Trying Something Different
Among indie game developers recently, a fad has developed for the Roguelike genre. Procedurally-generated levels, difficult enemies, and repeated runs through a game are all staples of this kind of genre. Perhaps its due to the genre’s inherent difficulty (which seems to be all the rage among gamers right now) or the variety the games provide that has proven them to be so popular. Major developers seem to be staying away from this genre for the most part, so it’s up to the indies to fill the niche.
Speaking of difficult, there’s no better company to release such a game under than Atlus. Well known for quite some time as offering controller-breakingly tough games, Atlus is the publisher of the newest game to the genre, Abyss Odyssey. Created by Chilean developer ACE Team, Abyss Odysseyattempts to bring something new to the Roguelike genre. Namely, it is a fusion of two genres, Roguelike and fighting.
Abyss Odyssey was released on June 15th, 2014, as a digital download on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. The PC version was played for the purpose of this review.
Swallow the Earth
The story behind this game isn’t incredibly deep. In a small Chilean town, a large hole suddenly opens in the ground, leading to a cavernous abyss. Contained within this abyss is, of course, a variety of demons and monsters, who begin escaping and terrorizing the town and multiple others. When soldiers are sent to explore the abyss, they encounter a sword-wielding woman named Katrien. She explains to the soldiers that the abyss is formed from the dreams of a sleeping warlock, who makes his home at the bottom of it. The caverns, the monsters, and even Katrien herself are all parts of the warlock’s dream. In order to be rid of the abyss and the dangers it poses, someone needs to venture to the bottom and wake him up.
So begins the journey of Katrien to do just that. Accompanied by teams of soldiers, she attempts to make her way to the bottom of the abyss, encountering a number of strange creatures along the way. At points, she is joined by the Ghost Monk, a creature of the abyss, and Pincoya, a mysterious spirit.
Into the Depths
The gameplay of Abyss Odyssey is a mashup of Roguelikes and the fighting genre, with a little bit of RPG thrown in for good measure. The abyss itself is procedurally-generated; the general layout stays the same, but each individual room’s layout, contents, and difficulty is always different. There are three general paths that can be followed down, with an entrance to each of them eventually opening up as you play through. One route is longer but generally easier, another is shorter but much more difficult, and the third keeps an even balance. Every two or three floors of the abyss shares a common theme, such as a forested area, a frozen cavern, or a spike-laden tomb. While the layouts are differently created every game, the general floorplan always seems to be of a switchback decent with a few hidden treasures, which can become gradually repetitive.
The fighting game element comes into play with the battle system. The battles in the game play out like a fighting game showdown. Each of the three main characters has a set of basic attacks in four direction, three special moves available at a time, a number of aerial attacks, along with the ability to dodge, grab, and throw. The enemies, though, have these same abilities, and tend to use them smartly. If you block for just a bit too long, an enemy might rush in, grab, and throw you into the waiting blade of another opponent. This makes every encounter potentially dangerous, as every enemy, even the simplest, has a full range of moves and will not hesitate to beat you down with them. If you are playing this on PC, use of a gamepad is highly recommended. I did not have access to one, and while I became adept at using the offered keyboard and mouse setup, a number of actions and combos proved to be difficult to pull off.
While each and every enemy has a full move set, you don’t have to worry about them just being used to beat you into the ground. Each of the main characters has an ultimate attack that, when it connects with an enemy, will allow you to take what looks to be their soul from them after you kill them. Once you have this, you are able to transform into that creature and access their full attack spectrum to help you out in your descent. When I say every enemy, I do mean every enemy. This includes bosses. On the downside, though, this also means that there isn’t a massive variety of enemies. As you continue your way through the game, expect to see repeats of the same enemies constantly.
RPG-like customization is also offered for each of the three main characters. The characters level with experience points, special attacks can be assigned to the character as they are found and can be upgraded with skill points, and a number of weapons and accessories can be found and purchased throughout the abyss. While some items and weapons offer negligible difference, others can mean the difference between life and death. Each main character’s level and gold is carried over through each playthrough, although your equipment is a clean slate with each run.
Abyss Odyssey also offers the option of a drop-in/drop-out co-op mode. When starting the game up, you are given the option to play solo or leave your game open to other players, who can then join at any time and help you out. Enemy mobs become much more manageable with two players, especially later in the abyss, but experience points are given to the player that lands the kill, so it is tougher to grind levels in a multiplayer game. Lag can become an issue in some co-op matches, though, especially if you are not the host. The PC version of the game also offers a local-only versus mode. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this, as I knew nobody with a copy of the game to try it out with.
I do have to point out two criticisms that I was planning to make with the game. The first was unique to PC: button prompts would only display for gamepad buttons, not keyboard or mouse, which made it difficult to figure out what prompt was what. The other was that co-op matches had a friendly fire aspect that made the game much more difficult, especially when enemies would gang up in one area. A recently released update, though, fixed both of these issues, giving keyboard and mouse button prompts to those using that setup, and giving the option to turn friendly fire off in multiplayer games.
The Layers of Hell
The graphical style in Abyss Odyssey is quite colorful. Each segment of the abyss has its own unique style and feel, and the whole dungeon comes through with a feeling of personality that so many “realistic” games lack. Even the darker-style later sections of the abyss keep a varied palette. This is especially helpful since you will be running through each area a number of times, so, at least graphically, the game never looks dull.
Character design is quite well done, too. The characters have a realistic yet cartoonish design to them, and their animations flow quite well, which is vital in a fighting game. While there isn’t a huge variety of enemies, each one of them is well designed and easily distinguishable, especially the main boss creatures. Occasional cutscenes to introduce main bosses also seem to be rendered in engine, keeping the graphical experience unbroken.
Abyss Odyssey features a straight orchestra soundtrack, leaning heavily on string arrangements. Most of the pieces in the soundtrack are mood-setting, and do a great job of helping convey the personality of each area of the abyss. The soundtrack overall has a very relaxed feel to it. Even the battle music doesn’t get overly intense. Some sections of the abyss are also given just complete silence, usually in areas leading up to a boss fight.
Voice acting is, for the most part, passable. I didn’t expect high-quality triple-A voice acting here, but some of the characters just come across as a bit dull. If anything, it’s the random background soldiers that have the best performance in the game. Nothing is unbearable, though, and I would recommend listening to the voice lines to add to the atmosphere if anything.
Arise From Slumber
Overall, Abyss Odyssey is a very atmospheric and addicting game. It demands that you master each and every character, lest you suffer a quick death at even the earliest enemies. The fighting game style gameplay is well implemented with the Roguelike genre, and it gives the game a very methodical pace. The atmosphere of the abyss is quite excellent to experience as well, keeping the multiple trips through the game from becoming too dull. The ability to use any enemy as a playable character helps to keep the fights fresh, although the lack of variety in enemies is a bit disappointing. The co-op multiplayer mode is fun as a change of pace, but it also can slow down your characters’ personal progress.
I would recommend this game even to those that aren’t fans of the fighting game genre. The battle system is fluid and fun and helps to keep every encounter interesting. On the plus side, there is no need to remember massive amounts of combo inputs to pull off special attacks (a personal hatred of mine in the genre), as each special is assigned to a certain button press. It just comes down to knowing what move to use when.
If you can deal with the game’s difficulty, which isn’t off putting but not exactly new player friendly, Abyss Odyssey is definitely a game worth a shot.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.