For as much as I like roguelike games – you know, the ones that have you traverse randomly generated levels and that punish you severely if you happen to die by sending you all the way back to the beginning – they’re extremely hard to get right. That’s even more evident when it comes to combining different gameplay styles that might at first sound excellent on paper, but when theory comes into practice, the result ends up somewhat lackluster.
Unfortunately for Abyss Odyssey, that’s where it falls into. As ACE Team’s newest game after the bizarre and ultimately fascinating Zeno Clash series, Abyss Odyssey has the distinct honor of going outside of the box that studio has built for themselves – it’s not a first person brawler, not is it set in a fantastical backdrop.
In fact, ‘Odyssey takes place in the very Earth we live in. A magician whose name doesn’t really come into play at all is bound to sleep by mysterious reasons and somehow, due to his incredible power, such nightly terrors create dangerous dungeons in the real world, in the form of levels within a huge crater. Not only that, but within that hole lives a menagerie of monsters that thirst to live above ground. This is were yet another creation of the magic man’s imagination comes onto the stage, a swordswoman by the name of Kathien, who takes upon herself to stop these fields from climbing up to chomp on us humans.
Sadly for her, it’s not going to be easy. For starters, none of the levels within the abyss are the same every time she jumps in. Even though they mostly look the same and are very sparsely designed, they are never technically equal. It’s a confusing notion, for sure, and it’s where one of Abyss Odyssey‘s failures comes into view – its lack of variety, both visually and structurally. Taking into consideration how everything looks mostly the same, the main difficulty stems from navigating said levels and not getting lost.
Granted, you could argue that most of the enjoyment that comes out of games of the Rogue ilk are charming just because of that, but in Abyss Odyssey‘s case, navigational woes don’t seem to be part of its design, but by the lack there of. Even with the map, stages are always boringly put together horizontal slabs that simply take too long to get through that just end always in the same manner, by taking an elevator down at the very middle of the last floor. Add to that pile the overall absence of any substantial challenge in combat, and you can get the gist of what makes Abyss Odyssey so damn disappointing.
Even when bringing in fresh characters into the mix, the ones you can unlock or the poor bastard from the surface army who decides to jump in to help you out, fighting anything in this game is clunky and lacks any sliver of rhythm or flow. Upgrading moves and mapping them to the directional buttons doesn’t help much either, since most of the time, the most useful attacks are the basic ones you get from the very beginning of the game. Dodging from left to right feels and works well but don’t do anything special either, especially because even when enemies are blocking, rolling to their sides doesn’t do anything to break their stance.
That’s not to say that dispatching enemies is not satisfying. Tearing through a particularly long section of the game and destroying fools feels rather cool and it’s a welcome change from the usual lack of physical prowess we’re used to being dealt in games within the genre. Imagine having the spelunker having such a suite of sword moves when exploring those caves – I would’ve beat Yama by now if he did! Considering my lack of skills in Spelunky, the amount of success I’ve had finishing Abyss Odyssey right in my very first few runs works against it in the end, mostly because it kills any replayability it might have in the future. Unlike the aforementioned exploration game, Abyss Odyssey doesn’t offer any reason to jump back in once you finish it other than the chance of trying out new characters or the possibility of running into a couple of different monsters for you to kill and earn achievements/trophies for, which is to say, a huge bummer.
That’s also especially annoying to see when you notice there are also weapon and gear upgrades to be found and/or bought within the game, the extra layers of potential development that are left out there to be discovered but that don’t really go anywhere. Leveling characters is fine, but it never goes really far if there aren’t any substantial difficulty to surmount within the game or any tangible rewards for doing so that help vary your experience within it.
There isn’t even anything special visually going on with Abyss Odyssey that makes it stand out from the pack. It might just be the version of the game I was able to play for review, since reports suggest that the Playstation 3 download has worse visuals than any of the other outings. Almost everything in this game looks blurry and blocky and the only nice thing to look at are the few rare appearances of hand drawn character portraits that show up during dialog and the beautiful menu designs and concept art. It’s a shame that there’s little coherence visually throughout the entire game, which granted might just be a problem with the version of it that I played.
In terms of sound, it’s very cool to hear voice acting for almost all of the dialog within Abyss Odyssey. Outside of random encounters with a potential foe deep into the abyss, you’re treated with very decent talent reading the lines from the script, all under a mellow but pleasant instrumental score that draws inspiration for traditional Latin songs. That’s most likely thanks to ACE Team’s background, also showing up on the writing, which brings out a lot of Chilean flavors, with Latin names and accents. It’s a neat treatment.
It’s disappointing to see such potential not go far. The core concept for Abyss Odyssey is awesome and it would’ve been a fantastic game if it weren’t for its faults. Here’s hope ACE Team draws the ideas from this back into the design board and gives it another go, putting behind it much needed variety. As it stands, though, there’s little reason to take more than one plunge into the gaping maw of the abyss.