One thing I’ve learned covering a multitude of JRPGs is that life as the pre-destined hero of the universe can be exhausting. While many titles handle the burden their protagonist bears well, doing things that are unique or provocative within the framework of what I’ve come to expect, there is always the sense that some of the narrative has been forced by nature of following the hero. Things must naturally coalesce around them, as they did in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, simply because if they did not, the world would not revolve around their adventure—and because we have been predisposed to expect raised stakes at every turn, that won’t do.
Rebuking the expectation of a chosen one can be difficult, and that’s what makes Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory so fascinating. Bandai Namco and developer Media. Vision are guilty of retreading a lot of the ground that the original Cyber Sleuth covered, but Hacker’s Memory also moves forward in a bold new direction. Protagonist Keisuke Amazawa is, essentially, a side character who has been given his own game. Despite all of the weirdness that ensues from that decision, the end result is a surprisingly refreshing break from the idea that all of the world’s troubles rest squarely on the player’s shoulders.
Most of what Hacker’s Memory does so well stems from its concern over human memory. Erika, a standout character and our protagonist’s love interest in the hacker group Hudie, is afflicted with a rare brain condition that forces her to routinely upload her memories as data to an online server. Failing to do so will overload her brain and kill her, and it’s a slow-burning plot point that has some major payoff toward the end of the game. Before things reach a boiling point, however, there’s still the concern of what separates someone’s real body from their digital one, a concept that each character grapples with over the course of the game.
Keisuke has his own concerns about the digital self, however, rooted in his original account being hacked and stolen. The process sees him expelled from school, because he essentially has no identity any longer. He then becomes a hacker to try and find his account and get back the life that has been stolen from him. Keisuke is rather a collection of memories himself, a ghost on the edge of society who is never truly noticed except by those who are looking for him. He isn’t a chosen one; he’s one of tens of thousands who have suffered a similar fate and are attempting to put the pieces of their lives back together.
It’s a really compelling story, complimented by the general goofiness of Keisuke and the light-hearted nature of his life as a hacker who is primarily driven by his own desires rather than the needs of the world around him. While things get serious as time progresses, Keisuke is neither unnaturally handsome or talented, and he has to solve his problems by leaning on his friends and sheer determination. Having a character whose main story exists on the edges of an even bigger one is a nice touch, a bit of nuance that I really didn’t expect from a Digimon title.
Digital Dragons, Dungeons, and Dives
The bulk of gameplay in Hacker’s Memory is exactly what fans have come to expect from a successful Digimon title. Players have to traverse various online dungeons using a team of Digimon they assemble, breed, raise, and then cross-breed once more. Combat is turn-based and heavily reminiscent of Persona games, right down to a similarly structured attributes and types system that lets savvy battlers exploit enemy lineups. The main game is broken down into a series of “Yet Another Side Chapter” titles, a cute reference to the game’s existence on the peripheral of a larger event, and there are an abundance of side quests that help kill time and level Digimon up.
None of this is groundbreaking, but it’s implemented in such a way that it is still extremely addictive. Collecting and training Digimon is a delight, and with 300 different Digimon available for acquisition, it’s also something that can take some serious time for collectors. Fan-favorite Digimon are just difficult enough to acquire that it is taxing but worth it, and I was surprised by just how much I cared about trying to get MetalGarurumon and WarGreymon in my lineup.
That being said, however, the same criticisms that could be levied against Cyber Sleuth are applicable here as well. The dungeons are extraordinarily repetitive, with floor layouts often ending up as reskins of a past area, usually with a color shift and not much else. For a world that’s supposed to be brimming with creativity and opportunity, the fact that the bulk of Hacker’s Memory takes place in the same neon blue area of the internet is odd, to say the least.
The biggest problem with Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory is that it leans so heavily on its predecessor that players who never picked it up will be pretty lost throughout the game. Hacker’s Memory seems to assume that players are familiar with most of its inner workings. For example, it’s willing to explain new additions like Domination Battles in great detail, and yet never really dives into DNA Digivolution, an important concept in creating the strongest Digimon.
The narrative also takes it for granted that players are well versed in Cyber Sleuth‘s story, referencing events and characters from the first game with reckless abandon. The stories take place at the same time, so this makes sense, but it can be a little overwhelming. For me, having played the first title, these characters were welcome surprises, but I was also struck by the sense that newer players run the risk of being overloaded like Erika by the number of references to the past.
That leaves Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory in a weird place. It’s a truly interesting game that handles its characters with care and affection, and the dungeon crawling elements are excellent. Without familiarity with the past game, however, it also alienates potential players in a way that seems unproductive. I think Hacker’s Memory is a very good game, but be warned that it might also be the kind of game that is exclusively for those who enjoy the Cyber Sleuth titles.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – Hacker’s Memory review code provided by Bandai Namco. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy