You realize something new when revisiting those old games that used to kick your ass as a kid. Sometimes they hold up ? those timeless gems like Super Mario World. Sometimes they prove much easier than you remember, now that you have more coordination or they prove to be clunky, poorly designed, and you can?t believe you were addicted to that game as a kid .
But whether the game shows cracks or notyearslater, it still feels good to overcome those challenges as an adult. Even if it?s a total indictment of how much free time you have.
I experienced that sense of challenge and accomplishment in the Spring of 2015, when I revisited and beat Digimon World ? a mediocre game that hasn?t aged particularly well, and one I was obsessed with as a kid.
Digimon World was a clunky, grind-heavy, and punishing RPG for the original PlayStation that provided little direction or hand-holding. I was around 10 when ithitthestatesin2000, and already familiar with the franchise.
The Digimon anime, based on a Tamagotchi-like toy, gave kids a mild alternative to Pokemon. It was a bit darker, the monsters could talk, and they could even die at the villan?s hand (sorta ? we?ll touch on that later). The cast of characters were likeable enough, and it was more serialized than the often episodic Pokmon anime. It never quite achieved the level of fandom that Pokmon did (possibly didn?t earn it) but it definitely made an impact on me back in the day. Digimon tried to spin off into a card game series and various video games, but it could never rival Pokmon?s presence.
Ironically, I do remember getting an original Digimon device as a child a few years before the show dropped. It was Christmas, and while the sticker on the gift wrap said it was from Santa, the supposedly elf-made toy still had a sticker from KB Toys on it???my first piece of evidence that Santa wasn?t real.
You?d think this would cause me to associate the franchise with disappointment, but when Digimon World was released in 1999, I dove in. The fact that the protagonist was playing with the same Digimon toy in its opening scene foreshadowed the frustration I would face, though I didn?t yet realize it.
Digimon World promised a relatively expansive and open world and the chance to raise, battle and encounter over 20 Digimon?using several different evolution trees.
The general tasks of the game, however, were clearly based on the original Digimon game, which like a Tamagotchi, was about raising an annoying virtual pet that was constantly hungry, pooping and dying. The Digimon twist was that your pet could evolve into badass dinosaurs and robots (and mixes of both) and could fight other monsters.
Digimon World brought this annoying monster baby simulator to a 3D plane but didn?t make caring for your sidekick any easier or more convenient. Your dreams of evolving an Agumon to a Greymon were shattered by an endless horde of poop slugs all because you couldn?t reach the bathroom in time or figure out the right combination of stats.
Numemon, a slug-like Digimon that attacks with poop and evolves from literally anything. Photo: Giant Bomb.
Unlike Pokmon, which usually just needed to reach a specific level to evolve, Digimon?s ?digivolved? forms depended not just on specific stats but even factors like mood and weight ? none of which are ever made clear to the player.
Adding to the frustration of finding the right combination was the fact you?d often need to raise a few generations of Digimon to get a decent Ultimate (a Digimon?s final form in the game). See, your Digimon die a lot in this game, whether from old age or losing fights. On the bright side, upon death they revert to an egg, and their reincarnation will inherit higher stats.
As a kid, I had no patience for this cycle? after raising generations of literal shit monsters, I had to look to game guides for help. The game guides definitely helped me out a lot?I was able to get better Digimon find new levels on the map. In fact, I even found a use for those annoying poop Digimon???they could become a Teddy Bear monster called Teddymon! (Because they?re the only ones who can wear its costume for some reason.)
Replaying the game 16 years later reminded me of both how much progress I made exploring the world and how little progress I made as a trainer. Much like my younger self, I had to resort to GameFAQs for answers and tips and to figure out just the hell I was supposed to advanced the story.
The story, by the way, is simple enough: the Digital World is dying and the residents of File City have turned feral. You, a human sucked into the Digital World, have to save it by convincing the former residents of File City to return and contribute to society. Sometimes by kicking their ass. As the list of residents grows, you gain more access to the world: scaling mountain tops, investigating a haunted mansion, and cage fighting in an insect colony. The adventure aspect of the game actually holds up pretty well, with most new territories distinct enough, but sometimes you go through needlessly difficult tasks like a fishing minigame, which are worsened by awkward camera angles and the OG PlayStation?s imprecise controls.
What really compromises the adventure, however are those basic tasks I mentioned earlier. It sucks taking care of your Digimon while on the road, where there are few toilets, few training gyms, and few stores to buy food and health restoring items. You?ll be surrounded by enemies, and then Garurumon decides its time for a bathroom break.
There?s also the fact that your Digimon don?t live long. You might have 10 in-game days with your Ultimate assuming they evolved to the form early. If you?re trying to reach a boss far away from File City, and haven?t yet cleared the path, the next stretch of the game becomes a headlong rush of avoiding battles, navigating new worlds, and hoping that your best monster to date doesn?t dare fucking die on you.
As a kid, my first ever, hard-earned MetalGreymon died in the middle of a mission (clearing out the hideout of a bunch of rogue Digimon). The boss of that mission, Ogremon, was a Champion level???tough, but he would have been no match for my metal-plated Ultimate. I didn?t reach him in time, and my MetalGreymon died in a random room either of old age or too many battles. I think that frustration led to me putting the game down as a kid. It just didn?t seem worth the hard work if failure was swift and inevitable.
