The Digimon franchise never hit the same heights of popularity as its monster collecting contemporaries, but has succeeded in consistently maintaining its own offbeat brand. While Pokemon plays things fairly safe, Digimon games have been a bit more experimental with gameplay and story. When I played Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth a few years ago I found it’s systems to be somewhat opaque and the gameplay repetitive, but I could see the appeal for Digimon fans in collecting and exploring the Digital World. While a great deal of Hacker’s Memory is similar or straight up recycled from the original Cyber Sleuth, this time around I found the story and overall experience to be much more compelling.
It’s best not to think of Hacker’s Memory as a sequel – that might be setting expectations too high. It’s more of a side story – Cyber Sleuth Gaiden, if you will. Taking place alongside the story of Cyber Sleuth, we follow protagonist Keisuke through a story weaving between the real and digital worlds. He’s fairly unassuming as far as player characters go, taking a back seat as the story unfolds around his accompanying cast. This story is told piece by piece as you complete tasks from an online job board. As essentially an internet handyman, you’ll be fighting rival hacker groups, hacking servers to help a client win competitions, and along the way small pieces of story are unveiled. Erika, a character you encounter early in the piece, is central to the game’s plot. She’s reserved, rarely leaves the confines of her small, computer-filled room, and suffers from a rare condition which is kept manageable by uploading and storing her memory in digital form. This idea is used to explore some unexpectedly interesting themes around our real-world and online personas.The ‘Digital World’, or EDEN in the game’s parlance, is a physical representation of the cyber world. People log into this world and physically inhabit the space through advanced VR-style technology. EDEN is inhabited by digital monsters. People understand them simply as computer programs and tools to be used by hackers for their own ends, though this understanding will be questioned as the story progresses. For gameplay purposes though, Digimon are important to the appeal of Hacker’s Memory. When you encounter a Digimon enough in EDEN, you can synthesize your own copy of that monster to train and have fight alongside you.
Collecting and fighting Digimon in Hacker’s Memory will appeal to different people for different reasons. Fights are fairly typical for a Japanese style RPG. – two teams of monsters enter and perform actions back and forth until only one team remians. Domination Battles are a new addition to the series, and involve a light strategy game of capturing and holding map tiles, and defending them in regular Digimon battles. In these regular battles you can directly control each move, however I found the inclusion of an Auto Battle option helped me enjoy the game in a way I didn’t expect. Rather than agonising over each move, or selecting the same sequence of repeatedly once I’d found a working strategy, I tackled battles from a higher level perspective. By building a team appropriate for the challenges ahead, I took joy in watching my team fight on their own. This was useful in most battles, as many of the standard encounters are mind-numbingly easy to deal with, so it was nice to do away with the tedium of actively choosing the same basic moves to deal with basic, grindy encounters. Bosses sometimes took some more thought and care in team composition, but were satisfying to topple with a well crafted team and occasionally my direct control where nuance was necessary.