This RPG collision of Pokemon and Digimon is an amazing surprise for the end of the year, and I'm already in love with my starter creature

I'm a bit late to the party with Anode Heart, a creature collector RPG that launched to near-perfect user reviews last month, and I'm kind of kicking myself for it. After dipping my toes in the free demo on Steam, I reckon this could be one of the most underrated Pokemon-likes of the year, in no small part because it's got a heaping helping of Digimon in its DNA. 

Developer Stochastic describes Anode Heart as a semi-open-world "homage to the classic monster tamer games of the early 2000s," adding that "JRPGs and monster tamer games have defined my childhood and they've greatly inspired me to create my own stories and games." In particular, they point to the PS1's Digimon World games, which absolutely tracks. 

You play as an amnesiac robot named Seek who sets out on a journey to tame Tama, once-virtual beings now manifesting in the physical world. Sound familiar? Anode Heart promises over 140 Tama with some 300 moves between them. You can preview the evolution tree for each Tama, and breed or "reboot" (reset) them to optimize stats, which leans into the min-maxing that so many creature-collectors savor. 

There's quite a lot for Pokemon and Digimon diehards to latch onto, really. For example, each Tama can use a whopping seven moves at once, and since your bottom three moves cost more energy to use, organizing your loadout is important. There's a familiar rock-paper-scissors type system – and mercifully there are only a few, mostly intuitive elemental types – so you'll also want a spread of attack types on each Tama and across your party of three. 

Anode Heart Tama

(Image credit: Stochastic)

Battles are extremely fast in my experience, and enlivened through a TP system that lets you take multiple actions at once before enemies get a turn. Squeezing in some cheap attacks while budgeting TP for heals or defensive plays adds a refreshing layer of strategy to the well-worn turn-based system. You can also spend TP swapping to other Tama, enabling cross-party combos. 

For my starter, I passed up a wind-type bird and fire-type dog in favor of an earth-type kobold dragon called Kobou who I've named Phira and quickly fallen in love with. The pixel art is classical and rock-solid, and all the creatures I've encountered – and seen in trailers and screenshots – look fabulous. I can't wait to see Phira's evolutions.

To get new Tama, you just beat them in combat and hope they ask to join you afterwards. You can dramatically increase the chance of this happening by gifting Tama their favorite foods and other objects. This system is a little random, but it's also a fun blend of JRPG recruitment and relationship management, and it doesn't feel nearly as arbitrary as the recruitment conversations in the likes of Shin Megami Tensei. 

I see why Anode Heart popped off on Steam the way it did. It's got secrets to find, NPCs to recruit, and creatures to collect. With clear love for the genre, it cuts through the tedium of some modern catch-'em-alls. The full game is $17.99 and you could run it on a baked potato. Give the demo a go if you're on the fence. 

Our own Sam Lovedrige calls fellow creature collector Moonstone Island "the Pokemon meets Stardew Valley RPG I didn't know I needed." 

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.