After a three-year hiatus, Bandai has returned with a new installment in the constantly metamorphosing Digimon World series. Just as Digimon World 3 made the genre jump from monster-raising simulation to a fairly traditional Japanese role-playing game, Digimon World 4 tweaks the formula once again, turning it into a real-time action RPG. This may please whatever contingency there is of fans who still keep up with Bandai's answer to Pokémon, but for everyone else this is just a slapdash action RPG that seems more intent on punishing players with clumsy, tedious gameplay than actually engaging, or maybe even entertaining, them.
Upon choosing one of four low-level Digimon, you venture into the Digimon World as a member of the Digital Security Guard, and you are sent off to investigate the appearance of a mysterious new server and the disappearance of a team of Digimon explorers. The story is a pretty thin excuse to dump you into environments brimming with enemies eager to pummel you into an incoherent pile of ones and zeroes.
Rather than fighting by proxy as you did in Digimon World 3, you are given direct, real-time control over a single Digimon here. Your Digimon can run, jump, block, and attack, though for the most part you'll likely just be impatiently tapping on the X button to jab away at your enemies. The controls are pretty basic and intuitive, but for a game that, at least theoretically, is aimed at younger players, Digimon World 4 is extremely punishing right from the start. The game gets easier as you pick up new weapons and armor and your Digimon gains levels and periodically "digivolves" into a more powerful form. At the beginning, though, virtually each and every enemy you face is able to both deal and take much more punishment than you can, and the game isn't shy about throwing a good half-dozen enemies at you at once. Combine this with a block system with such specific timing that you almost need to be psychic, and only the truly dedicated Digimon fans will be willing to soldier on. The game features four-player cooperative support, though why you would want to subject three people you might call friends to this experience is a bit of a mystery.
And it's not like the game offers up a stunning audiovisual feast to make up for the alternately boring and sadistic gameplay. First off, there's the camera. Since there's no kind of map for you to rely on, what you see is the only point of reference you have for where you are and where you need to go, and even when the camera is zoomed out to the maximum, it's nearly impossible to get your bearings. Additionally, the camera moves entirely on its own, and the movement usually seems arbitrary and often obscures what you actually want to see. The visuals are pretty colorful, with the whole "base" area using a Tron-inspired combination of glowing lights and weird polygonal grids. The dungeons you'll travel to still retain a little bit of this neon flair, though they tend to look more like dungeons and suffer from bland, blurry textures. Regardless of style, though, everything in the game looks simple and chunky, and at points it barely qualifies as a current-generation game. The game's sound design isn't so much bad as it is repetitive and unremarkable. Everyone makes roughly the same muddy, indistinct noises when poked, and there's not really much music to speak of.
Digimon World 4 is a dull and largely forgettable experience, which, considering the quality of the previous three Digimon World games, really shouldn't be too big of a surprise to anyone. Those who are blissfully unaware of the world of Digimon likely wouldn't have played Digimon World 4 in the first place, even by accident. However, fans who are thinking about picking this up might want to consider why the creators of Digimon would punish their fans with a game as categorically unenjoyable as this.