Digimon World has no ending. It ends when the player finally takes the disk out and doesn't put it back in again. If that never happens, then the game will happily accommodate the player in continuing the adventure forever, endlessly spawning another boss for them to fight every month, periodically reincarnating their Digimon so they can raise a new one, and inviting them to participate in Volume Villa's endless trading card economy. The game's credits theme is appropriately titled No Need For Goodbyes. (さよならはいらない Sayonara wa Iranai.) How does one make a sequel to a game that continues forever?
For those that played Digimon World to "completion," the game remains frozen in time at the turn of the century. It's a game that despite extensive hacking, still has mysteries remaining, some of which were only solved recently. Cyber Sleuth took Digimon away from the children and gave it the adults that had grown up with the franchise. A new Digimon World is the natural step in courting the mainstream adult audience, given its reputation as the globally bestselling and best-remembered Digimon game.
-next 0rder-'s team was faced with the daunting task of making a sequel to a game that has been called both a masterpiece and a polarizing cult classic, but this was only half of the team's challenge. It is not enough to simply modernize the game; Digimon World has to be made appealing to a much broader audience than it once was. The franchise no longer has a massively popular anime series to lean on as a crutch. In 2016 far more weight has been put on a game's critical reception than was placed in 1999, and World performed horribly with critics despite its mass exposure. Even among fans, the game has a very particular reputation--back in his legendary 2011 Let's Play, OFS commented that the game was "a lot of fun" but only with a strategy guide. Has the -next 0rder- team succeeded in modernizing Digimon World, and have they made it more accessible to general audiences? These are the questions I am trying to address.
Before going in, let me say at the onset that my overall impression of the game is positive. I am about to say some very harsh things in this review because I feel that they need to be said. Even so, we are better off in a world with -next 0rder- than in a world without it. And there are far worse things this game could have become. Like my Cyber Sleuth review, the first half of this will be spoiler-free, with the second half demarcating where storyline spoilers begin. Unlike that review, the spoiler section will be broken up chapter by chapter, so you can go as far as you see fit. (The game only has four real chapters, with #5 being an extension of #4.)
|One of the first screenshots of the game. Those trees are replaced with normal ones in the final product.|
Those that were watching the game since its announcement will doubtless have mixed reactions. On the one hand, many of the early areas have been polished into structured digital playgrounds that invite the player to run around and explore, at the sacrifice of some of the more unique aspects we initially saw. (The polygonal trees are nowhere to be found in the final release, the ground's internal mapping does not periodically peek out as in some early shots, and the traffic sign motif is absent from the Nearby Meadow.) On the other hand, it's clear that this is a game which looks a lot better on Bandai's production emulator than it does on an actual Vita.
|The same area in the final game.|
|This gives a new meaning to "Black Were Garurumon."|
|The blue streak in Takuto's hair and the pink streak in Shiki's don't turn black though.|
The music in -next 0rder- is everything that the rest of the game should be, which is remarkable coming from artists with so little exposure. Music composition and arrangement was handled by Kishi Toshiyuki (岸利至), while sound direction was by Ariba Takaaki (有馬孝哲), both being relative unknowns who hadn't worked with Digimon previously. Unlike Cyber Sleuth, -next 0rder- never gives you the chance to get tired of its soundtrack, which comprises both day and night versions for every piece of background music.
While Sleuth's soundtrack could have fit into just about any cyberpunk game, -next 0rder-'s has an OST that could be said to be specific to Digimon. The game builds on the soundtrack of Digimon World, remixing familiar motifs, aurally recreating iconic scenes from the original game, and inviting the player to go beyond them. (Compare Refusal Fight to Refusal Fight ver. "neO.") In the case of two especially memorable tracks, Kishi accentuates the flaws in World's soundtrack by recreating the original last boss theme Digital and Guts! with a live band for several scripted battles, then remixes the same song using the industry refinements developed in the past fifteen years to create a hybrid synthetic rock-chiptune track for the last boss. I got chills going into -next 0rder-'s final fight.
On the sound front, many of the effects have been lifted from or based on those found in Digimon World. While hearing the classic Digimon cries has a certain appeal to it, the derived sounds are considerably less pleasant to hear. Especially when Digimon are hungry, they tend to make loud, overlapping bellows, screaming at you for food repeatedly until you give it to them. Ophanimon and Cherubimon throw temper tantrums at me was quite the sight, but also jarring considering that in all other situations they're in a state of total composure.
The sound use isn't perfect. Unlike in World the sounds are generally redundant due to how the game spams icons at you. In World you had to wait for your Digimon to roar after each feeding to make sure they were no longer hungry, while in -next 0rder- you instantly know if they're hungry or not based on the icons displayed. The old method encouraged tamers to pay attention to the in-game characters and not constantly have their eyes on an HUD, whereas -next 0rder- becomes more cluttered by diverting alerts away from the sound effects and towards the menus. Even so, some touches like making the "needs to poop" alert a different sound from "need to eat" or "stressed" are welcome improvements.
Graphically -next 0rder- is superior to the previous game, but one has to keep in mind that Decode was an enhanced port of a PSP game and wasn't actually created on current-gen hardware. The overall style used is based Decode rather than Cyber Sleuth, yet the game still sees fit to recycle Sleuth's character model for Mikagura Mirei. The only modification made is a filter to convey her "projected" rather than real presence in the world, giving her a Princess Leia "You are my only hope" aesthetic. The recycled model becomes very apparent when you see the Yasuda-drawn Mirei next to a Taiki-designed cast. While on paper it sounds like it could be a good tool to convey Mirei's otherworldly origins, in practice it mostly just looks distracting and lazy.
Narrative sequences are told through the same visual novel style as Sleuth, using character models rather than key art to portray expressions, overlaying the cast Fire Emblem-style with ongoing scenes. While it worked in Sleuth, in this game it creates a strange disconnect; -next 0rder- is nominally a sequel to Digimon World, but its style of presentation completely contradicts the original game. In World there was no need to abstract the dialogue in the confines of a visual novel, because everything was rendered in-engine. It's hard to believe that you're really talking to the protagonist of World when you're doing it via Cyber Sleuth's interface.
The Digimon models are for the most part recycled from Sleuth with different shaders and new animations. The most obvious example is probably Alphamon, who has the exact same holes in their cape as in Sleuth. There are only 49 new Digimon, of which 29 are recolored Sleuth models, meaning there are only 20 totally new ones; Jyarimon, Zerimon, Kokomon, Pitchimon, Yuramon, Gigimon, Gumimon, Chocomon, Gumdramon, Shoutmon, Turuiemon, Arresterdramon, Omega Shoutmon, Agnimon, Susanoomon, Omegamon Zwart D, Armagemon, Dukemon Crimson Mode, Maicoomon, and the final boss.
The rendering style will probably look dated a few years down the line, much as the lack of stylization on Re:Digitize's Digimon models quickly turned them archaic by comparison to more recent games. The presentation is nowhere near as timeless as World's deliberately cartoony proportions, or Sleuth's cel shaded aesthetic.
(For the curious, a full listing of Digimon that are in -next 0rder- that weren't in Sleuth: Yukimi Botamon, Jyarimon, Zerimon, Kokomon, Pitchimon, Yuramon, Gigimon, Gumimon, Chocomon, Yuki Agumon, Psychemon, Tsukaimon, Alraumon, Toy Agumon (Black), Clear Agumon, Snow Goblimon, Shamamon, Gumdramon, Shoutmon, Turuiemon, Bomber Nanimon, Icemon, Hyougamon, Pidmon, Kyuubimon (Silver), Gururumon, Saberdramon, Fuugamon, Guardromon (Gold), Youkomon, Red V-dramon, Gold V-dramon, Growmon (Orange), Red Vegiemon, Arresterdramon, Omega Shoutmon, Atlur Kabuterimon (Blue), Megalo Growmon (Orange), Black Megalo Growmon, Taomon (Silver), Doumon, Waru Seadramon, Agnimon, Susanoomon, Omegamon Zwart D, Armagemon, Dukemon Crimson Mode, Maicoomon, and the last boss)
“Those looking for a Digimon game [...] like Cyber Sleuth will appreciate these features. Those looking for another game like World will not.”
The slow-paced open world gameplay and relatively long lifespans of your Digimon partners, which can't be freely stored and exchanged the way that Pokémon can be, doesn't lend itself to collection-oriented gameplay. It's foolish to try to emphasize quantity over quality in a World game, where the entire experience revolves around a qualitative exploration of the Digital World, on an adventure in which one is isolated from both normal human contact and environments in which collection is socially relevant.
