Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Operation Abyss is a dungeon crawler that released on the PS Vita in North America in 2015 and has just recently released for PC. Join the ranks of the CPA in order to discover the truth behind mysterious kidnappings plaguing Tokyo.
Operation Abyss, brought to you by the same people who brought you Demon Gaze (which I incidentally have been playing as well recently), is a dungeon crawler in the same vein as Etrian Odyssey. You enter an area to explore with no map data available, and as you progress through an area, you progressively fill in more of the map. So join the members of Xth (zith) squad, as you fight through weird mutant monsters and dimensional breaches in order to solve the mystery behind the recent string of murders, disappearances and kidnappings, all while getting a good education because obviously everyone is in high-school.
Basic gameplay of Operation Abyss involves your team of up to six members, three front row and three back row, delving through areas of high special anomaly and monster levels. As some of the few, yet apparently infinitely creatable, humans who have the power to realize an enhanced combat potential through science, it is your job to investigate the crime scenes and defeat the monsters that the police cannot. As you roam around a dungeon, you can encounter a myriad of differently “affected” areas. These could be trap floors, waterways, anti-magic zones, dark rooms etc. Or perhaps you might find a monster summoning point or item floating around. You can also use a “scan” to check for hidden doors or passages. Occasionally, or often depending largely on your luck, you will get into combat with the monsters, or variants, as they’re called.
Combat is turn based, where you decide all of your units’ moves, and then you and your enemy clash, with higher speed ratings taking precedence and the first move. Available options for combat are pretty standard for the most part: attack, defend, magic, equipment, and item. The first unit also has the option to either run or use a unity move, which consumes a portion of a unity gauge in exchange for a move that the whole party takes part in. Unity gauge is restored by performing actions in battle or getting hit, and can be affected by events outside of battle, such as interactions with other characters. As you use more unity skills, your gauge will level up and increase. After you win a fight, you might come across unidentified items or “code chips”. Code chips act like functional treasure chests, except they tend to be trapped, and you need to use either a skill from an Academic class or an item to disarm the trap, or you can guess and risk getting blasted by an unfortunate trap effect.
Well, I’ve already mentioned the Academic class, so how do those work? Simply put, every character has a “Blood Code”, which is determined upon character creation, and offers certain stat distributions, skills, and equipable gear. You can choose whichever classes and character appearances you wish, although certain Blood Codes are restricted to the “Good, Neutral, Evil” alignments that are associated with your units, which will always make me think I’m making a dungeons and dragons character. Some available class examples are: Samurai, Warrior, Knight, Academic, Mage, Physician. Interestingly enough, the game gives you a preloadout team consisting of these classes, and then basically tells you 2/3 of them are basically mandatory, which at first I thought was interesting, for both good and bad. It’s nice that you’re given a team in case you don’t know much about building your own, or don’t have the knowledge/confidence/drive to build your own, and the team composition really isn’t that bad, except maybe the warrior.
On the other hand, each character has their own specialty and gimmick, which is a nice touch in its own right, but absolutely infuriating when you find out a class you basically “need” is either almost useless in combat, or really doesn’t fit your play style. While there are items available to “replace” any given “necessary” unit, the cost at the beginning of the game will probably make you drop that idea instantly. As an example, a mage can use “enfloat” so you can hover over traps and water, or you can drop 500 in-game bucks on a one-time use item to make you float. Considering enemies only give around 10-20 currency at the start of the game, have fun with that.
Money plays a big part in Operation Abyss, similar to Demon Gaze, but a lot less asinine. While there isn’t a particular “shop”, per se, there is a development lab, where you can deconstruct, construct, buy, and enhance gear for a price and some materials. Materials can be found from enemies or bought. Deconstructing gear gives you a “junk piece”, or a basic blueprint for that type of weapon, which you can then use to create other gear. Enhancing gear will improve the stat bonuses you get, and you can even attach certain effects to the gear by using “plug-ins”. Materials gathered from monsters and dungeons are generally “unidentified”, and require either an Academic class, or the shelling out of cash, in order to identify. The Academic will identify for free, but has a chance to fail, inflicting them with the “fear” status and preventing them from using spells. Thankfully, this status will actually wear off after walking around a dungeon a little, allowing you to basically retry infinitely to identify items. Probably one of the items you will be spending money on the most may well be the “power recorders”, as they allow you to save in a dungeon once. Yep, that’s right, you have a limited number of in-dungeon saves, so let’s hope you know when you want to use those, otherwise have fun with your long trek back to wherever you either came from or are going to.
