This hybrid adventure-strategy RPG thrives due to its excellent characters and despite an agonizingly slow start. Digimon Survive has you take control of Takuma Momozuka, a teenager trapped in a different world filled with monsters. The game is split into phases, including a story, exploration, and a free time phase. During the exploration and free time phases, you talk to other characters that are also stuck in this new world, explore your new environment, and interact with the monsters that already inhabit that world as you struggle to find a way to survive. Combat occurs in the story as strategic top-down battles that require you to tactically deploy and control friendly monsters against other hostile monsters. Decisions made during dialogue with other characters can have far-reaching effects on the story, and can influence how Agumon, Takuma's bonded monster, grows over time.
The story takes a long time to get started. You're introduced to nearly all of the central characters, including your classmates, well before you get transported to the other world. This results in a story that drags its feet before taking off in more interesting directions. Thankfully, it pays off. The cast are dynamic, well-written characters, which makes the decisions that affect their safety and well-being feel impactful. The game excels at handling serious issues that real children experience in thoughtful ways, and explores how being thrust into a dangerous, and occasionally lethal, situation affects their relationships and mental health. Digimon Survive is surprisingly dark, and the violence feels much more realistic than the cartoonish look would suggest. But the way the game treats its characters is sympathetic, and it focuses on positive messages about how people should treat each other. The battles are a welcome distraction from the game's slower pace, but they lack the depth of other strategy games that focus more heavily on combat encounters. There are some difficulty spikes along the way, but flexible options should allow most players to find a way to progress. Ultimately there's a lot to love in Digimon Survive, but only if you can deal with the slow pace.