Review: Digimon World 4 (XB)

Review: Digimon World 4
Developer: Bandai
Distributor: Bandai
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: 5/31/05

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. As far as I am concerned, Digimon is just a rip off of Pokemon that, for whatever reason, has a pretty decent following. Really the only difference between the two is that Digimon takes place in a digital world called the DigiWorld, which is kind of like the Matrix I suppose. It’s a pity no one offered me a blue pill.

Because I have very little interest in Digimon, I also have very little interest in playing the previous games, watching the TV show, collecting the toys, or anything else associated with it. If it wasn’t such a slow week for new releases, then chances are I would have chosen to review something else. But it was either this or Advent Rising, and for whatever reason I just had no desire to play the later. I plead temporary insanity.

Seeing as how a review is basically just a long winded opinion, I could easily trash this game into little tiny bits based on my own personal likes and dislikes. But I’m a professional, and professionals are supposed to be able look beyond their own biases and see things for what they really are. We have to be able to objectively view both the positives and the negatives, and come to a score that is an accurate reflection of the game based on its own merits. And so that is what I will attempt to do here.

Bah, who am I kidding? I’m no professional; I just do this shit for fun!

1. Story

Digimon World 4 takes place entirely in the DigiWorld. You are a member of the Digital Security Guard, and upon entering the game are immediately called to the Commander’s desk where you learn about a strange breach in the digital world’s security. Apparently the hacker has made it impossible for the denizens of DigiWorld to access the “real” world.

Somewhere in the process of being hacked, a new server popped up in the DigiWorld called “Death Valley”. Chief Leomon has gone missing while investigating this new server and its connections to the security breach, and now it is up to you (and your friends if they decide to join you) to find out what happened to him, who is behind the digital violations, and how to repair the damage that has been done.

Strangely enough the story actually isn’t bad, and is easy enough to follow for both older and younger audiences, although talk of various servers, worlds, gates, hacks, and other pseudo-technical terms may confuse some younger players. On the other hand, I’m finding that kids these days seem to know more about computers than I do, so maybe they’ll be fine.

There are no major twists or turns as the tale progresses, and events unfold in a pretty straight forward manner. So while it’s not the most inventive storyline ever, it’s nice to see the Digimon games taking a step away from “raise a pet and have it fight” to something a bit different, and more or less completely excluding the “real” world in the process.

But this is probably the last nice thing I have to say.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

Well, the game is colorful. Isn’t that nice?

Honestly the graphics are a major let down considering what the X-Box is capable of. Oh, I certainly wasn’t going into this expecting Halo level graphics, but come on… surely we’ve moved past the original Playstation?

Perhaps my biggest complaint is how boxy everything is. Characters, enemies, objects… everything has terribly low poly counts, and jagged lines are abundant. Yes, the game does take place in a digital world, but you don’t need to look like Tron to get that across. Adding to this are the poor textures, which while serviceable, are really nothing that impressive, and become very repetitive after a while.

Various graphical effects for spells and ambiance are at least done well. Mist, fog, and water all look realistic enough within the confines of the game, and the various spell effects are colorful and flashy. Some of the light displays when fighting bosses are especially impressive, but occasionally suffer from pixilation.

Actually the game’s use of color is probably its best attribute as far as the graphics are concerned. Everything is bright and vibrant and lively. If it wasn’t for the poor poly counts and textures you’d almost feel like you were playing inside of a cartoon.

But when all is said and done, there really isn’t anything here that couldn’t have probably been done on the old Playstation or N64.

Graphics Rating: 4/10

3. Sound

Ugh, someone stab me in the ears with a fork, I beg you! If I have to listen to this games music one more time I think I might have to kill someone.

The sad thing is that I can’t even call it bad music, per say. But damn does it get repetitive. And it doesn’t help when you keep hearing the same tune over, and over, and over, and over, and over again because you can’t manage to get out of the first few stages of the game (more on this later). After a while it starts to seem like they recorded about 20 seconds of music and then set it on a loop. Hell, there were more complex melodies on the original Nintendo! There is a little variety in the music, but it’s mostly reserved for special areas and events, which means you’ll keep hearing the same four or five tracks continually.

The sound effects for the game are equally repetitive, if not more so. Every slashing weapon sounds the same. Every gun sounds the same. Every block sounds the same. Seriously, you can probably pick out about two dozen distinct sounds and that’s it. Again, there is nothing incredibly offensive here, but how about some variety? I suppose I should be relieved that there were no voice recordings done, or I probably would have had Pariah clone flashbacks.

The sound isn’t bad… just repetitive, dull, monotonous, and boring. Play it for thirty minutes and you’ll probably turn your speakers down, if not mute them entirely and toss some of your own music on.

Now that I think on it, I should have just turned off the volume and cranked up some Nine Inch Nails. At least it would have complimented my emotions over the gameplay.

