Monday, 15 June 2015

Review: Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (Vita)

A harsh lesson in how to throw a game into the Abyss

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is a first person dungeon crawler RPG developed by Experience Inc and published by NIS America. Released exclusively for Playstation Vita on June 5th 2015

This is a rather unusual review for me, many people may disagree with my scoring here
but I feel I should explain. I have had to alter my usual review check-list while playing this, rather than the usual method of find things I like/dislike and then going on to say why. I had to approach Operation Abyss from the direction of what it was trying to do, what its potential is and how it has failed itself. Because ultimately and disappointing it is a title with far reaching dreams and it falls short on every account, but the potential it had is still there under the grimy surface.

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy throws you into the role of the Xth squad, groups of unique teenagers given special abilities by the Code technology. Operating under the CPA (Code Physics Agency) the Xth squad must investigate mysterious goings on and deal with the cause. Set in a near future Tokyo, the city is under attack from Variants, genetically altered monsters who are somehow linked with the strange portals linking to the mysterious realm of Abyss.

Unfortunately as exciting as this storyline may sound it never actually seems to flesh out any, in the 12 hours I had played there was nothing extra added on to the blurb found on the back of the box, although there were minor exceptions most of the characters giving the tiny snippets of extra information about the story were boring at worst, and pointlessly long winded at best.

Captain Alice being the best example of this, most information comes through her yet she just comes across as a pointlessly angry teenager who wants to talk your ear off about nothing, clearly there are supposed to be reasons for that but it is never really mentioned. As I said before there were a couple of notable exceptions where some secondary characters had a bit of personality, sadly those personalities almost verged on racial stereotypes.

Let us move onto the menus, the single biggest gripe of the game for me personally. It is a mess, no two ways to say it. Having to access menus to get information to then back out of the menu and into another to menu to actually use the information is tiring, and even when a menu does lead to something useful quite often it is either mislabelled or doesn't make sense, the craft menu actually breaks down your gear to core components, Boost applies upgrades (if you have bought the right stuff from a totally different menu of course) and Affix is how to apply elemental effects, all very easy to learn but would have been bearable with a little streamlining.

Something as simple as changing your team formation is a chore as you cannot simply switch 2 members around, you must reform the entire squad based on small avatars of eyes (in the Basic mode, Classic is very different and I will go into that further)

The gameplay of this title also has a lot of issues, and I imagine Experience Inc will be kicking themselves over this because almost every one of these issues could have been fixed by one small change to bring this up to being an average, although forgettable dungeon crawler. Combat for example is okay for the most part if lacking in any real fun factor, you enter an encounter and several enemy sprites are presented before you. You go through the menus selecting from each characters basic attack, defend or spell sets which depend on their class, but not having the ability to actually select which enemy I want to attack and leaving it to the poor AI to randomly flail at whoever they like in many places caused me issues and even deaths. I would be fighting a strong wanted variant and rather than focusing on it, half of my team decided they would rather just attack the bunny stood next to her while she knocked chunks out of them.

 The main original hook for the game being the Blood Code mechanic that before release seemed like a fantastic opportunity to make truly unique characters, mostly ended up being a glorified class selection system with a collection side quest feel and some special attack additions, in the time I played it was entirely redundant. This could become a major requirement further in the game but the sheer effort to get there will likely not feel like a satisfying payoff. Other than that the only real issue with the combat is that it involves mashing the X button a lot, many fights required no thought so you would just keep hitting X to progress each characters turn. 

Characters who I add I personally could form no attachment to, I don’t even remember their names now. However this is not entirely the games fault. At the start of the review I chose the Basic option so I could dive straight in, in this option your characters are represented in combat by tiny portraits of their eyes. No name tag or anything, just their eyes and numbers for health. When selecting their attack a slightly larger full body portrait which comprises of one male and one female avatar per class is shown but you press X so quickly you do not see it. However when I started a new game to check (it cannot be changed in an already active game) the Classic mode offered a lot of customisation options, allowing you to create your own characters who then in combat are represented by larger full face portraits and their full body portrait takes up half the screen while selecting their action. Also in classic mode changing equipment is reflected in the portraits. Personally if I had started on the classic mode I may well have found myself becoming somewhat attached to them. Below I have included screenshots showing the differences in the UI between Basic and Classic.

