In a lot of ways, Digimon Story: Hacker's Memory is more the peanut butter to Cyber Sleuth's jelly than it is a direct sequel. From the story to the characters to even the environments, they both go hand-in-hand perfectly. This is because Hacker's Memory takes place almost entirely parallel to Cyber Sleuth, filling in the gaps and providing some much-needed context for the events that take place in the original.
In Digimon Story: Hacker's Memory, you play as a newbie hacker whose only goal is to reclaim the account that was taken from him. This extremely vague premise pushes him to join Hudie, an eclectic group of up-and-coming hackers. It's with these characters and the game's witty writing that Hacker's Memory differentiates itself from its predecessor.
The Breakfast Club
Hacker's Memory has a lot more attention given to its characters and story this time around, which is made immediately apparent in its opening moments. Instead of simply having you choose a starter partner like in Pokemon, your character stumbles upon a shady underground slave market dealing in Digimon and has to choose which one to set free.
As a part of Hudie, you take on a lot of cases that task you with diving deep into the shadowy nature of the digital realm. Despite this new-found "edginess," Hacker's Memory never takes itself too seriously even with its many twists and turns. For every serious scene, there's humorous dialogue that helps lighten the mood. It genuinely had me belly-laughing on a number of occasions.
The game's protagonist notes at the start of the game that he's probably not the hero of this particular story, and his statement rings true throughout the cases and quests he takes on. Working out of a suspicious internet cafe, your newbie hacker takes on requests from an online message board. Under the info for each case, you'll find snarky comments from random people that show a sense of self-awareness on Bandai Namco's part.
Unlike Cyber Sleuth, even the smallest side quest can be memorable in some way. From the guy you help throw a party in order to find a girlfriend, to the lady who steals fish from an aquarium for an hour and then gives them back, Hacker's Memory actually gives you a reason to complete every case and talk to each person.
Hudie and the rest of the core cast become like a tight-knit family that you'll care about. Every person on your team is three dimensional, containing depth and personality to their character.
While anyone can jump in and play Hacker's Memory without prior experience, the plot does lean heavily on knowledge of Cyber Sleuth and newcomers will miss out on a significant chunk of the cameos and meaningful moments. Ironically, everything besides the story can feel like a retread of Cyber Sleuth for existing fans.
The Same Old Grind
When it comes to playing Hacker's Memory, you could easily mistake it for Cyber Sleuth. The graphics, UI, and even environments are exactly the same. For someone like myself that plays every new Pokemon game, that sort of repetition isn't a problem. But for someone that is looking for something new, Hacker's Memory isn't for you.
The game reuses nearly all of the same locales and dungeons that were in Cyber Sleuth. Remember Kowloon? Be prepared to spend another 50 hours retreading its levels during quests and grinding for experience. This time, though, Hacker's Memory adds Under Kowloon. Don't let the name fool you, it's basically more levels of the dungeon you already know.
Occasionally, you'll see a color swap from the typical blue to purple or orange, but that does little to alleviate the same copy and paste design. It's unfortunate that not much effort was put into shaking up the design elements. I was even browsing through the items at one point and the description for one item hadn't changed from the last game, referencing a character and moment that this new protagonist knew nothing of.
A Little Goes a Long Way
If you are able to get past the similar nature of Digimon Story: Hacker's Memory, you'll appreciate the tiny additions and changes that were implemented. Though the look of the game is unchanged, cutscenes are more frequent and have better animations. As a hacker, the hacking skills at your disposal provide some much needed quality-of-life improvements.
In addition to reducing the number of random encounters, you can even speed up your character's movement to blast through to your destination. Along the way, you'll face Tamers sporadically placed throughout, similar to Pokemon. There is also a new collectible that utilizes your restore ability to fix numerous robots scattered across the game in hidden areas. Unlike Digimon medals, these robots provide a gameplay purpose beyond seeing that trophy pop.
Repairing them grants you items and the occasional memory file that ties into the Hacker's Memory name. At the computer in your cafe base, you can analyze these collectible files to unlock neat info or a hidden backstory scene about one of the characters. For those not interested in lore, collecting all of the Hacker's Memory files unlocks a healthy portion of the 80 new Digimon in the game.
Those 80 new Digimon are the biggest addition to Hacker's Memory. Though you could capture any of the three starter Digimon in Cyber Sleuth, they all have a new evolution line that is worth exploring. Besides them, fan favorites like Shoutmon (and others I won't spoil) can be found.
Hacker's Memory smartly lets you import your Cyber Sleuth save file. While it doesn't give you access to your original teams at the start, it does import your total game time and Field Guide so you can continue collecting monsters from where you left off. This makes finding all of the new Digimon an easy process. In fact, my battle team was comprised entirely of new ones for the whole game.
Also, there's a brand new battle mode called Domination that pits you and two AI companions against another team of three in an odd grid-based match. You move around the map in turn-based fashion, capturing points in order to raise your team's score to the required amount in order to win. If you encounter an enemy player, you fight over that spot using a normal battle.
It is a welcome new feature that makes you really think ahead like in a chess match, but it can also be highly repetitive. You will face unintelligent opponents on the same rotating set of maps that can be beaten by just repeating the same moves you did last time. Occasionally, you'll have a limit of winning within a certain amount of turns or using uneven teams, but the lack of an online version of the mode is sorely missed.
Digimon Story: Hacker's Memory is the more refined version of Cyber Sleuth with an engaging new story. For some, this could be a deterrence as not much as changed at all. The graphics, locations, and gameplay are exactly the same, but the same core gameplay hook is there with some much-needed improvements.
More skills, a new battle mode, and the addition of 80 new Digimon make Hacker's Memory worth the investment for anyone that's a fan of the series. It appreciates your love for the show, offering the most complete and enjoyable Digimon game to date.
A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review.