Good news Digidestined, there's a new Digimon game out and about. We know, we know, times like these don't come around too often, but we're glad when they do.
Next Order's concept is simple: take the freeform, brutal gameplay of the original three Digimon World titles for the original PlayStation and give them a modern facelift. And modernize it Bandai Namco did, near flawlessly.
For those joining us after last year's Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, they'll find a wholly different experience. Where Cyber Sleuth riffed on games like Pokemon and Persona, Next Order carves out a niche of its own, drops your partner Digimon down to two (instead of three) and sets you loose on a beautiful, but small world laced with fetch quests, sidetracking and a lengthy story.
You play as Takuto (or whatever you decide to name your character) as he is accidentally sent into the Digital World following his placing in a pretigious Digital Monsters tournament (along with two others). Here players will find that series mainstay baddies Machinedramon are wreaking havoc on the world.
You meet up with Metal Garurumon and WarGreymon (of Tai and Matt game), only to have them both de-Digivolve after a brutal first fight. From there, Takuto heads off to the town of Floatia, where resident leader Jijimon tasks you with re-training these two Digimon and recruiting NPC Digimon from across the land to build the city up, in hopes that it'll be enough to take down the Machinedramon menace for good.
You'll spend much of the game recuriting familiar faces to find you items, build with resources or fly you around the game world. Still with us?
The gameplay is solid enough, albeit a bit confusing at first. Random encounters are gone from this entry, and Next Order instead opts for a Dragon Quest-sort of combat style, where you will see the enemy Digimon in the overworld and you'll have to either chase them or be chased by them to initiate a battle.
And the battles are engaging too, as you'll stand on the sideline and hype up your Digimon for battle in a makeshift ring, giving them "Support" to enhance their abilities and throwing in commands like "Defend" or enabling them to use their special abilities. The Digimon will fight without your help, but your chances of a strategic victory are much more likely if you lend a hand.
Items and expanded command options add layers to combat, though the game lacks an efficient scaling mechanism, and you'll often find yourself confused as to which monsters you should or should not take on.
The game also brings back the "Life" and "Death" mechanics from earlier Digimon titles, where each of your partners has a set lifespan. When that's up, your Digimon die. But don't be sad, because they are reincarnated, as described in the plot of 2000's Digimon: The Movie, they'll always come back.
This adds a level of suspense and stress to the game, but it makes getting the Digimon you want that much more rewarding. And that brings us to the meat and potatoes of Next Order: training.
The entire game is focused around your ability to increase and level your Digimon's stats to keep them fighting, sure, but to also make sure you get the Digivolution you truly want.
This part's confusing, but once you get the hang of it things get fun. Training involves selecting attributes in an in-game gym and essentially playing roulette. You'll become accustomed to audio cues for certain things, and by late-game you'll be training with your eyes closed.
In addition to training, you'll also have to manage your Digimons' weight and bowel movement. Yes, that's right, your Digimon will poop, but not before they warn you to take them to the bathroom. These bathrooms can be found throughout the game world or in the form of swan-shaped "Portable Toilets."
You might be thinking, "Oh! That's cute..." until you realize that there are some pretty terrifying and grotesque Digimon out there. Seriously, Google "Nanimon" and then see if you have that same reaction.
Overall, Digimon World: Next Order is a nostalgic ride that shows positive signs for the franchise's future. Fans of the original games will find gameplay elements, characters and even music from them in Next Order, and it makes the game that much more meaningful.
With Cyber Sleuth and Next Order now in the books, Digimon is well on its way to becoming a top tier JRPG franchise.
RATING: Four out of five stars.