Most people seem to thing of Digimon as a cheap knock off to Pokemon, and I can completely understand that… Especially since the Pokemon anime was so much more popular and successful than the Digimon anime. But I actually encountered Digimon in the playground long before I saw the Pokemon anime.
I fell in love with Digimon as a child, probably in year 4 (so maybe when I was 7 or 8) after getting my hands on one of the portable pet toys. Tamagotchis had just about reached their peak in popularity at my school when suddenly a new type of portable, digital pet emerged… One that you could battle against your friends with. Naturally, this sparked a huge amount of interest between my group of friends, and soon enough we were all having Digimon battles.
That faded after everyone seemed to latch on to the Pokemon craze, but honestly, I always kind of preferred Digimon… Probably because of nostalgia, but also because the anime seemed to be quite a bit darker. Especially the storyline with Devimon. But anyway, I have digressed enough. We’re here to look at Digimon World 2003, as it was called here in the UK (or simply Digimon World 3 everywhere else). Did it manage to reach the potential of being a great PSX alternative to Pokemon, or did it just fall short of expectations? Let’s find out.
One thing that, for me, really stands out with the Digimon games (even the really bad ones) is that they each have a different storyline. Whereas Pokemon Red and Green, through all of the other games up until the newest ones, follow the same formula of gym battles, training to beat the elite four and fighting off Team XYZ, each Digimon game revolves around a completely different set of events. This makes it feel more like a J-RPG than just a cash-in on the “pocket monsters” craze.
The plot of Digimon World 2003 revolves around a virtual reality MMO of sorts, where the main character (known as Junior) starts off an adventure with his friends. However, they soon find that the game is under attack from terrorist hackers. From here, you’re taken on a rather wild ride for a child-focused game… Whilst dealing with terrorists, glitches in the system and rogue Digimon, you come across one Digimon who has largely become sentient, detached from the game and seeking to clean the real world by hacking into a satellite gun. That’s some really dark stuff for a kid’s game about (most) cute digital monsters.
I think that’s why the game sits so well with me. By the time Digimon World 2003 came out (funnily enough, in 2002) I was 14 years old. That’s a full 6 or 7 years after Digimon first came into my life. I had matured since then, and so had my taste in games and other things I enjoyed. So, here was this nostalgic trip back to Digimon that had also matured with me. It wasn’t all about the cute little monsters anymore. Digimon World 2003 was a much more mature, deep and gritty story coated in child-friendly paint.
Considering that the game came out in 2002, two years into the PlayStation 2’s lifespan, I think a lot of people were expecting more from the graphics. Yes, it came out on the PSX rather than the PS2, but by then we had all gotten used to the new and improved graphics of the PS2. So Digimon World 2003 got knocked quite a bit by my peers for the way it looked, especially in battle.
However, if you actually go back and take another look, especially now that my brain has matured passed the whole “shiny graphics bro” phase, I can really appreciate the game for it’s visual glory. The use of an isometric 2.5D world with 2D character sprites stands out, giving a much more engaging experience without the developers having to sacrifice other aspects of the gameplay (we’ll get to that). The use of these 2D sprites meant that, on the smaller storage space of the CD compared to the DVD, the developers had enough memory available to build an amazing game.
In fact, if you go and check out the battles as well, you’ll quickly see that Digimon World 2003 perfected the fully 3D, animated “pocket monster” battle system long before Pokemon moved away from the 2D battle system.
The animations are rather smooth, and the UI’s battle menu is nice and clear. The life bars are both bright and easy to see and the overall layout of the battle screen is neat and tidy. The font may not be perfect, but in the end, that’s just a font and you can still read it easily enough.
Okay, so now we get to the meat of the game, as it were. Digimon World 2003 really pulled out all the stops to create gameplay that not only rivaled Pokemon but, in my personal opinion, made it far more enjoyable. Taking inspiration from more well known J-RPGs like Final Fantasy, Digimon World 2003 allows you to grow and level up with your Digimon, train them at specific areas to improve certain stats, and then take them into turn-based battles. Whilst this may seem similar to Pokemon, the games a whole new depth to the idea of “pocket monster” RPGs.
Whereas in Pokemon you level up a specific Pokemon and it evolves along a set evolution path (bar a few, such as Eevee) Digimon World 2003 allows you to choose how your various Digimon evolve. In fact, the evolution (sorry, Digivolution) system is so much more complex than Pokemon, there are guides up on GameFAQs specifically to help you understand it and get the Digimon that you want!
Now, this may sound off-putting for some, but for those of you who have read my older posts, you know I love deep customisation in a game! Considering that there are only 8 “rookie” (base level) Digimon in the game, the fact that those 8 can turn each into 44 different digivolved Digimon depending on which stats you train, what level they are and various other aspects, it should be pretty clear just how in depth the game really is.
Add to this a brilliantly balanced battle system that isn’t too difficult but does offer a challenge, and you’ve got the ingredients for an otherwise impeccable RPG experience. Going back to what I said earlier about the storyline, Digimon World 2003 was a considerably more mature game than I was expecting at the time… And that is probably why it has stuck with me for so long.
And That’s All Folks
In the end, Digimon World 2003 is a “pocket monsters” style RPG that feels more like it was made for teenagers and adults than for kids. Whilst it may have the cute rookie Digimon in it, the ability to turn them into 44 different Digimon, ranging from skeletal dinosaurs (SkullGreymon) to actual devils (Devimon) and dragons with laser cannons on their back (ImperialDramon) makes the game far more appealing to the adult side of me than Pokemon.
Add to the incredibly deep customisation a plot involving terrorism, hackers, people held for ransom and a plot to basically incinerate the world with a space laser, and you’ve got one heck of an RPG in front of you!