through an island exploding with things to do. Digimon World sampled its roster from Digital Monster Ver. 1~4, supported by several original Digimon created for the game. The game even incorporated the Pendulum's count system through finishing moves, a type of attack that can be used once a "finish" gauge builds up during battle. The player is prompted to fulfill a type of count, rapidly alternating inputs on the shoulder buttons to power up a Digimon's finishing move before it comes out. These are equivalent to superhits from the Pendulum series, and share most all of the Pendulum series' attack names and designs.

Unlike Ver. S, Digimon World is not just a game that I can safely recommend, but also a cornerstone work within the franchise that I sincerely believe every Digimon fan should play. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing the game has not had an overseas PSN rerelease, and physical disks are notorious for production flaws that cause them to choke at points. Solidifying its superiority over Ver. S is that the game has one of the few functional multiplayer systems of the PlayStation era.

Digimon battle data can be saved to a memory card separately from one's regular save file, and in versus mode one can then select which Digimon to pit against one another, commanding them just as they would in the main game (sans item use). Digimon can compete from either separate memory cards both plugged into the console at once, or from a single memory card. Keith Carberry and Kyle Churchill of Run Button showed off a same-memory card battle as part of their Let's Play of DW1. (Caution for high volume and prolific swearing.)



The consensus on Digimon World's multiplayer seems to be that Piccolomon (Data), Megadramon (Virus), Herakle Kabuterimon (Data), and Giromon (Vaccine) are tied as optimal Perfects. The presence of hitboxes and hurtboxes, as well as semi-automated control on part of the Digimon, mixes things up compared to a virtual pet battle. Megadramon is seen as the primary contender versus Piccolomon due to his huge movepool and unique hitbox, which are also the reasons Piccolomon is preferred over the others. Their finishing moves, Genocide Attack and Bit Bomb, are both variations on Agumons' Baby Flame in terms of their trajectory, homing property, and speed, but also act as area-of-effect attacks. Giromon's Deadly Bomb is probably the worst Finish move in the game, and the one aspect of his gameplay that holds him back from sweeping Megadramon. It's a stationary bomb he throws with a large range on the actual explosion, but which is too easily avoided and has a massive delay before it actually goes off.

Whether a Digimon is competitive or not in Digimon World generally depends on the techniques it has access to, as techs are highly restrictive in the game, and control of the big five (Bug, Ice Statue, Thunder Justice, DG Dimension, and Prominence Beam) defines the Digimon that can make it. Bug and Ice Statue are the most important techs, the former being a long-range attack that can connect multiple times in succession and inflict hitstun on each blow while inflicting Flat (a status effect that reduces the opposing Digimon to an LCD sprite with heavily debuffed stats and no techs), the latter being a near-instantaneous move that can lock the opponent into a continual string of Ice Statues with its stun status effect. The other three attacks are just general heavy damage dealers attached to Stun/Flat.

The kicker is that the majority of Digimon even in the so-called "high tier" have really bad movepools; only three Digimon in the game can use Bug, Piccolomon and Herakle being the only Digimon in the top tier, and Piccolomon has no other good moves. (His proponents argue that he doesn't need any.) Herakle Kabuterimon meanwhile has both Bug and Prominence Beam, while Megadramon is likely the best Ice Statue user in the game and can access DG Dimension as well. Of these options, Piccolomon has the smallest hitbox, but Megadramon and Herakle the better movepools, with Megadramon having a massive type advantage versus this trinity.

One aspect that remains unexplored is using Digimon that are not fully evolved in competition. Because of their smaller hitboxes and unique finishing moves (Monochromon's Volcano Strike is probably the best finisher in the game as far as hitbox is concerned) and ability to cap stats at 999 just as easily as any Perfect, lower-level Digimon have a certain appeal. But their ability to compete is generally hindered by their lack of access to endgame techs.

While no Digimon World tournaments were held within its own lifetime, the future remains open for the game, as connecting to play online with others over Kaillera is fairly simple and has the potential to revitalize it. Unlike Pokémon, there's no need to engineer complex simulators in order to play Digimon World around the world. All that's needed is a PlayStation emulator, Kaillera, and copies of the game.

By the time of Digimon World the number of Special Thanks was reduced to just Oota Kensuke, Horimura Ayofumi, and Hongo Takeichi. Horimura's only other position in the gaming industry was as Special Thanks for the 1997 Tamagotchi CD-ROM, and is listed on the patent information for one of Bandai's virtual pets. From that it seems clear that Horimura was on the development side for WiZ and Bandai's electronics. Many of Digimon World's other staff members shifted into management positions or moved to other developers in subsequent years. Director Shindo Takayuki would go on to become an executive producer at Nintendo, helping coordinate for Super Smash Bros. among other franchises. Ultimately though, Digimon World would only be the first fraction of a vast iceberg.

Digimon Adventure's premier on March 6th changed everything. Prior to this, the predominant works in the franchise were the virtual pets. The milestone titles to know were Ver. S, Digimon World, and V-Tamer 01. These were small potatoes compared to Hosoda Mamoru's '99 pilot film; the impact of a franchise getting a gekijouban is hard to overstate. Theatrical films reach out to a much broader audience than merchandise-driven franchises typically attract, and can bring in far more customers than what it was once accustomed to. These films can make or break a franchise at critical moments.

