New Tokyo, new problems
I’m comfortable saying that I spent a decent amount of my time in Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy not completely knowing what I was doing. It wasn’t for my lack of experience in the genre or anything. I’ve played quite a few dungeon crawlers in my day, including several made by Experience, but this one just felt different. As much as I love Experience’s zeal when it comes to mechanical complexity, it’s important to make sure that players have a chance to familiarize themselves with things. And, well, Operation Babel wasn’t too great with that.
As rough as I may have made things sound so far, the game really does provide a fun, hazard-filled romp through New Tokyo. Things just require a little bit of tenacity on the player’s part regarding certain elements of the game. You’ve probably had enough of me being vague though, right? In that case, let’s take a look at what Operation Babel is all about.
Womb with A View
Operation Babel picks things up around where its predecessor, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy left off. Not surprisingly, things still aren’t looking too great. A giant embryo-like entity, aptly named “the Embryo” still looms over Earth, turning some of its inhabitants into hostile creatures known as Variants and outright killing others. Attempting to counter this threat, the Code Physics Agency (CPA) — an international organization dedicated to protecting the world— and the Xth Squad — an elite combat group comprised of teenagers known as Code Risers — have been fighting against the Embryo in hopes of driving it back once and for all.
After a long struggle, an Xth Squad party, led by a woman named Alice, finally managed to infiltrate the Embryo and began gaining ground. Things were looking pretty good for Alice and her party until they encountered Masa — an ex-ally who suddenly began working for the Embryo — and their resulting battle threw Alice & co. into a pocket dimension, cutting them off from the rest of the world. Now the fate of the world rests in the hands of a new batch of Xth Squad recruits. Psst, that’s you! Will you be able to drive off the Embryo for good? Only time will tell!
Red Cross Regulars
Experience has always indulged its fans’ inner role-players by offering up a heavy amount of customization options when it comes to character creation, and I’m happy to say that Operation Babel carries on that tradition. Players are once again able to tweak a number of details on their party members, including appearance, age, voice, and even personality. And for those who want to go that extra role-playing mile, Operation Babel offers a “Classic Mode” which allows individual pieces of equipment to show up on character portraits, at the cost of downgrading the overall quality of the character portraits themselves.
And that’s just flavor stuff! While appearances are neat and everything, we all know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts — and in this case I mean that literally. Your party is able to make use of Blood Code — a program that infuses Code Risers with the DNA of heroic spirits — in order to augment their combat capabilities and grand them new abilities. Sound familiar? It should! Blood Codes are basically just a fancy way of doling out character classes (the game even comments on that itself), but it fits into the story nicely.
Things get a little confusing after that, though. There are 20 different Blood Codes spread throughout 10 different classes. Each class has two Blood Codes which both teach the same skills to your characters, but provide sets of stat boosts that differ from one another. Later on, you can add a second Blood Code (a Sub Blood Code), which will allow your characters to learn a second set of skills and/or spells, and provide an additional set of stat bonuses. It comes at the cost of less frequent level ups, but the ability to double-class really makes it worth it in my opinion.
Now, after having said all of that, I feel like things sound pretty straightforward. It didn’t feel that way when I was playing the game, though. There’s a lot to choose from in the beginning. Even after reading the in-game manual, I still didn’t feel like I was informed enough to make my own party. The strengths and weaknesses of each Blood Code weren’t explained well enough and, I wasn’t even aware that Blood Codes acted like regular “classes” in the sense that certain equipment could only be utilized by certain Blood Codes. It was only after playing for several hours that I started to realize what things did. While I somehow managed to create a party that meshed well the first time, I feel as though some of that was thanks to good luck on my part.
Into the Abyss
As members of the Xth it is your job to investigate Abysses — once-peaceful locations that have become warped and hostile thanks to the Embryo’s influence. As such, it is Abyss exploration that makes up the bulk of Operation Babel‘s gameplay. Unlike with many dungeon-crawlers, Operation Babel doesn’t treat its Abysses as one-and-done adventures. There usually isn’t a “start and a “finish”. Instead, players accept and undertake missions issued to them by the CPA. Most Abysses have several story missions attached to them (plus a few extra missions), generally involving checking certain places out, or taking down specific enemies, and is an asset to breaking up any tedium that could potentially occur.