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth despite having a smaller roster (219 including secret Digimon versus post-DLC 249) and longer exchange time to work with. The dual partner system allows Digimon tamers to raise a much greater variety of Digimon simultaneously than they could in past games, while their synchronized eating, sleeping, and toilet habits ensure that the level of attention required for care remains the same.
Unfortunately, this collection-oriented gameplay doesn't complement the rest of its components. The requirements for evolution guarantee that a significant portion of any given Digimon's lifespan is going to be spent training it to meet those requirements. The end result of that is that tamers spend comparatively little time with each of their partners' individual stages compared to their final forms. Once my Tailmon and Lopmon evolved to Angewomon and Andiramon, they evolved again within thirty minutes due to how much of the in-game clock had to be spent on training. You spend far more time with the Child and Ultimate stages of your partners than with their Adult and Perfect stages. This skews the system towards giving you overwhelming strength in sudden bursts, at which point you begin to thoroughly dominate the storyline enemies, which are all significantly underpowered by that point.
There are some welcome modifications to the raising system. Instead of being able to praise or scold your Digimon at will, your Digimon will prompt you to interact with them at specific points, like when leaving the gym after a training session or after so many battles. Every time that you praise or scold them, you're given a random hint for one of their next stage's evolution criteria, which is permanently stored in that Digimon's evolution history menu. You can grind with this feature by fighting a lot or by leaving the gym after each training session to try to trigger a praise/scold prompt, and grinding it will let you learn all of their possible evolutions and requirements.
This makes it much easier to play the game without a guide, though you'll never get quite the same esoteric experience as in the first World, filtering through tens of different guides across web and print platforms to pin down the correct information. On the whole, -next 0rder- makes a lot of necessary simplifications but also becomes a little too easy. The game barely bothers to fight back.
|Two heads are only better than one when they aren't clipping through each other.|
In the same breath, -next 0rder- isn't isn't exactly visiting new territory. Digimon has always flirted with the idea of multiple partners. In the first series of virtual pets, owning multiple devices was encouraged to rack up high win ratios for evolution (multiplayer was the only battle mode) and it was somewhat more appealing than the alternative option--having friends that could battle (and lose) frequently. The Twin pet on which -next 0rder- is based outright required tamers to raise two Digimon for full functionality. In the various anime series, Wallace in Adventure 02 and Amano Nene in Xros Wars are both known for having two partners at a time.
But while Digimon has indulged this idea before, -next 0rder- marks the first time that a "core series" World game presenting itself as a continuation of Digimon's virtual pet origins has required tamers to use a dual partner system. There's no option to have a single partner, and that's bound to alienate fans who grit their teeth through Sleuth waiting for a less crowded game. Unlike in Sleuth, you can't turn off your partners' visual representations in the field for functional reasons, which leads to decreased visibility, a crowded screen, and frequent camera glitches owed to the game's free-moving (as opposed to CS' fixed) camera.
This bonus condition has existed in past World games. It checks to see if a tamer's current partner is a specific Digimon, and if the answer is "yes" it favors an evolution to whichever monster has that bonus condition. (A less obtuse explanation; if you have Guilmon as your partner, you get +1 point to evolving towards Growmon even though Guilmon can also evolve into Red V-dramon, because Growmon has "is Guilmon" as a bonus condition.) But in the original World, this condition only applied to a few evolutions from Child to Adult, and other evolution criteria could be effectively manipulated to ignore it if you really wanted to.
-next 0rder- revises the "is X" condition to have a domineering amount of control over evolution, and part of the problem is the lack of specific evolution criteria for all Child Digimon. Those that choose to grind evolution hints will find a curious pattern; Weight, Care Mistakes, and Happiness/Discipline have no influence whatsoever on Baby II to Child evolution. This makes it difficult to get your Digimon partner on an evolution track that will put them on the path you want. Trying to go for certain evolutions like Pukamon > Clear Agumon is impossible because the criteria and priority of evolutions ensures that you'll always get Snow Goblimon or Gomamon instead.
The "is X" condition now applies to Perfect to Ultimate evolution as well, which means that at least as far as your first generation of partners is concerned, if you're playing with an anime Digimon then you're forced to run through the anime-specific line. Start with Guilmon? Good luck not getting Dukemon. Start with Plotmon? Hope you like Holydramon. Just to drive the point home further, the game literally has a pair of free DLC Digitama that only evolve into War Greymon and Metal Garurumon. They only evolve down their corresponding anime lines, with no branches. This is frustratingly close to Pokémon's model.
Those looking for a Digimon game which is predictable and consistent--a game like Cyber Sleuth, that will allow them to use their favorite anime Digimon--will appreciate these features. Those looking for another game like World will not. Unfortunately, -next 0rder- seems to be barking up the wrong tree. The type of audience that would play the game because of an anime series they watched back in second grade is not the type of audience whose first inclination will be to hit the gym with their Digimon partners, which remains a necessary component of gameplay if you don't want your Digimon to die unevolved.
|Toy Agumon and Clear Agumon. Not pictured, but still in the game: Toy Agumon (Black).|
Ultimately, the roster hurts the game severely. I would love to do the extensive postgame content, fight all of the optional superbosses, and unlock the game's evolution items. But I already raised the only Digimon I was interested in, and when I look through the roster I can't find any motivation to keep going. There are 60 fully evolved Digimon in the game, 8 of which are Super Ultimates accessable only by Jogress or ExEvolution, and the remaining 52 follow a very predictable pattern. In order to be part of -next 0rder-'s roster of Ultimates, you have to fall into one of the following groups;
- Main character Digimon used in the anime's first five seasons or related products. (Exceptions: Plesiomon, retconned by Vikemon, and any non-gogglehead characters from Frontier.)
- Headliner villain used in Adventure. (i.e. Venom Vamdemon, the Dark Masters.)
- Royal Knights.
- Seven Great Demon Lords.
- Three Archangels.
- Digimon previously debuting in the Mirei continuity. (Titamon, Mastemon.)
- Recolors, palette swaps, and variations of the above.
Haven't we relied enough on the Royal Knights and SGDL to fill out game rosters? What about the Warrior Ten, the Olympos XII, or the Crack Team? What about the implied Devidramon-Gargomon evolution line that still has yet to be featured outside the background lore, or more obscure picks like Ex-Tyrannomon? And there's a whole body of fan submissions that won contests to become official Digimon years ago, but have never seen the light of day. When will we finally see Holy Digitamamon in a game? There's an overwhelming number of Digimon that get routinely ignored by the franchise in favor of Yet Another Royal Knight. It's positively obnoxious that we're still dealing with the likes of Metal Garurumon (Black) in light of that, and with so many assets premade for this game, there's no good excuse for limiting the lineup like this.
(The full list of missing World Digimon is as follows: Penmon, Monochromon, Airdramon, Whamon, Yukidarumon, Drimogemon, Cockatrimon, Shellmon, Mojyamon, Unimon, Igamon, Coelamon, Kentarumon, Bakemon, Vademon, Andromon, and Digitamamon.)
In terms of the game's depth, there are only two sets of special evolutions. If a Child-level Digimon doesn't meet any of its evolution criteria by age 7 it automatically evolves to either Numemon or Geremon depending on whether its Attack or Brains are higher, and if a Digimon poops outside of a toilet sixteen times it evolves into either Scumon or Platina Scumon based on whether its Bond to its tamer is above or below 100. Digimon World had a deep system of death evolutions that were left mostly-unsolved for the better part of seventeen years, providing a new system for tamers to conquer after filling out the core evolution chart. For example, Metal Greymon and Megadramon could death-evolve to Skull Greymon, Angemon to Devimon, and Cockatrimon to Hououmon. (The persistent belief that Birdramon could death-evolve to Hououmon, must death-evolve to Hououmon, was one reason it was so difficult to arrive at an understanding of the system.) -next 0rder- doesn't let you play around with unique evolutions of that kind at all, instead throwing at you a barrage of quick-fix evolution items in the postgame that appeal primarily to fans that want to instantly have a particular Digimon by their side rather than play with the system. There's very little "play" of any kind going on between the player and the game at all.
0rder Points can also be spent on High Tension abilities, which are a type of special action that create a passive effect specific to each Digimon. (e.g. continuous HP regeneration) These tend to be overwhelmingly powerful, but are far from necessary to finish the game. I admit that I personally forgot they existed for an entire chapter, and never had any trouble doing without. My recommendation for World veterans is to switch to Hard Mode the moment you know how to play the game.
