Digimon Survive Is The Anime's Horror-Inspired Reboot We've Been Waiting For

While "Pokémon" continues to be an incredibly popular franchise after what feels like a bazillion movies and seasons of TV, "Digimon" never quite achieved the legendary status it deserved. 

Yet those who grew up watching "Digimon Adventure" know this show to be a great gateway anime and an effective introduction to serialized storytelling. As a kid, realizing that I either had to tune in every week or miss a key part of the story was a terrifying yet thrilling realization. You could skip several episodes of "Pokémon" and be completely fine, but miss the broadcast of the new "Digimon" and suddenly the kids are in another continent, there is a brand new character, a major lore reveal, and a new big bad. 

And this is not to mention the complex character arcs, and relatable problems and themes tackled by the show, including a couple of devastating deaths.

Sadly, the franchise has still been unable to capture the lighting in a bottle of that first season. Sure, the following two seasons have their own charm, but along the way, "Digimon" gave up trying to continue building this world and attracting new viewers and instead became a nostalgia cash-grab. Anime-wise, the only things we've got since 2015 have been sequels to "Digimon Adventure," and a remake/reboot that constantly referenced the original version.

This is to say, the "Digimon" franchise is in dire need of a fresh start, a new spin on what made the original so successful and special. Thankfully, we just got that in "Digimon Survive," the new video game that asks, what if "Digimon Adventure" was a horror survival story where Digimon could just kill or even eat the teen protagonists?

The danger is real

Right from the opening scene we see two kids being chased by Digimon — a typical sight in the anime — but this time, things are different. The Digimon themselves are less cute and talkative and more feral, the scene is darkly lit and covered in a mysterious mist that plays a big role in the game. And then the girl is surrounded by a bunch of hands coming out of a dark portal, which drag her away into the darkness.  

Except for the plot, "Digimon Survive" is in most ways a natural (digi-) evolution for the franchise. The trapped-in-another-world story is given some actual weight, with importance placed on surviving, finding supplies, having to rest in-between excursions, and debating whether to risk facing enemies outside while looking for food or staying indoors until supplies run out. 

The last bit is important, because "Digimon Survive" shines when it showcases its horror influences. There are ghoulish jump scares that feel straight out of a classic J-horror (one made this writer jump out of his seat), and then there are the death scenes. Unlike the original anime, where several Digimon sacrificed themselves for the DigiDestined only to be reborn by the end, here it is the actual human characters who get brutally killed, left for dead, stabbed, swallowed by a dark mist, or even devoured by their own Digimon.

We do not only get rather gruesome deaths, but they are more heartbreaking by having the Digimon partner die by disappearing into nothingness after the death of their human. And it's not sudden either, but a slow, heartwrenching affair where the Digimon first watches in horror as their partner dies, then cries out in confusion as it also fades away. 

Worse yet, there is nothing you can't do, at least not on your first playthrough.

Friendships that can save lives

It is a testament to the game's writing that "Digimon Survive" doesn't just use the deaths for shock value, but to explore grief in very painful ways. The kids grieve and cope in very different ways, and rather than just forget and move on, they carry that pain and those memories for the entire game. They blame themselves and debate what they could have done differently, they try their hardest to avoid losing anyone else, as every loss carries incredible weight.

At the end of your first playthrough, the game literally ends by reminding you of who died, and asking if things had gone differently had you said something else.

That is because "Digimon Survive," at its core, is about forming bonds. Much of the narrative takes place in conversations, with the playing choosing different paths depending on what they say. Each talk is laden with the thought that one wrong choice, one wrong word might mean the death of one of your friends. This even extends to the Digimon themselves, who here represent facets of their human partners in a much more explicit way than the anime, with the mindset and emotions of the human affecting the Digimon in potentially deadly ways.

If this sounds similar to "Digimon Adventure" it's because "Survive" takes the lessons of that show, its themes, its approach to character and consequences, and simply ages them up to be more explicit than a children's anime can be. The result is a game that feels like the best possible next step for the franchise, a place that embraces what made "Digimon" such a special and compelling story to begin with, while acknowledging that things have to grow and change with time.