Operation Abyss on PlayStation Vita has many characteristics that are inspired by first person dungeon crawler role playing games. These kinds of RPGs in the genre however have been overshadowed by western and new age Japanese role playing games in recent years. And while games like Shin Megami Tensei and Might & Magic helped usher in new levels of immersion for the genre, Operation Abyss unfortunately doesn’t reach the same kind of heights. What you are given instead is an overwhelming and confusing experience that throws way to many things at you within the first few minutes of booting up your PlayStation Vita.
Role playing games shine best when there is a story players can connect to since they are taking an active role in the events that unfold. Operation Abyss tries to tell a story that blends together many tropes of Japanese high school life and supernatural mystery, but never fully comes together. You can create a party of original characters that interact with others throughout the narrative, which is told through the second person and A LOT of text reading.
The problem is that despite being told what happens, players can never truly become connected to anything taking place. So much information and so many characters are introduced before you have time to absorb anything that appeared beforehand, let alone follow what exactly is going on.
But if you thought the story would be confusing enough to follow, the gameplay is where things really start to go nuts. This kind of RPG relies heavily on party customization and battle mechanics that are deep and need to be micromanaged. You have a party of up to six characters and you explore various dungeon areas in first person, while simultaneously having random encounters and examining areas for clues and items.
So much information is on screen at once that anyone who isn’t used to this style of role playing game would be really overwhelmed at the start. Instead of characters and enemies being visible while roaming, you can only see icons on the map. This can get dull looking VERY fast and can make for some moments where you are confused on where to go or what to do, despite a map being available in the menus.
Battles are done through turns and formation placements in the first person between enemies and your party members. Most of the time, allies in the front can attack enemies head on with physical attacks, while those in the back are suited for ranged and magic abilities. The character and enemy designs are neat looking but are mostly static throughout the entire game, so don’t expect any kind of cool looking animations.
Even though there is a tutorial that explains how battles take place, it is very brief and meager when it shows up before your first battle. Those who are unaccustomed to a lot of reading in their games and want to dive into the action may miss out on important information and be lost at the start. There is just so much to follow and keep track of, so it’s easy for things to get lost in the mix.
An interesting inclusion is the ability to read notes left by other players when connected to the internet. This is very reminiscent to games like Dark Souls, where players can leave various messages for others in an attempt to help or hinder their progress. At its best, this is very helpful when you’re stuck, but most of the time you hardly ever see a note that covers anything different from what the computer already has. Notes left by other players hardly help with understanding the game’s complicated battle or leveling systems.
Speaking of such, leveling up and customizing characters are another level of confusion and craziness. You can equip various items and abilities to party members, but it is hard to make out what exactly each thing does to benefit them.
The menus of the game are not only super small on the PlayStation Vita screen, but there aren’t clear indications that one equipment or weapon is better than another, or what abilities are attached to them. Leveling up characters requires you to go through various menus to rest characters up, so their abilities can increase after each dungeon run. This not only tedious and confusing, but is done much better in other titles that are just as deep and engaging.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy has a lot of content within it, provided you are able to get through the incredibly complicated aspects of the game. There is way too much information overload that will detract many RPG enthusiasts away, despite the colorful and interesting character designs. The story of the game is not good enough to keep players engaged and wanting to haul through the overbearing micromanagement of the turn based battles.
If you’re someone that loves anime styled games or traditional dungeon crawler RPGs, then you may find some value in playing Operation Abyss on your PlayStation Vita. If not however, then you won’t be missing out on much if you decide to skip out on this one.
This review was based on a digital copy of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy for the PlayStation Vita provided by NiS America.