By David Fernandes / July 8th, 2015
|Title||Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy
|Release Date||June 9, 2015|
|Genre||Dungeon Crawler, Role-Playing Game|
|Age Rating||M – Mature|
While the Vita may be seen as a legacy console in Sony’s eyes, there are more and more games being released that are geared towards a niche crowd; dungeon crawlers being one of the many examples. Experience Inc. has done good, continuous work in Japan so far, and have left a nice impression overseas with the release of Demon Gaze last year, thanks in due part to NIS America localizing the game. However, instead of an entirely new IP, they revisit an old PSP trilogy–the Xth trilogy to be exact–remaking and combining the first two games, Generation Xth: Code Hazard and Code Breaker, into one package: Tokyo Shin Seiroku: Operation Abyss as it’s known in Japan. As someone who was interested in the older versions, but never got a chance to try them as they were never localized, is Operation Abyss another worthwhile dungeon crawler?
The game begins with you waking up in a dank sewer, realizing you were kidnapped with no way out, until a mysterious stranger comes in out of nowhere to get you out. Before long, a monster known as a Variant attacks and while he stalls them, you high-tail it out only to come across an even bigger Variant. This time you are helped by a girl named Alice Mifune, who was tasked in finding you and the others who were kidnapped and easily dispatches the giant beast with a power at her disposal known as Code-Rise. By activating Blood Codes, those with the inert potential of wielding Code-Rise become superhumans by utilizing various codes from old heroes of the distant past. After being saved by and parting ways with the mysterious stranger, you head with Alice to Hinokawa Academy, where underneath its guise as a normal school lies CPA, the headquarters of Xth. After getting the run-down on how they work, the threat the Variants pose and Hazard Cases–labyrinths that sprout out in portions of Tokyo thanks to the presence of Variants–you and the rest of the new recruits in your newly-formed team head out to stop the Variant attacks.
With most dungeon crawlers, story is usually the first thing crossed out in the developers’ minds as other priorities of the genre take precedence. Operation Abyss tries to meet it in the middle ground, not feeling tacked on and at times it plays around with anime cliches and tropes for laughs, but also tries to be serious. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to care when the playable created characters are all blank slates prompted with binary choices that matter little in the narrative with only a few changes in dialogue. I get role-playing, and encourage it for the genre, but I feel they over-simplified it in this case: A shadowy corrupt group at the forefront, another shady group behind them, conspiracies abound even within your own home base, people being turned into monsters, high school students out to save the day; its a tired concept, with twists that can be seen a mile away and one-dimensional characters serving as NPCs and our antagonists. I wouldn’t say it’s terrible per se, but I would be lying if the plot really held my attention at all or was what was gripping me to continue playing–even if the second half was far more interesting.
Before the prologue begins, the game will ask how you want the creation mechanics surrounding the characters; the options are Basic and Classic–Basic being based around the remake and its new additions, with Classic having the original portraits and more open, but restrictive character customization and management. It’s great that they included the option, but it’s a shame that the Basic mode has less options present. When creating your characters, besides a few superficial details, like Trait Details or Age and others like Type and Trait Alignments, all come down to the process of allocating points and choosing a Blood Code, which is this game’s equivalent to Jobs you see in other RPGs. Jobs range from the usual Warrior class who are the jacks of all trades, to Samurai, who excel at wiping out waves of enemies in a row, to Knights whose job is to use their skills at defense to take the brunt of enemy attacks like a tank. Support classes like the Academics, who have numerous dungeon-based skills like unlocking doors and identifying traps, and Wizard and Physician class who both act as the Mage and Healer respectively and more. Positioning Squad Formations to utilize the Unity Skills in battle when the time is right is imperative to surviving the dungeons as they continuously get more complex.
Outside of the dungeons, you have the city acting as a hub with different portions being the entrance to dungeons, the potential to scout out information from the scattered NPCs, and of course there’s the school. Besides the dungeons, you will be spending a good deal of time in the academy for an assortment of needs. This includes where you get your missions, categorized by story or side quests, like eliminating a Wanted Variant with difficulty scale, and briefings in the underground HQ. And then there are the Development Lab and Medical Lab. The Development Lab acts as a way to buy or sell items, develop new equipment with the necessary parts and materials, and boost the stats of weapons based off your level. Equally as important is Affixing, which allows you to add effects to your equipment, like PL energy on your weapons, so you can dish out damage to Paranormal-based enemies who would normally be very resilient to physical damage.
As for the Medical Lab, it lets you Rest to recover or level up your characters when the time is right, remove status ailments or revive fallen party members, and use the game’s currency to gain exp for your individual characters. There’s also the Therapy option to change a character’s trait from Good, Neutral, or Evil to gain benefits from inherent skills from specific jobs like the Assassin, or to change to certain blood codes that would otherwise be unavailable to that character due to their alignment. There are many options at your disposal which you will need in the upcoming battles that will only get more and more difficult, and that isn’t including the Wanted Variants, or groups of enemies that can be, at times, more difficult than bosses. My only complaint is that to develop stronger weapons and armor, you must acquire blueprints or get rare item drops, which requires a bit of grinding and there is no surefire way to get the items you want–even with the game’s nifty Encounter Gauge, which increases the threat level of enemies as you keep defeating monsters, or lowers it if you run away from encounters. This is a good way to add challenge and the risk means benefits like a faster way of fighting higher level enemies, gaining more experience points and a higher chance at rare drops. But as I said, it isn’t a surefire way, either, so at times you will have to make due.
