Growing up in the 90’s was exciting – technology was evolving in leaps and bounds, with new gadgets showing up all the time. Amongst this new and seemingly endless wave of consumer electronics was the digital pet, and while it didn’t change the world like the internet, Digimon changed my life.
My first exposure to Digimon was not through the keychain-sized gadgets that everyone was carrying around, since most people had Tamagotchis instead, but rather through the anime that aired around the year 2000. I think the anime, Digimon Adventure, hit such a sweet spot in terms of timing, tone and execution in a way that made it an unforgettable experience at the time.
The designs of the Digimon with robotic elements were evocative of some of my favorite shows, like Biker Mice From Mars and Sonic Underground. I was also into Pokémon, but I had never seen a Pokemon ride a motorcycle or shoot rockets from it’s chest!
From that moment onward, I played every Digimon game I could get my hands on.
Digimon World (DMW) on PlayStation was a phenomenal game. Few others at the time allowed players such freedom to roam and make new friends. With the day/night cycle influencing what kind of Digimon you would encounter there was always a sense of wonder and mystery as each new area opened up new possibilities.
The Digimon themselves each had problems for the player to solve, upon which they might even move into the village and set up a business to help you on the way – for example, Meramon would set up a restaurant who’s food would boost certain stats, or Agumon’s item bank which allowed you to offload items you might not need right away.
You had to raise your partner carefully – feeding, training, disciplining and hygiene all had to be managed, and your partner could die if you didn’t look after it properly. It would die and return to an egg after a natural lifespan, which increased if you managed to meet conditions to evolve your partner. It was heartbreaking when a Digimon you had been travelling with and training for days passed away, so I always tried my best to keep them healthy and strong.
The following games in the Digimon World trilogy were nothing like the first. In the long run, these changes were good, but alienated fans of the original. I still played and enjoyed each of them, with iterations leaning more towards menu-heavy JRPGs that I grew to enjoy through these games, and also used turn-based battle systems rather than the mostly AI controlled arena-style of the original game.
After Digimon World 3, for some reason it became rather difficult to find localized Digimon games, probably due to waning popularity. Several Digimon titles on PS2 and NDS proved downright impossible to find, and believe me, I tried. It’s probably just as well; Digimon World 4 and Data Squad on PS2 were not reviewed favorably, which is likely why nobody bothered to import them (although this is pure personal speculation, mind).
A couple of years after high school, I took an interest in anime and at some point started rewatching Digimon Adventure.
I think at the time I was weathering a rough patch, and the upbeat, “love and friendship conquers all” shonen action was just what I needed to lift my spirits. I ended up re-watching every season I could find.
I remembered the video games, and was disappointed to find out that Digimon World Re:Digitize was not localized for western audiences, so I joined a petition to have it localized which I checked every couple of weeks.
As a 3DS owner, the news I was hoping for never came but when Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was announced as an international release my elation didn’t last long since I didn’t own a PS4 or Vita, and wasn’t planning on getting either of those consoles. Still, I count it as a win and like to think that the petition had something to do with Bandai Namco’s decision to localize Cyber Sleuth.
Over time, I forgot about Cyber Sleuth, until I saw it on the Switch and Steam a few months ago.
Being a responsible adult that I have grown up to be, I didn’t buy the game immediately since I had a few I was already playing and waited for this year’s Steam Summer Sale instead.
“Do I really want this game? It is quite expensive even at a discount, I could get a few other games for that price.” I reasoned. But I knew in my heart, I wanted to play Digimon. I stopped second-guessing myself, checked out and immediately installed the game.
Before I knew it, I was looking at a title screen. It took me a few seconds to realize, but I was grinning from ear to ear. All those years of waiting, signing petitions, and longingly reading about each new Digimon game, it felt as if my devotion to the series had all finally paid off.
I could feel my face light up as I reconnected with some of my favorite characters, like Terriermon, who happens to remind me of a stuffed toy I had as a child. To see him brought to life with such crisp definition makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning, excited at the possibilities of what might lay ahead.
I was not disappointed – series staples Agumon and Gabumon appeared pretty early on with their silly antics, each as lovingly animated as the next and brought to life in a way I could only have dreamed of 20 years ago when I first encountered them. I felt a lump in my throat even as I met some of the characters I had disliked before such as the mohawk-sporting Goblimon, who, of course, evolves into Ogremon – and who could forget him from the original Digimon Adventure anime?
These are not simple ‘mons, like you might find in a comparable series, but rather they are well-rounded characters in their own right. They are not simple creatures for you to catch and collect, they are your friends standing by your side as you take on each new challenge. That, to me, is what sets Digimon apart from the rest.
Playing this game, it’s like going back to the basics. It’s as if I’ve come full circle. It’s been a long wait, and I’m glad to see my friends again.