Toei and Bandai's own Yu-Gi-Oh! film from the same period nearly kept the license for that franchise's anime series with them, and it was only due to counter-marketing from Konami launching its CCG products on the same show dates that buried their attempt, putting the anime license with Gallop. Digimon would go on to replace Yu-Gi-Oh! for Toei, and this film in particular served as both the cumulative finale of everything that had developed up to that point, yet also as the beginning of a new era.

Digimon Adventure was directed by Hosoda Mamoru, long before he was the legendary director he is now, and written by Yoshida Reiko. Yoshida who would later do scriptwriting for a handful of episodes in the TV series, as well as assist with all films through 2000. Nowhere in the credits for the film is Kakudou Hiroyuki, the director of Digimon Adventure TV anime and its sequel Adventure 02. Perhaps this accounts for the thematic disparity between the movie and the animated series. Adventure the movie was about children and the innocence of childhood, having a Maurice Sendak quality to it. It followed six-year-old Yagami Taichi (different but similar to his manga counterpart) and his four-year-old sister Hikari as they discovered a Digitama that hatched out of their parents' computer. Because of the age of the protagonists, they were never really in control during the movie. Adventure focused on their helplessness to control the situation as their Koromon quickly outgrew their small Japanese apartment, the danger Hikari was put in by Koromon encountering another Digimon in the city, and the bond between the children and Koromon. The audience was represented as a crowd of children in the nearby Japanese apartments, spectating the battle between Koromon (Greymon) and Parrotmon, and the film enticed the viewers to keep watching the very next day when the Adventure TV series premiered. The entire film only had two pieces of music--Maurice Ravel's Boléro, which took up the majority of the film, and the first rendition of Wada Kouji's Butter-fly used in the credits roll. Butter-fly would go on to serve as the opening theme for the TV anime, while Boléro would be used to represent the real world in that series.

In contrast to Hosoda and Yoshida's focus on childhood wonder, being a small person caught up in big changes, in the TV anime Kakudō played out the idea of "evolution" to its fullest. In recent years he's detailed through Twitter exactly how he worked out the story, but the long and short of it is that Kakudō correlated the Digimon's evolution with the personal evolution of their human partners. The TV anime followed an older Taichi and his friends on a journey through the digital world, lost and cut off from human civilization. The Digimon themselves were more like reflections of their humans (compared with the external souls of His Dark Materials) than they were individual characters. While the series had strong appeal to kids at the time, it ignored existing aspects of the Digimon franchise where those aspects would inconvenience the kind of story Kakudō wanted to tell.

Digimon had been massive for an upstart franchise--the size and scale of the first Grand Prix can attest to that--but nothing before could compare to the overwhelming influence of the weekly animated series that began airing the next day. Digimon Adventure's unique conventions and world, the system of temporary evolution and children chosen to raise monsters rather than monsters that are caged and tamed, supplanted and in part erased the original Digimon. At this time previously-stable elements of the franchise began to crumble, beginning with the Digimonkey character, Pendulum evolution, and the raising elements, and as these changes progressed over several years eventually most of the elements of early Digimon along with all traces of the franchise derived from Tamagotchi were eliminated.

The changes that Adventure incited made the entire franchise shift to become more like the anime series (and later to become more like any anime series). This was a long process, and certain aspects disappeared more quickly than others. By the time Xros Wars first aired in 2010, the changes introduced by Adventure had so firmly modified the brand that Digimon had become a franchise zombie. It no longer bore any significant resemblance to its original self, nor had any concept of what it was or what the overarching direction of its associated works were to be; certainly it's this type of complaint that's being voiced whenever criticisms of the 2005-on Royal Knights surface. The eventual return of the Digimon World games in 2012 was firmly a revival of something long dead, in recognition of the fact that by that time it was unclear just what Digimon should be.

While Digimon Adventure told a compelling tale, filling the childhoods of countless kids-now-adults, it's worth keeping in mind that the anime series stands tall because it is standing atop the ruins of everything that came before it. The fans that were disenfranchised by the changes made to the Digimon brand as a whole have no short list of complaints. The decline of the virtual pets is directly link to the global popularity of the anime series, Digivices, and quest- or RPG-oriented gameplay. Perhaps going into Adventure tri., we should be as aware of what we've lost as we are of what we've gained.

Whether the changes made by Adventure were intentional or not is unclear; Hosoda's films rejected the convenience of de-evolution, instead painting a virtual pet in movie form. The one episode he directed has little in common with the rest of the season it's a part of, being a quiet psychological episode with frequent dead pauses and carefully-composed action sequences as opposed to long strings of stock footage. Kakudō indirectly claimed responsibility for the idea of de-evolution in a January 2013 tweet, where he recalled needing to get the Digimon's return from Adult back to Child level cleared with Bandai and WiZ. His motivation is unclear, but it's plausible that this was to reduce animation costs, or a greater decision on Toei's part to market Child-level Digimon toys. Regardless of the studio's intentions, the cultural impact of Adventure remains overwhelming even today. Its influence is the entire premise behind the Adventure tri. movies being greenlit.