Having both versions of Omegamon and Imperialdramon in there was probably a mistake, as was the insistence on using only Digimon that have at some point been treated as "Super Ultimate" level specifically. Much more variety could have been brought in by integrating Burst Modes and/or X-Antibody forms as possible outcomes of ExEvolution--i.e. Rosemon Burst Mode or Herakle Kabuterimon X-Antibody as representatives for ExEs derived from the Nature element. As things stand, the available ExEs are all fairly boring, and made worse by the game's abuse of Accentier as ExEvolution's theme music. The player is forced to sit through the first minute of Accentier every time they ExEvolve, and this will happen enough times in a normal playthrough that it makes one wonder if this isn't a power up theme so much as it is product placement for Aoi Eir's latest single.
|In addition to fights not lasting long enough to use them, the Finishers in -next 0rder- are visually underwhelming compared to Cyber Sleuth's Special Skills. Many attacks use unimpressive particle effects and lower-poly models.|
The attribute system has been modified from World and Re:Digitize. Previously, each Digimon had one attribute (Vaccine/Virus/Data/Free) and up to three Specialties. Specialties both played a role in the damage formula and determined which techs each Digimon could learn. In order to facilitiate easy matching of ExEvolutions, this new system limits each Digimon to a single specialty, and specialties no longer dictate which techs they can learn. This makes techlists less intuitive and appear highly arbitrary in comparison to past games, with Digimon learning multiple techs outside their one specialty, sometimes with no obvious reason as to why they learn them.
-next 0rder-'s comprehensive rebalancing of the system is especially perplexing because this is the first core World game to have no multiplayer. World, Re:Digitize, and Decode all had local multiplayer, and there were some hopefuls (myself included, admittedly) that this game would follow Cyber Sleuth's example by adding an online component. Instead -next 0rder- gives us the Battle Server, a poorly-implemented daily battles mechanic that functions more like a slot machine than anything else.
Due to the way it's structured, this isn't actually a multiplayer system at all. Both players can be the winner, as they never actually pass signals to one another. The lack of multiplayer calls into question many other decisions, like the choice to have stats cap at four digits (five for HP/MP) instead of the three standardized in past games. There's no logical reason to push the caps another digit when there's virtually nothing in the game to use that standard of power against. If anything, it makes it more difficult to aim for specific evolutions on subsequent reincarnations, because the stat requirements are at such a lower threshold compared to what you're likely to have several cycles in. Suddenly you can only get the Digimon with the highest stat requirements.
Layering of the Player Character
Recently, I had the chance to complete Undertale as a sort of graduation gift. I won't derail this too much, but as I was writing my -next 0rder- review, Undertale got me thinking about the relationship between these things we call the "player" and "player character." The norm in a role-playing game is for the player and player character to be interchangable, identical entities who share mutual (if not indistinguishable) guilt for any action they commit within the game-world. For this we have Dungeons & Dragons and/or Wizardry to blame. Within the last fifteen years manipulating the concept of the player character has become an increasingly apparent theme, though it's not by any means confined to role-playing games--it's one of the things that made Metal Gear Solid 2 so unforgettably inscrutable. If a game doesn't do anything with the concept, it's just business as usual and we pay no notice to it. But when a game like Undertale rolls in and toys with this preconception, writing lines that have different meanings depending on whether "you" is read to mean "the player" or "the player character," we notice that sort of thing.
Because conflict resolution is in the Digimon's hands, the player is absolved from most wrongdoing. This is theoretically similar to Pokémon, but in Pokémon the degree of separation between the human player character and their monsters is much smaller. You give your Pokémon orders, and unless you're going out of your way to subvert the game mechanics in some way, it will always execute them in an exactly predictable fashion as if they were simply an extension of yourself. There's little setting apart Pokémon and Dragon Quest in terms of gameplay mechanics. The same can be said for Cyber Sleuth.
In World, the visible split between (nonviolent human) player character and (violent monster) player character is the gameplay element which most distinguishes the game. In 1999, mainstream critics and gamers invariably hated it. In 2016...they probably still will. This is for the same reason that Final Fantasy XII's gameplay system is (rightfully) criticized; layering the player character into different parts removes the immediacy from conflict resolution (combat) and rather than "X=X" the formula becomes "X=Y=X." An unnecessary component is introduced in-between the player pressing the button and an action being executed. Your Digimon is a middleman between you and violence (gameplay) and this slows down the act of play.
But while in XII this was a strange and out-of-place addition to an RPG franchise that revolved around a certain kind of gameplay, this middleman relationship is the raison d'être of Digimon. Cyber Sleuth, for all it accomplished in terms of quality, was really bad at being a Digimon game. Your Digimon in Sleuth didn't possess the remotest illusion of being alive or having agency of their own in gameplay terms. In -next 0rder-, your Digimon possesses almost too much life--the (nonviolent human) player character may as well not exist for how little influence they carry on gameplay. The difference between how Sleuth and -next 0rder- present a living monster is roughly the same difference one sees in how Castlevania and Legacy of Kain present a vampire. The Digimon's monstrous nature was never a gameplay obstacle in Sleuth.
Simplification of Training
Genericization of Exploration
The lack of treasure chests means there are comparatively fewer rewards for exploring than in World, and the resource spots instead introduce a new kind of grinding that wasn't in the game previously, while also making the landscape less aesthetically pleasing. The resource grinding is also a redundant game mechanic, as you already have to return to past areas to learn new Techs and harvest specific enemy drops, as well as items that spawn in the field. Speaking of, the unique field spawns have been replaced with generic ingredients used to cook food during camping sessions, a decision I also found reason to disagree with. Only a single area has a food item specific to it, which coupled with the way resource spots are set up, tends to make each region interchangeable farming grounds. When the player revisits an area in World, it's primarily for unique items specific to that area, like the Deluxe Mushrooms in Great Canyon or the Chain Melons in Gear Savanna. When they revisit an area in -next 0rder-, it's because the excavation spots in the area next to it ran out.
|The Frost Cathédrale, which may as well be called "Missing Secret."|
Most recruitment quests are woefully generic, and unlike in World, a significant number of Digimon can only be recruited by forking over an item or number of items. Palmon wants a Smiley Apple, Digi Mushroom, and Shoppa Fruit. Kuwagamon wants a Royal Jelly. Renamon wants a Digikoi. Numemon wants 5 Green Digimushrooms. Seadramon wants one each of Digijako, Digicarp, and Digigoby. Five of the Digimon that you can recruit in the Oogino Wastelands want 20 of a specific type of meat. There's a nauseating number of fetch quests and MMO-style grinds, made worse by the fact that the game -next 0rder- is specifically trying to emulate had none of these.
|None of the recruitment quests in -next 0rder- approach the creativity of World.|
The quests also have no bearing on the main storyline, and instead serve as arbitrary thresholds towards advancing it. Many of the villagers you could recruit in World knew something valuable about the plot and divulged it on being recruited, incentivizing the player to explore new areas and look for villagers on their own so that they could learn more at their own pace. Not so in -next 0rder-, where even the recruitable characters in the last dungeon are irrelevant to the narrative. The relationship between the town you're building up and the storyline you're progressing is at the weakest it's ever been.
Instead of recruiting villagers being an open-ended primary goal, it's busywork done because you have no other choice, since the main quests won't advance if you don't raise your Prosperity first. In World, the player is self-directed and self-educated. In -next 0rder-, there's almost always a glowing pointer telling you where to go next, and all direction is given by the non-player cast rather than originating from the player themselves.
Credit where credit is due though, -next 0rder- modifies the behavior of the on-field enemies to be far more tolerable than they were in Re:Digitize/Decode. While in Re:Digitize enemies would mindlessly run at you regardless of what level your Digimon were, choosing to keep away only when they were of a weaker attribute (i.e. Virus-type Goblimon sees a Vaccine-type Agumon and keeps its distance), in -next 0rder- all enemies will stay back when you have a significant level lead over them. No more running through a field with Metal Garurumon and getting piled on by hordes of Numemon running to their demise. The enemies are still overly aggressive compared to World.
|From Romsstar's Re:Digitize English patch.|
Re:Digitize rebalanced fishing, making it take 5 in-game minutes, but also making the fish into randomly generated drops from fishing spots rather than incorporating a minigame. This made fishing a less involved process. As a concession, tamers could catch different sizes of fish and have them measured, trying to both capture all of the fish in each area and beat the high scores for each species. In that game, the purpose of fishing was as a food source, (extremely lucrative) money source, and to earn a series of titles (the new medal system) associated with fishing.
