From "Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy" to "Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy" not much has changed. That which has changed, and been added onto though is significant enough in it's own right. This time around you'll find a new story arch following the CPD's, and Xth Squad's joint involvement in a new case surrounding a mysterious giant embryo that has manifested via an abyss above the 20XX version of Tokyo. You'll also find much more in the way of squad customization, and a couple of new mechanics that are thrown into the game to beef up gameplay. The experience, at it's core, is one of the classic dungeon crawling variety, and features many of the same characters and creatures that you've encountered in the previous installment. The biggest difference among those encounters being the introduction of you as an entirely new Code Riser, and Xth Squad recruit. As the new man, woman, or gender varied individual you'll be taking your squad members of various roles and character classes into abyss labyrinths to deal with variant threats while investigating the happenings surrounding the embryo phenomenon. You can make the experience at hand as personal, or as strictly basic as you like. Either way the game features a lot of content, and plenty of hours worth of tasks to take on as you solve the latest mystery, and face an omnipotent force that thinks your destiny is that of extinction.
In "Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy" you enter the scene as a discovered talent of sorts. A "Code Riser" who has the ability to invoke the power of history's heroes, or blood codes. These heroes which include famous legends such as that of Leonardo Da Vinci, and Jean 'd Arc among others will offer up new abilities or skills in exchange for shared experience. By pairing up with these heroes via blood code you are able to develop new skills through the game's leveling system which can benefit your squad in combat. The same talent, as it were, is also a part of every other squad member you recruit, or are assigned. As far as your destiny is concerned it is at CPA headquarters, a hidden base of operations within one of Tokyo's premiere high schools that you will learn your fate as the protagonist, and leader of your new six person Xth Squad. It is also at this location where you'll be healing up, developing gear, and taking on the tasks that must be taken on in order to solve the current dilemma. Tasks which involve key missions, and optional assignments of varying difficulty ratings.
In the basic sense you'll be moving between four main menus of operational business as you forward the plot, and grind your squad to leveled up perfection. These main menus, or locales include CPA Headquarters, The Classroom, The Development Lab, and the Medical Lab. Each of which contains a sub-menu of options to improve your squad's stats, and take on tasks that are meant to help solve the mystery of the embryo's enigmatic presence. At 'CPA Headquarters', for example you'll be selecting key missions that advance the plot as well as assignments in the form of quests, eliminations, and investigations. It's these things that will trigger character dialogue, and interactions when completed. The tasks taken on (one at a time) also reward your squad with beneficial items, and in-game currency which can be spent at the Development Lab, or in the Medical Lab. When it comes to 'Development Lab' options you'll find that crafting, and item purchasing comes back in fairly much the same manner as in Operation Abyss. By battling in your abyss outings you'll obtain materials, and decipherable codes that can be used to create, boost, and craft new gear that will help you to survive better against the progressive threat of 'Wanted Variants'. These items, and gear can only be equipped to their associated character classes though, so knowing your squad members is the key to proper preparation.
When it comes to the 'Medical Lab' offerings this hub of healing acts as a means to heal, and level up squad members after battle. Options for healing include a basic healing for the simple leveling up of a squad member as well as a full healing, and a vacation. Each of which is progressively more beneficial. In some cases dying, or symptomatic/ailment afflicted characters can be brought to the medical lab via menu access to be revived or cured as well. Making sure your squad is in tip top shape is imperative for future progress. Should your squad be killed off entirely you'll either have to pay a set amount of in-game currency for revival, or create a new squad from scratch, and start over. If memory serves me correctly the medical lab also has a GP (Growth Points = Currency) which you can store GP for the 'Growth Operation". The 'Growth Operation' is basically a way to level a squad member up using the earned currency you gain from battle. It is in the medical lab that squad therapy can also be applied further changing a squad member to your liking.
The Xth Squad & You ...
You, and your Xth Squad basically have two ground level options when starting the game. You can choose a "Basic" playthrough where already designed characters are assigned to your squad during the tutorial phase, or a customization centered playthrough where the options to fully customize your squad members are made available. Supposing you go the basic route they'll come complete with their name, blood code (hero of history), and character avatar already predetermined. The other option is one of free customization in which you can change different parts of your created squad members including things such as their hair, face, armor, or other visual parts. You can also tamper with gender, and age as well. Of course the ability to name your squad members, and add in an alias is also an option in the latter mode. In both modes you will still be able to customize your squad's name regardless of which one you choose to go with. In my squad's case I named them the "Devil's Rejects". A nod to a certain Rob Zombie film.
Managing your squad is going to be done in a couple of ways outside of that initial creation. One way being through the menu system I explained earlier, and the other way through the menu system included in the labyrinthine mazes of the abyss that you go into for mission sake. In the equipment sense you can micro-manage various aspects of your character including their weapons, armor, and accessories. This can be done in, and out of battle via the "Status", or "Equip" options. You can also change their blood code to better suit your squad's build. Speaking of which this time around the developer has expanded upon the blood code mechanic, and has allowed for characters to utilize a "Cross-Blood" feature which enables them to master two different blood codes at one time. This includes a main, and sub blood code. The trade off of using this is that character blood code development is divided between the two assigned heroes of history, and in turn causes each to level up more slowly. The benefit on the other hand is that your cross-blood enhanced squad member can learn, and use different class based skills as they level up. Making them more powerful, and more useful in the process.