Alongside Adventure several key points marked Digimon's formal transition into the new era, one being the gradual phasing out of the Digimonkey character. On May 9th, 1999, at the D-1 Tokyo tournament, Super Digimonkey suffered a crushing defeat and was formally retired as part of a batsu game. (A type of penalty not unlike getting slimed in a 90's Nickleodeon contest, but in this case the retirement was very real.) "Super" Digimonkey would cease appearing in events, although the standard incarnation of the character would continue to appear at specific D-1 tournaments for a time. The final known use of Digimonkey was in December 2000. This demise of the character is one reason why he is next to unknown in the west; Digimonkey disappeared as the franchise was leaving virtual pets, Pendulum evolution, and File Island behind. With Digimon not having the same real-world presence in the west as it did in Japan, there was no opportunity for him to be used. The costume would later be reworked for a different but short-lived mascot.

That month also marked the launch of Digimon Pendulum 3.0: Nightmare Soldiers, initially announced as the last entry in the Pendulum series pets. Nightmare Soldiers went out in metallic red on black, and metallic red on light metallic blue. The announcement that NSo would be the final Pendulum was likely made so that resources could be devoted to development of Adventure's upcoming product line, as these had been in the works since August of the previous year. What exactly changed the company's plans is unclear, but the most obvious factor is strong sales of the Pendulum pets placing pressure on Bandai to push out additional models.

"You can also battle with portable Digimon!!" from Nightmare Soldiers guidebook, scanned by Tuhka
On March 25th, Digital Monster Ver. WonderSwan launched for the handheld of the same name, using Digimon from Ver. 1~4, Nature Spirits, and an assortment of six original Digimon, including Mushamon and Golemon. To the unacquainted, Bandai's decision to market a Digimon game on a niche portable may seem strange when compared to Digimon World's PlayStation launch--but here the copyright tells a story. The WonderSwan was actually Bandai's own flagship handheld, hence they had every incentive to push their primary IPs onto the system. In order to secure popularity with their existing fanbase, the company developed the Portable Digital Monster Personal Adapter, a WonderSwan extension that made it possible to battle any of the existing LCD Digimon games with Ver. WS. Battling other WonderSwan systems was done through a link cable, sold separately. Although Bandai's singular venture into cartridge-based handheld gaming would find itself damned to obscurity in the long term, the WonderSwan would go on to occupy a considerable presence in the D-1 Grand Prix, where it would have on its own category of tournaments until the year before the system's demise in 2002.

Ver. WS allowed tamers to raise up to eight Digimon simultaneously, and in link battles took elements from the prevailing strategy RPGs of the time, setting the Digimon up on a grid and allowing players to battle up to five Digimon from each side. The isometric gridded elements were entirely aesthetic however, as the only difference from standard pets was the Digimons' collective ability to attack different Digimon on the opposing side of the board. Otherwise, the battles behaved like Pendulum battles without a count system. Each copy of Ver. WS came packaged with the adapter, and the final game sold for 3800 yen, while the WonderSwan system itself was 4800 yen. Altogether the price of entry was the currency equivalent of just under $100, considerably higher when compared to a Pendulum pet. To breach that barrier, Bandai launched the Digital Monster Ver. WS Special Package on November 11th of that year, a bundle deal that included the game, the adapter, and a skeleton orange WonderSwan for just 3800 yen, effectively handing out the WonderSwan for free.

Ver. WS was followed up by Digimon Adventure Anode Tamer on December 10th, four months prior to the season finale of Digimon Adventure. Anode Tamer brought with it the introduction of original character Akiyama Ryo, who would go on to serve as the focal protagonist for the following WonderSwan games. Anode Tamer ran Ryō through a gauntlet of Adventure bosses. To save the eight captured Chosen Children, the player had to defeat the original series' villains from Devimon to Etemon and beyond, traversing the same areas of File Island and Server Continent. The game greatly truncated the number of antagonists though, skipping everything in the anime between Vamdemon and Piemon. The game also introduced Millenniumon, a key character in the remaining WS games and a background character for Adventure 02 whose machinations continued to drive the plot long after his defeat.

Anode Tamer was a strategy RPG, playing like a simplified version of Super Robot Wars. Digimon evolved outside of battle maps, and enemy Digimon could be persuaded to join Ryo's side using Taichi's borrowed Digivice. The fast-paced nature of the battles made the game highly portable, but it's not particularly impressive on a gameplay, graphical, or textual level, nor is it a very fun game by today's standards.

Digimon Pendulum 4.0: Wind Guardians
In April, the 2.5 edition pets became available for purchase at tournaments and via mail order. Pendulum 4.0: Wind Guardians launched in July in metallic green on black, and metallic green on yellow. Wind Guardians was the first virtual pet to make Digimon introduced in V-Tamer 01 available, introducing the entire V-dramon line up to the Perfect-level Aero V-dramon, as at the time his Ultimate stage had not been introduced. From a western perspective, V-Tamer's ability to move merchandise just as well as Adventure is fascinating. The manga has never seen an international release, and yet in its home country has been a dominating brand for Bandai that even today can summon the fandom at will. V-Tamer was effectively a second Adventure, restricted only by its monthly distribution schedule and the difficulties of a serialized graphic novel.

It was also during this month that Digital Monster Card Game starter decks and booster packs first went on sale. Although the card game would never reach the international popularity of the Pokémon TCG, Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or even Cardfight!! Vanguard, what became known as the Digimon Hyper Colosseum TCG would greatly influence the franchise in the future. The basic mechanics of the game pit only one monster at a time against one another, building up Digimon Power like in the Pendulum pets in order to evolve to higher stages. In battle each Digimon had an A, B, and C attack, with A being the strongest and disabling the opponent's B Attack, B being the second-strongest and disabling their C Attack, and C being the weakest but disabling their A.

