There are few genre's of game as exclusive as monster trainer games. First made popular by Pokemon, Digimon has a reputation as being a franchise that rides on Pokemon's coattails, I always thought of it as a respectable competitor and not an imitation. That's because, rather than simply copy what Pokemon has done, Digimon goes a step further with everything and even appeals to a slightly older audience. The same applies for Digimon: Dusk. The game borrows several concepts from its ubiquitous competitor, but it always builds upon it, for better or worse.
Digimon: Dusk takes place in a digital world where artificial life forms known as digimon live in the wild and along side tamers who teach them to battle. Digimon hatch from digieggs and start off small and cutesy. Though each has the ability to digivolve into several forms and become truly intimidating.
Breaking with the tradition of making you play as a rookie character, just beginning his journey, this game lets you take on the role of an experienced tamer with a team of high level, fully digivolved digimon. You enter a tournament as a representative of Darkmoon City to take on your friendly rivals from Sunshine City. However, before the tournament reaches its climax, a mysterious virus attacks and turns nearly everyone's digimon back into eggs. You're escape with your digimon merely being turned back into their “rookie” forms.
In the wake of the attack, both Darkmon and Sunshine City are cut off from one another, and you have to work to get everything back online and discover what evil is behind this mayhem. You will also have to deal with rivalries within your own ranks, as your friends grow jealous of your success.
There seems to be a trend towards making multiple interchangeable versions of games. Digimon: Dusk does this with its companion game, Digimon: Dawn. Both games have the same gameplay, and owners of either can battle against the other. But what is nice to see is that each game gives the player a different perspective on the plot. Plus there are some digimon that are unique to each game.
Everything in this game is a lot deeper than in the majority of monster collector games. That also carries with it the burden of being more complicated. As opposed to using one monster at a time, each side can field up to three. Digimon can be placed in one of five spaces in a row. Putting digimon next to one another allows them to defend each other and boost each other's stats. However, there are attacks that affect multiple spaces at once, so it is sometimes wisest to spread out a little.
In battle there is a list with the order the digimon will take turns based on their current speed. This lets you coordinate your moves accordingly. On your digimon's turn, you can select from up to four equipped attacks. Most of them simply deal damage of one element or another, while a few have a slim chance of also causing a status effect. Each move requires a certain amount of MP. This doesn't limit you in a single battle as much as it's a burden throughout long dungeons, as money and MP restoring items are scarce.
The challenge develops pretty fast in this game. But I never felt like the depth of strategy rose to meet it. It always seemed like I was controlling three separate monsters, each doing their own thing, and not a team. Because of that, the overcoming the challenge mostly involved working on making my digimon stronger. Though there are a great many ways to do so.
The game lets you create digimon from data scanned from enemies. Each time you encounter one, you build up data automatically. When the number reaches 100%, you can create that digimon back at your home on the Digilab PC. To get a digimon with greater stats, you can build that number up even higher than 100% before you convert it into a digimon. Also, you can XXX digivolve a digimon by fusing two together. You won't actually make a new form out of this, but you will get added stats to one. All in all, there is too much emphasis on stats. While I appreciate the elimination of chance when trying to get a digimon with stats you want, it's still a very monotonous process.
Another way to gain an edge in battle is in taking advantage of an enemy's elemental weakness. The element system is one area this game seems to be simpler than its kin. Each digimon is strong against one element and weak against one element. So you don't have to remember much to figure out what attacks will work best against a particular foe.
Digivolving is the most effective way to train your digimon into real monsters. Digimon have to meet certain requirements before they can digivolve. This usually includes having reached a certain level, but can also includes things like getting a specific stat high enough. It can even require that it gains a certain amount of XP from defeating a particular element of digimon. You can also devolve your digimon. That way you can learn a move or two, gain some stats, then use them in another, even better form, once you've met the requirements for that. There are some very cool forms, but the majority seems cheesy and I wouldn't want to use. At least you can view the digivolution options for each monster before you spend time working on them.
Since every new digimon you get starts at level 1, you're given the DigiFarm to raise them at. On the DigiFarm, several digimon can train even while you're not playing. This is a convenient function that you can customize with your own themes and special equipment used for different kinds of training. It definitely takes a lot of the work out of leveling up a variety of digimon. I also appreciate that you don't have to check back at the farm often, since the top screen gives you a “live” view of the farm with regular updates on the digimon's progress.
While it seems like a lot of work went into making training your digimon a deep and complicated experience, the lack of battle depth makes it unfulfilling. Not being able to see your own monsters in battle adds to this. I spent a lot of time trying to unlock the final forms of these digimon because they looked so cool, but the first person perspective in battle eliminates any chance of seeing them except in a status screen.
The half-digital, half-natural setting is something I could probably go for, but the artists did not blend the two elements well. Sometimes you're in a forest and after passing through a door you're suddenly surrounded by circuitry. Only you’re fighting the same monsters here. It just doesn't seem like they tried to make you feel like this was all part of the same world.
I would like to have tried out the WiFi multiplayer, but the only way to use it is to already have someone else's friend code to play them. I get the feeling that it was simply a tacked on feature with as little effort put to making it useful as possible. A big shame considering that multiplayer is the most important experience in any monster training game.
For a game of this nature, the importance of ubiquity cannot be overstated. And the simple fact of the matter is that you are far less likely to find a fellow Digimon player in your travels than a Pokemon player. This is a pity, as Digimon: Dusk has really taken the genre in new directions and done things I only wish Pokemon and other games like it would do. Some call Digimon an imitation. I call it an evolution of the genre.