Just like any franchise that lasts this long, Digimon video games have had a lot of ups and downs. Digimon World: Next Order first released in 2016 for the PlayStation Vita, with a PlayStation 4 release coming to the West the following year. It has since enjoyed a cult following that has now been ported to PC and Switch years later. Perhaps due to its origins on Sony’s portable console, it feels right at home on Switch, but Digimon World: Next Order is still a title struggling to find its footing.
The game’s opening throws players into a tense battle between two highly evolved Digimon companions and a powerful opponent that serves as a tutorial for the combat system. Fights take place in real-time, with the player’s partners acting on their own initiative, based on which of three predefined AI behaviors you’ve chosen for them. Players can choose specific actions for them to take, but only if they have accumulated enough Order Points during the fight.
More elaborate attacks require more Mana and Order Points to use, but the combat system itself is quite simple to understand. Especially when you’re fighting lower-level enemies, you can get away with paying attention in most fights. This makes grinding surprisingly easy as you roam the open world the game takes place in. However, fighting enemies is a dangerous business. Walk into the next area and you’ll likely find that the Digimon make quick work of their current companions.
Battling isn’t the only way to gain power in Digimon World: Next Order. We would argue that it is not even the better path. That would be sending them to the gym to train, which lets you pick a specific stat to boost and launches a roulette minigame for a chance to get a boost. Chances are, you’ll spend most of your time here, working hard to increase your stats and eventually unlock the next Digivolution for your companions.
This part of the game, frankly, isn’t very fun. It’s repetitive to the point of being boring and is only interrupted by having to tend to the Digimon’s need to sleep, eat, and poop. Just like taking care of a child, you need to get your partners to the bathroom before they make a mess somewhere. This mechanic makes the game feel like an odd cross between a virtual pet simulator and an RPG, but the mechanic for taking care of your partner’s physical needs is clumsily implemented.
Every time you send Digimon to train at the Gym, they accumulate a little fatigue. Eventually they will need to rest. This can be done in the gym itself, but resting only removes a small amount of fatigue, meaning you have to go through the same dialogue over and over again if you want to get them back into fighting shape. It’s a frustratingly slow process that could have been drastically improved by giving you an option to rest until all the fatigue wears off.
Unfortunately, you’ll likely spend hours involved in the training and rest cycle to increase your Digimon’s stats before they reach the next stage of their evolution, because if you don’t, they’ll die as soon as their hit points run out. If that happens they will revert back to being an egg and you will have to start the whole process over again. They will have slightly increased stats compared to how they started, but it still feels like a huge throwback and adds to the repetitive feel of the game.
This mechanic allows you to change how you raise your partner Digimon to influence what they eventually turn into. There are over 200 possible evolutions in the game, making it unlikely that you’ll see them all. The age of the game works in your favor in this case, as there are guides that can help you raise the right stats and feed them the right foods to make sure they turn out exactly how you want them. Without them, it looks a lot like chance with a little bit of luck mixed in.
The reason you’ll spend so much time in the gym, improving stats through training, is because of the sudden and devastating difficulty spikes that appear as you roam the world. For example, when we first entered the open world part of the game, we found a level one creature and, as expected, we immediately wiped the ground with it. Even without leaving that section of the map, we faced a level two monster and our two Digimons were knocked out within 30 seconds. It took us 15 hours to get to a point where we had a team that could take on the game’s first boss.
There are three difficulty settings in Digimon World: Next Order – Beginner, Easy, and Normal. We found Normal to be a lot of work to work its way through the game’s story, which is pretty thin. Once we dropped it to Easy, the enemies were more manageable and the game became a much better experience. Honestly, it seems like Easy Mode should be how everyone experiences this game. Exploring the world, recruiting new Digimon for your growing city, and seeing what evolutions you can unlock next offers a little fun, but getting to that point is so arduous that it’s hardly worth it.
It’s disappointing because Digimon World: Next Order has great polish. The graphics are a little dated now, but they still hold up thanks to the cartoonish nature of the characters. The soundtrack, however, is fantastic. From the opening theme song to the music that plays as you walk through the world, there are some great tracks in there.
However, the actual gameplay lets this title down massively and the decision not to include the original Japanese voice tracks in the Switch version is simply baffling. Even on the lowest difficulty and using a guide to help you get the best team possible, you’ll spend hours doing repetitive training just to get to a point where you can play the game.
Digimon World: Next Order is an open world RPG that is very difficult to recommend. While the music and graphics have their charm, they’re totally overshadowed by the uneven difficulty, highly repetitive training mechanics, and some very strange design choices. Unless you’re a die-hard Digimon fan with untold patience, this one is best left alone.