Thursday, June 4, 2015

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (PS VITA)

Set in a futuristic Japan, "Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy" tells the tale of a special operations team known as the 'Xth Squad', or "Xianth TransHuman Squad" who specialize in abilities known as 'Code-Rise'. Code-Rise, as it were is an ability which allows said individuals to summon the power of Bloods (historical/mythological persona) through codes in order combat the genetically altered sub-species that is plaguing humankind. It is these gifted undercover students who face off against the violent sub-species known as 'Variants' who themselves are being manipulated, and engineered behind-the-scenes by an unknown source who selfishly aims to do harm to the citizens of the Hinowa District for their own benefit. In collaboration with the TPF (A suspicious peace driven organization) the Variant puppeteers also aim to sway the balance of the world's current governing authority, the XPD.

Passing back, and forth from a dimension referred to as 'Abyss' the Variants are able to travel from Japan, and the alternate dimension while doing the bidding of those who would use them for such a threatening cause. Many students from the Hinowa Academy (which acts a front for the Xth Squad's base of operations) have been killed in this escalating battle of good versus evil while the XPD, and Xth Squad continue to work together in an effort to prevent more murderous attacks. Thankfully the main protagonist who was soon to become a Variant's snack himself was spared with the help of a former Xth member, and was recruited together with various other members sporting the Code-Rise ability. Posing as Hinowa Academy students these pupils are to be trained in secret via the CPA Headquarters to become the saviors of the human race. Whether or not they'll succeed is yet to be seen ...

After the game's abruptly started intro playthrough you will find your purpose, and place as a newly recruited Xth Squad team member. Your first task after your briefing at the main menu based CPA Headquarters will be to go along with a provided, and pre-made six person squad, or craft a squad using the game's multi-layered customization menu. Supposing you chose the latter option you'll start off by selecting each characters' appearance which coincides with male/female versions of the different character classes. In 'Operation Abyss' you'll find that character classes come in a familiar assortment including both ranged, and up front attackers/supporters. There's an Archer, Assassin, Mage, Warrior, Academic, Knight, and Healer each of which are referred to in equipment stats through their corresponding abbreviations. After choosing the image representation of your character/s (which come in different colors) you will be tasked with selecting their 'Blood' type.

The 'Blood' type is basically an assisting persona that acts as a skills learning mechanism, and a stat booster. While they are merely a means for improving certain RPG stats, and for allowing that character to learn skills that go along with their class alignment they too are characters of their own. In fact the 'Blood' types are historical, and mythological persons of interest from origins across the globe. Amongst them you'll find male, and female version of personas like Moses, and even Hattori Hanzo each of which come with a 'Good', 'Neutral', or 'Evil' alignment that aligns with your character's class orientation. After this vital selection is made, and your four bonus stat upgrade points are applied you will then be tasked with naming, and personalizing your created character/s.

Character bios, as they were include everything from a full name, and nickname to an age, voice, and typed in trait description. Once you've squared all that way via the "ENLIST" option within the 'CPA Headquarters' menu you can move on into the game, and begin taking on missions that the head of the Xth has to offer. Before you do so though it's best that you adjust the formation via the same 'CPA Headquarters' menu ("Formation" sub-menu) with the top row at the bottom of the screen housing your short distance attackers, and your supporting/long distance members lining the bottom three spots of the same screen area. Skills, and Weapons definitely matter when setting up your squad's formation. Another thing I should mention is that you can create up to 24 squad characters, but can only assign 6 at a time. This can be used as a means of a back-up when you can't afford medical treatment after a mission, and need a character to fill a position in your squad formation. When it comes to pre-mission details you will definitely need to pay close attention to the text messages that people of importance disclose to you in regards to chosen missions as they will clue you in as to where you need to go on the 'City Map', and what exactly it is you should be doing to complete said mission. Missions come in a decent variety ranging from 'Repeat', 'Hunting', and 'Investigation' missions, each of which are rated in difficulty by the number of stars setup behind their listing. The more stars that are marked the more difficult the mission is. Do not take it lightly.

