Saturday, July 19, 2014

Abyss Odyssey (PS3)

With a hint of Harry Potter, a sample of Soul Sacrifice, and a clip of Castlevania the development crew over at ACE Team weave a dream-like tale of a slumbering warlock, and those who would dare to oppose his ever-spawning nightmares. The tale which follows a Chilean lore begins with the underground trek of a dreamt of female warrior named 'Katrien", and follows her as she travels down into an Abyss where her creator lies in sorrowful slumber for the past choices he has made. Katrien, who was once the Warlock's love caught wind of is secretive lifestyle, and turned on him forcing him to silence her. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned, and for the sins that followed the nameless Warlock submitted himself to an eternal sleep in which he hoped to escape the forever torment of his unrelenting nightmares. Despite his efforts though the Warlock's nightmares continued to occur, and began manifesting themselves into reality. A part of him, which is Katrien aims to right the subconscious wrongs that are currently taking place. This is where you, the gamer steps in ...

Abyss Odyssey, for the lack of a better explanation is a Metroidvania style RPG with procedurally generated areas that vary in difficulty. As Katrien, the Ghost Monk, or a third unlockable female protagonist you will journey down into the depths of the Abyss at one of three entry points. Each entry point in the game, which are unlocked as you play range in difficulty from easy to hard. There's the original, and easiest starting point known as 'Santa Lucia', the moderate entry point known as 'Pocuro", and the most difficult entry point which will get you close to the Warlock from the start known as, Sacramentinos'. As you journey deeper into whatever starting point you choose you'll encounter threats in the form of environmental hazards, chasms, and nightmarish creatures dreamt up by the Warlock himself. Your goal is to get from the starting area to the Warlock's chamber, and silence his nightmares indefinitely.

Along the way you'll find weapons, loot, health refills, mana refills, cures, keys for unlocking, and equipment as to try to reach your ultimate goal. Some of the obtainable, and RPG-like items will be found in treasure chests while others can be found out in the open in the more hard to reach areas. As with the likes of "Resident Evil 4" you will also find that 'Abyss Odyssey' has a mysterious merchant, or shopkeeper placed at random spots within the labyrinthine Abyss for obtaining the more rare weapons, and items within the game. By collecting coins from chests, breakable crates, and vases you will be able to buy better equipment (Weapons, Braclets, Necklaces, Rings), camp tokens for saving your progress at the various altars, playable creatures, and refill items that will help you survive for the long haul. Aside from the point "A" to point "B" traveling you will find areas in the Abyss that not only vary in content, but that also reward the player with chance encounters with special creatures of interest, and boss fights that will test your mettle as a Metroidvania player. There is even a treasure room that is marked with a gold color on the map diagram where throwing earned coins into a fountain could unlock something of true value.

As you encounter the many creatures, and beasts of the Abyss along your journey to the Warlock you will rank up through kills, and gain the opportunity to capture, and play as the creatures themselves. Switching characters in-game not only affords you a chance to save your main character if he/she is low on health, but will also allow you to engage the enemy in a different fighting style. Each character within 'Abyss Odyssey', whether they be the main protagonists, or the playable creatures have a moveset that is not unlike the ones featured within a fighting game. Along with the applied fighting game mechanics, the equipped on-hand weapon, and assigned, and upgradable special attacks you'll become a force to reckon with. Combos are possible as are generic platforming style attacks in this never ending battle.

In the way of fighting game mechanics you'll find that nothing really comes off as being as in-depth as something like 'Street Fighter', or 'BlazBlue'. Your attacks basically vary according to the combined (Right Thumbstick) directional input, and the followed up application of a "SQUARE" button press. In order to perform those special attacks that I mentioned earlier on you'll need to simply press the "Triangle" button after assigning your preferred special attack at an altar. Speaking of special attacks they can be upgraded at the altars as you level up, and earn skill points. By defeating certain creatures you'll get new skills, and skill points which can be used to add up to three boosts (Damage, Mana, Shield) for enhanced effect. The damage boost will up the damage percentage of the special attack/move, the mana boost will earn you an extra amount of mana as you use the special attack/move, and the shield boost will either make a special move projectile invincible, or able to inflict damage even if an enemy creature is blocking. Just know that some special attacks use up mana, and others can be used an infinite mount of times without limitations.