-next 0rder- does something similar but less well executed. Fishing now takes 5 minutes for a failed catch and 10 minutes for a successful one, and the fish are randomly generated as in Re:Digitize, but there's no measuring mechanic or increased sale value based on size. All the player has to do is hit X when their line shows an exclamation point to instantly pull the fish in, to no fanfare. Fishing spots are somewhat more limited than they were in Re:Digitize, only appearing in the Nearby Grasslands, MOD Shop Cape, and Bony 'O Resort. This time around tamers can eventually get a fishing hole of their own back in the city, which expands as more related Digimon are acquired, and the drops from it correspond to those found in each of those Digimon's areas.
Despite being better balanced, this is easily the most grindy and least involved of the series' fishing mechanics. It was fun to land a big one in Re:Digitize and see your Digimon cheer for you, and to see the wriggling 3D models--fishing wasn't as involved as in World, but it was more rewarding and there was clearly a lot of effort put in. In this game, fishing is incidental and there's no particular incentive to do it, since the medal/title system was removed and the only fishing trophy is for catching your first fish.
|From Romsstar's Re:Digitize English patch.|
The New Game+ feature from Re:Digitize/Decode is also not in this game.
Story & Setting
“A case of the answer not being as satisfactory as the question.”The narrative in -next 0rder- is firmly an excuse plot. The team needed to create a reason for the player to return to the Digital World. In total it comprises just 15 hours of a 60-hour-plus experience, with the main game being possible to finish in just two days of play time. Only 39 out of 100 Prosperity Points are required to unlock the final boss, a bar that's lower than that of Digimon World. The quality of the narrative is the main point of contention.
Unlike Cyber Sleuth, -next 0rder- chooses to focus on a somewhat more individual conflict with down-to-Earth issues, yet the mechanism of presenting it is just as dramatic. In a nutshell, it's about childhood memories, nostalgia, and rivalry. The player steps into the role of Shiki or Takuto, a last-year high school student on their final summer vacation. Upon putting their old Digivice* in an arm holster, they're transported into the Digital World, where they find the city of Floatia ravaged by rampaging Mugendramon. Once the initial battle tutorial is over, it becomes apparent that even the weakest of Digimon are being transformed into Mugendramon copies, and defeating them is the only way to change them back. The player is joined by fellow travelers Oofuchi Himari and Hirose Kouta, school friends who are likewise lost in the Digital World and trying to find their way home.
* It's not a Digivice. It's a virtual pet in the style of the Digimon Mini. Every character calls it a Digivice when it's definitely not one, and the original Digimon World outright called Analogboy's toy a "Digital Monster" virtual pet.
The narrative is very bare-bones, and there's actually not much to it that wasn't revealed in prerelease information. The only things not spoiled to the public were the exact roles of the Mystery Man, Executor, Shouma, and the ending. Everything we didn't know is essentially dumped in the last ten minutes before the credits role, making for a very unsatisfying narrative on the whole. The nostalgia filter does play a role in the plot, though not nearly what was speculated prior to the game's release--the cast all remember a particular detail incorrectly, which completely changes how the player perceives the game's final antagonist. Aside from these moments, there are no surprises.
Like Digimon World, -next 0rder- does not have a main villain until the endgame. It instead rotates through a number of lesser antagonists, each of them having much greater connection to one another than any of the bosses in World. The game is broken up into four chapters, each with a definitive theme and general arc. Chapter 1 is the "wandering" portion in which the cast is gradually brought together as Floatia is rebuilt, during which there isn't any particular enemy antagonizing the characters, but the Digimon-turning-into-Mugendramon "curse" setpiece drives their actions. Chapter 2 sets the game's primary mysteries in motion, develops of Floatia into a thriving town, and introduces several characters that serve as proper enemies for the player. Chapter 3 focuses on developing the human characters, integrates and explains the plot elements introduced in 2, and ultimately progresses the player towards the finale. Chapter 4 resolves all of the established conflicts, and sends the cast home. The postgame scenario mostly exists to flesh out a few last-minute additions to the cast.
The issue with this structure is that instead of the characters being built up over the course of hundreds of individual scenes as in Sleuth, -next 0rder- instead shoves each of the character arcs into a few key dialogues. None of the human characters have the same depth as Kamishiro Yuuko, and none of the monster characters have the same depth as Lord Knightmon. There isn't much foreshadowing to speak of, chiefly because there's no time for foreshadowing in a fifteen hour game. The individual issues are also shallow. While in Sleuth you were helping Nokia, Yuuko, and Arata overcome lifelong crises that had plagued them since childhood, in -next 0rder- the conflicts you're assisting Kouta and Himari with are more like issues that would normally be resolved in the same day they first came up. Most of the human cast is also extraneous to the plot, with all of the real conflicts being solved by the protagonist, Mirei, or the Mystery Man. Kouta, Himari, and Luche seem to be there for padding rather than because they're essential elements of the narrative. Luche and Kouta do manage to move one element of the story forward, but the way in which this is done treats them as objects rather than characters. The same things could have been accomplished by simplifying them down to being Digimon rather than Digimon-and-human pairs.
|Knowing everything you're fighting is a crappy version of something on another continenent tends to undermine the tension.|
What about Folder Continent? We've never seen Spiritua Land, the Guardian Savanna, or Metal Empire actually rendered. What about the Server and WWW Continents, or the Demon's Valley? Why not feature the Dark Area as a dungeon? There's a wealth of locations in Digimon's lore that would make great settings for new entries in the World series, but to get there we have to get off of File Island first.
Putting the specific details aside for the spoiler cut, what -next 0rder- executes mostly well is its connection to Digimon World. The staff paid close attention to several details found in the original game, and made tangible connections to them in this one. Just like in World, the game opens and ends with a pair of prerendered cutscenes set in the real world, which act as a framing device around the Digital World. These are the only times that the player character is voiced outside of battles, just as in the original game. When Mugendramon first rears its ugly head in an early cutscene, it's a one-for-one recreation of the sequence leading up to the final boss battle of World, starting you exactly where the previous game left off. The player being sucked into their Digimon Mini mirrors Hiro being pulled into his Digital Monster dock, and the constant echoing of lines from World (in some cases being direct quotations) help complete the illusion of a seamless transition from one game to the next. There is one significant plot hole that's covered below the cut, but the ideas behind -next 0rder- are sound and consistent.
|Left to right: Cherubimon's arm, Ophanimon, Takuto, the Mystery Man, Rikka (Angewomon), and Himari.|
Unlike Cyber Sleuth, -next 0rder- firmly disconnects the player from reality, and the game appears to disagree with past games on to what bearing the real world should have. In Re:Digitize/Decode, the player remained connected to the real world through the game's sporadic news reports. Unlike regular mail, the player was forced to manually download additional news updates at specific terminals if they wanted to know more about what was going on outside the Digital World, and because they were never notified of when those updates were coming, they would have to decide for themselves when to check for new updates. This reinforced the sense of being cut off from the outside by making the appearances of the real world sporadic, player-directed, and in packages of limited information. Ironically, the isolation was amplified by seeing more of the real world than by seeing less of in.
In -next 0rder-, the real world for all practical intents does not exist. It has no narrative presence, since it only appears for a few seconds at the beginning and end of the game. This has a mixed impact. It allows the player to see the real world of -next 0rder- as their own reality and furthers their connection with the game while not contradicting the idyllic Digimon World, but it also leaves them devoid of investment in the goings-on of the outside. Fictional conceits like the GIGO company don't exist in -next 0rder-, which prevents any breaking of illusion, but it also leaves Digimon's mainstay theme of connections between the digital and analog undeveloped.
|Left to right: Gaioumon, (Miura Hiroaki) Tsuzuki Shouma, (Okamoto Nobuhiko) and Kuzuhamon. (Han Megumi)|
Other than Okamoto, there sadly isn't much to be said about the acting. The performances are good and the delivery is emotive, but the material the actors are working from isn't anywhere near the level of Cyber Sleuth. Itou Kanae was able to cultivate such an emotionally tense portrayal of Kamishiro Yuuko because she was given the opportunity to do so by the writers. By contrast, the voice cast of -next 0rder- are rarely challenged to create anything complex or multifaceted. We get glimpses of what KENN could do as Hirose Kouta, presenting an individual pressured to their breaking point, but when the circumstances are so unbelievable it's hard to get over the poor writing.