Sound Rating: 4/10

4. Control and Gameplay

The sound and graphics may be sub par, but the gameplay is just plain terrible. Hair pulling, controller throwing, mind numbingly terrible. If you can manage to play this game for more then thirty minutes without screaming at it then you have a far better constitution than I.

Let’s take a look at the control scheme first…

The control itself really isn’t that bad, even if it’s a little odd. Each of the four main buttons on the X-Box controller serves a main function. Attack, jump, block, or use an item. Where the real frustration comes in is when needing to use an item or cast a spell. First of all, spells are chosen with the Right trigger. Hitting the trigger pulls up a little menu where you can use the right control stick to highlight a spell, which is then cast by using the attack button. The tricky part comes in when you want to either use multiple spells in a row, or cast a fast spell then go back to attacking. At that point it takes multiple button presses just to do one simple thing. Hit R, choose a spell, fire it, then hit R again to be able to attack normally, otherwise you just end up continually firing spells. It really is a stupid system, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up firing more spells than you meant to, or firing off the completely wrong spell. A similar system is used for items; the Left trigger pulls up an item menu, the right control stick picks an item, and then the item button uses the highlighted item. Fortunately you can use an item without going to the menu, as whichever one you highlighted last becomes bound to the item key, but having to cycle through a menu while enemies are beating on you is not a good thing. If the game paused itself while you picked an item or spell, I’d be ok with it (ala Secret of Mana). But everything happens in real time, and can become incredibly frustrating.

Where the game really begins to stink up the place is with the Gameplay itself…

Digimon World 4 plays a lot like Gauntlet. You, and up to three of your friends simultaneously, wander around the DigiWorld fighting monsters, finding items, casting spells, avoiding traps, and defeating bosses. It’s a tried and true formula that can be incredibly fun, especially with the multiplayer aspect. I’ll never know how they managed to mess it up so bad.

Aiming ranged weapons and spells is particularly annoying, as what seems to be a perfectly placed shot will just barely miss or sometimes even pass right through your target. Other times what seems like a complete miss will turn out to be a hit. It’s almost as if your chances of hitting were completely random with no real skill involved as long as you are looking generally in the right direction. Frustrating to say the least.

Adding to this frustration is the blocking system, which is more like an attempt at a parry. One would expect that holding down the block button would keep you in a defensive pose until you decided to strike. Instead hitting the block button allows you to defend against an attack for about half a second, so if you don’t time your block perfectly, you’re going to get hit. Add to this that you have about half a second of notice before an enemy attacks, and you can begin to see where the problem is. And heaven forbid you end up fighting more than one or two enemies, as you are almost guaranteed to get hit multiple times no matter how well you time your blocks. This is easily one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.

And of course, when you can’t block very well, you end up dying, which leaves a little digital cube where you fell, and sends you back to the central starting area. Dying wouldn’t be too bad, except when you do die, you lose a little bit of experience and bits (money). The higher your level, the more you lose. Recovering your cube will help negate some of this penalty, but upon returning to the server where you died you will find that every enemy has respawned and you’ll be forced to fight your way back. Then, once you’ve gotten back to your cube, you don’t just automatically pick it up and continue on. You have to use a special item to get it, and if you don’t have one, you’re screwed.

Add this to the insane starting difficulty, and I’ll be surprised if you make it past the 30 minute mark before throwing your controller through your television screen.

Finding your way back to your cube is further complicated by the lack of an in game map system or radar. Occasionally you’ll come across a dungeon that does give you a little minimap, but for the most part this is nonexistent. You also have no control over the camera, which tends to hang right over your character and give you a very limited view of the area you are in. With multiple characters this is even worse, as the amount of area you can see isn’t increased and you are forced to stay near each other. Add to this the repetitive textures mentioned earlier, and navigation becomes a problem.

Wow, I’ve rambled on for two pages so far on just the gameplay, and I’m not even finished… I’ll try to make the next few paragraphs shorter.

Inventory management is similar to most RPGs. Items and equipment are stored in various Folders and can then be equipped or sold. Equipping armor and weapons isn’t as simple as just selecting them, however. Let’s say you’ve found a nice shiny new sword. Well, first you have to pay bits to learn how to use it. Then, instead of just highlighting the weapon and equipping it, you have to actually manually swap it with the weapon you all ready have equipped. It’s somewhat counterintuitive and takes way more effort than something so simple really should.

Lastly, a quick word on the in game help system… Basically in the main starting area is a section of digital elves that will explain to you how to use the various game features. Unfortunately, most of the topics they cover are pretty pointless. I can guess what the Strength and Speed ability scores mean easily enough, but what I really want to know is what I need to do to get my cube back after dying! That particular issue is actually only ever covered once, and only after you die the first time. So pay attention because it will never be mentioned again. A good game either needs to have an intuitive control scheme and gameplay, or an adequate tutorial system. This game has neither.

