While the famous and insufferably cute Pokémon have pretty much ruled the monster-battling domain, they're not the sole driving force of the genre. Enter Digimon, special creatures that inhabit their own digital realm, each with its own powers and the ability to "digivolve" into increasingly powerful forms to bust up evildoers in- and outside the digital world. Digimon World 4 brings you right into their online realm, and it lets you match wits with foes in real time. We explored the PlayStation 2 version of the game, and it has both an obvious kid-friendly appeal and a surprising amount of challenge.
Starting off, you'll be able to select one of four Digimon characters to play as, one of which will be an all-new monster that North American Digimon fans will see for the first time. That's Dorumon, a purple T-rex sort of digital creation that packs a wallop in battle. The other three choices are Agumon, Veemon, and Guilmon. Once you've chosen your character, you'll be placed right in the thick of things in the online world. You're serving as a new member of the Digital Security Guard, or D.S.G., whose members ensure peace and tranquility across all the digital worlds and whose members are supported by the efforts of a legion of adorable "digi-elves." There's been some trouble brewing across the servers, starting with a malfunction on one of the worlds that led to the appearance of a mysterious new server called Death Valley. Commander Ophanimon of the D.S.G. deems this a fine opportunity to send you out on your first mission, which is to discover the fate of Chief Leomon, who was sent to survey Death Valley and never returned.
The digital realms are divided into a number of areas you'll be moving through once you port yourself in from the home server system. These areas are full of a variety of different enemies that spawn as you go past, in addition to a number of environment puzzles and dangers, like sentry gun turrets that block paths, bombs that are suspended above your route, and switches that you'll need to throw to open new areas. Controlling your Digimon to battle foes in real time is simple. The X button lets you attack with your equipped weapon; the circle button makes you jump; and the square button lets you block incoming attacks for a short time. You can also use magical attacks by tapping the R1 button, which basically "equips" your available spells. So pressing X causes you to fire off a volley of the currently selected magic, while tapping R1 again puts you right back into melee mode. And if you hold down the X button, you can perform a charge attack directly in front of your monster, which will both hit enemies and smash any obstacles that may be in your path.
Sure, the controls are simple, and the monsters are cute, but we quickly found out that this didn't translate into the gameplay being a cakewalk. Enemies often spawn in pairs, or more, and you'll start out fairly weak. So if you're not careful about blocking and such, you can get dispatched surprisingly quickly. Dying in the digital world causes a backup chip to be left in your wake, and all your "BITS" (the currency in the digital world) are left with the chip. To get them back, you'll have to revisit the spot where you fell so you can use a special raise disc to gather them up again. Death is even more unattractive, because if you're above level two, you'll lose some of your gained experience when you die (and you can only get some of it back with a raise disc). Digital monsters most definitely do not mess around, so you'll have to get used to keeping a careful eye on your health. You'll also have to use items only if you need to, and you should only use gate discs in certain spots to warp back to base if things get hairy.
Fortunately, you can build up your Digimon so that defeat comes far less often. Each Digimon comes with three different types of weapons with various skill affinities, and using each weapon repeatedly will raise its skill affinities, such as slash or shot. Your digital friends will also be able to learn digivolving techniques that will grant them new forms and greater power. Furthermore, you can gain techniques through leveling up your characters and by undertaking special quests you can pick up as you go.
The digital worlds are vibrant, if very simple in design. The dungeons we went through were basic tunnel systems, and the areas of Death Valley we were able to explore scored highly in the destructible, native greenery department, if not in detail (unlike our own Death Valley, there was plenty of scrub lying around the rocky levels). The monsters themselves also won't win any contests for polygon count, but they're solid renditions of their cartoon counterparts and will be easily recognized by fans. The music seems to suit the game well, as do the few sound effects, from the whoosh of the charge attacks to the squeaks of the injured Digimon.
Digimon World 4 looks to be an action role-playing game that fans of the animated series and games will find worth a peek. It will feature co-op multiplayer for up to four players, letting you load multiple Digimon and letting your friends adventure alongside you. We'll provide a thorough examining of the game in our full review, so keep watching this gamespace for all your digital monster-related needs.