Glitches & Bugs
- Most Digimon lose their need to poop upon evolving to Ultimate or Super Ultimate.
- If the player tries to fish at a fishing spot before getting the fishing rod and while being chased by an enemy Digimon, that enemy Digimon will disappear when the notice that the player doesn't have a rod opens, and the enemy will respawn at their default point on the map.
- If the player calls their Digimon over to open the Item/Sleep/Camp menu while being chased by an enemy Digimon, that enemy Digimon will disappear and respawn at its default point on the map.
- The Numemon found at the #2 Electric Power Plant from dusk to night will sometimes float on the air at the start of a battle. This glitch occasionally happens in the Logic Volcano as well.
- Defeated enemy Digimon will sometimes run into and clip through the walls of a map instead of running to the nearest exit.
- If the player calls their partner over while in one of the expanded Floatia's more cramped districts, the partners will get caught on the buildings and hang for up to a minute while attempting to walk through it. The player will be unable to open the menu until the partner finally slides into place in front of them. This also works on some of the field maps, including the final dungeon.
- The player character and their Digimon will sometimes regroup after a battle outside the boundaries of the traversable map, causing them to become stuck in the scenery. This has some interesting results, like standing on an invisible floor over an active volcano. The only way out of this is to use an Autopilot to teleport back to Floatia, or to wait until your Digimon die.
- Improper lighting configuration around the Power Plant and MOD Shop Cape cause either the player or one of their partner Digimon to become pitch black when passing under specific sections of the map.
The upshot of these glitches is that some of them make the extremely aggressive field encounters more tolerable, while the game-breaking ones have at least been patched out by updates. The out-of-bounds glitch was patched out in v1.02, and the floating Digimon issue seems to have been removed as well.
|Version 1.02, which was eventually replaced by .03 and the current .04 patches. Each patch changes the title screen.|
Several of the issues addressed both above and below the spoiler cut have been patched out by free updates, which brings a difficult issue to the fore. One of the criticisms I originally cited when writing this review was that you never fought certain characters in the postgame, and a patch that came out while I was writing it added those characters as superbosses. And as of v1.03, there are still unused spaces in the city for additional recruitable Digimon, implying that future updates will add even more villagers and functions to the game. Bandai has given no indication of stopping with additional patches, leaving the "final" version of the game up in the air. It seems that Bandai actually distributed an incomplete game to the public, and is in the process of finishing it via patches.
Is this practice reprehensible? Would it have been better to delay the game's launch until it was complete? The patches have contributed to sustaining the game's sense of community both in Japan and abroad, and created a different kind of play experience as some Digimon gain or lose functionality between patches. For example, in v1.02 Lord Knightmon could increase a Digimon's lifespan up to 99 days (and this could be repeated to render them immortal) while in v1.03 they could only add one day at a time. v1.03 adding new boss fights excited the game's fanbase and led tamers to flock back to the game world to face another challenge. With the possibility open for further updates, and rumors abounding that Bandai could patch in the missing multiplayer component--which could bump the game's score up by an entire letter grade--it's difficult to settle on a score even two months after launch.
“[Bandai] sacrificed so many gameplay elements [...] what they have produced is unrecognizably different.”
Unlike Re:Digitize, -next 0rder- is very much aware of where it came from. In spite of its revisions and the obstructions of a post-Sleuth market, the game tries to be a love letter to World on every level that it can. If you listen to Re:Digitize's final boss theme, you really can't hear Digimon World in it at all. Not so for -next 0rder-, which always keeps the first game on your mind and constantly reminds you that you're reading the successor to the greatest Digimon game that ever was. (Hypocritically, I don't recommend listening to the -next 0rder- soundtrack prior to playing the game. The final boss theme is such a surprise when it comes that it will make those that played World shout very loudly and start throwing things at innocent bystanders.)
But while there are sufficient visual and aural connections to the original game, -next 0rder- continually betrays its true nature with out-of-place elements that clash with the core World gameplay. The game is slow, containing enough unskippable tutorials and handholding that you'll be yelling at the game to stop helping you before you ever get to step out of Floatia for the first time. There's too much Cyber Sleuth in the game, put there by far less talented individuals than worked on Sleuth. The human cast is superfluous, the Digimon are generic with little to no personality, the open world gameplay is constantly at war with the modern JRPG progression, and the battles manage to make the human player practically unnecessary. It has the best narrative text (not speaking of "story" comprehensively, but of the literal written words) and music of any World game, but the weakest gameplay.
This is the first time that I didn't want to go for the Prosperity cap in World. I was ecstatic playing through the first game and Re:Digitize, I couldn't stop until I hit 100, and even now I find myself going back to both to for additional medals, more titles, more Digimon, or a higher Tamer Level. Meanwhile I'm thoroughly content to put -next 0rder- in a little box and ignore it.
I love Digimon World. It captured my imagination like nothing else. I went and bought the original V Jump guide so that I could work towards a personal goal of mine to put everything printed about it on one shelf in my library. I wanted to love -next 0rder- as much as I love Digimon World, but the game doesn't make it easy. And it's hard to look at -next 0rder- and think "yeah, better luck next game." There isn't as much depth or replay value, nor is there the same amount of timelessness found in the first World game. No one will call this a classic. If anything, the constant abuse of Accentier as the theme song to ExE-volution dates it terribly.
The hardest thing to believe about this game is that it's unremarkable. It's a game that you play, have an alright time with, and throw away. The complaint that Bandai "didn't put effort" into the game simply isn't true. Going by the credits roll, hundreds of people worked on this game. The greatest sin of -next 0rder-, far more than any of the individual quality issues mentioned above, is that it is "good" but "not as good as Cyber Sleuth." The shining new era Sleuth promised won't exist so long as it's not being outsourced to a more talented company.
Looking forward, there's a very real concern that we might not be able to go back from where -next 0rder- has taken us. The twin partner system is a radical enough of a change that it may be impossible to step back from it and revert to a single partner system, despite the fact that the twin partner system really doesn't work in practice. It's understandable that the game design team would want to resume the latest raising sim where the Digimon Twin virtual pets left off in 2007--and -next 0rder-'s narrative also seems written around this idea--but it's hard look at what's been given to us, then look back at the pre-September '15 screenshots of the game and not feel a little remorse at what the game could have been.
|An early screenshot of -next 0rder-, prior to the big September leak that there would be two partners.|
On modernizing Digimon World, after extensive consideration I have come to the conclusion that the team sacrificed so many of the gameplay elements of the original that what they have produced is something unrecognizably different, and certainly not better. They have made it more accessible to general audiences, lowering the bar of entry to acceptable levels; but the lack of depth threatens to alienate that same audience once they get their foot in the door. It's like playing through Pokémon Blue and fing out that the game ends at the third badge. -next 0rder- is not enough like World to appeal to fans of the original, but is also not different enough to appeal to Story fans. It's a jumbled mess of a game that fails to clearly articulate a cohesive play experience.
This isn't to say that it's unenjoyable. It's very much enjoyable. But you'll come out of feeling hollow, and wishing that there was more to it. It lacks the depth that can keep people engaged for fifteen years. I'll certainly buy the game a second time provided that it comes stateside, but when support for it and the Vita end, I'll have no reason to ever touch it again. That level of transience is appalling coming from a work that's trying to inherit World's legacy. Unlike Sleuth, this game definitely doesn't come close to accomplishing everything it set out to.
I'm left staring at my Vita, dreading the idea that I will have to play this game yet again for my Let's Play of it. This is the sort of game that instills a certain anxiety about the franchise's future. To take a long perspective, while Cyber Sleuth was either the second best or best Digimon game overall, -next 0rder- clocks in at fifth place. That's still many places above the historically most dangerous entry in the franchise (Championship) but -next 0rder- is mediocre enough that it makes one fear for what the future could look like if it were localized and received poorly by the public. It would be preferable for the west to finally receive Decode before the 3DS' lifespan comes to an end than for -next 0rder- to sink the brand's fragile reputation overseas, which has only been barely restored by Sleuth.
Ultimately, I'm not the gatekeeper of that decision. All I can say is that this is my—
Final Score: 7/10
Chapter 1 spoilers below this line.
First thing's first, we need to give the Mystery Man a proper name. His "real name" given in the credits is ??? so we'll sink to the game's level and call him by his nickname; Mameo.
That's right, they named him Bean.
Speaking of, Bean's the protagonist of World!