The dungeons themselves are also very impressive. Since Operation Babel takes place in a futuristic Tokyo, the scenery reflects that. Traditional haunted forests and magical caves are mostly gone, replaced with scenic Japanese shrines, futuristic towers, and even cramped subways. Outside of Shin Megami Tensei, you don’t see a whole lot of modern/futuristic dungeon crawlers. The change in scenery was not only nice, but well-executed.
Spicing up the dungeon delving even further was the variety of gimmicks that Operation Babel peppered into each Abyss. For the most part these gimmicks were standard, and quite welcome in my opinion. Some dungeons would have electrocuted walls or floors that you needed to avoid, making you think while you move. Others would require you go on mini item hunts in order to form a key that let you into the next area. I know what you’re thinking and no, it wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, not everything was smooth — or even fun.
Experience has always liked to hide things in their games. Operation Babel is no exception. Now look, I don’t mind needing to wander around a bit to get to where I’m going. I just said that I was fine with the item hunts. This game got a little sadistic at times, though. While most of my supernatural spelunking was fine and dandy, I hit ran into a few walls along the way. …A few metaphorical walls. I ran into a ton of walls in-game. I spent much longer in certain dungeons than I should have, just because I couldn’t find hidden doors. Some of these dungeons are huge, and accidentally missing a secret or two is incredibly easy. Artificially inflating gameplay by making players stop and search every nearby wall is not at all fun. It also really kills your urge to keep playing after a while.
Operation Babel apparently knew that it was implementing some questionable hijinks however, because it allows you to use Memos. Memos are essentially notes that you can drop in while inside of an Abyss to give players other tips. In the first few dungeons most of them were nonsense, but as I got further I slowly became more reliant upon them due to how vague some of the puzzles were. I’m honestly not sure that I would have gotten as far as I did without other players dropping Memos. That’s not a good thing.
Stranger of Sword City Revisited was my last experience with Experience (hah!), and boy were fights in that hard. Nearly every encounter required a different approach, and the need to stay alive constantly kept me on my toes. And those were just the regular encounters! Needless to day, I was really excited to see what Operation Babel had to throw at me. I tried really hard to come up with diverse strategies right off the bat. …And then I found out that I could mash the fast-forward button and come out just fine in most battles.
I’m not sure what happened between SoSCR and this game, but the intensity — the uncertainty of not knowing if you’re going to make it through a dungeon alive or not — is completely gone in Operation Babel. I found myself able to brute force my way through most fights, not even bothering to check weaknesses or resistances most of the time. The same attack patterns worked on almost everything. That thrilling life-and-death combat was something that I was really looking forward to. Not having it was really disappointing.
Boss battles fared much better, however. While not quite on par with SoSCR‘s Linage Types, battling Variant bosses was the challenge that I craved. They required much more skill and strategy. I still wish that normal battles weren’t as easy as they were, the fact that Operation Babel managed to make its boss fights a thrilling spectacle of turn-based combat earns it some major credit.
A Future Uncertain
Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy wasn’t Experience’s finest dungeon-crawler. Combat had some weird balancing issues that never seemed to fully resolve themselves, detailed Blood Code explanations were nonexistent, and some of the more obscure Abyss puzzles border on exasperating rather than exhilarating. But Operation Babel isn’t objectively a bad game. In fact, I still had a lot of fun with it in spite of its flaws. If you’re new to this genre or are looking for something more fine-tuned, then this might not be your first choice. But for the rest of you out there, giving this a shot might not be a bad idea. After all, New Tokyo isn’t going to save itself!
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed), PC ; Publisher: NIS America, Inc. ; Developer: MAGES. Inc., 5pb., Experience Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 16, 2017; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher