Digimon World: Data Squad
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-10-18 PS2 RPG T (Teen) Bec / Namco Bandai

For the vast majority of gamers I know, Digimon as a franchise has always played second fiddle to another monster-accompanying game series that I won't mention here (let's just say they both end in "mon"). It seems there's been an unwritten rule amongst fanboys saying that if you like one, you can't like the other.

Sure, both games may have to do with training your counterparts and battling with them, but at the very core, both series possess very different modes of play. While my experience with Digimon as a whole was very limited before this point, I did give Digimon World: Data Squad a chance, and was able to figure out just what separates Digimon from that "other brand".

When hearing about the game beforehand, one of the biggest themes presented was the importance of player/Digimon interaction, and in paying such close attention to these relationships between Tamer and Digital Monster, the game would revolutionize the way we play RPGs. In that respect, Data Squad does keep its promise.

Playing primarily as Marcus Damon, along with your companion Agumon, you and the rest of the Data Squad (DATS) must investigate the mysterious disappearances of numerous children and the equally disturbing reappearances of some of the most powerful and evil Digimon known to man, a group called the Mao Digimon.

Your quest is very straightforward. Large Digimon signatures are located in various forests, temples, dungeons, etc., the causes of which your team must seek out and destroy. Even though you will eventually have three Digimon to command at any one point, starting as a solitary team of Marcus and Agumon allows players to become familiar with the totally new battle system presented here.

Battle is through a turn-based system. On each turn, the player will be met with four basic options: Action, Guard, Support and Escape. Above and below these choices are beehive like cells that contain color-coded commands that you can choose from, with multiple cells containing the same information.

The choices available depend greatly on your Digimon?s mood and setup at the time. For example, if you have just taken a large amount of damage, there will be more cells corresponding to heal or escape commands than anything else. Likewise, if your Digimon is naturally strong, it will present you with more attack commands.

These cells correspond with what your Digimon actually WANT to do, and not with what necessarily should be done; so ignoring the most obvious choice is not always the smartest bet in the long run. That is, if you ignore their desires long enough, your relationship will begin to deteriorate. The opposite can then be said for always choosing the most common option. Your Digimon will learn to respect you as a Tamer, and the relationship will grow.

Since your Digimon will never ignore a command you give, no matter how few cells it inhabits, the effects of these choices can be hard to notice, until you come to Digivolving your companions. Modeled after constellations in the solar system, each Digimon has their own galaxy containing a constellation for every Digimon your starter can Digivolve into. Each constellation has requirements that must be met before it becomes active, such as "Defeat 10+ DR Digimon" or "Walk 3000 steps". Obviously, the most powerful Digimon available will have the most demands, with those demands also being some of the hardest to achieve.

Digivolution takes place during battle, with "DigiSoul Charge" taking up most of the command options under the Support choice. Afterwards, if you are dissatisfied with what your companion has just turned into, you can return to the Evolution Map and Digivolve back into any previously held form.

While the Digivolution and Battle Systems have seen a bit of a change from previous games, Data Squad does contain most of the basic elements fans have come to expect from the series. Each Digimon still grows from a Rookie to a Mega Digimon form, with Champion and Ultimate stages in between, and as they grow, their HP, strength, defense, etc. will change accordingly. Also, Digimon types play a big role in battling, with certain Digimon Families doing more damage than others, depending on the opponent.

Even though the new battle system does provide a bit of fresh air in the world of basic, turn-based RPGs that does not mean the game is without some of the same faults found throughout the genre. One of the biggest problems with the title is the sheer overkill of battles that take place. While random encounters is something we should all expect from a game of this type, I literally did not last for more than 6 or 7 seconds while walking before running into another one.

Without these all-too-frequent random battles, players would come to realize just how short the game's story actually is (no more than a couple of hours), so it's no surprise that the frequency has been placed so high. Another fault is the lack of save spots in each world. With so many random battles, it can take an hour or more to complete a quest, and by that point, when your patience might be running thin, trying to hunt for a save spot is not a fun experience, believe me.

One positive about these random encounters is that the game is so easy no battle, including Mao Digimon battles, should present a challenge, as long as you've been Digivolving your Digimon into stronger forms throughout the game. This also allows for a slightly quicker progression through the game if you want to get straight to the next cutscene where the meat of the story is presented.

Speaking of the story, fans of the Digimon television show will be thrilled to hear that the voices of the main characters are the same from the show, providing a continuity not often found in TV to game ports. Also, while the game presents the same characters from the show, the story is actually a side plot to that of the TV show, so to achieve the full experience with these characters you will have to watch / play both.

As if the character voices weren't a big enough positive, the rest of the sound system is just as pleasing. Of course the music changes depending on which area of the Digital World you are traveling through, and depending on your distance from a boss battle, but each is done in a range of stylings from hard rock (my favorite) to slow pop so that none of them become overdone or boring.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the style of graphics in the game. The cel-shaded design actually made the Digimon look far more pleasing to the eye than similar characters in other games that were trying to look real. Besides, these are make-believe creatures after all, so I am all for them looking as such.

All in all, Digimon World: Data Squad has its fair share of both pros and cons. The "emotional" battle system is a refreshing take on turn-based combat, and the graphical and sound departments don't disappoint, especially for huge fans of the series. However, the repetitive gameplay and lack of a longer story might be enough to keep the unfamiliar from trying something new.

In the end, if you are a diehard fan of the Digimon franchise then by all means, pick this one up, but if you are still looking for something that can compete on the level of that aforementioned "other brand", you might pick up Digimon World: Dusk, for the DS, instead.

Special thanks to Namco Bandai for providing a copy of this title.