Digimon World Next Order offers no qualms about throwing the player into the deep end from the very beginning. Harkening back to 1999’s original Digimon World, Digimon World Next Order’s obtuse mechanics made its early hours a stressful blur of time, resource, and party management. The game feels more like a pet simulator than it does a traditional RPG experience like last year’s excellent Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, which may, justifiably so, be a barrier to entry for all but the most dedicated of players. It’s a punishing experience; one that I found myself equal parts frustrated and enamoured with as it constantly halted my progress.
Digimon World Next Order takes place several years after the events of the original Digimon World. Powerful Digimon called Machinedramon are terrorizing the Digital World, wreaking havoc upon its citizens and downsizing its biggest settlements into shells of their former selves. As the destruction reaches its peak, a group of teenagers from the real world find themselves trapped within the Digital World. These kids all meet citizens of the Digital World, are partnered with their own Digimon, and look to find a way home and restore the Digital World to its former glory in the process.
For much of my early time playing Digimon World Next Order I was incredibly overwhelmed by all of its moving parts. Progressing through the game’s story requires you to find the scattered citizens of a hub city called Flotia. As you find and recruit more civilians to join the city, it prospers with new stores and services, eventually becoming a thriving civilization. Ultimately Flotia will basically keep your supplies stocked, with daily supply drops coming from various members of the city—all to help you go out and find more missing Digimon to help bring the city to its former glory.
Watching Flotia flourish is one of the most satisfying parts of Digimon World Next Order. While recruiting Digimon to the city mostly boils down to fetch quests or mini-boss battles, seeing this small group of Digimon grow into a booming city with new features becoming available as they return often left me feeling like I was accomplishing something important even in the most mundane moments.
However, making those steps requires your two Digimon partners to be powerful enough to overcome the dangers of the Digital World, and while I found the act of raising Digimon to be fun on its own, the complex mechanics behind training them and keeping them alive often held me up for hours at a time before I could even consider moving toward a story mission or recruiting more people to Flotia.
In the beginning of Digimon World Next Order, players are given the choice of two of any eleven baby Digimon. These Digimon can evolve into one of many more powerful characters depending on a multitude of factors, including stats, diet, and their relationship with me or whether I was properly caring for them. Maintaining a healthy Digimon is the difference between getting a character I wanted and getting a weaker, less desirable one. This means I had to stay stocked up on food to feed them, stay near a bathroom so they could relieve themselves, and hope I could train them in specific stats before they evolved. This made it difficult for me to get Digimon I wanted, like my longtime favourite Guilmon, but the act of training them and trying to best raise them to get specific Digimon never felt tiresome—unlike when I had to divert my attention to the rest of the game.
These systems are all based around the pet simulator-like mechanics of the original Digimon World. However, in that game players only had to take care of one Digimon instead of two, which was not only easier to manage but I never had to worry about one Digimon falling behind holding me back from progressing like it does now. Both Digimon partners in your party have a set lifespan after which they will die and be reset to a baby form. Digimon’s death and rebirth offers higher base stats, eventually to the point where new evolution paths become available. But it does still mean that if one Digimon dies and is reset you have to spend time training them until they’re fit for battle again. This time, training a younger Digimon adds days to the life of the other, effectively shortening the time you have to accomplish anything before starting the process over again. Late game items will let you essentially “kill” a Digimon and get both of your partners on a similar cycle of life and death, but I felt a lot of frustration in early chapters as I constantly staggered the lives of my Digimon in order to get anywhere in Digimon World Next Order.
After I got my two Digimon to a point in their evolutionary line that I could start to progress another incremental step further, I ended up fighting with Next Order’s clunky and convoluted battle system. Unlike last year’s Cyber Sleuth, Digimon World Next Order’s battles play out in real-time. As the tamer of my Digimon I didn’t partake in these battles in a particularly strategic manner, as my role was closer to a coach of a sports team rather than a commander of a party. While both of my Digimon fight a group of enemies, all I could do is cheer them on, adding points to a growing “Order Power” gauge that unlocked more powerful attacks. While I had the power to override my Digimon’s actions, this micromanaging was far less efficient than just letting my partners operate according to set tactics, occasionally interrupting to order one to take a defensive stance or providing support through healing items.
In more difficult battles this system worked and felt strategic, like I was cooperating with two other friends as a team to find weak points in powerful enemies’ defenses. But otherwise, I actively avoided battling wild Digimon. Battles on the field felt like wastes of time and resources to me, as there was seldom anything to be gained by partaking in them. Stat increases after battles against wild Digimon were so minuscule it never felt worth the risk of losing to actively seek out battles that weren’t story related. Certain Digimon can only be obtained by winning a certain number of battles, but defeating more powerful enemies didn’t add anything more to that number than beating up weak ones did.
Digimon World Next Order’s complexity is more than a little intimidating, especially for those who may want a more simple and straightforward trip to the Digital World that can be found elsewhere in games like Cyber Sleuth. These isolated systems are interesting in their own right, but Digimon World Next Order as a whole constantly feels like it’s stepping on its own toes, interfering with progression instead of creating a cohesive whole. Next Order is at its best when you’re not trying to move forward, but instead trying to live and prosper in its world.