Minding your squad setup is only part of the process of in-game preparedness, and that is made more evident through the abyss environments themselves. Your squad within the abyss environments must mind certain in-game elements as they trek through the mazes, and face randomly and fixated enemies (variants). As far as the abyss environments go you'll have to mind special zones which alter your travel with added effects (sometimes adverse) as well as tiles that will sometimes cause damage or hinder progress if you do not have the proper tool/item on hand. When it comes to variant encounters you'll sometimes happen across floating fang depicting icons which when run into will trigger a turn based battle. In other cases enemies will randomly appear as you are moving along the corridors and will immediately trigger a battle. Battles, whatever the type will raise the risk threat, and in turn will cause 'Wanted Variants' to appear which are in themselves like a boss fight. Defeating enemies rewards you with currency, and sometimes a code that can be investigated, and disarmed to gain you items that can be taken to the Development Lab for use. Escaping from battle is also a viable option in that it will lower the threat level, and help you survive longer in some situations.
Another thing to focus on in the abyss is your character abilities. Characters, depending on class, each have basic attacks, defenses, spells, and skills accordingly. These equate to weapon based attacks and defenses that aren't limited by resources as well as spells and skills which are sometimes limited. Knowing when to use what in the turn based battle is the key to victory. Just know that each squad member can only choose one action per turn. Along with these basic action options comes the 'Unity' skill. The main character in particular has access to this powerful skill, and can only use it when the Unity gauge is filled. It requires a building up of the unity meter via battles. Said gauge is also refilled after you complete a CPA HQ task. In regards to the unity skill it comes in a basic, magic, and defense type that can offer up a squad a proper chance at defeating a more formidable variant, or wanted variant. Like your squad members the unity gauge will also level up with progress through abyss battle scenarios.
Traversing the abyss with your squad isn't a totally blind ordeal, and along with available squad action choices comes access to a mini map. This miniature map located at the top right-hand corner of the screen will help you keep track of where you are. It'll even show you where you have yet to travel. In some abyss mazes you'll find that you'll need to activate switches, unlock color coded doors, or even make your way into hidden areas through false walls. Staying alive long enough to complete given task objectives is important, but should you need to exit for Medical Lab healing there are a few ways to do so. One such way involves backtracking to the beginning portal, and exiting through it. The other two ways involve either using a squad member's spell, or a tool/item for instant escape.
One final thing I should mention is that formation also plays a role in your success as a Xth Squad. You have a total of six party members. Three can be assigned to front positions, and three to the back. Depending on whether the characters are an attack, or support type you'll want to carefully decided which row they should be on. The formation can be assigned at CPA HQ via a menu option of the same name. Also at CPA HQ lies several contextual menus pertaining to in-game feature breakdowns, lore information, and a variant bestiary in which images, and info on variants are shown for reference sake. There's a lot of information to read between the episodic gameplay tasks making "Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy" a more content rich experience than it would have been otherwise.
The Presentation ...
Operation Babel is a game that utilizes a lot of different visual JRPG elements. You'll find character, and creature designs in the form of still panel art, and animated cut-outs fixed atop dialogue boxes or environmental settings. There are even 3D background elements added to cutscenes further improving on the game's production value. The game also includes a cinematic anime style opening fitting of such a game. In the way of audio features the voice-overs are Japanese, but include English text for better understanding. The soundtrack itself is thematic. It evolves, and changes along with the circumstances and situations. You'll find in the way of music that there's orchestral tracks, and even synthesized tunes of a more modern age. It all blends together quite nicely making the game both flashy, and full of substance.
The Verdict ...
To limit confusion I'll properly address my former opinions of "Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy", and how I've come to a change of opinion in regards to "Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy". Looking back at the first game's verdict I can see where I was coming from. The game does have that mobile game style presentation about it in the sense that it's heavily menu based, and that it has gameplay which is somewhat simplistic compared to other RPG sub-genre offerings. This newest adventure is not really all that different in that respect. In saying that though I did notice the visual elements were more varied this time around, and more interesting as a result of their arrangement in Operation Babel. Beyond that I think the main turning point for me was the ability to choose how to play the game. Getting paired with already created, and ideal Xth Squad members via the "Basic" option made the gameplay easier to deal with. I also liked that the developer offered more customization options via the other mode type. That in itself opened up the game more to those who wanted to make the game more personal.
As far as frustrating gameplay goes this game can be quite frustrating if you choose to fast click through your actions in battle without much thought. That's what I was referring to when I was talking about the gameplay in the previous game turning me away due to it's extremely demanding nature. I do find it odd that in my first review I ranted on about it not being demanding. I suppose I was talking about it in the sense that you can pick this game up, and put it down without feeling pressured to stick with it for long periods of time in a single sitting. It is sort of segmented in a way through it's missions that abandoning it for a while to play something else won't leave you thinking that you must get back to it quickly before you forget something. Things in the plot are easily understood, and remembered. Even the mechanics (though complex) are easy to remember. Overall I think it's a well organized experience that JRPG, and dungeon crawler fans will enjoy.
In closing I'll say "Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy" is deserving of the $39.99 price tag for the standard edition. Even the $59.99 limited NISA store exclusive looks like a steal to me considering how much I've grown to enjoy the game. Operation Babel is a darkly delightful dungeon crawling JRPG with the gamers' preference in mind. It earns in full a respectful recommendation from the Inferno!
The game will release on May 16th, so there's still time to pre-order, and with it being a PS Vita exclusive I'd say that's the best route to go if you want a physical copy. Link to NISA's exclusive down below ...
Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy (LE) ~ http://store.nisamerica.com/operation-babel-new-tokyo-legacy-limited-edition-ps-vita