They let the game itself feel archaic in a lot of ways, especially with the opaque UI which could have easily been streamlined and lessened the use of prefixes and abbreviations which made it all the more messy. Thankfully, there is an in-game hand guide that explains most of what they entail making most of these issues minor. The updated artwork is something to praise as it’s a huge step up from the original PSP counterparts, except for the blood code hero illustrations, as they remain the same–which I don’t blame them for, as they’re perfect as-is. Though the soundtrack was not bad, it was just serviceable with nothing that really stood out. One thing I do wish they did better in the remake of the first two games that the third game offered was the addition of class change. While you have the option to change your blood code at anytime, there really isn’t a benefit in doing so, and in fact, it is detrimental; this due to the fact that it resets your stats, not allowing you to mix and match the benefits of different classes. A shame since the game loses out on what could have potentially given the experience more nuance.
Like any dungeon crawler, most, if not every dungeon has its fair share of hazards, gimmicks, and overall progression with multiple levels, multiple sectors enlarging maps, but in this case, it goes even further–at least for the first half. The first dungeon in the game is the High-Rise building, and oh boy, what an experience that was–you simply cannot find one forum that doesn’t have a number of complaints about it. It’s a multilayer level with three floors that are all interconnected with portals, and they really abused the teleporters, with all three floors having a number of them to add to the confusion. After spending two hours running around a nearly-competed dungeon aside from a locked gate on the third floor that I couldn’t find the switch for, retracing my steps a number of times, it turns out there was a story-related cutscene on the first floor behind a hidden door–something that’s also abused in the game’s first half. To make matters worse, my Academic didn’t sense it–which is one of their specialties I might add–so it’s up to luck if he or she wants to sense most of these doors or wants to use the map skills and take a shot in the dark. It’s made even worse by the fact that I didn’t get a hint prior to finding this TPF member in the first place, which was needed to activate another cutscene on the floors below to activate the switch. Because of the numerous headaches with the constant backtracking, I almost gave up hope, if it weren’t for the Dark Souls-like messages you can lay anywhere in a dungeon to help other players as long as you’re connected, which thankfully, gave me a proper hint about the hidden door on the first floor.
I focus on this example because not only is it the first real dungeon you enter, you revisit it quite a few times for story purposes, and what I just said isn’t its only problem, but it persists for most of the game. While you get your objectives at HQ when accepting a mission, you, of course, get updates on your current tasks–nothing that should surprise you. Unfortunately, the way they convey the updates or hints is by calling you up, or through NPC dialogue. A copious number of times they fail in doing so, with vague messages or little-to-no details which just adds to the game’s not-so intuitive design. Look, I’m not asking for a giant arrow to prompt me where to go, just don’t tell me to go talk to the guard on the first floor only for the guard to tell me that the objective fled to the inner building and expect me to backtrack through the entire building all over again. It’s like they expected players to use the message system, and if that was their intention: bravo, you succeeded.
While I make the first half out to be bad–and trust me, it’s a bit of slog to go through–it’s not irredeemable and has its moments. That said, the second half was not nearly as annoying and I feel there was a nice balance between the progression, in terms of challenge, and the dungeons and missions themselves. There is more of a variety of enemy types and encounters, introducing gimmicks that made even older levels not a chore to run through and nowhere near as convoluted–however, that doesn’t mean the dungeons are easier or much shorter. No, instead, it’s improved with better level design and more opportunities to utilize different party structures, and the level cap is raised to a reasonable level, letting you get the most out of every available Blood Code and unlocked job that you acquire as you progress. That said, from what I’ve gathered from other reviewer and player reactions, I can say that in terms of level design and geometry for the dungeon crawling aspect, it leaves a terrible first impression considering what the game as a whole has to offer.
Since this came out after Demon Gaze, it would be easy to just compare this to it and proclaim it as inferior, but I don’t see it that way. As stated above, it’s pretty clear that while this is a remake, they kept all the good and bad from the original games. That means even the enhancements in the third game not being present in the remake of the other two, to me, is where potential was lost; for example, beneficial class changing. To me they’re radically different dungeon crawlers in what they sought out to accomplish. Given the influences of Wizardry are obvious and design choices are similar to it, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is a fine game held back by some interesting, albeit antiquated, design choices.
I simply wouldn’t recommend this for beginners, especially for those who may want something a little easier to get into. However, for those itching to enjoy a more challenging dungeon crawler with incredible depth right on the heels of say, Demon Gaze? Absolutely. With the 60-plus hours I put into it–mostly comprising of the story mode, a few sidequests and a ton of post-game content–there is a mountain of content still waiting to be tackled with the level cap being removed. Just keep your expectations in check as not to expect something similar to Demon Gaze and instead judge it more by its own merits; then, you may discover something you may actually grow to love.
Review Copy provided by the publisher.
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