Speaking of missions the missions in 'Operation Abyss" are not always dungeon-crawling expeditions as one might expect, but do also include City Map menu 'Contact' information gathering investigations. In the menu based investigations you will be hunting down characters of interest via the 'Contact' sub-menus within each of the 'City Map' locale listings, and will be relaying found information back to the 'Mission' portion of the 'CPA Headquarters' menu. As far as the labyrinth themed outings go you will find that they are of the dungeon-crawling sort meaning that it is all shown in a 3D first-person point of view in which the randomly spawning Variants appear before you in a 2D sprite style form. Sometimes the Variants will spawn in groups, and initiate an attack sequence unprovoked while other times you can 'observe' to avoid fighting them, or 'attack' with a preemptive strike. According to your Squad formation, and the character classes you chose to assign to each spot you can use various tactics to finish Variants off in a turn-based fashion. As I mentioned before there are different classes of characters, and these classes come into play through the attached 'Blood' types. You'll find that some classes such as the Archer, Mage, and Healer are better suited for the back row positions while the Knights, Warriors, and Assassins are better suited for the front row. I should also mention that the remaining class known as an Academic is also best suited for the back row in that their attack skills aren't initially all that useful. What the 'academics' specialize in is the unlocking of doors, and the disarming of code traps which come into play within the Abyss labyrinths. It goes without saying that you'll also need to equip your squad members with the best of gear, accessories, and weapons to face, and survive against the more formidable Variant threats.

Getting back to the Abyss ... In the Abyss labyrinths, which are made accessible via the City Map's 'Dispatch' sub-menu you will have to traverse their maze-like structures, and layered levels in order to fight off targeted Variants, recover items of interest, and meet up with certain individuals that are tied to the game's in-depth story. Along the way you'll run into traps, hidden doors/areas, and even stronger types of Variants known as Wanted Variants. While not every feature is disclosed from the start the game will ease the player into each Abyss menu function, and feature. As far as Xth Squad characters in the Abyss go you will find that they each have a select variety of battle options to choose from including some which are character class specific. Among the basic options you'll find 'Attack', 'Defend', 'Spell', 'Item', and 'Run'. These are pretty much self-explanatory, and do not vary much from character class to character class. Aside from these battle options characters which level up via the paid for 'rest' option at the 'Classroom' 'Medical' sub-menu after leveling up via a completed mission will learn new skills from their paired Bloods which can be used in the place of standard attacks during an Abyss battle. Skills for some characters enhance attacks while others add additional support options for the rest of the squad. Utilizing the basic, and learned skills is an important part of mastering the battle system in 'Operation Abyss'.

While doing your duty, and fulfilling your role as a Xth Squad out on the battlefield (aka, Abyss) you'll be able to loot some codes which can help better equip your squad for the uphill battles before them. Codes in the Abyss labyrinths can be found in two ways. This includes the floating blue triangular icons, and Code traps that are reward to you after battle victories with Variants. Both types of Code traps are rated alphabetically with 'D' Codes being the common ones, and 'A' being the rarer finds. Either way you find them you will need to disarm the Code trap in order to collect what it contains. If you fail in disarming said trap a single squad member, or all squad members could be affected by the attached status ailment. Status ailments range from a simple shock, to a constant poisoned status amongst other afflicting things. You'll have to pay attention to the character listing after selecting to disarm the trap as it will show what trap, if any are associated with each character in your squad. Sometimes a 'No Trap' status will be listed by a players name giving you a free access to the item without trouble. Other times, supposing you have an 'Academic' character you can disarm the trap no matter what status ailment is attached.

As far as what the codes contain go you'll find materials in the form of equipment, accessories, weapons, and junk items that can be used in the 'Development' sub-menu to create, boost, and affix ailment damage/resistance features to specific items in your gathered inventory. Like the character customization options the provided 'Classroom' sub-menu known as 'Development' opens up a virtual cornucopia of features meant to equip your characters with the best of equipment. In the sub-menu you'll find further sub-menu listings under it including 'Issue' which allows you to purchase equipment with in-game currency (GP) for your characters as well as 'Deliver (sell)', ''Craft', 'Boost', 'Strip', and 'Affix'. Each option beyond 'Issue', and 'Deliver' coincides with the others in that you'll be using collected materials/Plug-ins to craft items, boost items, and affix status ailments/resistance to weapons. Along with the crafting of items you can also 'Strip' down duplicates for materials, namely the JW (Junk Weapons), or JA (Junk Armor). Stripping down said junk items will gain you more materials which can then be used to craft new weapons, equipment, accessories, restoration items, and key items which in turn are crucial to advancing the game's plot. The 'Boost' sub-menu feature will having you combine weapon enhancers with duplicate weapons, and armor in order to get more powerful equipment. As far as the 'Affix' sub-menu feature goes it's as it sounds. You'll be affixing gathered/crafted plug-in materials to gathered/crafted weapons in order to give said weapons ailment, or resistance perks. It goes without saying that you could spend hours crafting the perfect setup for each of your 24 squad members.

