With a year like 2017, which was filled with heavy hitting new game releases like Nier: Automata, Breath of the Wild, Yakuza 0, Night In The Woods and many more totally engrossing game worlds and experiences, it’s nice to have a “palette cleanser.” Sometimes I need a game that doesn’t demand my time, but rather casually suggests to hang out. For myself, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory perfectly fits this craving. It’s not going to wow you with crazy new gameplay mechanics, the visual fidelity feels right at home on a PS3, and the story is a wacky, convoluted mess of futuristic technobabble – yet all these flaws that should sink this game into obscurity seem to only add to its charm.
Hacker’s Memory takes place at the same time and place as the first Cyber Sleuth game. Players will explore the near-future metropolis of Shibuya, Japan, as well as Cyberspace EDEN; an incredibly advanced form of the Internet where users are represented by avatars in an ever-expanding digital realm (think Sword Art Online, Ready Player One, and so on).
The story focuses on Keisuke Amazawa, a former high school student who’s EDEN account has been stolen by an unknown hacker, who then uses his account to commit a crime using his name. Keisuke’s goal is to find this hacker, take back his original account and clear his name. To do that, he becomes a hacker himself, joining a small hacking “gang” called Hudie who will help him follow the breadcrumbs to this rouge account stealer.
Your character will spend a majority of their time sitting on their ass in front of a computer. Just like real life.
The Cyber Sleuth world requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, but it at least provides an interesting backdrop for the real meat of the story, which is Keisuke’s interactions with the full cast of characters. It was a blast getting to know more about Ryuji, Chitose, and Erika on your Hudie squad, as well as the other friends and enemies I encountered. The ridiculous setup is also saved by the witty and hilarious dialogue. Hacker’s Memory knows when to lean into the wackiness of its world, and when to pluck at the heartstrings during serious moments, like a guilty pleasure anime or sci-fi TV series.
While trying to track this rogue hacker, the player will collect tons of Digimon, which in this world act like advanced, sentient computer programs. Just like in the first game, you find and collect Digimon by running around dungeons and fighting in random turn-based encounters. Diversity matters here–there are four Types (Data, Vaccine, Virus, and Free) and nine elemental Attributes which do more or less damage with skills and attacks against another type, depending on the matchup.
This is Fei. She has Princess Leia hair buns and likes to attack people with her signature Digimon, Bumblebee Man.
The combat system will feel very familiar to Pokemon fans in that regard, but that’s where the two games similarities stop. As a longtime Pokemon fan, I actually enjoy the Cyber Sleuth system more. It encourages team coordination and tactics because your Digimon can sync up special abilities and attacks for ridiculous damage.
There is a bit of a grind if you are dead set on getting some of the rarest or highest level Digimon, but thanks to the addition of Hacker Skills, which are special abilities Keisuke can use in EDEN depending on your party composition, it was way less tedious than in other JRPGs. With the Skills, you can force encounters, run faster in the dungeons, warp to checkpoints for a quick breather, or even stop random encounters entirely.
The best addition to the game’s combat is the new Domination battles, where you’ll fight alongside friendly characters against up to three enemies on a laser grid, like a futuristic chess match. Each round, you’ll move characters along the grid, attempting to capture the spaces with the highest point totals while defending against assaults from enemies encroaching on your turf. These battles can get really brutal late in the game, but nothing feels better than barely holding off a wave of vicious attacks from enemy teams while your pals sneak around and capture points behind enemy lines.
As much as I enjoyed my time with Hacker’s Memory, this game is definitely not for everyone. This game shows off its anime roots very proudly, which will be a huge turn-off for some. I was also disappointed to find that many of the same blocky, linear environments I explored in the first game were used again in Hacker’s Memory with literally no changes, aside from a color swap on occasion. It introduces just enough changes and quality-of-life improvements to the Cyber Sleuth series to call itself a successful sequel, but not enough to stand out against more popular modern JRPGs. Hopefully developer Media Vision will take some bigger risks should they get another chance to expand the Cyber Sleuth world.
Another completely decent Digimon RPG.
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 8/10
Design - 7.5/10
A safe sequel, but still a fun Digimon romp
Hacker's Memory hits a lot of the same notes as 2015's Cyber Sleuth, but some much needed quality-of-life changes and improved character development pushes this title forward as one of the best Digimon games to date.