Control and Gameplay Score: 2/10

5. Replayability

Assuming that you can actually stomach playing the game, then this is one of the few areas where Digimon World 4 did something right. Up to four players can adventure together at the same time which has the potential to be a lot of fun, and can actually help to offset some of the early difficulty issues. Unfortunately the gameplay is so poor that you might have a hard time finding three friends to play with. On the other hand, it might be best if you don’t expose your friends to this game at all… they may never forgive you.

After beating the game once you will be able to access Hard mode. Fortunately you can carry over your character from the first run through, so it’s not as bad as it might seem. I couldn’t tell you what happens after beating Hard mode though, as I refuse to play through the game again, let alone on a higher difficulty. However, I’ve heard that you can open up Super Hard mode, so the challenge is there for those of you diehard enough to take it.

Additionally there are a ton of optional quests that you can complete to open up access to items and equipment you might not otherwise have been able to gain, as well as various unlockable characters. There is also a card collection system and an in game card collector that will allow you to trade cards with him. Those of you who are completionists and love to get every little thing will find plenty to keep you coming back.

Replayability Score: 7/10

6. Balance

For some reason the game is completely ass backwards when it comes to difficulty. Most games will slowly move the slider on the difficulty as you progress, giving you time to adjust to the curve and learn how to play the game. Digimon World 4 is exactly the opposite.

Right from the outset you will be getting your ass handed to you. Enemies have tons of hitpoints, your attacks will barely do any damage, and they will be hitting you for triple what you can hit them for. Not to mention they block incessantly, especially when using a ranged weapon. Only your magic acts as an effective attack for the first several levels, but you can quickly run out of magic points and magic recovery items forcing you to go toe-to-toe.

MP and HP recovery items seem to rarely drop as you progress, forcing you to buy them, which can severely restrict you from purchasing weapon and armor training. And bits are hard to come by early on making this even more aggravating.

However, once you’ve hit level 16 or so, you will be able to Digivolve into a stronger form. At this point the difficulty falls from insane to laughable, as you will be able to plow through enemies with hardly any effort. Further levels of advancement just make the game easier, with boss fights providing the only real challenge. Bits will also start to drop like candy, making monetary issues almost non-existant later on.

Toss in all the gameplay issues, and you’ll find that this game is about as balanced as a seesaw with a kid on one end and an elephant on the other.

Balance Score: 1/10

7. Originality

To start with, this is the fourth in the Digimon World series alone. But at least it attempts to diverge from the old formula, and I have to give that a little credit. However, it ends up trying to be a hybrid of Gauntlet, and there are at least five of those games, let alone all the spin offs.

There really is nothing new here at all. Basically they took bits and pieces from various other genres and smashed them all together. Everything in this game has been done before, and done infinitely better. I don’t care if games borrow from one another, as long as they take the time to improve upon what they use. And that certainly isn’t the case here.

Originality Score: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

I have no desire to ever play this game again, and I feel sorry for anyone who decides that they want to play it. Any interest I might have had in playing this game was completely shattered thanks to the pathetic gameplay. The only saving grace here is the multiplayer mode, which given the right group of people could be rather entertaining. I don’t feel like subjecting my friends to this torture, however, so I can’t really comment.

Digimon World 4 does well in the replayability category, but it does nothing to make me want to come back for more.

Addictiveness: 1/10

9. Appeal Factor

For whatever reason there are plenty of loyal Digimon fans out there. I doubt that the following is anyway near that of Pokemon, but it should be enough for the game to sell pretty well. Anyone who has picked up and enjoyed the first three Digimon World games will probably end up giving this one a shot. It’s also an “E” rated game, so parents will be more than happy to purchase or rent this for their kids.

Adding to the appeal is the relatively cheap $30 price tag. In a market where the average game for the X-Box is easily $50 or more, it’s nice to see games come out that are more affordable. Recently a number of cheap games have come out that have been well worth playing, such as Ribbit King and Katamari Damacy. Unfortunately, this game can’t be counted among them.

Appeal Factor Score: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Digimon World 4 really has very little going for it. The control scheme is poor, the graphics are sub par, the sound is monotonous, and the difficulty is completely ass backwards. I honestly think that I lost a few IQ points over the course of playing this game. To call the game insipid would be polite.

As far as I can tell there are no extras beyond the few unlockable characters and higher difficulty modes, unless you get something from the card collection, and I’m honestly not going to sit around and take the time to find out. And while the multiplayer support is certainly welcome, it’s not enough to save this game.

I went into this game all ready disliking Digimon and the small subculture that has grown up around it, so yes, you can call me biased. But there really was nothing here to make me want to change my opinion. Pokemon may be cutesy and kid friendly, but at least it has some real depth to it. Digimon, on the other hand, feels like just another cash cow.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sit in a corner and cry over the hours of my life I just wasted.

Miscellaneous Score: 1/10

The Scores:

Story: 6
Graphics: 4
Sound: 4
Gameplay/Control: 2
Replayability: 7
Balance: 1
Originality: 2
Addictiveness: 1
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 1
Overall: 35
Final Score: 3.5 (Bad)