By the end of the storyline, the player will have learned a great deal more about him than they did in the entirety of that game. Mameo is now a grown man indepedent of the player, and throughout the game the audience becomes acquainted with how he relates to his juniors, his job, and his enemies. For the benefit of newcomers, Bean gives them a crash course in World's plot, explaining the ending and postgame. He glosses over some of the finer details, but it's effectively a whole plot spoiler;
Mameo: A long time ago, there was a man who sought to rule over the Digital World. Somehow, I put a stop to that guy's ambitions, but his grudge lived on as a curse. The curse's effects are exactly as you saw them. Digimon are strengthened, and become Mugendramon.This isn't just gratuitous nostalgia though. Bean provides some rare foreshadowing, setting up the endgame of -next 0rder- quite a ways in advance. It's one of the points where the writing clicks with what -next 0rder- is trying to do. In addition to this, Mameo establishes some points about the game's setting, explaining that he came to the Digital World via a "Digital Dive," and that his partner is currently sealed away. At some point, Bean's partner was affected by a program and became unable to be reborn, permanently trapped as a Digi-egg.
Going by the time difference established in the first game, from the perspective of someone inside the Digital World these battles would have taken place over the course of thousands of years rather than just the ten to fifteen that have actually elapsed. One would expect some kind of deeper characterization to come out of such a backstory, but there really isn't any more to Mameo that meets the eye.
He never falters for a moment, never feels sadness, despondence, or a sense of hopelessness about his battles. I'm as critical as any of too much angst in storytelling, but the opposite can be just as detrimental. There's zero emotion to this character. I'm not asking for Sailor Nothing here, it's just that the character presented in-game has nothing to do tonally with the character we see everywhere else.
As a whole, -next 0rder- is broken up into four self-contained chapters, each with their own themes. Chapter 1 is the character introduction arc, in which the player is introduced one by one to each major figure in the storyline, ending with Mirei. Chapter 2 is the character development arc, where -next 0rder- sholves all the emotional problems of its cast. Chapter 3 is the "traitor" segment, in which suspicion is increasingly cast on each of the player's "party members." Chapter 4 is the finale.
The first twenty minutes of the game are blissfully empty. After the initial tutorial, the player is dropped into the Digital World, given an explanation of how Jijimon's village got so broken up, and told to go explore.
The issue with Himari and Kouta in -next 0rder- is more or less the same issue as with Akiho and Niko in Re:Digitize. Just as Re:Digitize was trying really hard to be a Devil Survivor clone shoved onto World's gameplay mechancis, -next 0rder- is trying to be a Persona clone stapled to the same. Each character goes through a respective arc in which their Digimon partner evolves to match their character development, and each is given a set of scenes mirroring the structure of a Social Link/Fate level that culminates in their partner reaching their maximum strength.
As in Re:Digitize, this copying is a matter of style and not of substance. These advances are not triggered by the player choosing to interact with the characters, but are instead mandated by the plot. The player is not an active agent in this process as they would be in Persona. Implementing these characters is supposed to draw the reader closer to the narrative and incorporate them further into the game world, but by forcing them to see these scenes rather than making them work for it, -next 0rder- distances the player from their own actions. How you react to the characters' questions has no bearing on gameplay. And unlike their Re:Digitize predecessors, Himari and Kouta aren't true party members. There's no gameplay reason that they need to go through these kinds of illusory party member arcs when the player will never join them in battle.
Moreover, the introduction of the human characters brings with it a closing off of exploration. If the player tries to break off the beaten path at any point after this, they'll be cruelly rebuffed by empty space. -next 0rder- is extremely strict about when new villagers will be available to recruit; if the player enters MOD Shop Cape too early in the game, it will be deserted. All eight maps will be devoid of potential villagers, featuring only swarms and swarms of Black Agumon and Seadramon for the player to fight. It's not technically railroading, but when all of the methods of game progression in a given area are turned off until the plot is advanced, it certainly feels like it.
Everyone begins to put the pieces together. It seems like the four tamers called to the Digital World were the top 4 in the Digital Monster tournament eight years ago. Himari remembers the winner of the tournament being Tsuzuki Shouma, who could very well be the "Mameo" Luche speaks of. With Luche's assistance in identifying him, they set out to track down Bean in the Server Desert.Luche: That's it! Bean!
DEFEET) who takes out every Mugendramon in one fell swoop, and then sets his eyes on the party. With D's sights on the group, the party prepares their last words...
In case it wasn't abundantly clear, Mirei's describing the conditions that the lost villagers from World experienced. The game is rather prominently doing in the wizard, providing a rational explanation for what was previously an abstract cataclysm. Whether it's successful or not depends on the fanbase's ability to accept -next 0rder- as a legitimate successor.
Chapter 2 spoilers below this line.
During this time, the group comes up with a plan to create an antivirus program that will counter the Brain Hack Program. While Mirei is analyzing the BH Program, Mameo passes along a prototype antiprogram he developed based on his past work with the curse. However, Himari begins to have doubts about how long they'll remain trapped in the Digital World, and conflicts with the rest of the group. Kouta becomes more preoccupied with catching up to Himari, still sore over losing to Mugendramon.
This was probably intended to be a sympathetic character arc, but it instead comes across as a bad idiot plot. The tension relies on no one telling Himari a vital piece of information; that there is an immense time difference between the Digital World and the real world. The entirety of the first game took place in the span of no more than a few hours. Ol' Beanie in particular should definitely know this, seeing as it was a major plot point in World that he personally investigated, and looking at how quickly he settles into a mentor role he should have told the main cast this soon after meeting them. And considering that this time difference was both a game mechanic and an in-universe element in the original game, and Mameo acknowledged back during his own journey that he didn't need to eat or sleep while in the Digital World, why didn't the cast of this game notice it on their own?
The difference between Kouta's and Himari's arcs is night and day in terms of quality, but Kouta's makes it apparent that the game is leaning a little too heavily on the anime. On top of Himari's partner one-for-one copying Hikari's evolution line, the Skull Greymon bit on Kouta's end delves into self-plagiarism. This little episode in the game works because it was already written and done before in 1999 and 2001, lifting and mixing Taichi and Takato's dark evolution episodes.
Chapter 3 spoilers below this line.
Which brings us to the next issue. Ogremon's antics were incompetent, bumbling, and a little lovable. He had enough edge to be the antagonist, but walked a tightrope between being a comic character and a serious threat. His questline ended with him joining the Village of the Beginnings as the nightwatch, a fitting conclusion to someone that started out as a gangster.
Metal Etemon's storyline ends with him being cut down by his own superiors.
In the first game, nobody was killed. Mameo never used deadly force in World, always gave his opponents the chance to escape, forgave everyone--including his ultimate enemy--and even on-field encounters were shown running free after losing a battle. The only Digimon you can begin to argue might have been killed was Mugendramon, which the game treats rather murkily. Metal Etemon's death is an instance of tonal dissonance that breaks the sense of continuity between it and its predecessors. What happens to Metal Etemon would be par for the course in Cyber Sleuth, but this isn't Sleuth. And he's not the only one to die; the player personally kills two of the three Sankaishin, with the third dying at the hands of Zwart D. Although update patches have since restored them to life, it's still disturbing to see lethal force implemented so casually in World, especially considering that -next 0rder- repeatedly tries to set itself up as the direct inheritor to the original game.
This is treated as a major revelation in-game, but more savvy tamers will see it coming a mile off. Luche is an amnesiac girl with no partner Digimon, who first "mysteriously" appears when the player is supposed to be looking for a Mugendramon, and the first thing she does is come up with a name and face for them to blame. From the very beginning everything she does is calculated to cast doubt on Mameo and steer the main cast towards the idea that he is their enemy. The whole act stinks from the moment she's on screen, people were calling this girl suspicious from the first time she appeared in V Jump, and it's not hard to put two and two together and think "Oh, she was the actual Mugendramon we were looking for!"
Consequently, the whole arc feels very pointless. The "traitor" issue is resolved within an hour, and Luche is reduced to a plot device to facilitate the Three Gods of Destruction's evil master plan. This doesn't actually contribute to Luche's character, because she's not aware that she's a traitor. (Metal Etemon addresses her as though she should be "in on it," but the dialogue indicates that Luche didn't realize she was a mole in the first place. To some degree she had been set up to dupe the player without her own knowledge.) It could have been a shocking turnaround for the token loli to have been unapolagetically stringing the group on all along, but instead her "betrayal" is an incidental component of her character which is quickly brought up, forgiven, and forgotten. By contrast, the same idea was used in Sleuth to facilitate Lord Knightmon's plans, and it became a defining part of the associated character interactions for a good 20+ hours.
