Last year, publisher NIS America and developer Experience Inc. brought PlayStation Vita dungeon RPG fans the title Demon Gaze. It felt more budget-like compared to other titans in the genre such as Etrian Odyssey or Wizardry, but it still had enough unique things about it to provide as a stepping stone for future titles. That duo is back again with another dungeon RPG, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, which moves away from Demon Gaze's nature-like feel to something darker and urban. Is this a worthy successor to Demon Gaze? That depends on what you're looking to get out of the title.
The game starts out with your character waking up in a darkened building with several severed bloodied bodies laying around you. A man shows up and lets you know you've been kidnapped, but before he can say anything else an army of half-human zombie-like creatures appear. After accepting his help (or not, but in the end it doesn't end up mattering) and escaping, you find out you're in a near-future version of Japan where monsters called Variants (the things you encountered earlier) have been attacking the citizens. A group called the Xth has been founded to go inside the Abyss, the central location where the Variants have made their home.
Some recent entries like the Etrian Odyssey Untold series of games have tried implementing a narrative alongside the dungeon trekking, but what exists in Operation Abyss is more like Demon Gaze in its implementation. Like most gameplay-focused dungeon RPGs, Operation Abyss has you create your characters and choose their classes manually if you pick the "classic" mode, so there's not the attachment here you'd get from a pre-defined party. If you pick the "basic" mode, you'll get a pre-defined group of six characters and can get into the action right away.
The overall narrative also is a bit uneven, as it only really picks up near the latter half of the game. There's an over-reliance with the use of clichÃ©s and tropes, which is somewhat disappointing as the developers have areas with a decent amount of narrative building and then ruin that with an overly tired clichÃ© or two. There's also an issue where there's a large amount of dialogue text to wade through as if the game was a visual novel, but other times you're whisked from dungeon to dungeon without nary a reason. It's almost as if the developer worked on things in individual segments and tried connecting them together at the end with mixed results.
But for most dungeon RPG fans, story is superficial to what's the crux of any decent game in the genre: the gameplay mechanics. If you've played Demon Gaze, you'll know what to expect here. You'll explore the labyrinths from a first-person perspective with a party of six members. After walking around enough, you'll eventually trigger a battle against a group of enemies. Like other dungeon RPGs, battles are turn-based affairs where you take turns with the enemy dealing damage to each other. You have a choice of physical attacks, spells and various skills at your disposal, but the key part of Operation Abyss's twist is that the Variants each belong to their own group of species, with their own specific weaknesses and resistant attributes.
Thus, the key mechanic in Operation Abyss's battles becomes using the right elemental attacks against the Variants, while at the same time protecting your party against their own weaknesses. Operation Abyss does something different here in the sense that you can attack a specific type of enemy, but you don't have control over which enemy that'll hit if they're in a pack. So if Enemy A is part of a group of Enemies A, B, C, and D, you'll end up hitting them at random. It seems like the developer implemented this with the idea that it'd lead to faster battles, and thus a faster flow to the gameplay overall, but in practice there were often times where I felt powerless because I ended up dying or having to bounce back from a severe setback in battle, all because the RNG decided to hit the wrong enemies. It's a nice idea, but this is something I'd prefer not seeing in future titles from the developer.
There are some novel approaches the developer introduced in Operation Abyss, however. Difficulty, instead of being static based on the player's initial choice when starting the game, scales depending on how many enemies have been conquered during your current dungeon run. As you successively beat enemies in battle, you'll face more difficulty enemies the next time around, giving you better item drops and more experience towards that next level up. It provides a neat risk/reward element to the battles as you can stay around past your objective if you think you can handle it, but at the same time those battles could provide for a deadly setback if you end up dying. All in all, it makes it so the battles don't need to be overly difficult from the get-go, turning off newcomers, but still scales to that difficulty hardcore dungeon RPG fans crave.
Graphically, things are a bit mixed. On one hand, the character designs and user interface elements visually pop on the Vita's high resolution screen, going for character designs that feel techno, high school-like, but still have weapons that feel like they can actually deal damage and have some stylish armor choices to boot. The user interface has that same technological bent to it and for once on the Vita actually feels like it scales properly instead of having elements that feel like they were ported from a PS3 game and thus appear too tiny on the Vita's smaller screen.
The faults come from the dungeon designs and the overuse of enemy designs as you get further in the game. The dungeons, in stark contrast to the character designs, have that generic dark, brown-ish feel to them and really sticks out. And there's an issue in the latter half of the game where you come across Reskinned Enemy 3, making it feel like the developers ran out of enemy designs and had to reuse them later. This re-use issue also comes up in the music, as you'll often hear the same dungeon themes replayed elsewhere, although what is there plays well against the vibrant character designs and user interface.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is very similar to last year's Demon Gaze in sense that it tries to introduce new things to the genre, but either introduces things that don't pan out well or stays too close to the old ways of the genre. It's an easy suggestion for dungeon RPG fans to buy this title, but if you wanted a major improvement over Demon Gaze you'll end up being disappointed.
|The difficulty scaling makes for a nice risk/reward system that benefits smart planning.|
|The character designs and the game's UI are quite well done.|
|The Basic mode is nice for those who want to get into the action quickly.|
|The randomization when attacking enemy groups can be unnecessarily unfair at times.|
|Enemy designs and musical pieces end up being somewhat frequently reused.|
|The story pacing seems a bit off at times.|