The other major cash sink comes from healing party members, which also acts as leveling, for some reason. Basically, in order to level up your units, not only do you need the prerequisite amount of experience points, but you also need to at least “charge” at the medical bay. There are three options at the med bay: “charge”, which costs the same amount as your units current level and only restores spell usage, “rest”, which is a full heal including both health and spell usage but costs ten times your level, and “full treatment”, which costs 100 times your level but will heal health and spell usage as well as “exhaustion”, which is a status the game has told me can result in the unit being “discharged”. While I’ve thankfully never let this happen, my understanding is that the unit will be permanently removed from your party, which is actually possible to have happen regardless, if you either die with exhaustion or have a whole team wipe without being able to have a secondary team sent in to recover them.
The take-away here is to always cure exhaust, and probably to use a physician to heal everyone’s health, and then just recover spell usage. It is interesting to note that, although the game refers to “spell usage” as “MP”, the “MP” is divided into tiers, and the number of MP for that tier is one-for-one the number of spells from that tier you can use before needing to recover MP. I should note here that you can also turn your money into experience at a one-to-one ration, so if you’re making a new character, or you get slammed with the “level down” spell it’s really useful. Yeah, I’m not kidding, you can get your levels stolen. <Demon Souls nightmares from Old King Allant> Thankfully there are spells and items to fix it in-battle, but it’s still a really scary concept. Especially annoying since gear actually has level requirements as well, so you better hope you don’t get slammed to the point you have to chuck your gear. Thankfully leveling characters isn’t too bad, since any experience that would go to level capped units is dispersed to other units, and considering there are a series of intermittent level caps, leveling shouldn’t prove to be too bad for most players.
There are some really nice aspects in Operation Abyss, such as the level of available customization in character appearance, unit use, play style, and team composition. There is an “info booklet” that you can access at any time, so you can check anything you may not know or that you may have forgotten. While there isn’t much of a tutorial or an explanation for some parts, I was pleased just to be able to get into the game faster. There is an “encounter gauge” introduced, that I both loved and hated, although that might have something to do with my awful luck. As you continue to fight battles in a dungeon, the encounter gauge increases slowly in rank. Each rank increase “increases enemy level and encounter rate”, roughly according to the game description, although I didn’t notice an increase in encounter rate personally.
Harder enemies means more experience and better items. The gauge remains at its current level even when you leave and return which is really nice if you’re farming for either exp or certain items. In order to decrease the gauge, you can run from battles and the gauge will drop a whole level. If you actually manage to run, because failing to run 12 times in a row doesn’t feel too good. What I really liked about both Operation Abyss and Demon Gaze is the ability to leave notes, or “memos”, in the dungeon. These memos can be used as self reminders, or sent over the “wireless network” (as they’re so insistent on calling your wifi) for other players to read. These memos can be helpful, or misleading (although not often misleading in my experience), or they can be…sketchy, I suppose. The amount of innuendos I’ve seen, especially in Demon Gaze, made me hesitant to bother with the memos in Operation Abyss, although they can be quite helpful.
Despite how much I enjoyed Operation Abyss, it definitely wasn’t without its faults. Some of the more intricate details can be rather confusing, especially for players new to the genre, and you may need to remake units before you settle into a class build that you actually like, to say nothing of a whole six person team. The user interface for battle felt really clunky, and more often than not I found myself just repeating the exact same turns and “skipping” half the combat. Ideally, a battle menu like Demon Gaze in Operation Abyss would have been perfect for me. Entering dungeons is also really weird at first, because you need to go to the correct part of town before heading into the dungeon you want, although you do get used to it rather fast. As a bit of a petty complaint on my part, the wanted variants that are random encounters can go eat a whole bag of plant mulch. I spent two and a half hours roaming the floor where the first tutorial wanted variant spawns before I managed to get in a fight with it. TWO AND A HALF HOURS. Which wasn’t nearly as bad when I played the Vita version, so I’m inclined to believe I was REALLY unlucky.
As a port from the Vita version, I have to say I much preferred the Vita layout and function. The button mapping and movement just felt a lot better, although plugging in a controller also helps. The default screen size made reading text really awkward, although the fullscreen mode made it significantly better than the Vita port. The graphics are still solid, and the transition from screen sizes isn’t awkward.
While there are a lot of interesting aspects to Operation Abyss, it isn’t necessarily best in show. That being said, by no means does that make it bad. Gameplay is consistent and intricate, but with enough ease to get new players into it. The difficulty isn’t high, meaning most players should be able to at least finish the main game without flipping tables or throwing something out a window. While I felt that an improved battle menu would have been a great benefit, that could simply be personal choice. The PC port, while feeling a little bit of a hit, remains true to the original Vita version without letting anything slip. Overall, Operation Abyss is a great addition to the dungeon crawling experience, and is definitely something to pick up, especially if you never picked it up for the Vita. Experience Inc. and co. definitely know what they’re doing, because this PC port is just another reason I’m looking forward to a localization of Demon Gaze 2 and future games wink wink nudge nudge NISA.Score: 7.5 / 10