It's been 20 years since the Digimon anime first hit airwaves. The series has continued in various media since, but many Western fans dropped off back in the 2000s. Maybe they only watched the first season. Maybe they got to the third season and couldn't handle the concept of Digimon in the real world. Or maybe they stuck it out through the fourth season and noped out when the kids starting turning into Digimon. Whatever the case, old fans who rediscover the series through Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition are in for a surprise. Digimon grew up.
A Story Set (Mostly) In The Present
I remember the old Digimon as a very silly series that doubled as wish fulfillment. Who can forget that time in the first season when a Digimon pooped in a car, and it was rendered as a pink swirl for some reason? That, and terrible puns, were the level of comedy we were given. Even Tamers, which got way darker, still started with a kid drawing his dream Digimon and it coming to life just for him. Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition comes with two stories, both of which tackle more modern, grounded themes. Well, as grounded as you can get with adorable data monsters running around.
The base Cyber Sleuth story takes place in a Tokyo much like our own, only most of its people use a network called EDEN. EDEN is a combination virtual reality, social media, and business tool, much like Ready Player One's Oasis. Much of the danger in Cyber Sleuth's world comes from hackers, who use Digimon to steal accounts. I was not expecting a plot about identity theft and the dangers of an all-digital world from the franchise that once gave me poop jokes. Furthermore, it raises a similar question to Pokémon Black & White. Are Digimon mere data, tools for us to use as we wish? Or does their sentience entitle them to the same freedoms as humans?
Cyber Sleuth is also surprisingly modern with gender and sexuality. There's a sidequest involving a character who hates that EDEN only offers male and female avatars. It's not treated as a big deal, it's just another motivation for their actions. As the main characters are teenagers in an anime setting, teasing about potential relationships comes up. Characters are fine joking about you having a boyfriend or girlfriend no matter what gender you choose to be. Somehow, it's the Digimon game that understands that people are just people and treats them as such. It's not perfect, however. There's also this:
This character is your mentor, and this is how you meet her. As progressive as Cyber Sleuth is in some ways, it still falls upon tired anime tropes. There are several characters with running gags that serve as replacements for actual character traits. The protagonist is silent so the player can self-insert, leading to many cutscenes where you watch yourself wordlessly explain things to other characters. The writing certainly isn't winning any awards, but it's come a long way from "kids go into a digital world and have wacky adventures."
Actually Catch 'Em All
That brings us to the core of a Digimon game – the actual Digimon. As this is the Complete Edition, it comes with all DLC. That adds up to about 300 Digimon for players to collect. And the game encourages you to use as many of them as you can. As you explore EDEN, you will encounter both "wild" Digimon and those controlled by hackers. When it comes time to battle, you'll engage in a turn-based, 3v3 affair where victory comes down to levels and type advantages. To invite the obvious comparison, it plays a lot like Pokémon.
A big improvement over Pokémon is that one Digimon can Digivolve into two to five different forms. They can also De-Digivolve. But why would you want to power down your monster after spending so much time raising it up? They inherit skills and max levels, that's why. For those who like planning and grinding, there's a game within the game. It's about Digivolving and De-Digivolving a Digimon until it gets all possible skills from every branch of its Digivolution tree and reaches level 99. Or you can just find your favorites from the old show and make your dream team. The story isn't so hard that it requires an epic posse. That's only if you want to take on the scary post-game.
Another mechanic I really enjoy is the way "capturing" works. Whenever you encounter a Digimon in battle, you automatically scan it. This adds to that specific species' percentage. When you scan 100% worth, you can return to the DigiLab and create it. That's it. No worrying about having to wear it down or it running away. Just look at it enough times and it's yours. It made the random encounters, which I vocally hate, a little more palatable.
This Ain't The Old Digimon, And That's A Good Thing
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition offers great value for $50. It's a rich single-player experience chock full of free DLC. The second included story, Hacker's Memory, isn't as good. It's a parallel to the first story that shows you the same events from a hacker's perspective. It's a neat concept, but it doesn't add much. Still, it's nice to have as part of the bundle. There's also online multiplayer battles, though you have to really be dedicated for those. It's the territory of min-maxers who spend countless hours raising the perfect team.
As for the quality of the Switch experience, I found it to be very solid. The graphics didn't take a big hit, nor did the framerate. As a story-driven game with turn-based battles, Cyber Sleuth is equally at home in the dock or in your hands.
Digimon has grown up a bit. It still makes silly jokes, but it also understands that people and technology have changed. It hit the books while middle school rival Pokémon continued to play, and came out smarter for it. It never quite shook certain notions about women or how to write a story without anime tropes, but it's trying. It's doing as well as most 20-year-olds, I'd wager.
A physical Switch copy of Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition was provided by Bandai Namco. Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Complete Edition is available now for Nintendo Switch, Steam, and PS4.