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Digimon World 2
Score: 77%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Bandai
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Miscellaneous/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Bandai is a fun company. Their Digimon franchise has spawned toys, games and even a T.V. show on Saturday morning, which I watched through its first season as a guilty pleasure. Where Pokemon was cute and full of slapstick, whitewashed fun, Digimon was more edgy, with smooth anime and bad guys who weren't in the least bit silly. The games tied to the shows (heck, even the advertisements) presented a similar contrast. Digimon seemed to be going for a more hard-edged look, and wanted to appeal to gamers who might not want to play cute little kid's games. The result was more Monster Rancher than Pokemon, with plenty of micro-management and battles galore. And, there was that whole 'tech' vibe.

So, fade in to Digimon World 2 and the next 'digivolution,' to borrow from the game's lingo. Bandai seems to have taken a similar approach with the graphics, but unfortunately not had much impact on the annoying load times present in the first game. The interaction with your creatures comes mostly through battle, in the simple mazes of a domain, and you face off against up to 3 enemy creatures. Battles are fast and furious, with good spell effects and character animations. Every aspect of the menus and presentation is dripping with that hi-tech look, but the creatures are still pretty cute. Select one for battle, choose a spell, and watch it throw down with a loud shout in Japanese. Like any good breeding-sim, Digimon 2 lets you watch monsters change as they digivolve, and monsters of different elemental persuasions look different than those from other elements. The music is a little repetitive, especially in Digital City, your hub. But, there's a level of repetition and route most fans of this genre have come to expect and and enjoy, so it's probably more of a personal choice.

The first Digimon game ended up following Monster Rancher in the way it required meticulous attention to detail on raising creatures. The beauty of Pokemon, in my opinion, is that it combined the best aspects of RPG gaming and the virtual pet phenomenon. Even for folks who like constantly tending to a needy virtual pet, Digimon may well have been too much of a good thing. Firing up Digimon 2 immediately reminded me of the sleeper PlayStation title, Jade Cocoon. JC was all about capture and fighting, but had a breeding-sim tucked away that was second to none. Digimon 2 seems to have dropped the more tedious aspects of the first game and focused on building monsters in battle and cross-breeding or evolving them to higher levels for strength, magic or whatever. The result will probably please most critics of the first game, although many of the problem areas are still present.

The beginning of Digimon 2 makes no attempt to establish continuity, and launches you right into battle. A young tamer-to-be, as part of his initiation, fights through a short dungeon and is rewarded with his official title and a chance to join one of Digital City's Guard Teams. Each team is aligned with one of three different Digimon types, so your choice will affect not only which kind of Digimon you'll be able to effectively use in battle, but also which type of wild Digimon will respond to you and possibly join your team. Digital City is a hub where you find advice, items and have a chance to battle Digimon from other teams. After completing a dungeon, or if you fail your mission, you return to Digital City.

Mostly, the type of Digimon you choose matters in the dungeons or 'domains' you visit outside Digital City. Virus Digimon are strong, but have a bad quality to them. Data Type are quite the opposite, favoring love over war. Finally, Vaccine Type are a middle ground. Each type is associated with attributes and items uniquely, so throwing gifts made for Data Digimon to Vaccine type will have no affect. In Digital City, you'll be given an objective and usually a choice between several Domains. Unlike Pokemon and its Pokeballs, Digimon 2 uses the Digibeetle, which basically acts like a combination Pokeball-car. You outfit the Digibeetle with supplies and Digimon, and of course you can upgrade your Beetle during the game. One thing I found a little strange is the limitation on how much you can do with the vehicle. Early on, it has limited energy, so even a single domain may take several trips to complete. Along with wild Digimon to battle, you may convince one to join you and also find items or treasure. At the end, you'll defeat a boss and return home.

If it sounds rather formula at this point, it's no wonder. The nice touches come into play with breeding and maintaining your creatures. Once you rack up enough battle points, a Digimon can be raised a level, sometimes changing its form and powers. Or, if you have two Digimon, you can combine them to form a weaker creature that shares traits from both parents. This feature raises the bar on possible combinations, and for those who enjoy the mad scientist role, adds considerable value to the rather staid virtual pet RPG formula.

Nothing here is hard to grasp, but early on I found the balance between Digimon I had raised and gathered compared to enemies was not quite right. Either enemies were dead in one blow, or they never gave me a chance to fight. Leveling up on easier domains, which you can always replay, is probably the way to fix this, but it was annoying to open up a level and not be able to play through without getting smashed. In higher levels, this doesn't seem a problem.

Game Mechanics:
For the dark side of what would otherwise be a lighthearted romp, Chapter 2, may I present an ungodly amount of slowdown and loading. This seems to have persisted from the first game, which is especially sad. During fights, the frustration of watching and waiting while results load is high, and most every loading screen is just dead air, black space, nothing... Without any real graphical intensity to suggest why this would be a factor, I can only assume some seriously poor code is to blame. Using a PS2, I tried both the unassisted PlayStation driver and the Fast Loading option. The latter seemed to make things even worse, so go figure... But, especially when the meat of the game is battling Digimon, having these draggy battles is inexcusable.

The complexity may have been notched down in gameplay, but it still persists in the interface and menuing done in-game. The Digibeetle is a neat contraption, but it throws a wrinkly in what should be fairly straightforward. Basically, the Beetle is a mobile computer. When you buy items, they go onto your personal storage in Digital City. Digimon can also be stored here. Leave Digital City, and you'll be able to access them all, right? No, you have to transfer or load items and Digimon between your server in Digital City and the Digibeetle. At first, this can only be done in Digital City, but eventually you get an add-on to the Digibeetle that lets you transfer items remotely, while in domains. Finding items and getting status checks on your Digimon means searching both your local system and the server, which sounds cool but doesn't have much central relevance to gameplay, other than following the whole digital theme.

An improvement on the last game? Yes. A superior game in its genre? Still, unfortunately, no. Digimon World 2 seems to be coming closer to finding its own identity, but still feels borrowed and derivative. Fans of the monster breeding, raising, and battling genre won't be disappointed, and PlayStation being noticeably Poke-free can at least offer a few fun instances of the stuff Nintendoers have been glorying over so long. Glitches aside...no, you really can't put them aside. The loading drove me crazy. But, if you can bear some waiting and look past the somewhat overdone interface, Digimon 2 is good fun and a definite improvement on its predecessor.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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