This Week in Games: Digimon Cybersleuth: Hacker's Memoryby Heidi Kemps,
Hi again folks! I just landed in Japan to check out the first ever EVO tournament to be held within the country. Everything is pointing to a super-awesome event, and I'm eager to see how the EVO formula will be received within Japan. I've got a lot of news and some new releases for you a little further down the page, but for now, ANN's associate editor Jacob Chapman has been playing a tremendous amount of Digimon Story Cybersleuth: Hacker's Memory, and he's ready to tell you all about it.
First Impressions: Digimon Story Cybersleuth: Hacker's Memory
I wrote up my impressions on the first Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth game almost exactly two years ago now, and suffice to say, I wasn't expecting any major expansions in this sequel given its short turnaround time. So if you've played the first game, Cyber Sleuth 2: Hacker's Memory is largely more of the same, but I have to admit that the minor improvements Media.Vision could add make this twice the enjoyably addictive experience.
I'm writing this overview assuming that you're familiar with the first game because, well, Hacker's Memory makes the same assumption. Not only does the game reward you handsomely for having a save file from the first entry (you get an insane amount of swag if you've beaten the final boss, but even if you haven't, you'll at least get an EXP-doubling item and carry over your Field Guide and Medals data), it also assumes you remember the story well enough to follow along with this game's constant winking references to prior twists. There's no hand-holding or tutorializing when it comes to gameplay either; Hacker's Memory treats you like an already-experienced Eden addict who occasionally scratches his head at glimpses of some bigger picture just out of his reach. That's because you're playing a nobody extra from the first game—which turns out to be way more fun than playing the chosen one.
Rather than a direct sequel that could theoretically have been more newbie-friendly, Hacker's Memory is actually a midquel that follows a handful of misfit hackers in Ikebukuro, putting you through the smaller struggles they faced during the digital dimension destruction derby of the first game's plot. It's pretty obvious that this was done to allow the devs to reuse a ton of previous assets, but in an ironic twist, this side story is way better than the main one. Our lovably butterfaced protagonist does stumble through an abridged version of the main story, but he never quite gets any detailed explanation for what Eaters are or why the Royal Knights are showing up; you just get to fight them! The real plot this time revolves around the melodramatic woes of your small group of hacker friends: tragic backstories, broken alliances, and stolen identities abound. The end result is not a great story by any means, but it's simple, focused, emotionally effective, and far more engaging than the overstuffed and painfully padded lore-tangle of the first game. Previous leads like Nokia, Arata, and even Jimiken do factor into your story, but in far more tolerable doses that don't leave you confused about which wacky anime plot you're supposed to be following.
So yeah, the story's a lot better written and paced than before (as of being 70% through the story mode), but I think it's fair to say Digimon fans aren't really coming to this game for its plot. In terms of gameplay, Hacker's Memory is still a middling JRPG that rides high on its vast selection of branching monster evolutions. You still can't speed up the text or skip cutscenes, and the game will still send you into maddening spirals of backtracking now and again, but the highly customizable combat options are super-satisfying, now with an expanded roster of 80 more monsters including Dagomon, Megidramon, and Susanoomon. (Hey, some people watched season four!) If you're a fan who wants to build and customize lovingly rendered versions of your favorite characters from Digimon history, Cyber Sleuth continues to be nostalgic nirvana.
On top of that, if you know what you're doing in the metagame, completionism is not only breezy but incredibly fun, because you get all the hacking skills in the game right at the beginning, and your only limitation to using them is the contents of your party. The numerous new hacking skills are a godsend, from the ability to run at double speed if you have a Champion-level+ Virus in your party to a free dungeon escape warp if you have a Free-attribute monster in your crew. These are huge time saves on top of functions like putting the Quest board (now an online forum), the DigiLab, and Eden access all in one spot. (Yes this seems obvious, no I have zero clue why they didn't do it in the first place.) You can also purchase low-level Digimon from the black market if you're flush with cash and don't want to scan dungeons for them, but what I liked even better about this new option is that if you find it morally unsavory, you can actually remove it from the game permanently by choosing to destroy the black market in a sidequest. Set those babies free!
