When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you
The PlayStation Vita has no shortage of noteworthy dungeon crawlers. Sony’s sleek black handheld has become a bastion for Japanese developers looking to bring their dungeon-delving adventures to the western audience. One of the Vita’s more memorable releases of 2014 was Demon Gaze, developer Experience’s addictive fantasy-themed trek through the World of Mythrid. Now, developer Experience returns to deliver a familiar adventure, this time steeped in a gritty near-future Tokyo ravaged by synthetically-engineered demons. While the shift to a darker, more modern setting is a welcome change of pace from the copius amount of fantasy RPGs crowding the Vita’s library, is the change of scenery enough to set Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy apart from the dungeon-crawling pack?
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy tells a story laden with familiar tropes as players venture through a world teeming with secret government organizations, shadowy cults bent on world domination and high school kids who work as part-time heroes of the free world. The story, which is told through visual novel style cutscenes, won’t blow you away, but it does an adequate job of moving you along as you progress through the game’s massive dungeon environments as a member of the Xth Squad, an elite secret police unit organized to combat the Variants, a breed of genetically-engineered monsters who’ve been preying on Tokyo’s vulnerable citizens.
If you’ve ever played the early Shin Megami Tensei, Etrian Odyssey or, of course, Demon Gaze, you’ll feel right at home when taking control of the Xth Squad in Operation Abyss. After accepting a mission from the Code Physics Agency’s command center (which is conveniently tucked away beneath the team’s high school), you’ll disembark into the city, where you can choose to dispatch into any active Abysses which serve as the game’s dungeons. Navigating the dungeons in the first person perspective, you’ll come across myriad enemies looking to tear you limb-from-limb, along with a wide assortment of tracks and traps laid out to impede your progress. These traps range from electrified floors to mysterious forces that push you away, forcing you to approach your destination from another area, among other devious distractions. They key to surviving these labyrinthine mazes is to choose a balanced party so that you can overcome any potential obstacles that crop up in your travels.
Forming an efficient force fit for fighting in the Abyss is done by choosing the proper Blood Codes, the powers of history’s heroes which grant Xth members their superhuman abilities. Similar to the Jobs system you’ll find in other fantasy RPGs, Blood Codes dictate the spells and abilities you’ll be able to perform when exploring Operation Abyss‘s challenging dungeons. The Magician Blood Code is equally handy for its powerful attack spells as it is for abilities like “enfloat”, a spell that allows your party to hover over traps and otherwise inaccessible areas. Additionally, having an Academic Blood Code in your party allows you to identify coded items free of charge and pick locked doors, making these egg-headed workhorses indispensable allies in the Abyss.
This level of freedom also carries over to customizing your gear and weaponry. Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy buries players under a mountain of crafting components which can be used to augment your gear in the CPA’s Development Lab. Finding junked armor and weapons along with the proper materials allows you to rebuild the formerly useless gear, and special items can be affixed to your weapons and armor to give them devastating elemental properties; a must for anyone looking to stand a chance against Operation Abyss‘s relentless enemies.
Speaking of taking on enemies, the combat in Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy takes center stage through most of the adventure. The battles themselves are traditional turn-based fare, with players selecting from the standard variety of melee attacks and spells and watching the sparks fly. Formation is a key factor, as your party is laid out in rows, with melee fighters performing best on the front lines, and archers, mages and ever-squishy healers working their magic from the rear. Oftentimes players on the frontline will be stunned, causing a shift in your ranks as active teammates move to the frontlines, making it ever important you bring along a healthy cache of status-restoring items along on missions. The combat may not reinvent the wheel, but it feels fast and familiar, and rarely do encounters come across as a chore.
While exploration and progression usually unfolds without a hitch, some missions lack clarity, which can cause you to waste too much time trying to figure out just how to complete a mission. One particular quest involved babysitting a bumbling member of the XPD with a craving for curry. Naturally, I assumed the solution to completing the quest would be somewhere in town, only to find the solution to be an easy to overlook item buried in the CPA’s item shop menus. Similar issues crop up from time to time, but once overcome it’s generally smooth sailing to the next major story event. Another grievance I had was the game’s often uneven challenge, in which I’d trounce a boss enemy, only to have the next batch of monsters decimate my party with a simple poison spell in the first room of the next dungeon. Needless to say, Operation Abyss is a VERY grind-heavy experience. Thankfully, you can spend Growth Points (currency earned completing objectives) to speed along your characters’ development.
In terms of presentation, much like the aforementioned Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy looks fine with its vibrant character portraits and superb art design design. Dungeons run the gamut from dilapidated high-rises to haunting crystalline catacombs which, while diverse, they do tend to drag on a bit too long at times. The audio direction is solid as well, with plenty of spoken dialog segments and a wide variety of haunting melodies that accompany your journeys into the dark and dangerous recesses.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy may not break new ground, but it treads the well beaten dungeon-crawling path with confidence. Developer Experience has delivered an exceptionally challenging and addicting adventure with a wealth of customization to keep even the most seasoned dungeon explorers busy. While it sometimes lacks clear direction and the story is riddled with a plethora of genre tropes, Operation Abyss delivers the goods in terms of providing a meaty demon-busting quest sure to sate the hunger of any armchair adventurer.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed); Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Experience; Players: 1; Released: June 9, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America.