Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, the latest release from NIS America and developer EXP Inc., offers a pretty straight forward dungeon-crawling role-playing experience, similar to games in the Etrian Odyssey series on 3DS or Legend of Grimrock on PC, with heavy emphasis on customization, action and exploration but lacks any meaningful depth in the area of tactics or strategy. The implementation of the auto-combat feature, which essentially relies on the A.I. to decide which enemies to attack after you’ve input your command choices for your entire party after each turn in battle allows for expediency when grinding and making long treks through dungeons more tolerable, but also subtracts the need to formulate specific tactics or strategies to give combat any real sense of depth and instead relies on over powering your crew and muscling your way through most bosses and waves of enemies in order to advance. Aside from the emphasis on party survival and first person perspective exploration that this game shares with other dungeon-crawlers, Operation Abyss makes a departure from the usual fantasy theme and offers a contemporary setting to explore with a horror/sci-fi theme and narrative that follows a group of teenagers as they explore strange phenomena in Tokyo, similar to the Persona series, that includes abandoned buildings, sewers and strange cross-dimensional anomalies known as Abysses.
Operation Abyss sets its dark tone immediately. When the story begins, you awake in a sewer beneath Tokyo. Alone, surrounded by bloody mutilated bodies, when two mysterious figures help you escape what is the first dungeon of the game and give you a brief, but vague explanation about what is actually occurring. While rumors have been circulating about people mysteriously disappearing in Tokyo, the truth is that their disappearance is being caused by powerful monsters called Variants that are crossing over from strange dimensional portals appearing throughout Tokyo, called Abysses which are turning portions of the city into labyrinths. The threat is being managed by a special government group who enlist you and a group of your peers to form a team called the Xth, whose members have special abilities that enable them to combat the threat. More specifically, they can utilize the blood of legendary heroes to wield special weapons and magic powers against enemies who are otherwise resistant to conventional weapons.
Much like the X-Men and the Xavier Mansion which operates as both a school above ground and secret headquarters below ground, the Xth squad, being a group of teens, attend school while their secret base of operations is located underneath their school. Thus, a lot of their social interactions (loads of text dialogue) take place with classmates they run into throughout Tokyo, otherwise they will be on missions dispatched from headquarters which involves investigating labyrinths or hunting dangerous Variants that will lead them into abandoned buildings filled with specters and monsters, sewers, basements or strange dimensional rifts. Most of the exploration outside of dungeons is done via menus, while labyrinths are explored via first person view with an auto-mapping feature that records your movement.
Despite its streamlined gameplay mechanics which seem to emphasize fast-paced combat over slow strategy, Operation Abyss offers an in-depth ability to customize your party, from the robust character creation system that lets you tinker with every facet of a characters physical features, hair, eyes, body type, etc., to allocating points into character stats manually and creating a party made up of job specializations specified to your liking. Of course this freedom can also backfire if you don’t distribute stat points appropriately, like increasing strength for a magic character who doesn’t utilize damage weapons. The game doesn’t offer re-spec options so you really need to pay attention to where you put your points. Otherwise, if you don’t want to hassle with this much customization, the beginning of the game allows you to choose between Basic and Classic mode. Basic mode removes the ability to customize character portraits, and instead allows you to choose from pre-made templates that are very spiffy looking and lets you jump right into the game action while Classic mode lets you design every aspect of your characters appearance, and also displays equipped weapons and wardrobe items in your portraits.
Tactics and strategy aren’t completely absent from the game, despite my criticism. They do exist in the game, albeit very lightly. Dungeon crawlers are designed with a risk-reward mechanic which requires the player to decide when it’s best to push forward and keep exploring or retreat and rest up and come back stronger. Pushing on to the next map or floor after confidently clearing out a room might be met with a powerful enemy encounter with nasty status infliction that you aren’t prepared for, or you might reach the intended goal that your mission was hinting at. Either way, as long as you have a character in your party that specializes in the Academic job, you can exit the dungeon at any time assuming you have enough spell magic left, or your Academic isn’t dead or has an impairing status ailment. Otherwise, you can usually stay in a dungeon as long as your Healer, or Physician in this game, has enough magic points to heal your party.
The game gives you a recommended party setup at the beginning of the game that is pretty effective for getting through the game without any significant problems. Basically a Tank and two Warriors up front, Magic, Healer, Buff/De-buff in back. You have a total of 6 characters slots in your main party available (you can recruit up to 24), with usually 3 strength/damage/attack characters in the front row, while your soft, squishy magic/ranged/healer characters sitting safely in the back row. There is also a very robust crafting system that lets you make new weapons, items or affix elemental damage to weapons, which comes into play midway through the game, however the crafting system with all its menu options can be a bit obtuse and non-intuitive considering the tiny text in the menus and lack of simple explanation about what all the tiny little status numbers represent for all the things.
Operation Abyss features beautiful 2D anime artwork, soundtrack, and voice acting that looks and sounds glorious on the PSVITA system and will surely lure in new players but ultimately only appeal to hard core dungeon-crawler fans. The game tries hard to appeal to both new and experienced players alike, but some of the dungeons encountered early on in the game seem better suited for end game, and can be downright intimidating and frustrating especially since you are under powered at the beginning of the game and the game only really describes important things once, and you best pay attention to all that chatty text or else you’ll be running in circles forever because you missed an important hint. Dungeon environments seem very drab, dark and lackluster compared to the pretty anime portraits, and you will spend a lot of time in these dungeons.
There are robust customization and crafting features with tiny little points to spend everywhere but will only appeal to ardent dungeon-crawler fans seeking a good challenge. Even some of the features implemented to ease players into the game like the Dark Souls-like message system which lets players drop hints on the map can be misguiding and vague. Despite my critiques, I still found the game to be enjoyable, and it can be if you really want a good challenge and don’t mind figuring out the nuances of the games systems by pouring over and digging into the games help menu, handbook, and bestiary.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation VITA version of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy produced by NIS America and developed by EXP Inc.
- Customization Options
- Challenging Levels
- Replay Value
- Grind Heavy