But in terms of entirely new mechanics, there's only one major addition beyond the black market and the ability to change your wardrobe or put cute accessories on your monsters. That would be the Domination Battle system, which puts you in a Fire Emblem-esque chess match with your own team of hackers (sometimes story-mandated, sometimes chosen by you) against enemy hackers. Honestly, the only perk to this gimmick is the ability to try out your ally's cool higher-level monsters earlier in the game, but without the ability to use items, swap party members, or most damningly gain any experience from what can be an incredibly drawn-out war of short battles, it mostly felt like a waste of time. (And god help you if you forgot to turn animations off before it starts!)
I realize this isn't saying much, but Hacker's Memory is easily the best and most comprehensive Digimon game out there. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it that I wasn't stuck in a Domination Battle or crippled by my own hubris of trying to beat a boss with three PlatinumNumemon. It's kind of a shame that you have to play the previous one first to understand it, but it's well worth the effort if you're a true Digimon diehard.
I spent the day before EVO Japan running around Shibuya a little bit. I'm staying in Ebisu, which is right next door, so Shibuya's just a hop-skip-jump away. I dropped by Mandarake, Animate, and a few other stores, bought some really old doujin and Pop Team Epic stuff, and heard the Monster Hunter theme blaring on loudspeakers throughout the main streets. But those weren't the only things I came to do – in fact, the primary reason I dropped by Shibuya was to visit the XFLAG store.
XFLAG is the division of social networking company Mixi that makes the popular mobile game Monster Strike. While the game was hilariously mismanaged in the West (which I wrote about here) and sadly shut down, it's still one of the top mobile games in Japan. So popular, in fact, that you need a reservation in advance to even get into the store that's mostly about Monster Strike.
I picked a good day to come, too, because they just announced something of interest to this column: a second Final Fantasy collaboration!
Inter-game collaborations are a common thing in mobile gaming, often introducing characters from other popular games and anime as limited-time events. (For example, right now in Puzzle and Dragons there's a Monster Hunter collab timed to this week's release of Monster Hunter World, which we'll get to in a bit.) Monster Strike has seen characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Hunter X Hunter all fairly recently, but now they're returning to game tie-ins with Final Fantasy.
It's looking pretty good, too! The previous FF collab last year gave us Vaan, Bartz, Cloud, Squall, and Lightning as gacha characters, and their respective villains as quest monsters. All of the stages had appropriate theming and music, making for a really fun experience.
This time around, the “whale-bait” character looks to be FFX's Tidus and Yuna (who get around the problem of "which character best represents FFX" by being a pair), with FFIV's Cecil and FFXV's Noctis looking to be similarly desirable, and Terra and Zidane rounding lower-tier-but-still-solid pulls. I'm sure I'll roll a couple times on this to see if I can get someone besides Squall, who I nabbed last time. He's not bad, but… ugh, FF8. At least he's getting an upgrade to go along with the new collab!
Anyway, enough about my somewhat embarrassing mobile gaming. Let's move on to a little bit of news!
I CAN'T PLAY HOUSE OF THE DEAD: SCARLET DAWN, SO I'M SUFFERING LIKE G DID
One thing I won't get to do while I'm here is try out the fifth House of the Dead arcade game, which Sega announced early last week. It went on location test at one of Sega's Akihabara arcades over the last weekend, and while the game itself was incomplete, response to it seems quite positive.
Called Scarlet Dawn, the game runs on Unreal Engine 4 and features an absurdly decked-up cabinet complete with motion sensors, all manner of force feedback, and motion sensing capabilities. Seriously, look at this thing:
Now that's a sick looking arcade machine. Story-wise, the game takes place after House of the Dead 4 and reintroduces civilians and the rescue mechanic from House of the Dead 3. At least one classic HotD boss, Chariot, has been reported to be in the game, but I'm hoping Sega doesn't bank too much on nostalgia – The House of the Dead games still have a lot of room to evolve and experiment.
