First-person dungeon-crawlers seem to release every month nowadays. As a super niche sub-genre of the RPG, these unique roleplaying endeavors, known for their punishing difficulty and deep customization trappings, used to be rarities. That, however, has changed over time with the rise of popular series such as Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei and Class of Heroes. While these games have not always been as prominent as they are currently, a little known Japanese studio has been specializing in them for nearly a decade now.
Developer Experience Inc. have been carving out their little corner of the gaming world since the mid-2000s — releasing a number of Japan-only dungeon-crawlers on the Xbox 360 and PC — and have acquired something of a cult-status among many ardent fans because of those works. Unfortunately, though, despite that rabid following, the team didn’t catch much mainstream attention until their release of Demon Gaze for PS Vita in 2013, which was one of the company’s first titles to earn a western localization. Although Demon Gaze had its share of issues upon launch, it was a title with much promise just the same. Fast-forward to 2015, and now Experience are back with a new Vita project, entitled Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, and hopes to have learned from their past efforts in order to bring fans a new DRPG with their particular pedigree attached to it.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy tells the story of a group of teens who have been recruited by a secret government agency due to their unique powers that are exclusive onto them. The year is 20XX and creatures known as Variants have besieged the city of Tokyo. These fiends have incited sheer terror throughout the city, even rendering the police and military helpless. Enter the aforementioned teens, who form the team known as the Xth. Their duty is to face down the Variants where they are most concentrated — a labyrinth known as the Abyss. One might assume that, because this is a DRPG, there isn’t a story to really sink their teeth into here; but jumping to this conclusion would yield incorrect results, because Operation Abyss has a tale to tell. It’s not incredibly strong or all that well-paced thus far, but there’s perhaps more of a narrative foundation laid by the writers than the likes of its rivals, such as those highlighted in the opening paragraph.
In truth, the real focus on New Tokyo Legacy is its gameplay, not its plot. The gameplay will feel familiar to those who have played any of the titles talked about thus far. Labyrinths are explored via a first-person perspective and a party of six, navigating these mazes and teeing off against some of the toughest foes along the way. Combat is the real spotlight. To this end, battles are turn-based and go down at a faster pace than something like Persona Q. There are an expected variety of ways to attack, so employing physical attacks, spells and skills are key to victory. There’s more to consider; every Variant is categorized as a certain species, with a specific element, and players can levy profound damage through taking advantage of these weakness.
What’s interesting then, in this combat setup is that players cannot directly choose their targets. Instead, the game auto-attacks groups of enemies once folks have inputted their commands. So if a player wants to strike Baddie A, but Baddie A is part of a pack of like-enemies, the player will simply attack the pack at random, meaning they could indeed attack Baddie A, or B, or C, or D, or whatever other enemy is in the swarm. Another unique aspect of Operation Abyss is the fact that the more players fight inside the Abyss, the more dangerous it becomes. Danger is indicated via an “Encounter Gauge”, and the more this fills up — the danger increases, effectively — players receive more experience points and better drops. This opens play up to a fun dynamic, where aggressive fighting, and taking on consecutive battles, enhances loot and EXP but also increases danger. This risk-reward system really adds something to the DRPG formula, which can feel a bit stale at times.
How New Tokyo also changes up the blueprint is through its diversity of objectives. Essentially, the Xth Squad are expected to complete missions throughout the game. A mission may include investigating their school/academy or an Abyss, eliminate specific Variants, collect particular items, or some other special type of undertaking. This variety is nice, especially consdering just plowing through labyrinths for no provided reason could become tiresome. And seeing as Operation Abyss continues to trend of its predecessors, by offering a really challenging gameplay experience, it’s nice to be able to mix up the routine with different missions. In our play time thus far, the game hasn’t been unimaginably hard, but it certainly has been anything but a walk in the park. This requires clever outfitting of one’s party. But like its core gameplay, New Tokyo Legacy adds something new to this process as well.
Operation Abyss introduces two modes of play: Classic and Basic Mode. When starting up the adventure for the first time, players will be prompted to choose which mode fits their playstyle best. In Classic Mode, folks can select the pieces for their character portraits and take their time completely customizing their warriors. With fourteen style pieces that allow hairstyle, eyes, mouth and face to be customized, this mode is for those who want a more tailored experience. Basic Mode, on the other hand, lets folks jump right into the game with a pre-established party of six, where they don’t have to mess with these facets whatsoever.
The game is also visually stunning. Its sprite-work is wonderful, but its use of the entire color palette is even more beautiful. Character designs are also quite rare, taking less of a hardened warrior approach to its cast, instead adorning glorified high-schooler’s with stylish armor and effectively-designed weapons. This could have been a dark, gritty, borderline drab game, like so many in its genre, but instead of opted for a loud chromaticity. With the Vita’s screen (OLED or just LCD), the colors practically pop off the handheld. The soundtrack has been infectious as well, though it hasn’t shown a great deal of depth. We’ve heard the same handful of tracks over and over, leaving us to wonder just how long the tracklisting actually is.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy could be Experience Inc.’s first hit. It may not resonate with the masses, but those wanting a quality dungeon-crawling JRPG may find that there’s a ton to like with this one. We’ve not only been hooked by its tried-and-true, yet slightly-modified-for-the-better mechanics, but also by its aesthetic beauty. It’s possibly the best looking game of its genre and has plenty in the way of customization — which is what fans of the genre will crave. Operation Abyss is scheduled to hit the PlayStation Vita on June 9, so be sure to check back then for our full review.