Something has broken in my brain. A combination of me watching the rebooted series of Digimon Adventure and rediscovering what made me love the Pokemon games so much have become inexorably linked. The consequence of which saw me dropping all of the other, newer games I’d been playing and start a new game of the PS4 game from a few years ago: Digimon World: Next Order.
Next Order is a direct sequel to the 1999 Digimon World on the first Playstation; one of my favourite games for the platform. Upon playing these games back to back I feel like are a few things the Pokemon franchise might be able to learn from Digimon World.
For a long time growing up, a lot of the kids around me saw Digimon as something of a knockoff of the Pokemon franchise. The whole anime thing being pretty new to us all back then, anything with the same style and a similar plot were going to be compared to one another. But I’ve always liked the Digimon franchise a whole lot, and this style of Digimon World game is amongst my favourite.
While there have been a ton of Digimon games over the years, the Digimon World games felt like the most mechanically driven ones, taking the most inspiration from the original source; a Tamagotchi spin-off aimed at young boys. Because they’re so mechanically dense, there are a few elements from the game’s I’d like to see incorporated into the mainline Pokemon franchise.
I’m not saying these are changes that’ll be for the betterment of the Pokemon series or anything, they’re just changes I’d like to see as something to freshen up what is a pretty worn old formula at this point:
Less of reliance on hard numbers
Pokemon is an old school JRPG, which means combat comes down to number crunching more often than not. Each Pokemon has a defined level, with relatively small numbers to represent their stats to accompany them. Whenever you jump into a battle, you pretty much know if you’re going to be in trouble or not based on the level of your opponent in comparison to your own Pokemon’s level.
There are instances where a level discrepancy can be less of a factor, but more often than not, It all comes down whose numbers are higher. Digimon World is a little less transparent. While all Digimon have stats, and a level that represents them, it’s actually a pretty useless identifier of how strong they are. Instead, the most reliable indication of an enemy’s strength is the colour coding of their name.
And even that isn’t always the most reliable source to read from. I feel like Pokemon could benefit from moving away from those hard level mechanics that come from being a very straight-laced JRPG. The Wild Zone did make a move in this direction with overly strong Pokemon there, but I feel like the Pokemon franchise needs to take a little step away from how incredibly gated the world is and let the strength of opponents dictate where you go. Losing a fight isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The “Rogue-Like” Element
While Digimon World is not a Rogue-like, describing it like this actually helps me condense the mechanics I like in Digimon World into a single term. The way the game loop in Digimon World works, every 15-20 days, your Digimon dies and you have to start again from the baby form.
This might seem like a negative rather than something to be applauded, but there are a number of reasons why I like the mechanic in Digimon World. First off, there are tamer skills you attain just through playing. These skills help each new generation become stronger than the previous one. Meaning that every time your partners get to their final stage, they’re going to be much stronger than the previous generation.
In top of this, it adds an element of randomness that remains present throughout the gameplay experience. During a Pokemon playthrough, by the time you’re getting your sixth or seventh badge, you pretty much know what your final team is going to look like. Party of the enjoyment I get from a Pokemon game is starting a new game and not knowing what my team is going to look like by the end.
That feeling is a constant in Digimon World, as you strive to branch your current partners into evolutions you desire and then have all the fun of picking an egg and starting again the next time round. The repeatable element that comes from starting over (but not really) is what has made Rogue-Likes so popular lately, and in Digimon World is works so well. Something I’d love to see incorporated into Pokemon. Akin to some kind of “permadeath” mechanic, possibly named after a Grass/Dark type for example.
That Hype Anime Moment
By the time you’re in the later stages of the game in Digimon World, you find yourself in a position where both of your partners are at their final level, both their relationship with you and one another it at maximum. When you find yourself at this position and fulfil a certain situation in battle, you can activate ExE.
ExE (Extra Cross Evolution) is the ability to fuse your two partners together for the duration of the battle, and it’s always such a cool and gratifying moment. Sometimes it happens when you direct it, other times it happens on its own when you’re about to lose a fight. As any anime-inspired action should be, the battle cuts away to a transformation sequence, the game’s main theme kicks in and the sequence ends with the now fused Digimon activating their super move.
After which point you continue battling using the fused Digimon while the main theme continues to blare through the speakers. For as long as that lasts anyway, because fused Digimon are hugely powerful and tend to end the battle not long after they show up.
It’s always a great moment and one that feels all the more satisfying by just how overpowered the resulting fusion ends up being. The inherent nature of the Pokemon games as slow, turn-based JRPGs makes these kinds of moments totally absent. Which is a crying shame.
At my core, I’m always going to be a Shonen brained dumbass, easily swayed by the action hype that battle series like Digimon can bring out. The inherently grounded world of the Pokemon franchise (at least in comparison to a lot of other shonen) makes it so we basically never get these kinds of moments.