 Classic Menus
 Classic Combat
 Basic Menus

Basic Combat

Exploration is another area where it had so much potential but manages to completely mire that potential in boredom. You move around on a grid basis, similar to Persona Q uncovering each square as you pass over it, keeping an eye out for mismatching walls which hide secret doors, fights randomly spring up when they see fit and you will find items/points of interest as you go. This coupled with the puzzle like aspect of having to use portals to traverse floors and even having to go up and down floors in the right order to explore every last bit and find all the secrets should by all rights have been great fun, offering that little just one more square drive so many of us crave, but again it feels so wrong. The environments are empty, graphically bland and identical to how they were when you first entered, myself and a friend both found ourselves stumped on a small puzzle which forced us to run around the same grey corridors around 3 floors just to find out that an event had randomly spawned and not been mentioned or even marked after I had already fully explored that area. Finding this event started a cascade of events on each floor allowing me to finish the area and move on. After the initial excitement of the exploration style wore off I found myself actively drained by it.

Another puzzle like system that was just a little off the mark is the trap chip. You collect them after fights and have to guess the possible status trap that is applied to deactivate it and get the items inside, a system like this has a lot of potential but again it was botched, having a psy in your team negates the system entirely, and without a psy it becomes a lottery guessing game that usually ends in some form of certain death as even poison will kill your team before you can escape as it does not wear off naturally, only with item use. When your team does get KO'd it is straight to a wasted chance, I was quite excited when I was told that I can rescue my fallen team, but was instantly disappointed to find that rather than building a new team and venturing out to pull my fallen members out of the fray, it was simply a rescue menu that I paid to bring them back with, if done correctly that feature would have been a very big plus for me.

Graphically Operation Abyss is very much a mixed bag. The sprites for the enemies and characters you talk to are very pretty, sharp and colourful with a fair bit of variation, within the menu’s the portraits of characters are just as nice. Attack animations are very nice if a little short and it all runs at a smooth frame-rate. However they are let down by the blandness of the environments, as I previously mentioned nearly every wall and floor panel in each area is identical to the ones around it with nothing in the way of variation.

Even something as simple as a collapsed stairwell is not shown in the environment, you step on the block and a pop up tells you there is a collapsed stairwell. Nothing is actually shown in the world itself, everything is an icon leading to a text pop up, a conversation or a visual novel style still-shot.

As for the sound-scape fortunately there is little to complain about, with its subdued piano tones during tense moments to upbeat electronic style battle music it all fits well with what it is trying to say. Voice recordings are clear & loud (with one exception of a character who I almost could not hear) and most voices seem to fit the characters well. Sound effects have just the right amount of snap to them to feel natural and not like they have been shoehorned in.

In closing it is very obvious to me what Experience Inc was trying to do with Operation Abyss but sadly they made it all so much of a chore that rather than feeling like I wanted to push on and discover what was going on I just constantly wanted to stop playing. Between the awful menus and combat to the story which just never seemed to want to start everything is stacked against you. And for a game that is supposed to be 40+ hours not even starting the story a quarter of the way in is just a poor choice.


Who should buy:

  • Fans of old school dungeon crawlers
  • Players itching for a new RPG to work through
  • Players hoping for an attempt at the Wizardry feel
Who shouldn't buy:

  • Players expecting a game with easy systems to understand
  • Players expecting a story with any pace
  • Fans of more action oriented combat systems


  1. OtakuGamersVincent20 June 2015 at 20:01

    It's a shame this had to be scored so poorly, I was looking forward to this and it saddens me how much potential was wasted.