Typically A Attacks were reserved for a Digimon's signature attacks like War Greymon's Gaia Force, with B and C being supplementary. This rock-paper-scissors system was later inherited by some of the video games, and may have actually originated with Digital Monster Ver. S. (It's been a while since I did anything with the game, so I admittedly don't remember if the different button attacks canceled others.) The card game also integrated five fields taken from the Pendulum series, Nature Spirits, Wind Guardians, Nightmare Soldiers, Deep Savers, and Metal Empire, plus one extra field, Unknown. Tying into the V Jump Pendulum guides, each field was associated with a section of Folder Continent. NSp was associated with the north, WG with the east, NSo with the south, and ME with the west. Any artwork for Hyper Colosseum that was not original nor stock art was generally derived from the Pendulum guide illustrations.


Original image uploaded by steveliv.
Hyper Colosseum was not the only trading card product to launch in '99. An abortive tie-in to the anime series, Card Tactics, attempted to integrate its own card game into a handheld electronic scanner game. However, the toy proved difficult to understand with kids and adults alike, and was never popular. It did eventually inspire a similar device "Card Fighter EX" used early in Digimon Tamers in 2001. In Card Tactics, each player would have three Digimon on either side of the field, selected from a six-card hand they drew from their deck. The scanner toy kept track of which Digimon were present, and was also used to randomly determine whether a Digimon would score a "megahit" or not, was also performing damage calculation, and using sprites to portray battles between Digimon. I haven't taken more than a cursory look into its rulebook; the ideas are interesting and the way the electronic toy is incorporated would make some first series Yu-Gi-Oh! fans envious, but it really is an overly complex game in need of revision. Ultimately Card Tactics was canceled after a single booster set, and didn't get the same organized play treatment that Hyper Colosseum did.

Late July saw the introduction of an object more familiar to American readers: the original Digivice. Development of the Digivice line had effectively begun in August 1998, when the first talks of an anime and manga series emerged. The Digital Monster Series Project team paid a visit to the Shueisha Publishing Company to engage in talks about a manga serialization in V Jump magazine, while Bandai and Toei worked on creating Digimon Adventure. Eventually Hosoda Mamoru was roped into the creation of the 1999 film, which would create cross-promotion on three separate fronts. Similar to the Pendulum, the name Digivice originally came from a then-little-known English word (device) that Oota felt would appeal to children. When the team found out that device generally meant a "gimmick" or "using a trick to achieve a purpose," they were concerned that they'd used the wrong word, but rolled with the name regardless because of its appeal. Years later when device had come to mean "tool," Watanabe joked that it was Digimon's fault. An alternative name they had come up with was "Digitrek" because the anime series Digimon Adventure focused on a type of trek, but Oota vetoed the name on the grounds that it wasn't appealing to kids. "Digital device" was already a placeholder in the anime, so the final name was in no real dispute.

Agumon's progression from Digital Monster, to Pendulum, and to Digivice.
The Digivice was a radical departure from the virtual pets. The larger screen allowed for larger and more detailed sprites (though the greater detail did not always overcome old barriers). The gameplay was completely divorced from its predecessors; the Digivice incorporated technology that had already been developed for the Pendulum series, transforming the pendulum mechanic normally reserved for the count system into the entire method of progression. The Digivice was effectively a pedometer, counting steps via detection of the pendulum's motion. Every certain number of steps the player would encounter a battle, progressing across a map through a series of areas and defeating bosses lifted from the anime series. The Digimon available were limited to the eight chosen children's Digimon from Adventure, along with a special guest appearance by V-dramon from V-Tamer 01. (At the Digivice's launch, Hikari had not yet been revealed as the eighth chosen child and Tailmon was likewise unknown outside of Nature Spirits. This Digivice, along with the August 1st episode's reveal of a Digivice being in Hikari's room, effectively cemented the identity of the eighth child for viewers in 1999.) The player started out with a Digimon of their choice, and by winning battles gradually gain access to higher-level evolution, ending at the Perfect level. The DP mechanic returned as the cost for evolving, consuming a round so that a Digimon could go through its transformation sequence. The Digivice also detected radio waves, incorporated as the Help Wave feature in which one of the yet-unclaimed Digimon appeared and had to be rescued. By beating the Digimon holding it captive, the player would then get access to that Digimon for battle, and could switch between them freely. This device also fleshed out items; meat and protein already existed, but served different functions here, with the meat being an entirely-cosmetic relic of the virtual pets, and protein doubling HP for the next battle. Unlike in the virtual pets, Digimon did not die in the Digivice.

In battle, the player would have the option to attack, switch Digimon, evolve, run, or quick-fight and skip animations. (A feature that is sorely missed from some later devices.) Digivice battles were calculated as three rounds of firing shots back and forth, dealing damage based on each Digimon's unique base power after item modifications, and at the end of the three rounds whoever had less HP was the loser. The count system was absent from the original Digivice. Only Koromon/Agumon and Tsunomon/Gabumon could evolve all the way to Ultimate, while the remaining six chosen Digimon were capped at the Perfect level, and V-dramon could not evolve at all.