For those of you totally confused by all that I just said worry not as the game has it's own tiered guides within the main menu system. Everything is broken down, and explained in order through these outline guides as well as through character interactions as you advance in the game. Just know that there's a serious amount of character management, a decent amount of Abyss to battle through, a lot of text to read, and a lot of voice-overs to listen to as you go about learning what is going on in the world of 'Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy".

Detail I Forgot to Mention ...

In combat there is an all powerful group based attack that can be used to turn the tide on larger groups of Variants, and the Wanted variants that act as boss fights. These group attacks called, 'Unity' come in three different variations including 'Brave', 'Magic', and 'Academy'. Brave 'Unity' attacks are more about assault options on multiple enemies while 'Magic' offers up full party support options as well as some magic attack options. As far as 'Academy' goes it too offers up group based support options only. In order to us the 'Unity' feature you must first build up the Unity meter by entering battles, and attacking/defending against Variants. Once filled you can pick one of the three Unity types, and go into their sub-menu to select a specific Unity attack, or support option. The more you use the Unity feature the more options will open up in each category. Unity also helps your Xth squad to work better together as a group.

Graphics & Sound ...

Surprisingly there's not too much in the way of anime eye candy in this particular dungeon crawling experience. Sure you have the animated character panel art, and still images of character classes/blood classes, but there's not really much else that is eye catching. Where this game excels is the ingenius battle system, and the customization options that were put into place. I'm not saying the modest amount of art that's provided is bad, but it does seem to be lacking, and a bit repetitive at times. The Variants in particular are often times repeat images of themselves. Not only that, but the Variants are quite possibly the most unimpressive part of the battle outside of the Wanted Variant types. Their scaled down size really does their monstrosity, and savagery an injustice. While they can kill your squad off easily at times they just don't look as threatening as I feel they should.

In the way of voice-overs the English is not all that bad, and does give the provided characters depth, and personality. I was surprised to find as much vocal dialogue as I did. When it comes to the soundtrack it's an alright addition to the action that's taking place. It varies according to situation, and location as it should. Of course battle music is more intense than the rest, and provides that anxious atmosphere that is necessary in a battle scenario. Even the alarm sound going off when your risk level is at it's highest (a risk level meter fills up as you kill Variants) alerting you that a Wanted Variant might appear makes the battle seem more engaging.

The Verdict ...

This game is a tough one to judge. I found that it's rather simplified for an RPG in appearance, but that in functionality, and delivery it is deeply involved. The customization, character attributes, and crafting system really had me drawn in. I suppose the experience, if I were to narrow it down ever so bluntly it could be compared to a pick up, and put down iOS style JRPG experience. It's not as demanding as the traditional turn based dungeon crawler is, but there are some challenges to be found in it. Most of your time in 'Operation Abyss' will, unfortunately be spent in the menus interacting with characters of interest, and crafting the gear that your squad so desperately needs to advance as you advance the plot. The plot itself does have depth to it, but most of that depth is tied to text, and stiff story panels with animated 2D character images. I know all of this sounds negative, but surprisingly despite it's failures it did keep my attention with the interesting RPG mechanics that it introduced. Looking beyond it's shortcomings, and focusing on what makes it so enjoyable to play (the pick up, and play aspect + creative character customization) instead I can see this game being worth the $39.99 asking price, but mostly to those niche dungeon-crawler lovers. I just wish that more effort, and resources had been put into the game's art presentation. Other than that it is kind of fun to play.

*NOTE*: "This is an "M" rated game for a reason. Those reasons include sexual references, and violent death depictions."

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