A show about Digital Monsters in a Digital World. On paper, the Digimon franchise seems a perfect fit for an MMO. It is, therefore, no surprise that there have been two MMORPGs based on the franchise, with a third, Digimon Super Rumble, currently in beta testing.
None of them are any good.
Launching in the west back in 2011, Digimon Masters Online has been knocking around for over a decade. We’ve seen plenty of other MMOs come and go in this time, yet Digimon Masters endures. More than that, it is apparently thriving, with a full graphics and engine overhaul announced for sometime this year.
With two new anime series, a string of movies, and a wildly successful card game under its belt, the Digimon franchise has seen a surge in popularity over the past few years. A long-awaited multi-platform single-player game, Digimon Survive, is set for release later this month, which is sure to bring even more new and returning fans sniffing around for what else the franchise has to offer.
Some of those people might be tempted to check out Digimon Masters Online. You could consider me to be one of them.
My history with the franchise stretches right back to the days of the one-sided Pokemon vs Digimon wars at the turn of the millennium. I liked both. Pokemon had superior games and trading cards, while Digimon had a better anime.
During the mid-2000s (that most fertile time for new MMO releases), I came across an English fan translation community for a Korean turn-based MMO called Digimon RPG. I dabbled a little bit, but the translation was barebones, and with so many other new MMOs rolling out at the time, it didn’t do enough to hold my attention.
Digimon RPG received an official global launch in 2010 (as Digimon Battle), with Digimon Masters arriving the following year. I never played the official version of Digimon Battle (which was shut down in 2013, but is set to relaunch sometime this month), but I was keen to try Digimon Masters at launch.
I had high hopes for the game, watching Digimon Data Squad (the series upon which DMO is based) as I waited for an invite to the closed beta. When I got into the game I must have played for about an hour before realising that the whole thing was a terrible botch.
Surely though, after 10 years of continuous development, a Steam launch, and a playerbase big enough to warrant a remaster, the game must be a fairly solid experience by now. It is not.
I knew that I was in for an uphill battle when, try as I might, the game’s official launcher just would not run. I eventually gave in and downloaded the Steam version, which mercifully ran without a hitch.
Character customisation is extremely limited. You begin by selecting your tamer, which is one of the four main characters from the Data Squad series, and from there you can select a clothing option, of which there are a maximum of four per tamer. That’s it as far as customisation goes. No changeable body types or hairstyles, no facial markings or eye colour changes, just the option to dress your teenage avatar in either a hoodie or a swimsuit. Hmm.
There are of course many more tamer character models available via the game’s cash shop. They’re dangled in front of you on the character creation screen, but as far I could tell there was no way to pony up your cash there and then to play as one of these other characters (which are all from the much more popular seasons of the show).
Next up, you pick yourself a Digimon partner. As before, you are shown lots of options, but not many that you can actually pick at this point. It’s all just there to get you prepared for the amount of wallet cracking you’ll have to be doing once you get into the game.
After a short and utterly pointless tutorial, you get sent into the real game, where the supposed “main quest” begins. Or at least that would be the case if the game was even marginally intelligible.
Everything in the game, from the UI to the NPC dialogue has quite obviously just been spat out by some kind of auto-translation software. There isn’t really any story to speak of anyway, so that isn’t a concern, but the biggest problem with the game’s terrible localisation is in trying to make any sense of its many bizarre systems.
I truly cannot fathom how anybody has made any sense whatsoever of how to do anything in this game besides tapping your two attack keys to execute the game’s mindless combat.
YouTube videos did little to enlighten me, and the game’s official website is just as much of a mess of Engrish as the game itself. The only luck I had with figuring out how to hatch a Digimon – surely one of the game’s most essential systems – was a guide on a wiki for one of DMO‘s private servers.
Suffice it to say, all of the game’s systems are based around having extraordinary amounts of luck. Par for the course with this sort of F2P, cash shop-driven grind-em-up, but there’s something to be said for games that at least chuck some development resources behind explaining how their game works in an effort to get you throwing down your hard earned dollar.
Still, there are evidently people who have taken the time to figure these things out. I can only imagine what inconceivable sums of time and money they have invested to obtain their dream Digimon. I played on one of the less popular servers and even then the game’s main meeting ground was full of players mounted upon fan-favourite Digimon like Omegamon and Beelzemon.
I tried to interact with some of these players but got no response. In fact, nobody I encountered in the game world was ever willing to acknowledge my existence.
Upon checking my inventory however I realised I had been gifted a megaphone item at some point during the game’s early quests. I used it to send a server-wide message: “Hi, I’m a new player, does anybody have any advice?”.
I received three replies. One person told me to switch to the more-populated Omegamon server. Another told me to “stop playing this ****, do your normal life sir”. When I asked this person why they continued to play the game they responded that they just played it to kill time. I wanted to know more about this person and the mindset behind their reason for playing but they didn’t dignify me with any further responses.
A third player was much more useful, teleporting to my location and gifting me a whole bunch of items which I had no idea how to use. They were obviously a high-level player, and clearly in a hurry, so while I didn’t quite receive the socialisation I desired, it was reassuring to know that there were at least some helpful members of the community.
I was curious to know more about what was compelling people to continue playing this game. People’s social ties were apparently wafer-thin, and the gameplay was awful in every aspect. From poking my nose in on various communities on Discord and YouTube though it’s obvious that people are just playing the game because it’s their only outlet to tame and show off their own Digimon.
From the original Digimon World on Playstation to the multi-platform Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, there are a host of other, quite decent, games out there where fans of the franchise can level up their own partner Digimon, but (in the west at least) DMO is at present the only game that lets you compare and battle your Digimon with other people’s. What a shame it is then that even those players seem to be in agreeance that the game is the very worst kind of janky, predatory, rubbish.