The final device went on sale for 2980 yen before tax, around $30 US, a significantly higher pricetag than that of the Digital Monster Ver. 1~5. Although I began mourning for what Digimon lost back at Adventure's launch in March '99, this is where first wave Japanese fans drew the line. The Digivice is the first time that the simulation and raising elements of Digimon began to be negated in gameplay, a process that would continue throughout the franchise's history as its origins became increasingly overshadowed by the anime series. This was also where the unique backgrounds were abandoned in favor of a blank LCD screen, breaking the user's connection to the digital world as a place. More often though, the "quest-based" devices are criticized for their short gameplay life and lack of depth. You can spend several real world months mastering one of the original Digital Monster or Pendulum pets, raising each evolution line, Jogressing, learning to get the count system at just the precise threshold for each monster, then settling on a final monster you want to raise and getting "Champion" status with it. (Even on the more modern iC it takes exactly 240 real-world hours to naturally reach Ultimate on a single Digimon.) By contrast, Digivices are lucky to last a few weeks, if not just a few days. In the hands of an overeager child, 100% completion on the original Digivice could be reached within seven days' time.

Speaking from personal experience, the Digivice's version of the pendulum mechanic also looked really dumb in action. Everybody would shake the Digivices manually instead of walking, and because this was necessary for map progression rather than just battles, 90% of playtime was spent shaking the device while barely ever needing to use menu options. It was the Pendulum series taken to excess. I recall one parent's review of the US Digivice from the early 2000s stating she had no idea the devices battled, because all she saw her kids doing was "lots and lots of shaking." A friend in Kentucky once clued me in to a trick his friends had developed with the American Digivice equivalents--rolling them up in socks and putting them in the laundry drier for a few seconds to a minute.

Here's where it gets messy; the Digivices could both communicate with previous devices and were legal for tournament play. This threw a wrench in the D-1. Instead of using the Digivice's built-in features for compatibility with the Pendulum ruleset, the design team implemented Digital Monster rules for Digivice-Pendulum communications. And with both devices automatically registering as group L, every Digivice matchup for a Pendulum tamer became an 8/16 chance or coin flip to win. This had not been as big of an issue with the Digital Monster pets because raising an Etemon or Ex-Tyrannomon was challenging enough to not be worth the effort compared to dropping the $20 on a Pendulum, and the older devices had been immediately dated by the newer ones.

There was an incentive for tamers to move to the Pendulum from both the winning and losing side of any given game, because instead of a flat probability to win the one shot that mattered, the attribute system allowed tamers to plan in advance for tournaments to gain a strategic advantage, while also refining the battle system so that each individual shot impacted the entire round, and both tamers could influence the outcome through their respective counts. Injecting two waves of new Digital Monster pets disrupted the metagame in a way that hurt both Digivice and Pendulum users. Battling two Digivices was no better, as the entire in-game battle system was abandoned in multiplayer in favor of reverting back to Digital Monster rules. What's sad about this is that the Digivice had all of the components necessary for Pendulum rules, and the attribute system was already coded in--it just wasn't taken advantage of. No one participating in the D-1 had any incentive to use what could have been an exciting new addition because of how it took two steps back from where the game was.

The second and third card game starter sets launched in November, followed by the Digivice 2. The second Digivice model overhauled the available characters, adding an Ultimate evolution to Holydramon for Tailmon's line--accessed by beating Holydramon in battle--along with seven new friend Digimon of the same type as V-dramon. These new Digimon were Wizarmon, Devimon, Etemon, Vamdemon, Venom Vamdemon, and Piemon. Like with Holydramon, they joined the team by being defeated in battle. In order to encounter these Digimon, the Digivice's Help Wave feature had to be used, picking up a radio wave signal using the device's antenna. While these aesthetic changes gave a diversity of available Digimon surpassing any of the individual Pendulums (35 Digimon in all, equivalent to one and a half Pendulums) the second model only refined the single player gameplay, and did nothing to address the game's multiplayer problems.

In late September, Bandai launched the Digimon Analyzer. Modeled on Izumi Koushirou's faux-iBook from Digimon Adventure and timed to coincide with his laptop's mid-season upgrade, the Analyzer could connect with the Ver. 1~5 pets, Pendulums 1.0~5.0, and could recognize Digimon from the PlayStation games, Ver. S, and Ver. WonderSwan. In total the Analyzer recognized a cumulative 198 Digimon, representing them on a 16x16 LCD screen. Acting as a type of Pokédex encyclopedia toy, the Analyzer could also battle with the virtual pets to provide an easy way to increase their win ratios, and by playing puzzles one could unlock Digimon profiles. The toy computer would become far more than originally envisioned, as it would set a template for future Digimon electronics to include one encyclopedia to match each generation of devices, and years later would become relevant for the Digivice Ver. 15th. At the time, the Analyzer boasted connectivity with the still-new Digivice line. By connecting the Digivice's prongs to the Analyzer's above the number keys, V-dramon from V-Tamer 01 would be unlocked for use in the game as a secret character, as an alternative to finding him via Help Wave.

Digimon Pendulum 5.0: Metal Empire launched nearly simultaneous to the Analyzer, implementing the Kokuwamon and Big Mamemon submissions from Digimon Web's Dot Art contest. The 3.5 edition of Nightmare Soldiers became available at tournaments in the following month, swapping out one of the pet's Virus Ultimates for Demon, another V-Tamer 01 tie-in. Metal Empire also made the last of the Dark Masters Digimon playable in virtual pet form, Mugendramon. Each of the previous Pendulums beginning with Deep Savers would introduce one Ultimate Digimon that would go on to be used as one of the Dark Masters in Digimon Adventure; Metal Seadramon, Piemon, and Pinocchimon, ending here with Mugendramon.