For those of you looking for throwing options 'Abyss Odyssey' does incorporate the fighting game mechanic as well. All you need to do to throw an enemy is to press "CIRCLE' when up close to a creature, and it will toss them in the air supposing the throw connects. Blocking which is a huge part of any fighting game style gameplay is also included as a combat option. To block you can hold either "R2", or "L2". To perform an evasive maneuver/dodge you'll need to press either the 'R1', or 'L1' shoulder button. As straightforward as the control setup is, and as easy to understand as the combo based fighting game gameplay is you'll be hard pressed to do anything remotely like a fighting game due to the often times sluggish frame rate, and character movement.

By continually playing through the game, and defeating the Warlock, and his living nightmares with the tools afforded to you you will ultimately be setting the difficulty level for the gamers who continue to play 'Abyss Odyssey'. To enhance the provided gameplay experience in such a manner 'Abyss Odyssey' ACE Team has incorporated a system that allows them to track how easily the Warlock is beaten, and how many times he has been defeated in order to adjust the challenge accordingly. As the collective community's progress reaches certain in-game milestones, and the collected data comes in the Warlock will be changed in appearance, and will become more difficult to defeat. This in itself adds tremendous replay value to the already deeply involved game. The added fact that ACE Team has included collectible, and unlockable things such as Warlock journal entries (which can be accessed & read at the main menu), and playable characters/creatures only makes the game's lasting value even greater. For those of you looking to perfect your "Abyss Odyssey" fighting skills you'll also find a "Training" mode in place in which your chosen/unlocked characters can be used to perform combos on a straw dummy.

One thing to note, and not forget as you play is that 'Abyss Odyssey' can be played solo, or through an online co-op multiplayer. While a solo playthrough is very manageable if you don't get too careless, the multiplayer option (Quick Match ...) will help you beat the odds much more easily. If you do choose to go the multiplayer route know that friendly fire is always on, meaning that even though you are in co-op you can still kill your partner. Before I close I also need to mention that should your main character die off during a solo playthrough you will have a second chance to regain them by continuing your playthrough as a soldier, and getting that soldier to an altar. As a soldier you will be able to pick up the main character's dropped equipment, and carry it along with you, so that when/if you do resurrect the main protagonist they can start anew with the weapons, and equipment that they would have lost otherwise.

There's definitely plenty of things to do in an 'Abyss Odyssey' playthrough, and the more that you play the more you will get out of the game. Replay value is a huge driving force behind this particular Metroidvania style platformer, and ACE Team has built it in such a way that you'll get your money's worth, and then some.

Conclusion ...

As I continued playing through 'Abyss Odyssey' I really began to enjoy the game. While it's not exactly perfect in execution it still looks amazing, and offers enough of replay value that it's worth returning to. I love the procedurally generated nature of the Abyss, and the many different things you encounter as you travel from the entrance, and get closer to the Warlock's whereabouts. The level design for the most part is beautiful, and expertly crafted. At some points though there are some obstacles, and hazards that are unfairly placed making for unnecessarily difficult progress. Other complaints lie with the sometimes sluggish frame rate issues, and the "fighting game" mechanics that don't really come off as being fighting game oriented. For the most part I personally found the playable characters to each have a severely limit move set that was something along the lines of what was offered in 'Dead or Alive". Your attacks depend heavily on the direction you are pushing the 'Right Thumbstick', and the added press of the single attack button (SQUARE). The additional block, and evade mechanics, and special attacks do little in the way of promoting a fighting game theme. Even so the gameplay mechanics fared well in-game, and didn't become overly complicated like I had expected them to.

When it comes to recommending this latest ATLUS release I'm gonna say it's definitely worth owning regardless of the flaws. If you are a fan of the Metroidvania genre as I am, and loved 'Castlevania: SotN then you will love what ACE Team has in store for you. There's plenty of replay value within the game, and the ability to play multiplayer co-op further extends that said value. There's also plenty of extra content to unlock as you continue your journey down the abysmal depths including a fleshed out behind-the-scenes story of how the Warlock became the slumbering nuisance that he is. I hope that you at least give the demo a try before writing 'Abyss Odyssey' off as just another generic indie. It is anything but generic, and definitely has a lot to offer anyone willing to buy the full game!

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