As an adult more accustomed to failure both in life and in trying to master video games (I sank so many hours into Street Fighter IV just to be somewhat average a player), the constant death and rebirth cycle wasn?t quite as disheartening, but instead more tedious and just as frustrating. You?d get a decent Digimon, explore a new cave or island, and end up swarmed by a bunch of stupid Goblimon.
Don?t get too attached, kid.
Ironically, as my Digimon?s base stats improved with each new life, there would be several generations of Digimon that kept me handcuffed to DigiCity, running from the gym to the store to the meat garden to the toilet all in an effort to balance my monster for the desired form. I saw more Champions than Ultimates ? Leomon, Greymon, Angemon and Birdramon served me well several times over. Sometimes they were strong enough to expand my reach of the world, but sometimes their purpose was just to train hard and die so they would be resurrected as a being with far more potential. It?s pretty grim, and the fact that some digivolutions are based on how miserable your monster?s life is, you don?t always feel quite so warm and cuddly toward your Digimon. (It perhaps makes sense then, that the final boss turns out to be another human being.)
When you finally get an Ultimate, you better have enough money and supplies, because you don?t want to waste time earning them via grinding or arena battles. I went through two Pheonixmons to beat the last dungeon, as the first one was not strong nor young enough to get the job done.
Beating the game after so many years felt more fulfilling than it probably should have. But I feel like in this era where specs often seem more appreciated than craft or story, it doesn?t hurt to revisit some of those early games from the so-called fifth generation of gaming (a generation of consoles best defined by PlayStation and N64). Even some of the weaker ones, like Digimon World, had a sense of scope and adventure that didn?t necessarily rely on witnessing gigantic set pieces at every moment or immersive graphics. It also had a good sense of quietude?there wasn?t much background music, and often the sounds of nature, like crickets and cicadas, soundtracked your journey across the digital world (albeit very digitized and low quality)
Yes, I name him a Walking Dead reference. I wish I could fit more R?s and L?s to be honest.
Obviously, games today also share those charms, and pull off even grander senses of scope and adventure???I?ve played Skyrim, Fallout 4, Red Dead Redemption, so I?m not trying to fool anyone here. But, see, one of my friends told me he doesn?t consider the PlayStation and N64 era artistic, unlike the pixel art of 8- and 16-bit games. But seeing how these games played with perspective despite hardware that didn?t allow for much depth?often handled in Digimon World as a 3D figure vanishing into a 2D image, a technique also used in the PlayStation classic Final Fantasy VII???creates a visual experience we don?t see too often in modern games. It might be primitive by today?s standard, but it still adds a greater sense of scale and journey to the game, blocky graphics and all.
But more than that, there?s something fun about experiencing old school challenges. Which isn?t to go off on some rant about games today being too easy or forgiving. A lot of the difficulty of old games, especially once you?re used to today?s responsive controls, can be attributed to technical aspects like faulty designs and confusing camera angles. Sometimes, the mechanics are simply outdated, which leads to frustrations. For example, in battle, your Digimon is mostly on autopilot. You can shout commands, but they?re not guaranteed to follow orders immediately. They aren?t as reliable or programmable as party members in the Dragon Age games, for example. Hell, you can mostly count on the dumbest AI in the modern era to shoot a fireball at an open target or block a slash attack these days. Plus, the lack of any real direction in the game can make it easy to wander into areas you?re simply not ready for???most open world games today at least guide you gradually along, even if you?re free to charge headlong into dangerous territory.
So many moves, so little response.
Still, while we take such measures for granted today, it?s nice to be on the wire without a safety net sometimes. Digimon World is a game where losing is not only inevitable, it?s required???at least in the sense that your Digimon will literally die all the time regardless of how good it is. Grinding is an annoyance in RPGs, but Digimon World almost feels more honest about the importance of that workmanlike gameplay than others in the genre. But you also need at least some sort of gameplan, if not an abundance of supply, before heading out on the journey. I?m not a chess player or strategist or even good at managing a personal planned, but I did enjoy the fact a game made me think several moves ahead, even if the overall execution was sub-par.
Clearly Digimon World, upon revisiting it, isn?t some hidden gem or underappreciated classic. It belongs nowhere near the pantheon of great fifth generation games, and doesn?t even measure up to its peers of the monster raising genre???Monster Rancher had a more innovative and less annoying raising system, and Pokmon is a juggernaut that eclipses the former two franchises.
But there was something comforting about revisiting this middling game from my childhood. Games are always compared to movies these days, often in an effort to legitimize the medium, but usually such comparisons are reserved for top-tier,big budget and cinematic games. Sometimes you just wanna watch a dumb, perfectly OK movie or TV show that you happen to like a bit more than other people. Sometimes that attitude extends to video games, for better or worse. As frustrating an underwhelming as Digimon World was, it brought back a lot of memories, too. I was glad that this time, when I walked away from it, I had beaten the story mode.