The question is: with such an elaborate and doubtlessly expensive cabinet, how many American arcades will get it? It's likely to show up in Round 1s and Dave and Busters locations, but probably not at your local barcade: they're likely to stick with the cheaper Raw Thrills offerings. Which is a shame, because the House of the Dead series is everything those awful Raw Thrills arcade gun games like Terminator Salvation aren't: skillful adventures with interesting atmosphere and challenging scoring systems that aren't designed expressly to keep you feeding in credits until you give up.
YS VIII JUST CAN'T CATCH A BREAK
Ys VIII is a fantastic video game, and I'm eager for it to come out on PC and Switch so more people can play it. Players of the former are going to have to wait a bit longer, though, as Ys VIII on PC just got delayed again to fix performance issues. NIS took to the game's Steam page to detail the issues being faced:
Low framerate issues and memory leak problems were apparent from the earliest PC builds we received...The systems regulating these framerate issues are heavily reliant on the architecture of the original PlayStation 4 version and, as such, are not existent in PC architecture... But in order to solve these issues, we have determined that we must modify the core level of data in the game. As the PC version of the game was originally envisioned as a port, we avoided touching the core programming as much as possible and focused on PC performance optimization. However... we have concluded that we cannot avoid modifying the core programming. ...we will be moving development to an entirely different developer who will primarily focus on frame rate improvements as well as other PC optimizations. Once that process begins, we will monitor the progress and determine the release schedule. We will also be sure to give regular updates to our progress.
This isn't the only problem Ys VIII has encountered: NIS is still committed to patching the game to fix a pretty poor English translation that was riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre dialogue choices, though we still don't have a concrete date on that. (The statement above says “end of the month,” though we're nearing the end of the month now…) In any case, once Ys VIII does hit PC, I hope players will enjoy an excellent action-adventure game packed with great characters, a fun story, beautiful visual and sound design, and fun monster-mashing gameplay. Just… gotta be patient, I guess.
OUT TOMORROW (1/26)
DRAGON BALL FIGHTERZ (PS4, XBONE, PC)
I really wonder how much I need to write about this game, as it's basically dominated coverage of both anime-related gaming and fighting games since its announcement. It's a Dragon Ball Z game developed by Arc System Works (of Guilty Gear and Blazblue fame), it looks freakin’ gorgeous, it's chock-full of fanservice, and everything indicates that it's going to be a really solid fighting game with genuine depth. The question here is more “is DBFZ going to kill the competitive Marvel vs. Capcom scene like a lot of people are predicting it will?” Given that MvCI's competitive scene and support has been looking anemic, there's a good chance this will eat up a chunk of that audience, though whether it'll strike the deathblow is still up in the air. It really depends on how Bandai-Namco and Arc handle it from here. Given the current controversy over Arc's Blazblue X Tag Battle DLC plans, people are a bit concerned. We'll have our full review up on Monday, courtesy of Dustin Bailey!
MONSTER HUNTER WORLD (PS4)
Everyone's group of gaming friends seems to have at least one of Those Guys. You know, the one who is super duper into This One Game that they are trying so hard to convince you all to play. They'll talk about That One Game endlessly, but you all just kind of go “yeah, that's cool, buddy” and go back to Smash or Guilty Gear or whatever. In a lot of cases, That One Game is some edition of Monster Hunter. Well, you might have to actually give in now, because holy hell does Monster Hunter World look rad.
Monster Hunter World looks to be perhaps the most inviting entry point into the series yet, offering up a true open-world environment, incredible visuals, and more accessible gameplay. The core appeal of the game remains the same as previous games: you track down and kill various creatures with a weapon of your choosing through elaborate, interesting environments, paying careful attention to their behavior patterns and quirks while working either solo or on a team to bring them down. You then use the goodies you get from hunting to create flashy, elaborate gear that gives you the capabilities to hunt bigger and badder beasties. This is a game where teamwork and knowledge are crucial, and in a persistent online environment, those things are easier to find. Unfortunately, the promised PC version has been delayed until later this year, but for now, PS4 owners can experience the joys of really, really big game hunts with friends around the globe.
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