Talk about a blast from the past. Bandai’s ode to the digital pet and monster phenomenon of the 1990s returns to consoles in “Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth” for the PlayStation 4 and Vita. While Nintendo’s Pokemon ended up being the longstanding winner from the craze that gave birth to fads such as Tamagotchi, Digimon continues to hold a special place in the hearts of its fans. It’s a fan base that has definitely grown up through the years, which is reflected in the approach taken by the latest Digimon game.

In Cyber Sleuth, you undertake the role of a boy or girl who ends up as a detective’s assistant after your initial foray into hacking lands you in a mess of pixelated proportions. Let’s just say that Japan loves the “tantei” or detective genre, even if it does not involve a Detective Pikachu voiced by Danny DeVito. Cyber Sleuth’s story certainly has a more serious flavor to it as you find yourself right smack in the middle of a spreading health crisis known as Eden Syndrome. The condition afflicts certain folks who spend time in the digital world created by powerful company Kamishiro, landing them unconscious in a hospital a la Sword Art Online. Although it has its rough spots, I appreciate the attempt to include an actual bonafide story. It would’ve been easier to just cash in and do something along the lines of Digimon All Star Rumble, so the extra effort is actually appreciated.

Itching to get your digital monster training on? RGJ reporter Jason Hidalgo gets back his 1990s groove talks about Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth for PS4 and Vita in another Technobubble video review. (Jason Hidalgo)

The premise itself sounds interesting as you spend each episode hopping between the real and virtual world as you try to solve the mystery behind the rising number of comatose patients. Aiding you in the battle is a special ability called “Connection Jump” that the main protagonist gains, allowing easier access to the digital world, as well as normally inaccessible areas in the real world, by phasing with televisions, computers and terminals. Along the way, you develop stronger skills as an irregular hacker, allowing you to crack firewalls, manipulate enemy encounter rates and read encrypted data.

If you’ve been to Japan, the design of the city environs and building interiors will give a familiar vibe. I actually like their various touches, with the aesthetics reminding me of many a spot I’ve seen in my visits to the country. I must say that I like the game’s various visual styles, which also include digitized spaces and some dystopian areas as well.  Admittedly, graphic quality can be a mixed bag, though and some of the human characters have an uncanny valley feeling going on. We’re definitely not talking Crysis levels of detail here.

The Digimon, on the other hand, look great overall. I think I might have squealed just a little bit the first time I saw Terriermon, Agumon and Gabumon, which is a crying shame for someone my age. What can I say, I love Digimon’s creature designs, and they’re recreated quite nicely in Cyber Sleuth. Digimon also anchor the meat of the game, which is as it should be. Although the adventure part of the game can feel a bit lacking in certain parts, especially the beginning, the Digimon training component is surprisingly deep. You start off the game with your pick of one of three Digimon but can scan monsters that you battle on the field for inclusion to your roster later. The monsters are automatically scanned at the beginning of each battle and can be brought to life at the DigiLab once scanning reaches 100 percent. You’ll want to wait until you scan them past 100 percent at max, however, as it’ll increase your chances of creating a Digimon with better stats. In addition to “Digivolving” monsters to stronger forms, dedicated min-maxers also can de-evolve their Digmon to a previous state to increase their max levels and abilities. You can combine two Digimon to trigger special evolutions as well or even have one consume another to make it stronger, which admittedly sounds disturbing. Even more persnickety trainers can further strengthen individual stats by feeding, special training or aiming for certain personality types for their monsters.

Other features include a DigiFarm where you can leave your Digimon to train, level up or undertake assignments. Mirror dungeons also let you revisit reimagined versions of areas you’ve been to before. For lovers of straight-up battles, the game offers offline and online colosseum mode for fighting other folks, including other players. For its part, battling uses a traditional turn-based system that will be familiar to fans of Japanese RPGs. You’ll have the option to pick between normal attacks, specials and even trigger cross combos with allies. Special moves run the gamut from more powerful attacks, heals and other abilities depending on the Digimon you’re using. If you like Pokemon Colosseum games, the battling options will be fun for you. The ability to do cross saves between the PS4 and Vita versions also give you more playing options at home and on the go.

Admittedly, the game won’t be for everybody. Parts that might be funny for folks used to certain anime storytelling conventions might feel shallow for others. The lack of an English dub will also annoy some players, although folks such as myself who understand the language or like Japanese anime will see the availability of the original voices as an actual plus. Meanwhile, the battles can feel repetitive at times and training your Digimon to their full potential can be a bit of a grind.

With its myriad creatures and tons of stuff to do, however, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth is the game that fans of the series have been waiting for. In fact, it makes me wish that Nintendo does something similar with Pokemon on the Wii U.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth represents a step in a positive direction for the series, providing a fun RPG adventure and training simulator that features more than 200 digital monsters. Visuals are a bit of a mixed bag and the lack of an English dub won’t sit well with some players. Overall, though, it’s a fun game that has grown up alongside its older fans. It might not be for everyone but those who love the series will enjoy this game.