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Hands-on Preview -
Digimon World: Data Squad
Previewed on 8/31/07

Digital Reality

After a several-year hiatus, Namco Bandai is bringing the Digimon series back in force: in conjunction with a new TV series and two DS games (Digimon World Dawn/Dusk), Digimon World: Data Squad is hitting the PS2 this fall. Digimon Data Squad is the first (and given the next generation of systems, likely the last) Digimon RPG on the PS2, and looks to provide an interesting battle experience even for those unfamiliar with the series.

Digimon World: Data Squad's story seems relatively simple. Marcus, the main character, is part of an organization called DATS ("Digital Accident Tactics Squad") that tracks down digital creatures called Digimon that are running wild and defeats them in order to quell their threat and prevent them from crossing from the digital world into the real world. Each DATS member has a Digimon partner--Marcus has the iconic Agumon--that battles these rogue Digimon. He's joined by Yoshino and Thomas on quests to extinguish targets. Naturally, an unusual number of Digimon have been running wild lately, and the phenomenon is suspected to be caused by an uncharted area of the digital world called the Dark Area.

The battle system is clearly the highlight of this installment, giving the Digimon depth and going above the complexity of a typical monster-training game. Players are allowed three Digimon in battle, selected from the six basic Digimon partners of the trainers in the game. Each of these Digimon have about thirty forms spread across a non-linear evolution galaxy, and can evolve in any direction outside of battle on the fly, including from stronger forms to weaker ones

Access to the new forms is gained by completing various requirements in and out of battle, for instance, defeating a number of Digimon of a certain type, the Digimon reaching a certain mood, or having a certain item. When these requirements are met, the option will appear immediately in battle to evolve into a new and unknown form, refilling the Digimon's HP and altering their skills and strength immediately. These in-battle evolutions may only be performed for each form once as it is unlocked, so timing them or saving them may be crucial for difficult fights.

Actions in battle are split into four main categories, but only the moves in the trainer Support category may all be used at any time. The remaining three categories (Attack, Guard and Escape) will have different skills that are selectable based on the Digimon's mood. Upon each turn, tiles will be generated across the screen representing the moves that the Digimon wants to use based on its mood.

Several factors determine a Digimon's overall mood, and thus the frequency of certain tiles: an angry Digimon will have near-exclusively Attack tiles on screen, while a Calm Digimon might have a healthy mix of Attack, Guard and Escape tiles. Moods can also change according to the tide of the battle, and by using various support commands. For example, a Digimon weakened by a critical hit might only want to flee, so the trainer would need to use a skill to encourage the Digimon and bring it back into fighting spirit. Selecting the tiles that are most numerous will raise the Digimon's compatibility with its trainer (the reverse is true as well), though the Digimon doesn't always favor the most appropriate ability. Battles are mildly sluggish, but seem to still flow well.

Thus far, Digimon World: Data Squad has contained no movies or anime cutscenes, and instead opts for in-game models or backgrounds to tell the story, with accompanying text boxes. Important scenes do feature some voice acting, although it is of the slightly irritating variety.

Players seeking a game with an interesting battle system, fans of the series in particular, should keep an eye on Digimon World: Data Squad, which ships to retailers September 18. Players who dislike Digimon are advised to stay away, as the battle system innovations are likely not enough to change their opinion on the series.