As may very well be the case in regards to planet threatening disasters, the general public is often left blissfully unaware. Naturally fiction takes this fear as a jumping off point and combines it with threats from beyond the known world. More often than not, this takes the form of demons, humanity’s go to villain since time ticked over to AD. However, for equally as long, there has always been a force that triumphs over this wicked force. A beacon of light that pierces the darkness of the abyss brought forth. Vaguely, they are known as the good guys. In this specific instance, they are known as the Xth Squad.
In what can only be described as a horrible way to wake up, our journey begins surrounded by corpses within the depths of a sewer. Gross. Frightening, mentally scarring and gross. Repressing all that, our mysterious protagonist is saved by a hooded gentleman and a girl who can magic a weapon out of thin air. Not exactly situation normal, but it beats the body pile. After a rather rapid retreat, main character finds themselves in a secret HQ beneath their school, wherein they discover they possess a power hidden within them, a power that will let them fight the monsters that have begun springing up in Japan…because monsters have totally begun springing up in Japan. It is also around this revelational point that we lose our main character amidst six preset team members (the max party limit for the game).
Now, whilst I very much appreciated being given a fully diversified party from the get go, I did not really latch on to the concept of having no main character. Sure the customisation makes the roster noticeably fluid (which I will delve into in just a little bit), I can’t help but feel that the lack of a linchpin character made the dialogue seem directionless. I mean, it had purpose and all, but I didn’t feel that it was directed to me. Video game basics dictate that you feel immersed, even when playing as a pre-determined character. But unless you instinctively latch on to one of the six, you are immediately robbed of this in Operation Abyss. If this was indeed the intended nature of the game, why make the prologue aimed towards one mysterious character? I might’ve understood if we were able to customise one character before being given the other five party members, but for them all to appear at once with no indication as to who escaped the sewer…it just doesn’t sit right with me.
Character issues aside, the gameplay of Operation Abyss is enjoyable. As a dungeon crawler, we are treated to the classic, first-person view of the genre as we trudge around areas conveniently divided into traversable floor tiles. Interrupting any plans you may have had for a peaceful jaunt however, are terrifying creatures known as Variants. When randomly encountered, these monsters initiate battle and allow you to put your party to the test. With six available team slots and eight starting classes, it is up to you to forge a group capable of surviving these encounters and the Abyss in which they dwell. Said classes range from straight forward brawlers who hit hard, to magicians who supplant their fragility with powerful spells, to academics who focus on buffing allies with helpful abilities. That being said, the game loses some of this supposed customisability by very heavily hinting at the benefits of some classes. That is to say, unless you spend your hard earned GP (the currency of the game) on magic-in-a-bottle items, your exploration will be quite severely impeded. An example of this comes from the Enfloat spell, which allows your team to glide over normally impassable terrain. Without this, you can go no further. So pay up or have a Magician on your team. Thems the breaks. Feel like speccing for a hard hitting frontline with a backline of archers? Well be careful because you may find yourself stuck, or at least have to leave the dungeon, buy and item, make your way back through the dungeon, then carry on from where you left off. So at least it’s annoying if it’s not entirely impeding.
Sorry, got a little off track there. As one might expect, each of these classes possesses their own special abilities, unlocked through levelling up. Whilst a fair deal of these are passive boosts, some grant access to a powerful skill that can help turn the tide of battle. Despite this, your most frequent character modding will most likely come from equipment. Alter attacks effects with various weapons, boost defence with armour pieces and gain bonus effects from accessories. Pretty standard fare if you’ve played a game like this before. Intricacy becomes more of a factor once you delve into the boosting sub-menu, which allows you to combine weaponry with items in order to alter their effects and bolster their power. Boosting also serves as a handy workaround for level restrictions, which prevent you from spending mondo points on acquiring a powerful weapon early on. Unless you have the level restriction ignore item, which is pretty self explanatory. Also you can build new weapons from pieces of junk, providing they are the right pieces of junk…or buy them with points…or find them in Code Chips. There are plenty of ways to accomplish your upgrade needs, all of which make sense…eventually. Whilst not revolutionary concepts, these facets fall amidst the plethora of information that is bestowed upon you at the beginning of the game. Which brings me to my main complaint with this game; vagueness.
Sure, I understand, not all games hold your hand the whole way through. Sure, you might revel in the challenge and possess the mindset to persevere through mystery. I’m not that good. I like figuring out puzzles, I like learning as I play, but there’s a balance to that I think this game misses. After throwing everything at you in the intro, you’re left to just kind of figure out a bunch of stuff. One particular mission pretty early on had me stumped for much longer than I would care to admit and, whenever I attempted to ask HQ for help, I was simply told to hurry up. I just wanted a hint people. I get that I was missing something but seriously, throw me a line here. I’m the one fighting the monsters in a space warping sewer dungeon. Cut me some slack.
Since I don’t want to be entirely negative here, I have to say that the artwork within the game is awesome. From the character portraits, to the Variant designs, to the still frame cutscenes, the images deliver. This help break the monotony of some of the longer dungeon crawls, providing a nice visual break from the floors and walls that span before you. Seeing a new monster is also a nice little event, providing you with a new image to enjoy…then possibly hate if it belongs to a particularly strong Variant. The English dialogue also held up pretty well in my opinion, though some characters were easier to listen to than others. Of course, that may also be due to the fact that the characters themselves were annoying (like an English teacher who shall remain nameless but no less easily identified on account of their only being the one English teacher). Dialogue did however suffer from the classic RPG affliction of the vocal/importance equation, wherein non-plot immediate dialogue is not voiced. That being said, the split between silent and voiced lines seemed more arbitrary in this title than others I have played, with some conversations shifting more than once between the two.
Ok, so by the tone of this review, you may have gathered that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Operation Abyss. Which is probably because I wasn’t. Sure the art was cool and the gameplay was pretty fun, but I honestly felt no connection to the game. There was just that spark missing that made me actually care about wanting to see the resolution of the story and, consequently, the end of the game. Honestly, if I wasn’t reviewing it, I probably would’ve given up early on. Again, for the sake of fairness, this isn’t exactly my type of game and those who relish in dungeon crawlers and challenging RPGs are sure to find something here to enjoy.