The first-person dungeon crawler RPG genre is going through a PS Vita revival thanks to games such as Demon Gaze, Moe Chronicle, and Mind Zero. NIS America’s newest entry, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, arrives on the scene whilst throwing a nod to classics such as Wizardry and Etrian Odyssey.
Operation Abyss takes place in a future version of Tokyo, Japan. Your character has just awoken from a blackout around what appears to be a murder scene. A mysterious person arrives to save you from your impending doom after you are accosted by a gang of blood thirsty zombies. Sounds like a regular JRPG trope, right? Well, it kind of is.
You are recruited by a stubborn leader named Alice Mifune and she’s part of the Xth Squad. This squad is an under the table government fighting group that’s formed to fight the ‘Variants’ and is composed of high school students (which seems like a tiring theme in most JRPGs). This array of youngsters are put in the limelight to rid the world of evil beings – including the ones that crossed your path. Throughout the game you are thrown into situations where you may need to rescue someone or just wipe out an entire dungeon full of Variants.
To be honest, that’s pretty much all there is to the story. The premise of the game seems like this universe could deliver a solid story, but ultimately, it falls flat on its face. The writing in the game leaves much to be desired and doesn’t add much to the story. It’s forgettable enough to think that there’s no story at all, which is unfortunate because with dark themes such as murder, zombies, and monsters, I feel that a great opportunity was missed.
Upon the start of the game, you are given the choice of Basic Mode – which gives you a randomly generated party of six characters (who are lifeless and have no bearing on the story other than obeying orders), or the Classic Mode – where you have full customization on how your party looks and which class they are. Either choice still gives you full control on stats, which is extremely important when it comes to RPGs.
For RPG fans, stat customization will be overwhelming to even the most seasoned dungeon crawlers. I found that the tutorials and notes regarding stats were lacking to a point and it didn’t immediately click as I went through the game. For the micro-managers out there, taking charge of six characters will make you feel at home. But for many, including myself, an option for auto-leveling would be more than welcome in this game and in no way would it take away from the experience.
The heart of any dungeon crawling RPG is the battle system and exploration. Sadly, the battle system is where I believe that this game falls flat. As with any traditional DRPG, Tokyo Abyss , is as pure a turn-based RPG that you can find right now. But that does not mean it is fun. I found that the battle system was repetitive and found no other reason to not mash the attack and guard actions to persevere through the random battles I came across. As with most RPGs, you have a front row for melee characters and the rear row for casters and ranged-weapon members.
There’s just one flaw though; the lack of magic points and currency. First off, on my play through, I was basically fighting with only 3 characters, one healer and two casters that were only good for about 3 or so turns each before they ran out of magic and were worthless to me. That’s right, there is no way to reload on magic points unless you go back to home base to rest! This means that you are put into a position where you must choose to save the magic attacks for stronger enemies or just have your character do nothing. Once you run out of magic attacks, that’s it. There is nothing much that you can do unless you already have weapons for everyone! In the latter stages of the game, this isn’t in a problem, but during the earlier parts this can be extremely frustrating and can lead to a party wipe, potentially losing hours of progress. To add to the misery, the same points used to heal and restore magic to your characters are the same that are required to buy weapons for the party. So for a while, you’ll be grinding to gain enough points to buy ranged weapons so the back row isn’t completely useless to you!
Dungeon crawling is done in the first person, one step at a time. Each labyrinth provides its own challenges, but in the end, it’s all the same. From floor to floor warps, electrical traps and hidden doors, Operation Abyss is not a game-changer when it comes to the genre. Traversing the dungeons takes some thinking and luckily, a Demon Gaze staple makes an appearance in Operation Abyss. That’s right, online signs are out in full force to help (or troll) you! I found that these were especially helpful when lost or looking for hidden doors. The in-game map is helpful with letting you know where you’ve gone and where all the hidden doorways and traps are once discovered. It’s absolutely essential to pay attention to your map in case you are stuck- if you see a blank spaces it means an area hasn’t been discovered and possibly holds the clue or item you need.
Leveling up your characters is an expensive adventure on its own. As with every other game, there is a set number of XP per level that each character needs to earn in order to level up. The same concept applies in Operation Abyss, but the difference is that you must travel back home and spend points just to level up. Yup, that’s right. In order to level up, get stronger and hopefully gain XP, you have to leave your hard work behind to save and improve your party. I understand the design choice, but I feel that it kills the immersion of dungeon crawling because of the constant need to level up, recover and stock-up on healing items.
On top of that, the item and equipment menu system is muddled on so many levels. From the strange naming system to an expensive “discovery” cost on identifying items, it’s more trouble that it should be. There should be a way to compare equipment before spending your hard earned bucks, but sadly, there isn’t. This means that it is mostly trial and error and you’ll usually end up buying something you don’t need or can’t use because of this. Upgrading weapons and armor is all standard here, you need to find parts out in the dungeons so you can complete the recipe for the +1, 2, 3 etc of your particular weapon. Nothing special here and it all falls to the usual Random Number Generator that everybody knows and loves.
When announced, Operation Abyss sounded like it could be something special. There are bits and pieces here and there that had the makings of being a spectacular game like Demon Gaze was. Instead it looks like Operation Abyss is trying to be brutal like the Wizardry series but it lacks the charm that made this series great. While the most hardcore of dungeon crawling RPG fans will enjoy this, I feel that most will be frustrated by the lack of story and boring characters.