I was super excited to get my teeth into Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, Experience Inc’s new dungeon crawler-RPG Vita exclusive. Their previous work on Demon Gaze totally blew me away and to this day I still believe it is one of Vita’s best RPGs and one of its finest exclusives. It saddens me to say that it doesn’t quite hit the highs of the phenomenal and moreish Demon Gaze but those looking for a solid, wacky, though slightly uninspired RPG time-sink may well have come to the right place.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is set in a near-future, cyberpunk version of Tokyo where people are being kidnapped and murdered by mysterious monsters called Variants. The game’s opening scene is pretty dark, as you awake next to some gory, mutilated bodies with some weird guy asking you to follow him. It’s not long, however, before you are forcefully inducted into a secret government-funded organization called the Code Physics Agency.
You join a team of specially equipped teenagers dubbed the Xth (pronounced zith) who are trained to fight the Variants and are tasked with investigating peculiar portals that lead to a mysterious place called the Abyss. It’s all pretty standard RPG fodder to be honest, but with a welcome futuristic, cyberpunk flavour. The story, though slightly bland and perfunctory, sets the scene and gets the job done fairly well.
The gameplay is also traditional turn-based JRPG fare. It’s not quite as dynamic and interesting as Demon Gaze and the combat feels a little mindless at times, but there are moments where your formation needs to be arranged thoughtfully, your use of healing spells and buffs must be used prudently and your gear needs to be effective and ideally in tip-top shape to face the more tricky monsters the game throws at you. However, interacting with the menus in the home-base to upgrade your gear is where most of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy’s problems begin. The game’s menus are needlessly convoluted and obfuscated. It’s almost deliberately designed to confuse you.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy would’ve really benefited with a more intelligible and comprehensible menu system. For example, the shop in the game isn’t called the shop. It’s actually called ‘Issue.’ Okay, I get it. You’re working for an army-like organisation so there is no shop. Sure, it totally makes sense, but the amount of time I spent rummaging through menus was just damn frustrating. When I finally learned where everything was things did begin to fall into place, but that initial steep learning curve was off-putting, to say the least, and could’ve easily been ironed out with some more intelligent feedback from the game, or maybe a more in-depth tutorial.
On the whole, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy’s presentation is fantastic. The brooding and atmospheric musical score is a highlight and the hand-drawn anime character sprites are pure eye candy. The Variants are disturbingly strange and weird but in a really good way. The 3D corridors you navigate are slightly prettier and a touch sharper in resolution than last year’s Demon Gaze and the level design is both clever and thoughtful. It’s easy to get lost, but I get the feeling that this is a deliberate gameplay design choice that is part of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy’s charm. It’s not long before you get back on track and it feels great when you thread the needle through a crafty maze-like dungeon. And boy are they crafty!
Much like its predecessor, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is a very cruel game indeed. At times, it actively goes out of its way to stop you from enjoying yourself with its awful menu system and nefarious mazes. But if you give it a chance, learn its intricate systems and master its labyrinth-like dungeons, there is a very solid and enjoyable old-school dungeon crawler hidden underneath its harsh exterior that is waiting to be savored by those who are willing to give it a chance.
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