Operation Abyss caught my eye when it was first announced in the west because it had a lot of similarities to Demon Gaze, another first-person dungeon RPG for the PlayStation Vita. In Demon Gaze I found a fun, albeit rather grindy, RPG that was easy to turn on and put random investments of time into. Sadly, with Operation Abyss, the similarities only run skin deep as the game has some basic issues that ruin the overall enjoyment of the title.
First things first, the story is not about you as an individual but as a group. While characters talk to you, the player, due to the first-person nature of the game, it is all about your team. Change the team name and it’ll also change what you’re called. This makes the player the follower, a surveyor of events, as all the character development involves other named characters that are never in your party. If you’re the type of RPG fan where you feel connected to the protagonist as an extension of yourself, then this is not the story for you.
Combat is similar to the aforementioned Demon Gaze. You have two rows of characters vs. multiple rows of enemies. Various skills and weapon ranges affect who and how many can be attacked, with one particular highlight being the teamwork meter. When you take or inflict damage this bar will increase, acting as a secondary set of abilities. These abilities range from fleeing combat to a one-turn protective shield to buffs, but the more they are used the higher the meter’s max becomes. Thematically it also connects with the team concept of the game’s narrative, as if you change your team the meter will change to reflect that group’s teamwork.
Leveling up is one of the negatives of the game because it becomes quite apparent you’ll be dealing with a min/max system. For every level you get one attribute point and that is it. Certain classes have no need for specific attributes like wizards needing strength, or fighters needing wisdom, so every character becomes specialized quickly. Additionally, the use of blood codes is only fun in theory and not practice. Each character selects one blood code that gives some stat buffs and is the ability pyramid, unlocking them after specific levels. They can be changed at any time but you gain no new stat points from leveling them. For example, if I level Fuma to 30 then I’d need to level Brunhilde to 31 before seeing another stat point if I made a switch. Along with the min/maxing of attributes, there is no incentive to be balanced. It only hurts the party and, more importantly, the application of the feature.
Money becomes a catch-all currency, allowing you to use it to boost the experience points of any characters, which is great when changing strategy or when you’re getting bored with the current lineup. They won’t lag behind too much. While there is gear to buy in the shops, a lot of it can be made on your own. Simply find the required pieces and poof: new equipment is at your disposal. However, the process is a symptom of a bigger issue the game has, which is that nothing is explained properly and is inefficient. For example, instead of picking the sword you want to create from the list, instead you have to pick the item that will be changed into it. It is backwards compared to the norm.
Bleeding into the story, there are times where you’re left wondering what to do and where to go. I had one particularly hard time where all I’m told is the enemy is “in the depths.” Without any quest markers to give direction, it becomes harder than normal as you’re doing this in areas you’ve already mapped out. The trick of getting to a location through fog of war won’t work, and forces the player to find a needle in a haystack as you do new story missions in areas you’ve already fully explored. This was a constant issue, and took away from the enjoyment of progressing through the game at a stable, fun pace.
The nonsensical nature of the game does bring a positive in the form of the supporting cast. Some of the comedic dialogue is so crazy a person can’t help but laugh at it. The player’s characters are students, and their HQ is in your school for whatever reason the government decided. Well, this poses some hilarious situations in trying to get out of the classes where the teacher is not in on the scheme. How would you react if you were told to go to the principal’s office because you’re suspected of terrorism?
The graphics are bare bones, and despite it being a first-person dungeon crawler, more could have been done to help immerse the player in the world. All the walls are cardboard cutouts of each other, with very little difference within the specific dungeon setting. If not for doors or water, as an example, then you’d be looking at the same static image infinitely. What is drawn is done well, and does give off appropriate feelings to the dystopian world. Nonetheless, the graphics aficionados among you won’t be content with what’s on offer here. One plus is the anime design of the characters, as the art team were up to task in crafting some unique, interesting characters as NPCs and as your character portraits.
Unfortunately, the musical score is nothing to be remembered. There are no hit themes that will be found on YouTube. This does not mean the soundtrack is outright terrible; it just does the basics without being outstanding. When out on the town or in the HQ, there are soothing melodies. In battle it’ll be generic battle music. In short, nothing stands out and in that sense it is better than if the soundtrack was so terrible you’d want to listen to something else.
Overall the concept of the story is exciting, and first-person dungeon crawling RPGs can be a blast. Operation Abyss tries to be too fancy, and fails to combine the thematics of their story and gameplay perfectly. The messiness of figuring out how to do anything in the game also creates issues for those wanting a game that is easy to navigate, and let the hours melt away in enjoyment than frustration.