Developer: Experience Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Playstation Vita
A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of this review by the publisher.
The Wizardy franchise is one near and dear to my heart. It, along with the Ultima series, helped to shape the entire roleplaying genre in the medium for years to come. The first-person dungeon crawling of the former stuck around well into the 1990’s even with the star of the CPRG genre fading into obscurity. Both series developed slavish following across the seas in Japan, though, and helped to influence an entire generation of developers. The beginnings of my other great love, JRPGs, can be found deeply rooted in those games. Dragon Quest, one of the earliest examples of a JRPG, borrows heavily from the Wizardry series in its construct and the rest is, well, history.
The dungeon crawler, though, has clawed its way back to being relevant in the past few years in, no small part, to the continued appreciation of the genre by Japanese developers. Experience Inc. can count themselves among a slew of others continuing the grand tradition though with a decided twist. Etrian Odyssey, for example, made use of the idea of drawing maps that players used to do constantly with games like Wizardry and turned them into a bonafide game mechanic. Persona Q and the Experience Inc. developed Demon Gaze sought to assign some sort of narrative to the slog of the dungeon crawl. They did their level best to bring the genre forward into the modern era and did a damn good job of it.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy takes a decidedly more pulpy approach to the dungeon crawl, inserts some elements of abject horror into the mix. This results in a far more no-nonsense dungeon crawling experience that has smartly designed dungeons, interesting puzzles and story that has some serious heft to it. The short of it? Young folks keep mysteriously disappearing in modern-day Tokyo due to some extremely dark circumstances. It isn’t long before the player is introduced to Variants and a portal known as the Abyss. You assume the role of a new recruit to the Xth Squad and the fate of Tokyo rests on your shoulders.
New Tokyo Legacy, unlike its predecessor (Demon Gaze), isn’t quite the unforgiving beast of a dungeon crawl. It may be less difficult overall but it doesn’t mean genre newcomers will find an easy into DRPGS here. The same difficulty curve in the early stages with low character stats and horrid equipment abound, extensive exploration of dungeon tilesets is a necessity and the leveling mechanics and inventory management is in-depth, to say the least. It is that deep end of the pool that players can dive into that holds the most endearing appeal to long-time fans of the genre. JRPG fanatics, in general, usually find joy in complex systems of numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers that can be min-maxed until the end of time. It actually makes perfect sense why I’ve been hooked into MMORPGs for so long especially ones where min-maxing on stats and gear is such a crucial part of end-game content. REVELATIONS! JRPGS do it again!
This, much like other Experience Inc. titles (and other devs like StarFish and ZeroDiv) features reused assets galore. Small development studios like these focus their budgets in key areas and, yes, some of the polish a bigger studio could provide is lost along the way. Dungeons within Operation Abyss aren’t uniformly great and, later on the game, star to all blur together in a tiled mess that can feel a bit tedious at times. The emphasis, though, on plugging away and finding secret rooms and entrances to keep revealing the map can inject life into what could easily be horribly mundane. The reused assets for monsters, as well, become quite noticeable after one invests more than six or seven hours in.
It is a good thing that the art design for player characters and monsters is so darn good. The mixture of moe anime and horror present with the art direction here walks a fine line. A character portrait might feature a buxom heroine, barely contained by her top, lashing out with a Special Attack against a nightmarish demon. The dissonance between those two styles works surprisingly well and results in sparse dungeons to roam about it in but immensely interesting visuals produced by the moving parts that truly matter. One could almost allude to the fact that this feels like two different games being slammed together and, in that regard, they’d be right.
Players will notice that a certain point levels get capped at 15. A few more missions get completed and a Semester is finished off and, suddenly, the XP can flow yet again. Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is actually “two games-in-one”. The original releases, Generation Xth: Code Hazard and Generation Xth: Code Breaker, came out on the PC back in 2008 and were among the very first games Experience Inc. released. The repackaged version for PS Vita and PS3 serves as a definitive introduction to the Xth series and are joined together quite well. The only way one would even notice they’re two separate games? That aforementioned level cap. Once a player gets to Level 15? That’s halfway. Only another 20, or so, more hours to go.
The unique tone established by the superb art direction (thanks to the reunited team of Oxiji Yen and Tetsu Kurosawa from Demon Gaze) and decidedly creepy story brings something fresh to the table regarding the typical dungeon crawl. Operation Abyss: New Toyko Legacy doesn’t break new ground in regards to quality narrative but the motivations and reasons for constantly going back to dungeons is far more than what the typical DRPG is going to provide. Experience Inc. specializes in this sort of experience and even though it is apparent that this a “refreshed” version of their earlier efforts it’s still a dynamic and worthwhile dungeon crawling RPG.
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