The end of chapter 3 is made up of swerves and turnarounds. Luche is a traitor; Metal Etemon is killed; and Shouma, rather than being the ideal Digimon tamer everyone's memories built him up to be, is an unapologetic bad guy trying to advance his "AR Plan." Accompanied by his bodyguards Kuzuhamon and Gaioumon, Shouma introduces one last twist when Mirei recognizes his teleportation abilities.
"...You are not the only one with special priveledges."
On one end this creates a very cool moment, where we finally see Mirei's usual composure fractured as it becomes apparent that the lead antagonist is exercising power comparable to her own while she's powerless to stop them. But this also instantly upgrades Shouma to a multiversal threat, which is strange given the otherwise self-contained nature of -next 0rder-'s conflict. It seems that these aspects of the storyline were introduced solely to give Mirei a reason to be part of the game, putting Shouma's power level above even Sleuth's final boss because nothing less is within her paygrade. There was a time when a Digimon game could simply be about one universe, one set of protagonists and antagonists, and not mandate crossover elements as essential pieces of the plot.
Full spoilers below this line; past this point it's assumed that you have played through the game.
The last chapter of -next 0rder- is where most of the reasons to play it are crammed in.
|"I'll show you all. The ultimate evolution I discovered beyond mutation--Denaturalized Super Evolution!"|
Alter-B is intended to be a reflection of the player's own War Greymon and Metal Garurumon combo, presuming both that they chose to raise them as their first partners and that they're completing the storyline exclusively using those two. (Which is entirely possible; unlike World, you can clear the main scenario on a blind first run without your partners dying before it's up.) Takuto/Shiki are shown to have a War Greymon and Metal Garurumon in the opening cutscene and gameplay sequences, as well as in Bandai's versions of the game scenes used for official trailers. The reversed position of Alter-B's cannon and sword--taking the Grey Sword on the left arm and making it the Grey Cannon, and the same reversal for its right arm's Garuru head--make it a sinister counterpart to how the player's Digimon default at the start of the game, with War Greymon on the right and Metal Garurumon on the left. This shadowy mirror alludes to Shouma's own past with the player, as well as their desire to surpass them in-game through sinister means.
This isn't a strictly linear game though, and the mechanisms that would make such symbolism work aren't in place. Digimon World is not the type of series where this device can function. The reliance on Omegamon in the first place is where the problems start, as Shouma would only emulate the player successfully 100% of the time if his partner changed to a different recolor depending on who their own Digimon were.
|Shouma: ! Y-you...! You're that...That brat from that time!? That shitty little brat that spoiled my ambitions!!|
I can't convey how weirdly specific Shouma's dialogue at this point is without providing a direct textual comparison. Even the specific kana are selected to replicate an exact moment from World;
バ、バカな…そんなバカなぁぁぁっ！！！あり得ない！こんなこと！あり得ていいはずがない！！Now compare this to Analogman's final words in World;
"I-impossible...That's impossibleeee!!! Unbelievable! There's no probability of this kind of thing happening!!"
"Unuaaaa! Not again! Not againn!"
"Aa...[I'll] disappear...! At this rate...No...S-save me....Uo...Uooooaaaaaa!!!"
バカな．．．このままでは．．．いやだ．．．た、助けてくれ．．．うぉ．．．うあああああああ あああ！！！-next 0rder- does not name Analogman directly. The game foreshadows his involvement a bit with Mameo back in chapter 1, then dumps him unnamed all the way in chapter 4 with several lines of dialgoue that are clearly intended to call back to the finale of the first game. But Bean barely recognizes him with a "It can't be..." and the villain is suddenly reduced to a device to explain (and excuse) Shouma's behavior. Now don't get me wrong, Okamoto Nobuhiko does a fantastic job switching between portraying Shouma and Analogman working through a child's body, but this revelation comes out when the game is practically already over. There's no time for build-up, for a real confrontation between Analogman and Mameo, or even for the player to learn his name.
"Impossible...At this rate...No...S-save me...Uo...Uaaaaaaaaaa!!!"
According to Shouma, everything went back to that Digital Monster tournament in fifth grade. He wasn't the winner as the others remember; the finals were the player character and Kouta, with him having been eliminated in the semi-finals by the player. Shouma had attempted to cheat in order to win the tournament, modifing his Digimon to be abnormally powerful, but was defeated. After his loss, Shouma planned on raising an even stronger Digimon, but his partner was never reborn, and he threw them away. He began gathering information on every Digimon there was to seek ultimate power and get a revenge match with Takuto/Shiki, performing one Digital Dive after another into the network until he one day reached another world.
The day before summer vacation he discovered the Special Field, which according to Mameo is around the time when he noticed Shouma stopped going to school. Shouma saw the remains of a Digimon there that he had never seen before, along with data of an unknown origin. (According to Taomon, this is when Shouma encountered the "curse.") Shouma based the Brain Hack Program on the curse, cut off the network connecting the real world and Digital World, and destroyed the Executor (Zwart D) that appeared to interfere with his plans, then began the Advanced Realm project.
Although only implied, based on Shouma's account, Analogman's consciousness was freed when he made contact with his "curse," gradually influencing his actions and eventually taking him over. Shouma does try to claim himself still culpable for what he did, but the cast is quick to forgive him. The truth is that the Digimon he threw away is actually Luche; he discovered that Digimon's data within the Special Field, and created Luche from it as a servant without knowing it was her.
Luche's memories are jogged by the sight of him. She remembers Shouma as a very kind partner, but suddenly being thrown away, then spending a long time alone, in cold darkness, sad and afraid. Shouma's voice was what called her back within the Special Field, making her feel that she wanted to do her best again. Jijimon calls this a miracle, but in her characteristic fashion Mirei denies this with another idea entirely.
"...Rather than a miracle, perhaps it was inevitable. [...] Tamers and partners are drawn to one another."There are some inconsistencies with Shouma's story. His motivation hinges on the events of a Digital Monster tournament from fifth grade, yet everyone's in their last year of high school, meaning he had to hold a grudge over a virtual pet game for seven years. Mameo's claim that he stopped coming to school around the time that he discovered the Special Field also doesn't add up because Shouma says it was the day before summer break, and the official website states that the game is set during Takuto/Shiki's final summer vacation. Either Shouma was referring to the previous summer break and has been plotting this for a whole year, or Mameo noticed that he "stopped coming to school" during a regularly scheduled vacation that happens every year.
Shouma: Oh, this guy is...my new partner. His name is Noir. Perhaps you'll find...It sounds a little better than "Omegamon Zwart Defeat." Haha...Kouta and the others reacted the same way when I introduced them. After the Reincarnation was over...Omegamon Alter-B, reborn from a Digi-Egg...became my partner.
This game's execution is a mess.
There is no motivation for Shouma-Analogman to try to create his new world in the first place. He even admits this, stating that "There's no particular reason. I just want to see it." Analogman works as a last boss, but not in the way he's being implemented. There's a bit of foreshadowing to the revelation; Shouma's behavior and body language in chapters 3 and 4 more befits a creepy old man than it does a boyish high schooler, and Mameo alluding to Analogman in chapter 1 sets the stage for it to happen eventually. But the actual motivation backing Analogman is weak. If he's just returned after more than a decade of imprisonment, vengeance on Bean would be more compelling (or at least tangible) than "I wanna do this thing 'cause it sounds cool."
The invoking of Analogman as an antagonist meshes thematically with the use of Bean as a major character, but it's primarily used as a way to excuse Shouma's actions. Tellingly, we never learn Analogman's name in the storyline, and you could replace him with any generic evil influence with virtually nothing be lost in the transition. He's so well hidden that it's hard even for World veterans to recognize that it's him. And unlike in World, there's not a shred of Analogman present in the final battle for him to be identified by.
Making Omegamon Alter-B into Analogman's new partner is a shortsighted move that fails to take into account the parallels that -next 0rder- is making. If the final boss is supposed to be Shouma, a dark Omegamon makes sense as a counterpart to the protagnist's presumed partners. But if it's truly intended to be taken as Analogman, then Chaosdramon, its X-Antibody equivalent, or a new form thereof would have been a more appropriate match given his established history with Mugendramon. What is the significance of Alter-B to Mugen Cauldron compared to Mugendramon and its successors? What is the significance of Alter-B to Analogman as a character?
