Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory (that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?) is the sequel to the original Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, which was released on the PS Vita in Japan in March 2015, before receiving an international PS4 release in February 2016. It is the sixth game in the Digimon Story series. The original Cyber Sleuth, while not really shaking up the RPG formula, was praised for its gameplay and colourful design – both of which were solid improvements over previous installments. Hacker’s Memory is definitely a further step in the right direction.
The events of Hacker’s Memory run in tandem with those of its predecessor, and take place in both real-world Tokyo and in EDEN – a virtual reality web service that allows users to access the internet by "physically" entering it. Here, users can browse the web as they normally would, with services available ranging from video streaming to online shopping to corporate functions for large companies. The most appealing aspect of EDEN, however, is the ability to meet up with other users "in person" – even if you are countries apart.
Of course, such a widely-used service is bound to be rampant with hackers. You step into the shoes of one such newbie hacker who is attempting to join a team of elites in order to reclaim his stolen account. Yes, his. Unlike in the previous game, here you cannot choose the gender of the protagonist.
The plot focuses on these new characters and their relationships with each other, and on old characters and their roles in the events of Cyber Sleuth. The new main character is your typical blank slate silent protagonist. However, he still has much more personality and a wider range of facial expressions that the previous one (including being able to make the emoji ( º 3 º) with his face).
The supporting cast is comprised of various anime archetypes. You have your super-serious, deep-voiced badass; the womanizing pretty boy; and the socially awkward tsundere girl. But despite initially appearing as tropes, they are still endearing and well-developed, even earning some emotional scenes.
The plot tackles some interesting themes, such as whether a person can still be considered themselves in a world where anything and everything – even memories – can be converted to data. Unfortunately, just like the previous game, it has a very slow start, with the first two chapters being devoted to tutorials.
Aside from story missions, you also take on cases submitted to an online message board, which is where the titular cyber sleuthing comes in. These are charming tangents from the main plot, and while a few do take a dark turn and possess genuine intrigue, the vast majority are rather formulaic – talk to the client, go to the location, question people, beat up the Digimon that’s causing trouble, accept Digimon apology, everybody’s happy. At least they are relatively short.
Gameplay-wise, Hacker’s Memory has taken the previous game’s content and expanded on it, as a good sequel should. Starting with the Digimon themselves, all 249 (DLC included) from Cyber Sleuth are present in this game, with an additional 87 available, bringing the total up to a whopping 336. Fortunately, you have the option of importing your save from the previous game. Aside from rewarding you with unique bonus items, this also imports your Field Guide with all your entries intact, allowing you to focus on unlocking the new Digimon, as well as any you might have missed the first time around.
The turn-based combat system is easy to grasp and is typical of most RPGs, with type and elemental matchups, buffs, debuffs and status ailments that encourage you to have a wide range of Digimon types in your party. The type and level of your mons also determines which hacking abilities you have available, further encouraging diversity.
The DigiLab also makes a return, which is where you manage your Digimon. This includes healing them, switching out your party members, acquiring new ones, and Digivolving them to higher (or lower) levels. The Lab also contains the Online Colosseum, where you can battle against another player’s team. Winning online battles awards you with coins that can be used to purchase online titles for yourself and cosmetic items for your Digimon. The items you can purchase change every month in similar fashion to a mobile game, and the newly added events also reward you with more coins and items upon completing them. Who cares if I’m "The Best Bancho"? I want my Beelzemon to wear cat ears, dammit!
In the previous game, I never managed to successfully connect to an online match even once. This has thankfully been addressed in Hacker’s Memory, but if you are still having trouble, there is an option to play against an NPC for fewer coins.
Aside from typical battles, there is also a new mode called Domination Battle. In this mode, two teams of three square off against each other on a grid. You earn points claiming spaces on the grid, either by simply moving onto them or stealing them from an enemy team member through battle. Whichever team scores the goal number of points, wins.
It is fun the first few times, but very quickly becomes tedious due to its grindy nature, as during battle, each Digimon only gets one turn each, so it takes multiple battles to knock a single opponent off a space. It was even worse during the first few days after launch, due to a bug that prevented you from receiving any EXP or money for winning a Domination Battle. This has fortunately been patched.
Hacker’s Memory’s visuals are absolutely gorgeous, as if straight out of an anime. The white, sterile environments of EDEN’s public forums (a brilliant callback to Our War Game) contrast beautifully with its darker, more dynamic underbelly that the hackers call home. And that is not even mentioning the accurately detailed recreations of Tokyo.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the game’s dungeons. They are all rather linear, and what few puzzles they have can only be described as tedious – backtrack through the long, winding paths to activate the things, then figure out which portal takes you to your destination and which ones take you back to the beginning. This was a major criticism of the original Cyber Sleuth, and it is sad to see it was not addressed.
All of Cyber Sleuth’s environments return in this game, and so too does its soundtrack. However, brand new tracks have also been added alongside the new environments, and despite how often you hear some of them (hope you aren’t sick of "A Cyber-Like Enclosed Space"!), they are still catchy and the majority do not outstay their welcome.
The voice work is appropriately hammy in typical anime fashion and a blast to listen to, even if you do not understand Japanese. However, the English subtitles have a tendency to change line-to-line from being translated competently to being hastily run through Google Translate, making some of the dialogue choices confusing.
In spite of its flaws, Hacker’s Memory is still a solid step forward. It has used its predecessor as a springboard, and while it does not get quite the distance it could have, it definitely sticks the landing by adding to the old formula. Being a direct sequel, it probably will not pull in any newcomers, but fans of the Digimon franchise would be remiss to skip this one.