Mugendramon had already debuted in Digimon World as that game's final boss and the partner of its principal antagonist. By the time of Metal Empire, Digimon was flexing its muscle as a powerful cross-media force. Kids could see a Digimon in the anime series and immediately pick it up in either Pendulum or Digivice form.

At this point there were exactly six Digimon for each attribute available in the various Pendulums, spread out across the .0 and .5 editions. While each attribute was thus numerically equal, the ideas described above for determining attribute usage still held true. Tamers were naturally more predisposed to use Vaccine Digimon, who had the most appealing characters. Those trying to gain an advantage over the perceived majority would raise Data Digimon, and those anticipating a major shift to Data favored Virus. Digimon Adventure's solidified role within the franchise also cemented a major change to tournament demographics though. Records of D-1 events in 2000 and later show a surprising number of women in their late teens participating in and winning D-1 Grand Prix qualifiers, as the other primary demographic after elementary school boys. The age range limit on the early Grand Prixs ensured that these female participants would be high school age or younger. What prompted this influx of female tamers, all near or at adulthood?

The likely explanation is cultural phenomenon that some readers will already be familiar with, fujoshi. Literally "rotten women," this is a self-deprecrating term for a category of female consumers that first gained prominence in the same period Digimon Adventure aired, women that are generally interested in a series for homoerotic relations between men. A series need not actually feature such relationships, but only tease at the idea in order to appeal to a fujoshi audience. Fujoshi will flock to any anime series with a significant number of male characters, regardless of what that series' core demographic is. (Compare Inazuma Eleven.) Digimon Adventure is sometimes labeled as one such series that tried to sell itself to the fujo market without actually compromising its core audience. The relationship between Ishida Yamato and Yagami Taichi in the anime is particularly pointed out as having themes that would appeal to fujoshi, and their fistfights (seen as gratuitous physical contact) as well as Yamato's inferiority complex with Taichi are both elements that would draw in such an audience. (There's also an infamous scene in the second season where Taichi finds out that Sora is asking Yamato out, with at least two interpretations; the first is that he's upset he didn't get to ask out Sora, but the fujo reading is that he's mad she beat him to the punch.) These male relationships are effectively a proxy for female viewers to fantasize about. 

Fujoshi may sound strange or even repulsive from a heteronormative western perspective, but one should be aware that they make up an important supportive pillar for the franchise, as like other older fans they have significant disposable income and a propensity to buy vast quantities of merchandise. Their presence is important to support Digimon, the unintended consequence of that being their involvement in the D-1 Grand Prix.

Schedules like this, circulated in guidebooks and magazines, promoted the D-1.
The exact timing of the 1999 Grand Prix remained murky for a long period. I had to personally acquire a copy of the location schedule from Keibunsha's Pendulum 1.0 guide in order to make any sense of it, and a significant portion of locations remain unknown. D-1 '99 actually began during the previous year on October 4th, 1998, at the second Jump Grand Prix. The end date according to Bandai was on August 29th, in Tokyo Tower. This would only leave the Pendulum series up through 4.0: Wind Guardians playable, as well as the first wave of Digivices, with 3.5 and 4.5 both absent, as well as Virus Busters. There's no question that 5.5 was never intended to be a part of the '99 GP, as it was launched in 2000. The inavailability of the Analyzer early on was probably intentional, as it prevented exploitation of the compatible devices through the Analyzer during that tournament season. For the reasons covered above, tamers would have quickly found reason not to use the original Digital Monster pets nor the Digivices. Pendulums were the weapon of choice, and the core decision for tamers came down to optimizing one's choice between Data and Virus.
D-1 GRAND PRIX LOCATION SCHEDULE
(Composite from 11/30/98 schedule and 04/12/00 report)
10/04/98: Jump D-1 Grand Prix II
11/29/98: D-1 Chubu Tournament (中部) Denmark Kōnan
12/06/98: D-1 Kyushu Tournament (九州) Tokiha Ooita
12/29/98: D-1 Shikoku Tournament (四国) Iyotetsu Sogo
01/04/99: D-1 Kantō Tournament (関東) Kashiwa Sogo
01/05/99: D-1 Kantō Tournament (関東) Yokohama Sogo
01/10/99: D-1 Osaka Tournament (大坂) Kintetsu Department Store
01/10/99: D-1 Kyushu Tournament (九州) Peacock Kurume
01/15/99: D-1 Tohoku Tournament (都北) Hakubotan Kids Walker
01/17/99: D-1 North Kantou Tournament (北関東) Yokudayō
01/24/99: D-1 Kantō Tournament (関東) Machida Tokyu 
[Unknown break in the record; the Keibunsha Deep Savers, Nightmare Soldiers, and Wind Guardians guides likely contain the schedules for February through April and May to August]
04/06/99: Hong Kong Tournament Finals, at Hong Kong McDonald Wan Chai
05/03/99: D-1 Yokohama Tournament, Yokohama Sogo
05/09/99: D-1 Tokyo Tournament (東京) Ikebukuro Seibu
08/29/99: D-1 Grand Prix in Tokyo Tower (D-1グランプリin東京タワー)

