I have to admit, when I took on this review I was expecting something very different. I thought this game was going to be a four or five hour distraction. Even knowing it was developed by the painfully under-appreciated pros at Genius Sonority, I wasn’t left with much faith instilled within me. Yet here I am two weeks after starting my game, and I still haven’t experienced everything this game has to offer.
Billed as a sort of “Augmented Reality Pokemon,” The Denpa Men 3: The Rise of Digitoll comes off as a shallow proof-of-concept demo at first. As you move through its 30-40 hour campaign, however, the depth of the combat and game world really start to fill in the gaps. I’m not so sure if the overall package benefits from this overstuffing, but I have to say, I’m at least pleasantly surprised by this game.
The Denpa Men 3: The Rise of Digitoll (3DS eShop)
Developer: Genius Sonority
Released: May 8, 2014
Upon starting The Denpa Men 3, the parallels to Pokemon become incredibly apparent. You are thrust into an AR field in which you must catch a handful of Denpa Men. You can then choose to recruit them or release them. These little critters come in several varieties, such as solid colors or stripes (which indicate their elemental powers), as well as with or without an antenna. Antennae grant AP, or “Antenna Power,” which is basically some sort of spell. Those without antennae tend to have stronger base attack and defense, but cannot cast spells. In combat, you can either assign moves to individual party members or use predetermined “strategies” that speed up matches you know you can’t lose.
Overall, it’s a pretty simple system, but it gets more complicated when you actually have to set up your team. At most, your party can carry 8 Denpa Men, but you always have one fixed hero that cannot be removed from the party or reordered. This design choice actually really bothers me. Even though Siegfried is almost always the most powerful team member (and his Small Revive AP is incredibly useful), it is frustrating that he cannot be traded out even when he gives the team an elemental disadvantage.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be so bothered by this design choice if it existed for some other reason than to simply serve the plot. The story revolves around Siegfried trying to locate his friend Crystal, who has been kidnapped and traded around by a whole cast of baddies. Excuse plots can work when writers establish them as such and move on, but here Genius Sonority seems oddly proud of the utterly unspectacular narrative they’ve crafted. They continually refer back to the plot and try to add twists and turns. It’s like when a salesman keeps trying to convince you how great a product is even after you’ve already told them you intend to buy it. It’s unnecessary and grating.
The world-building in the background is much more successful, but only by a few degrees. The dwarf race is fun, but after awhile, parsing their dialect becomes nothing more than a chore. The overworld map design is very consistent and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore that connect regions together in unexpected ways. Digitoll, the hub, is a nice little island to manage your troops and their houses, a la Animal Crossing. So yes, the game world is great–but as soon as the plot gets involved, I can’t help but shrug and shake my head a bit.
This is not to say I had a bad experience with the game. Catching new Denpa Men is fun, when you can actually manage it, that is. For reference, I caught around 30 on my college campus, but could only get 4 to spawn at my home. Because of this, making progress against bosses really feels like an accomplishment. On top of that, the The Denpa Men 3 is still a grind. They’ve made some concessions to ease this load, like auto-leveling your non-party Denpa Men so you don’t have to grind all 100 of them individually, but it’s not quite enough. If you level at the same rate as your enemies, you almost have to return to a heal point after every fight, which makes some dungeons quite dull.
Of course, I was playing The Denpa Men 3 in 4-hour chunks to be able to beat it for this review, which I can’t imagine was the intended way to play it. It’s literally designed for on-the-go play, since each location has a limited amount of Denpa Men you can catch. I think in 30-minute doses, The Denpa Men 3: The Rise of Digitoll would be a remarkable, little league gem. And even if you overload it like I did, the good outweighs the bad enough to make it a worthwhile endeavor.