Unlike in Re:Digitize, the narrative is a straight shot from start to finish with no branching paths. In Re:Digitize the player was given the option to side with one of two factions partway through the game, and while it was ultimately petty teenage squabbling, it still provided multiple ways through the endgame via different dungeons. There's no particular replay value to speak of in -next 0rder-.
Throughout Cyber Sleuth the world was constantly changing, becoming more broken and dangerous as the game progressed. The environment reflected the narrative, with Odaiba going up in flames, dimensional barriers being ripped apart, and Digital Shifts springing up as the player became increasingly reigned in by the depths of a conspiracy they could barely begin to unravel. In contrast, -next 0rder-'s world stays static, not marred in the slightest by the events of the game. The one major change to the geography is barely visible in gameplay--the town of Floatia finally becoming airborn should be a major development, but you have to actively fight to even get a look at it once it's up there in the sky. Its real gameplay impact is equivalent to getting behind the waterfall in World.
The Missing Piece
Let's talk about messages in video games.
Some dismiss messages as unimportant, as relics of old media. I disagree with this assessment; when the credits are finished rolling, the message is the only thing the game has left for you. Name any of the greats, and you'll find a message accompanying it. Chrono Trigger unambiguously tries to tell the player something, and just what will be debated until civilization itself rolls over and dies. Final Fantasy VII repeatedly transmits messages to the player about needing to harmonize ourselves with the natural world. Mother uses mandatory actions to convey a message about the all-powerful nature of love and its dominance over violence. These examples all come from role-playing games--which are seemingly the most comparable genre to whatever Digimon World is--but to lift an example from action-adventure, Wind Waker builds its in-universe moral compass around those who are willing to relinquish the past versus those that cling to it.
All of these descriptions are really touching on the "meaning" of the message, but meaning is not necessarily so evident. In the case of the previously-mentioned Undertale, the game definitely sends a message independent of whatever its meaning may be, telling the player, "Please do not play this game again." That could mean any number of things, but the literal content of the message is to leave the game behind.
Is this the first Kyouko, parting ways with and saying goodbye to the player? Is it the second Kyouko, signifying that the player is no longer needed in Sleuth's world? The ending card is a rare time when the game breaches the fourth wall to send a message directly. It could have simply been written on a black background instead, but someone at Media Vision decided to write it in mayonnaise. One of their team members took the time to model a cup of coffee and write owari into it, when it could have been ended more simply and without as much labor. At this point we have to conclude that writing it in mayonnaise is somehow simpler than writing it in plain text; and it only becomes simpler when you concede that there is meaning to the message itself.
|Screenshot shamelessly stolen from Pitchfork's Chrono Trigger review.|
The most commonly accepted theory, which certainly makes sense on a first run and is consistent with in-game evidence, is that the entity is the world itself. But Chrono Trigger is a game meant to be played over and over, with thirteen endings and many variations on the scenario and main ending. Seeing everything the game has to offer requires almost twenty playthroughs.
An alternative interpretation consistent with this gameplay is that the entity is the player reliving the game as their own past. This is reinforced by how the player character Crono is the only one asleep for this entire sequence, disabling their main means of input (Crono can be moved freely in most cutscenes) and the angle of the fire stresses the player's viewpoint looking down into the world of Trigger. The Japanese line appeals to this view more, where the entity is addressed exclusively as "someone." The player-as-entity is invoked by this intereptation as the main driver of the game, with the game existing for their own sake, and like the entity the player only finds rest when the quest is completed for good. This interpretation takes the stance that the player is being asked to consider the significance of their presence in the world of Chrono Trigger, and what it will mean when they finally choose to leave Trigger behind.
Jureimon: However, eventually everything will be connected. There is one who compels it to be so! All shall be as it should be...This "someone" is not referred to elsewhere, but like in the case of the entity there are multiple interpretations. It could be a foreshadowing Analogman's involvement, as the one who compels Mameo/Bean to finally face him. It could refer to the will of the Digital World itself, which was codified and explored more thoroughly in Digital Card Arena and the Adventure anime. And it can again refer to the player, who very literally compels the characters of the game to gather together and reveal the truth behind the disaster.
Cherrymon: However, all will come together in the end. Someone compels it to be so!
This sense of message is what I believe to be the fundamental missing piece in -next 0rder-'s narrative. Where one might expect that nothing is being said that hasn't been said before, the problem with -next 0rder- is both more simple and more distressing; nothing is being said at all. The closest it gets is Mirei talking about tamers and partners being naturally drawn together. If that is the intended message (and it is one of debatable impact) then it's shot in the foot by the most prominent example being a boy and Digimon who end the game divorced.
The narrative is overly preoccupied with insignificant minutiae. The cast obsess over what the AR Plan could stand for, what the BH program could stand for, whether they're dealing with the BH Program or the BH Program Kai, comng up with a Reincarnation Plan to counter Shouma's Altered Realm Plan, and it's as though the writers never bothered to consider that maybe we don't care. What is this game about? What is the core message of -next 0rder- as a narrative work, what are we here to learn? Even campy kids' games like Digimon Story had a message about finding harmony in face of irreparable differences. (Or just "Don't be racist.") If Digimon as a franchise is so much more "mature," then that maturity should be evident in the way it conveys its storyline.
“Welcome back to Digimon World.”
This in mind, when you get down to its value system and game elements, -next 0rder- falls far from the spirit of World. If you consider the content in World, there's nothing aesthetically that fits it into the same breath as anything on the Vita's bestseller list. Sword Art Online: Lost Song? Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation? These are all increasingly melodramatic, eroticized, and artistically incestuous works that draw their sole inspiration from late night anime series and the nebulous figure market. Super Sonico as a video game.
One of the most apparent divisions between the Digimon World of sixteen years ago and the Digimon World of today is that there are almost no human characters in the original game. In the CGI opening, ending, and epilogue to World, we see a number of nameless human characters with a handful of speaking lines that interact with Analogboy while he's in the real world. But during the actual 40-hour-game there are only two human beings, Analogboy and Analogman. The latter is only seen during the final ten minutes of the game and for a few frames during the rematches with the final boss.
For all practical purposes, the player spends the game much like the protagonist of Myst, navigating an alien world in isolation with minimal dialogue to drive the exploration. Half of the exposition takes place visually rather than textually. The player sees the landscapes without any character remarking on them, draws conclusions for themselves, and constructs a view of the Digital World independent of a script. When dialogue is called for, it's used to accustom the player to the culture and lifestyles of the Digimon. At one point the player works as a shopkeeper and haggles with the residents; at another they help a local merchant cross through a road blocked off by bandits; at another they help workers drill a tunnel by using their Digimon to carry dirt out.
These aspects are absent in this title. -next 0rder- is the chattiest World yet, building on Decode and Re:Digitize's long strings of text boxes. There are more human beings than ever before, which puts it at odds with the isolated nature of the series' gameplay. You're a lone human exploring an alien environment, cut off from outside help, attempting to find your way back to the real world--except oh, here's your nice guy friend from high school, that chick in the same class, the token loli, and a visual copypaste of Aragaki Shinjiro. And like their Re:Digitize predecessors, they never shut up. It is really hard to look at World's positively misanthropic game design, then look at -next 0rder-'s anthropocentric cast and say that these two games are conclusively in the same series.
-next 0rder- is the Persona to Digimon World's Shin Megami Tensei. It is theatrical where its predecessor is reserved, simplistic where what came before was archaic, social where it was antisocial, medieval where it was classical, and the level of anime influence present has reached critical mass. This could be an affectation of the Vita platform itself, but Re:Digitize inclines one to believe that this is simply where we were headed all along.
I've hit my limit in terms of making any attempt at an objective review. If I were to say anything more, this would descend into pure bile. The game is seriously lacking in features, clumsily written, graphically weak, and poorly designed. It may be the fifth or sixth best game in the franchise, but the titles it's beating out for that spot aren't games that you should be proud of beating. It can be fun even so, but overall it plays as though it were made in sixth months. We're at least one major patch away from being a better game than Digital Monster Ver. S.
There are certainly appreciable elements; pursuing the Analogman subplot, bringing back the protagonist of World, adding NPCs that allow players to manipulate their evolution lines, these are all additions that I'm glad Bandai chose to pursue. At best, it's a game I'd rather have played than not have played, which doesn't make for the greatest testimonial. My margin for a game I'd like to un-play is Mega Man Battle Network 4, and saying there are games better than Battle Network 4 is like saying there are rock songs better than The Final Countdown.
This game is definitely better than The Final Countdown.