The involvement of Hong Kong in the '99 GP is especially interesting, as this is the first documented case of international participation in the D-1. Like with the case of Deep Savers going on sale in Hong Kong and Singapore first, this another peak into Digimon's early globalization, and one that was nearly lost to the ages. Not bad for a tournament that took place in a McDonalds.
Tokyo Tower main observatory deck, the site of the '99 finals. Original image uploaded by The Travel Junkie.
Original image by Explore!
Numerically, Vaccine Digimon should have had the greatest presence. Data Digimon were preferable choices from a metagame perspective because more tamers would be using Vaccine than other attribute, but the triangular property of the attributes ensured that to some degree they would all make compelling choices. In terms of unique species available, there were 5 Vaccine, 5 Data, and 4 Virus Ultimates by the time of the finals. (Because of how they behaved when communicating with Pendulums, the Greymon and Garurumon Digivices only contributed to the number of Digital Monster pets in the running, not to the number of attributes.) This distribution among Pendulums strengthened Data's position, as it was the attribute with the fewest number of weak matchups, and tied with Virus for the greatest number of strong matchups. Hence Virus had the most "predators" to be concerned about.


Another aspect considered was each Digimon's personal superhit graphs and the thresholds at which they would make superhits, as higher thresholds were generally desirable because of it being easier to shake the Pendulum fast rather than rhythmically.

Past a certain point, this was no longer true. It was very difficult to hit a count of 25 consistently, and near impossible to hit 30, but similarly difficult to hit a count of 5. The optimal superhit thresholds were thus the ones nearest to 20, which were easier to hit than the extreme highs or extreme lows. Each attribute could hit this range, but it varied by device. On Nature Spirits Vaccine Digimon peaked at 24 count, Data at 26, and Virus at 23. The Nightmare Soldiers Vaccines had three separate peaks at 8, 16, and 26. Data peaked at 8, 17, and 27. Virus peaked at 7 and 23. Wind Guardians' counts were identical for each attribute, while on Metal Empire Vaccine peaked at 7 and 23, Data at 8, 17, and 27, and Virus at 8, 18, and 26.

Since Metal Empire didn't come out until after the Grand Prix was over, the the best Digimon for Vaccine were Herakle Kabuterimon/Holydramon at 24 count, and Hououmon at 16 count. The best Data Digimon was Griffomon or Boltmon at 17 count. The best Virus Digimon was Pinnochimon at 18 count. Virus had the easiest time making superhits, being the closest to 20, while Data was 3 points removed and Vaccine 4 points removed. Had Metal Empire been out at the time, War Greymon would have replaced the other Vaccines at 23 count, and Mugendramon the other Viruses at 22.

The V Jump guides did not give as concrete information as we have today though, beacuse the precise numbers come from the 2002 Perfect Raising Guide. The V Jump guides did not detail the three peaks at all, instead only highlighting the highest of each, and providing general ranges instead of precise counts. Their data does match up with that of the Perfect Raising Guide, so one could eventually figure out the exact points superhits were made through careful journaling. (Logging one's pendulum counts was even encouraged by V Jump.)

The lack of information on this front is frustrating. The group L Digital Monsters were interchangeable, and which one was the championship Digimon is little more than trivia. But the Pendulum Digimon had at least strategic differentiation. Did Data's attribute advantage give it the edge needed to win the national title? Was Virus' ease of producing superhits and advantage against Data enough to push it to the top? Or did Vaccine win out in the end? Given that Bandai's internal data from that time was not preserved, unless the results were published in a news paper or in a periodical like V Jump, the only people that would know are Oota, the D-1 organizers, and the fans that attended the Tokyo Tower tournament.

Newspaper clipping on JF2000. Uploaded by Yosenabe HITTO-san.
In late 1999, Shueisha set up the Jump Festa 2000 event. Envisioned as an annual expo for publishers and game developers to promote their upcoming products to the public, the first Jump Festa was held from December 18th to 19th at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center. The Big Sight had only finished construction in 1996, and by this time its upside-down pyramid was in the process of becoming an iconic part of the landscape. More recently, it's currently set to be used as part of the 2020 Olympics.

As part of JF2000, Bandai maintained a booth on-site where tamers could enter an Anode Tamer battle tournament. The winners were given V-dramon data, downloaded onto their game cartridges. While Bandai would be one of the foundational members for Jump Festa, as the years went by and the expo continued to evolve into a higher profile event, the company's role would be reduced by difficult financial straits and the waning popularity of its various franchises. JF2000 was a massive success at the time, drawing in more than five thousand children.

In an interesting historical paradox, the final chapter of V-Tamer 01 is set in and around the Tokyo Big Sight. This is supposed to part of the 1999 D-1 Grand Prix in V-Tamer, but the Big Sight was never included in any of the Grand Prixs. Perhaps Yabuno chose it because of that factor, representing some ideal form of the tournament that never existed to begin with.

The last pieces of the Pendulum line would fall into place throughout the first half of the year 2000. Late March saw the final entry in the Pendulum series go on sale, Pendulum ZERO: Virus Busters. The pet is unusual for only introducing one new Digimon, primarily bringing back a string of iconic characters classified in the titular Virus Busters field, a group of "just and holy Digimon." The field itself is generally redundant within the franchise's greater canon, as the Digimon within it are already part of either Wind Guardians or Nature Spirits. It didn't create any great metagame shifts either, as on the ZERO the counts for Vaccine peaked at 7 and 23 for both War Greymon and Omegamon, while Data peaked at 8, 17, and 26. The new Digimon were tied with the old ones.

