Oct 8, 2007
The Digimon franchise has always been copyright infringingly similar to Nintendo's world-dominating Pokemon critter-catching games. Both offerings have super-basic stories that charge you with amassing an army of odd, eternally bloodthirsty life forms that love to fight. Both feature battle systems that are far more complex than you'd guess at first. Both tend to release not one game, but a pair of nearly-identical games, each with hundreds of beasties, a few of which you can only get by trading with someone who has the other version. And both are also pretty darn good.
That's the big picture, which is enough for many folks. If you want to get more specific, there are a dozen minor differences, but they all boil down to this: basically, everything in the Digimon universe is slightly more complex and less sugary-sweetly charming than its poke-counterpart, for better or worse.
For instance, the graphics in Digimon World Dawn/Dusk are much more detailed than in a Pokemon game, even if you can't walk straight lines around the levels because everything's diagonal. That's cool. Also nice: you can buy islands and outfit them with training items to help your Digis gain levels when not in battle.
Less cool is that you don't catch the critters in Digimon by throwing balls at them - instead, every time you encounter a new digimon, a certain percentage of its DNA gets "scanned" automatically - even if you run away. Once you've scanned 100% of a given digimon's info, your in-game PC can spit out your very own copy of that digimon.
It gets the job done, but it's not remotely as rewarding as catching them yourself after a tough battle. And the branching evolution tree, in which every Digimon starts out as a round blob with eyeballs and ends up all spiky and anime-bad-guy-looking is way more complicated and confusing.
Perhaps most importantly, the battle systems are one of the biggest differences. Both are turn-based, but Pokemon gives each trainer a team of up to six poke-critters who then fight mostly one-on-one and sometimes two-on-two battles. Digimon Dawn/Dusk instead lets three of your creatures beat as many as five enemies unconscious at once.
Some of us here in the office actually preferred the feel of these battles and thought the extra fighters made things feel more tactical. Others preferred Pokemon because Digimon's the eight-element type system (water types do extra damage to fire, etc) is less sophisticated and there aren't things like effort values, special abilities or personality traits to consider. Either way, we'll give them credit for branching out. Also, veterans should know this is tougher than past Digimon games - there are high-level creatures in here that will send your super-awesome team back to the training room with its tail between its legs, guaranteed.
Just as in Pokemon, you can trade Digis or fight other trainers online, and the single-player story is throwaway. In Dawn, you play a member of the Light Fang clan. In Dusk, you're part of Night Crow (or Night Claw. The game and box don't agree with one another). Either way, after a big tournament, a mysterious intruder messes things up big time and your team blames the other side and sets out to set things right. The quest is the same in both versions, though they'll explore the various locations in a different order.
Sure, the story isn't high-concept, but this gameplay is really all about fighting and collecting increasingly mean and exotic critters. And on that level, Digimon World Dusk/Dawn delivers in spades. It isn't going to create any fans that Pokemon hasn't already recruited - they're too similar - but it's good in its own right, especially for players who, rightly or wrongly, find Pokemon just a tad too kiddy for their tastes.