You suddenly wake up in the middle of nowhere… your hand stained by someone else’s blood… swiftly accosted by gruesome ghoul-esque figures only to be suddenly rescued by an unknown saviour… to say that the game starts with a bang is a bit of an understatement.
You are thrown into the thick of it from the get-go with only a limited tutorial to start off with, everything else can be accessed via an in-game manual which is fine to a certain extent, however, it can be slightly laborious to access this and fully digest all of the information contained within when it could have been explained in a more obvious manner gradually throughout the game.
I’ll be frank and say that if you’re not into dungeon crawlers then you might as well quit reading now as this game probably won’t be for you. If you’ve never heard of this title before then you can be easily forgiven as it is actually a polished amalgamation of a Japanese language only DRPG trilogy which was originally released on the PC during 2008-2010.
The premise is fairly simple, you are found one day randomly having passed out in an abyss. Upon returning to your place of study, it appears that you have Code-Rise abilities… these abilities allow you to fight against the variants (monsters) that are appearing in the abysses (dungeons) that are popping up all over a near future Tokyo. These Code-Rise abilities essentially allow the user to summon up the power of an ancient hero, giving them super strength and allowing some more studious users to utilise magic spells.
You are quickly indoctrinated into a group otherwise known as the ‘Abyss Company’ whose mission is to seek out and boldly go head first into any abyss at the crack of a whip whenever the CPA (Code Physics Agency) commands. This organisation is seeking to research and to ultimately put an end to the variants once and for all.
Initially, you can choose from basic mode or advanced mode, they are exactly the same in terms of difficulty with advanced mode giving you direct control over the customisation (looks) of your characters. Once you have your characters, it’s time to start storming the abysses and completing all and any missions that are assigned to you. These come in two flavours: 1. missions that will advance the story – which to be honest, if you’re familiar with dungeon crawlers you may expect by default, no plot whatsoever and whilst Operation Abyss does have a good fair old go at constructing a storyline, it isn’t particularly spectacular and it’s not really until the 2nd half of the game that the plot really hits its stride. 2. Side quests which either involve exterminating a supremely powerful variant, finding something for someone or well… searching for someone who keeps getting lost.
Some of these missions are purely aggravating as you’ll repeat the same or very similar missions over and over – in particular there is one ‘find a lost person’ mission that went on for a bit too long… I mean, how much can one person get so lost that they seemingly never even seem to have a remote clue of where they are? I’m not one for overt realism in games but I did think that this was taking it a bit too far – questing just for the sake of quests!
Exploration of dungeons bounces between an addictive exciting excursion where you’ve no idea what lies round the corner to seemingly never ending drudgery as you traipse round an already explored dungeon looking for one specific square with no clue other than ‘it’s further deeper in!’. The dungeons themselves are fairly plain looking, somewhat reminiscent of what an HD version of Wolfenstein 3D or the original Doom would look like now. This could have been a really gritty and grimy game but instead most of the sections are quite bland and fairly neutral – some blood stained floors or dirty walls wouldn’t have gone amiss. Occasionally you’ll come across something out of the ordinary, spirits or a couple of dead corpses tucked away in an obscure corner of the map. In contrast to the dull dungeons, the sprites are really nicely done, as well as having interesting and unique designs – they definitely have utilised the whole colour pallette, it’s just a shame that there isn’t much in the way of attack animations.
During your tedious plod around each abyss, you’ll encounter a number of random battles which play out in a slightly strange manner, namely you cannot attack the variant that you want, instead you will attack one variant within a whole group – this detracts from the strategy of the game but actually makes it a bit more difficult and random. It is also imperative that you use magic to heal yourself and cure yourself of any ailments as these can and will get you killed if you don’t tend to them as soon as possible.
The dungeons themselves are laid out on a map in a similar vein to Etrian Odyssey which automatically becomes uncovered upon exploring it. There are various sections, dark areas where only the map is visible, water, shock panels, dispel panels and a number of other traps just waiting to trip you up. Figuring out the puzzles and routes in the dungeons can be fun sometimes but often you’ll find that you’ll figure out the route only to be stopped by a locked door and the game will give you absolutely no hint as to what key is required. Luckily there is a system similar to Dark Souls where players can write notes that are scattered around the dungeon.
There are a few caveats around levelling up as well. You can only level up when you go back to the medical centre to rest which can make exploring dungeons difficult when you’ve levelled up a few times and really could do with that extra power in order to vanquish the variants. Near the beginning of the game, you are also level capped to 15 until you progress with the story which seemed a bit pointless given the battle mechanics and that variants will become stronger and more aggressive the longer you fight them, until you choose to flee from battle which lowers the variant levels.
As for the voice acting, only the English audio and text is available, after a bit of research this is apparently due to the way the game was programmed. In general the sound isn’t fantastic, memorable or alluring and the only real sound of note that I found was the one where the characters bump into a wall (which will happen quite frequently if you start dozing off in the middle of a mission like I did on many occasions).
Customisation and crafting really is the game’s strong point, it takes a while to figure out at first but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be well away with creating stronger weapons, breaking down older ones for parts, analysing armour and boosting the stats of your current gear. There is what feels like a metric ton of gear to carefully construct, boost, affix and break down if required. I really enjoyed analysing the junk gear that variants dropped along with creating exotic and rare items.
Overall, this was a frustrating and lukewarm experience that lacked cohesion and synergy. There are a lot of unusual and intriguing elements along with brilliant customisation. However, they are all quite loosely tied together and whilst it isn’t the worst game ever, it unfortunately doesn’t live up to the developer’s previous high standards that were set by Demon Gaze.