Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy Review
My foray into the review of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy has allowed me to learn more about an unknown to me niche of the RPG genre: the dungeon-crawler. Traditionally devoid of any storyline beyond the basic, the focus is put on grinding your way through a dungeon, using a team of adventurers to take down evil. Operation Abyss doesn't stray too far from this traditional setup, but throws enough variety in the mix to make it worth your attention.
In the year 20XX (of course), the Xth Squad ("Zith", for your information) is formed to combat the Variant menace. Conveniently, these enemies tend to show up at, or create, labyrinths that need to be searched for various story-led reasons. It's up to your team of six super soldier academy teens to research and stop this menace before it gets out of hand.
Offering a startup that can satisfy both diehard fans of the genre as well as new inductees, you can choose between a basic or classic setup. Being basic lets you choose between a variety of avatars to represent your characters, while going classic will allow you to change a myriad of features to create the ideal team. Personally, I appreciated the beautiful artwork of the basic mode. All those pieces in classic have to fit together, as opposed to an artist's rendition of a fully realized character. Basic also nets unique designs and poses, while the puzzle pieces you are given in classic provide a lackluster cookie-cutter style to your team.
Once your squad is formed, you are tasked with investigating the city. Instead of a straight dungeon crawl, you have some Phoenix-Wright-Lite style investigating to do: talking to people involved with the incident to glean more information. The meat of the game is in the crawl, though. As you seek to map out the dungeon, you will encounter enemies and take them out with your ragtag team. Knowing what each character is capable of is integral to your success. You can have more than six members, but only six can go on any quest. So, it's wash-rinse-repeat with this formula as you grind through the story. For a handheld RPG, this is actually a good thing. Rather than having yet another deep lore to wrap around, it gets right to the nitty gritty and lets me crawl dungeons for loot and clues with a solid leveling system and easy attack interface.
My biggest beef with this game is the exact opposite, though: too many options. While my mind is free to not worry about the story, the amount of depth in character customization is daunting, and the system does not bode well to tell you about it. For example, yes, you CAN structure your own team, but they throw six characters at you right off the bat, with designed faces, names, and power stats. Sure, you can go into a three-deep sub menu to officially "recruit" your own characters, but you may not catch that at first. As a traditional RPG player, I found myself wanting to know more about the students they gave me, until I realized they're just generic faces to represent my statistics and have no real link to the story in their own right other than "hero". With subheadings to learn about such as blood codes, types, traits, and unity ratings, there are many stats here that make me wonder which ones are worth pursuing. Equipment is allegedly within easy access at the academy, but even loading my characters to where the "fight" command showed up was daunting at first, learning how to equip appropriately proved more difficult than hitting an "equip" button. Even healing your characters requires certain experience points to be allotted.
Yet, with the crazy amount of character customization options, there's a lack of traditional options. The Vita's special features are used, but in odd ways. For a game so heavy on menus, it seems odd that you can't use the touchscreen to navigate, while the touch screen activates every once in a while to let you read pointless side conversations (such as three variants of "bark" from a dog attacking you or schoolchildren arguing about the best sumo wrestler). A system with so many buttons, and I can't find a "remap" feature, leaving me with the slightly odd structure of the two analog sticks (forward and turn on left, while strafing and reverse on right is just backwards for me).
The game does tout features worth pursuing though. There is a ton of recorded audio dialog as you go along for the colorful characters you meet, and the setting of a neo-futuristic Tokyo is different from the traditional swords-and-sorcery dungeon crawler. The player, support, and enemy artwork is stunning, with just enough animation to make it pop rather than sit there flatly. As stated before, the storyline is more than you'll get in most standard DRPGs. The challenge of the difficulty curve, where the enemies in the dungeon get progressively harder as you eliminate their compatriots, gives the risk-versus-reward vibe. Plus, it really can scratch the itch of someone who misses the basic yet classic RPG attack methods found in Earthbound and it's ilk.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy if a bit of a mixed bag. Too detailed in parts, while lacking in others, stuck to the tropes of the genre here while striking out on it's own there, and customization while limited, it probably won't win any new fans of the genre. Those already into the gameplay style, will find a solid title that goes above and beyond what other games in this niche have done in the past.
Final Score: 3.5/5