Kids love monsters. Whether they be of the pocket or dueling kind, if it was Japanese creatures beating shades out of each other then I was in. Cartoons, trading cards, video games, I’d consume the lot. There was something so alluring about a stable of collectable monsters who you could then force into vicious cock-fights to the death. But in the forest of stupid hair and gibbering creatures, one particular franchise held my devotion like no other. DI-DI-DI-DI-DIGIMON!
I was a part of that young counter-culture of die-hard Digi-fans who rallied against the oppression of our Pokémon master. Keep your Ash Ketchums and Pikachus, give me Agumon or give me death! Except not really because I also loved Pokémon, but Digimon was just so much better. It was about half-way through Ash’s journey in Johto I began to realise… wait a second this is the exact same thing just with a worse version of Brock. Collect badges, blast Team Rocket off, fail to win league, repeat. AND ITS STILL GOING ON. But while Ash wandered his unending ageless purgatory, things seemed to actually advance in Digimon. Developments mattered. Yeah season 2 wasn’t of the same quality as the first (BlackWarGreymon was BADASS though) but we had progressed. The original kids were older, more experienced and a new group were tasked with saving the digital world. The characters had arcs and relationships that evolved and changed over their journey as they discovered themselves which allowed their Digimon to take more powerful forms. Pokémon had this dude.
But disregard the anime, my infatuation for Digimon largely comes from the video games, or one game in particular. Digimon World 1 was my favourite game when I was a child. Similar to the tamagotchi, you’re charged with with raising your own personal monster, feeding it, training it, and yes you will occasionally have to bring it to the bathroom. the Pokémon games where you catch an unlimited amount of critters with set evolution paths, you’ll only ever have one at a time in Digimon World, and depending on how you rear it it can evolve into a menagerie of different beasts. Consequently you get really attached to your virtual beasty as you journey together, and it’s a sadness when he does eventually die and you receive a new baby levelled digimon to train up again.
But what’s the point of raising up monsters if you don’t have something to point them at to go murder. Your goal in the game is pretty simple. The digital world is in peril! The digital city has been abandoned as all the inhabits have been losing their memory and going feral, so it’s up to you to traverse the land and try to discover the source of the evils while also recruiting Digimon to send back to the city. The more mutants you recruit, the larger your city will grow, thus giving you access to more services and shops. So it’s a game of peaks and troughs, raising up a super swole Digi, venturing out into some of the vast and varied areas, recruiting some dudes, and then starting again when your ‘mon utters its last “Rosebud”.
Most of the enjoyment comes from wandering the Digital World with your hard-reared partner and just exploring.There’s a range of environments for you to visit from sub-zero artics, toy-towns, mechanical factories and bubbling volcanoes, and they all look surprisingly beautiful for a Playstation one game. The pre-rendered backgrounds hold up extremely well and is coupled fantastically with a wonderful soundtrack that has tracks that I still hum to this day. It’s an incredible atmospheric experience that’s easy to get lost in for hours as you traverse the world listening to the sounds of the jungle and the forests.
Even more endearing is the fact the game is absolutely busted. The English translation often reads as the ramblings of a madman and you’re as likely get trapped in a wall as you are encounter an enemy. It’s much less intrusive if you imagine it as the Digital World tearing apart at the seams and it’s an innovative feature that occasionally requires you reset your game.
Frankly I wouldn’t be shocked if everyone I direct to this game played it and despite it. The battle system is clunky and you have little control over your Digimon until he gains a high intellegence stat, so it’s mostly chucking recovery floppies at him and praying he uses some powerful attacks. Digivolution is mostly grinding, the learning curve is difficult and if you don’t really like Digimon there probably isn’t much for you here. But for me it’s a comforting tub of familiarity that I can always sink back into whenever I really just want to relax and turn off. And hey, if it sounds good to you but don’t fancy the bugs you could always check out the spiritual successor on the PlayStation 4 Digimon World: Next Order. Or you could just enjoy this cheery little melody from the game. Up to you.