The real purpose of the pet was to feature Metal Garurumon and War Greymon from Digimon Adventure, as well as their Our War Game Jogress, Omegamon. Exactly what thought process went into Pendulum ZERO is unknown, seeing as the Pendulum series already had two other entries that would be their "final" ones, but one of the more distinct possibilities is an attempt by Bandai to cash in on the popularity of Adventure by marketing the virtual pets to fans of the anime series. The participation of young adult women in the Grand Prix was just one indicator of how the franchise had evolved from being more than a fighting Tamagotchi. By this time the anime was fairly estranged from the virtual pets, seeing as Adventure viewers would prefer a Digivice 1 or 2 to a Pendulum, and ZERO remedied that by meeting the larger consumer base halfway.

Our War Game promotional graphic.
More appropriately, one should understand Pendulum ZERO as a tie-in product. On March 4th Hosoda Mamoru's second Digimon film, Digimon Adventure "Our War Game!" was screened for the first time at the Year 2000 Spring Toei Anime Fair. Like his earlier film, Our War Game (sometimes rendered Children's War Game) is generally regarded as one of the high points of the franchise, a masterpiece work. The primary theme of OWG is the Y2K bug and its personification as a Digimon, Kuramon, as well as then-common anxiety about rapidly evolving technology run amok.

Hosoda went on to revisit many of the same subjects in his 2010 film Summer Wars, which effectively remade Our War Game in a setting sans Digimon. The core antagonist, themes, and relationship between the characters and the digital world are all passionately colored by Hosoda's previous work, and unofficially Summer Wars is sometimes regarded as a film that inherited Digimon's spirit, if not its copyright. (Our War Game is required reading for the franchise; the season it is a sequel to is not.)

ZERO crossed product lines and enticed viewers to buy it for Omegamon. ZERO also subverted the established Jogress rules through this, as Omegamon could be formed by a Vaccine x Data Jogress (War Greymon and Metal Garurumon) which was otherwise impossible.

Virus Busters also modified the evolution patterns, having no Virus Digimon and instead a second line of Vaccines. On this pet all Vaccine Perfects could evolve to Ultimate, and the Ultimate-level War Greymon and Metal Garurumon could further Jogress with one another to Omegamon. Angewomon and Holy Angemon could likewise jogress to Omegamon, but the optimal line identified in the Perfect Raising Guide is Agumon > Greymon > Metal Greymon > War Greymon > Omegamon. The guide identifies Omegamon as having the highest probability to megahit (that is, five consecutive superhits) in the Pendulum series.

In May the 4.5 update to Wind Guardians became available by mail order, replacing the Data-attribute Griffomon line with Rosemon's. The final, final, final, final, final Pendulum became available through mail order on June 26th; Digimon Pendulum 5.5: Metal Empire, which swapped out Mugendramon for Adventure's Venom Vamdemon. The 1999 Grand Prix had been over for almost a year by this time, and the design team's final sendoff to the Pendulum series preserved its tournament format in major by ensuring there would be a cumulative 8 Vaccine, 8 Data, and 7 Virus Digimon available among all of the Pendulum pets.

As as whole the Pendulum series was a complete improvement over the original virtual pets. It expanded tamers' options for raising Digimon, while increasing the amount of influence one had over battles. The Pendulums weren't perfect skill-based systems, nor did they introduce as much variety in gameplay as was delivered in aesthetics; but Digimon was moving up in the world. The Pendulums are still recalled of as one of the high points of the franchise, and can be thought of as the GSC to the Digital Monster's RBY. Unlike the Digital Monster series, the Pendulum line never saw a western release, though the Digivice did.

Speaking as a westerner, it is hard to grasp the kind of endless success the Pendulum line created. Repeatedly Bandai attempted to end the line, only for the public to demand more of them. Digimon Pendulum was a wild hit, having outlived its original death date by fourteen months, and churning out serial releases for nearly two years. But in spite of its success, the DMSP team would not produce a successor throughout the remainder of either 2000 or 2001. It would not be until 2002 that a new virtual pet would greet the world. In the interim years that followed, Digimon instead found itself placing an increasing emphasis on console and handheld games to accompany its anime and manga partner franchises. This reached the point that by the time Digimon Tamers aired, featuring all manner of Digimon media in-universe, the virtual pets were the one medium not acknowledged by the anime. The singular aspect of the virtual pets that endured through these years was one innocuous video game series that would launch in late 2000--Pocket Digimon World.

7 comments:

  1. O.O my eyees!~!!!!!! wow gotta read em' all~

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    1. like always a good read damn if reading take me hours to understand i can't imagine how long for you to write all this, thank you for your hard work :D well the digimon pendulum i think only release across asian country hk,sg,my.... i don't know why bandai not promote digimon pendulum...for western country....

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  3. Love that you're giving us such a thorough report on the franchise, and in particular the virtual pets! (Those have always been my favorite aspect of Digimon.) Looking forward to your next entry! :)

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  4. god this is the best read of digimon in my life

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  5. how to make omegamon pendulum zero more stronger than others pendulum.

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  6. hi..when i was 10 years old..i was playing this game. at all the time. i even bring it nearly everywhere in my life. to school, to bed, bathroom, bedroom etc. im wondering if this pendulum still available..

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