Bandai recently uploaded a video called ‘WELCOME TO THE DIGIMON WORLD’. It shows Digimon roaming around in everyday life as a sort of live action promotion. While this was exciting to see, the focal points were actually the different products that were showcased throughout the video.
These products were the toy digivices, the trading card game and the video games (represented by the fighting in the trailer). As this was released on Bandai’s official channel, it has led fans to wonder if they are hinting at a new game coming out (suggesting some sort of Pokemon Go style AR game). This however, seems to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the franchise.
Now the Digimon franchise has a divided opinion among people. The mindset is often split between “It is a RIVAL to Pokemon” or “It’s good… but I sort of forgot about it”.
For years now, people have tried to figure our why Digimon failed to succeed in the West. Many came to the conclusion that it was simply overshadowed by Pokemon (it seems that western audiences only have enough attention span for one fiction monster-catching game), although many videos have suggested that Digimon is in fact, the more superior of the two.
Regardless of what the reason may be, the franchise’s journey has dated as far back as Pokemon. We all more or less know Pokemon, but now it’s time to explore and celebrate Digimon’s.
The boy’s Tamagotchi – The one that started it all.
With the success of Tamagotchi, those virtual pets that you realised in your adult years was mainly about cleaning poop, Bandai wanted to create a more ‘appropriate” version for young boys. Before the anime and games, Digimon started as a handheld virtual pet in 1997 – a year after the release of the Tamagotchi. Unlike the prior, which required 24/7 care, the Digimon virtual pet was more focused on battling other device owners. The later models included extra functions, from becoming a pedometer to being able to use digimon cards in battles.
Over the years, the virtual pet series saw a change in its design. While having the same base mechanics, it began resembling digivices used in the anime series, with updated designs released with every season. The last iteration came alongside the release of the 6th season, Digimon Xros Wars. This one was more of a handheld console than a small device, having an LCD colour screen partnered with the ability to play MP3 files and had a wheel based control pad.
Since then, Bandai has released anniversary editions of older handheld devices, with Digimon Pendulum Ver.20, a remake of the original Digimon Pendulum, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the franchise.
The Digimon Card Game AKA Hyper Colosseum
The card game is another key product called the Digital Monster Card Game, or Hyper Colosseum in the West. This was released in 1999.
After Bandai lost the license to the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, they focused on the Digimon card game instead, trying to compete with other popular card games such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon. While those games required you to set your playing field with different creatures/monsters, Digimon instead opted to focus on a singular monster, that you would instead support with items.
There isn’t much information that can be found on the card game. I had never heard of the existence of the card game until I watched a video about why it failed to become popular, only for the Digimon anniversary video to be released a week later.
It seemed that the reason that the card game failed to get recognition was due to bad marketing decisions. Not only did Bandai publish with a company that did a terrible job with marketing, but they did not help themselves either with having no TCG tournaments to promote the game. In addition to this, the localisation of the card game completely changed the rules and translation that caused more of a confusion to those that did come across it.
In Japan however, the card game is incredibly popular that they integrated it into one of their third anime series, Digimon Tamers.
First Game: Digimon World
Digimon then decided to take their first steps into the video gaming world. Digimon World was released in 1999 on the Playstation, taking influence from their virtual pet counterparts.
The game is focused on raising a single Digimon to digivolve and become powerful enough to progress through the storyline. When the Digimon dies, it reverts back to its baby stages and the tamer has to train it from the beginning.
It recieved mixed reviews suffering from glitches and bugs in the international version and difficult controls. Nevertheless, as the franchise’s first steps into the video game industry, it became a classic for fans and became the foundation in which future entries are based on.
Digimon Next Order vs Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth – For Old and New Fans
Between 2015-2016, Bandai released two different style of Digimon video game entries to the franchise.
Digimon World: Next Order is a sequel to the original game. It focuses on the pet-raising mechanism but added free roaming through fields in order to defeat other monsters and advance the story. You are also given 2 Digimon partners instead of one, but they act on an AI basis during real-time battles, with you only being able to control their strategy and provide support.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth as its name suggests, is more narrative-based. The game’s plot revolves around EDEN, a cyberspace where people have gone missing and are put into a coma in the real world (ala Sword Art Online). Cyber Sleuth adopts a turn-based system of a team of 11 Digimon, 3 of which fight during the battle. The game advances through completing quest-based missions in different dungeons.
These games have had decent success, although appeal to different audiences.
Next Order focuses more on raising your Digimon and provides more replyability but requires a bit more of a grind. Although more time-investing, it tickles the fancy of older fans who prefer the planning and strategising of battles and digivolving.
