Digimon was a childhood fixture for many kids growing up in the nineties. Bandai had been producing virtual pets since 1996 in the form of the Tamagotchi. These little egg-shaped toys had you raise a virtual pet. This included feeding and watering them, as well as curing any illnesses they could catch. The main emphasis in later models was the ability to connect to other toys. By doing this, you could have your pets create relationships with someone else’s pet, which could lead to them having a child. From here, the original Tamagotchi would leave, and the loop would begin again. In Japan at the time, these were targeted more at young girls, but there was a distinct male audience who played with them too. To accommodate this male audience, Bandai created Digital Monster. The two devices are very similar, with the exception of Digital Monster including battling and training, rather than just care taking and relationship building.
The roots of Digimon are in these toys, and they’re ingrained in Next Order in a big way. For those not aware as to how the toys worked, they were similar to their Tamagotchi sisters: depending how well you cared for them, they’d ‘Digivolve’ into new Digimon, but unlike Tamagotchi, there were also statistics that went along with it, and depending on what stats your Digimon had, they may Digivolve into something else.
This system is used in its entirety in Digimon World: Next Order, and it translates well into this RPG. Digivolutions require a certen set of stats unique to each Digimon, and the fulfilment of these requirements before a certain amount of time passes. Managing this much information is very complicated at first, but you can eventually figure things out if you pay attention to all of the tutorials, including optional ones. The problem is, these tutorials aren’t concise. You’ll be reading a lot to familiarise yourself with the game in its entirety.
Even the care element from the original toys (which was carried from their Tamagotchi predecessors) is incorporated. As well as training your pets, you’ll have to praise or scold them when appropriate, feed them, and even take them to the toilet, either by finding a cubicle, or providing your Digimon with a portable toilet. This contributes to your pets happiness, bonds and other elements, and will advance Digivolution progress. Neglecting your Digimon will not only lead to lacklustre development, but can also lead to fatigue, sickness and even a shortening of their lifespan.
Next Order‘s combat system is pretty unique. Everything is automated, and you support your Digimon by tapping X. This grants your Digimon order points (OP), whilst they automatically perform attacks themselves, and timing these presses after attacks have dealt damage will lead to the accrual of more OP. These order points can be spent to perform attacks, including those that are automatic. As such, it’s worthwhile to let Digimon attack whilst you save up order points to do stronger attacks. The combat system is certainly interesting, and I feel it is well implemented, but many may dislike the lack of direct involvement.
The story isn’t massively important in Digimon World: Next Order. The Digimon world is threatened by MachineDramon, a robotic Digimon programmed with purely evil intentions. Events at the beginning force you to breed new partners, thus introducing you to the core gameplay loop. Throughout the story, your two partners will continuously die, and you’ll have to rebreed and retrain them, using your knowledge from your Digimon’s previous life-cycle to breed your Digimon more reliably. Along with this, you’ll be attempting to rebuild the city of Floatia, damaged by MachineDramon.
You’ll need Digimon to help rebuild Floatia. As such, you’ll be roaming the same environments repeatedly in order to get to certain areas and find them. I found the soundtrack – which while at first pleasant was by no means noteworthy – slowly became grating due to the repetitive nature of the gameplay. As such, I ended up muting the game at points. Overall, though, exploring and finding Digimon to bring back to Floatia proved fun.
The mandatory side quests, however, are a bit generic. Some are classic fetch quests, with either items or Digimon as the object, while others are simple battle challenges. There are some unique ones for sure, but the vast majority of requests are uninteresting and less than challenging. Thankfully, most of these quests aren’t too far out of the way.
For me, this game’s driving force was nostalgia. Digimon World: Next Order begins with the player-character booting up a “Digivice,” a device that looks similar to the original Digital Monster toy. B.B. Studio rely heavily on this nostalgia by implementing the aforementioned Digivolving mechanic, and using memorable Digimon, such as Agumon, the orange dinosaur often tied with the franchise. My experience with the franchise isn’t the most extensive, but I was familiar with some of the shows and movies. Seeing some of my pets growing into some of my favourite Digimon was a great experience. As such, a history with the franchise, even a limited one like my own, is conducive to enjoyment of this game.
Overall, I find Digimon World: Next Order to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. The old digital pet mechanics fit incredibly well in an RPG like this, and the unique battle system allows for a more active experience than the old toys would have allowed. Whilst the music can be grating, and the sidequests are fairly generic, exploring is still incredibly fun. There’s also a lot of nostalgia value if you’re a lifelong Digimon fan. Much of it is lost on me, thanks to my lack of experience beyond the shows and movies, but others with a long history with the franchise will probably enjoy this game.