Cyber Sleuth however, seems to have a pretty wide audience, from both old and new fans, as well as those who prefer more of a RPG based story with Digimon. The appeal was that it had a more in-depth storyline and fleshed out characters with random encouters and linear dungeon crawling.
Nonetheless, the idea of having two games with different playstyle was definetely a good idea in my opinion, as it doesn’t trap the Digimon genre in a box.
The next game: Digimon Survive
The newest entry to the franchise is Digimon Survive that is slated for release this year.
Not too much is known, but the gameplay is described as a survival strategy RPG that focuses on turn-based tactics on a gridmap, similar to the Fire Emblem series.
It also seems to include free roam interactivity, as well as choices and options that is said to affect the storyline and gameplay. This ranges from the digivolution of your partner Digimon and even what characters live or die. This is more similar to Cyber Sleuth with this mechanic, however, shows more interactivity with the storyline compared to the prior’s linear one.
This game definitely seems to take be darker compared to the themes in the other games, It seems that Bandai Namco are targeting an older audience than an all-age rating.
In 1999, Toei Animation produced an animated tv series. The plot centered around a group of young children transported into the world of Digimon. These children, known as the DigiDestined, were each chosen and tasked with saving the ‘Digital World’ (I mean, it is in the theme song). Similar to the videogame, each child had a partner Digimon and we followed the journey of not only their quest to save the world, but overcoming personal obstacles as well as deepening their friendship with others.
This became the general premise for the seasons that followed after, keeping it fresh by introducing new characters, locations and also new mechanics of digivolutions. However, after the first 2, it began focusing on Digimon’s presence in the real world instead. With this, they also brought deeper themes such as death with characters, as well as Digimon dying.
Despite the franchise being marketed for children, the show clearly displayed themes that it was more targeted towards teenagers and up.
It is also important to note that some Digimon designs were clearly not child-friendly. This included Angewomon, one of the ultimate digivolutions shown in Season 1, depicted as a curvy blond angel with influences from valkyries.
There were pre-orders up in 2016 for a G.E.M figure (a series of high-quality figurines) of her that were unfortunately cancelled to distributors in NA and Europe, as they “wanted to market Digimon as a child-friendly property, and thought this Angewomon figure wasn’t appropriate for that image.” and claimed kids wouldn’t be buying $100 figurines. This left western fans who had preordered the figure dissapointed, with one user on Reddit pointing that “Angewomon was a major character on a kids show for many years, nobody seemed to care then.”
It feels ironic as fans of the original show in 1999 would be 17 years older at that point and therefore, no longer children.
The Last Movie – Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna
Futher proving that Digimon is for older fans and what really makes this 20th Anniversary a special one, is the release of the Digimon movie, Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna.
The movie is a sequel to Digimon tri., a 6 part anime film series set in 2005. At this time, the original children were in highschool and going through teenager problems, with Tai feeling like his friends are all drifting apart.
This movie takes place a further 5 years later, with the characters being in their early 20s and seems focused between the relationship of Tai and Agumon. Despite not releasing any further information, the trailer cites that it will be their final adventure together.
Many fans have wondered how the movie will end however, as Digimon Adventure 02, ended the season with a 10 year skip where the characters are all married with children. In this ending, the Digimon world has become common knowledge and the main cast reunite every once a while. As this movie is only set 5 years and not 10, it has yet to be confirmed whether the events of the movie will still lead to that ending.
While the Digimon franchise will continue. This movie seems to mark the end of the beloved characters that many have grown to love, or even grown up alongside of.
What does this mean for the future of Digimon?
It’s clear that Bandai know it is the existing fans that they should be paying attention to, not just the new fans. It feels like the franchise is simply closing a page in its chapter for the decade. They know that regardless of rankings or comparisons, Digimon has nevertheless, established itself as a classic that will be known for the ages.
While the handheld Digimon devices are a thing of the past – only being remade for anniversaries, the other products are still going strong. The card game is continually releasing new cards (in Japan anyway) and it seems with the direction the video games are going, its accessibility to new fans will bring about a new audience that moves it away from comparisons and lead people to enjoy it for what it is: A Digimon Adventure.
One problem that they need to conquer however, is marketing. Digimon is clearly more than just a ‘children’s show’ and they need to completely strip away that old-fashioned notion of cartoons being for kids. We are at a point in time where anime and animated films in general are becoming recognised for the works of art that they are, so limiting their reach will only hurt the franchise.
[DISCLAIMER: I am no Digimon expert and this article was written solely based on my own research. It was originally written early February and as of the published date, the movie has already been released. No, I have not watched it yet.]