I’ll be honest: this is a genre that really doesn’t sit well with me around 90% of the time. Things are often very limiting and I’ve run into far too many titles with no tutorial or direction given. It wasn’t until I tried Demon Gaze that this genre made me feel welcome (and expect a lot of me referring back to that game in this playtest—it’s my only reference point with this company). But I was still hesitant, despite these being the same devs, because Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is a remake.
From 2008-2009, Experience Inc. released their first games—a Japan-only trilogy on PC known as Generation Xth (pronounce that last word as “zith”). This is a remake of the first two-thirds of that trilogy: Code Hazard and Code Breaker (the final part, Code Realize, is what was made into Operation Babyl). I have no idea how the older versions played, but one major potential tipping-point for me would be whether this remake decided to be anywhere near as friendly as Demon Gaze in terms of easing you into things.
My worries dissipated immediately once the introductory scenes were over and the game outright handed me a recommended party, then proceeded to explain some (not all) mechanics as they became relevant. Stuff like what the different classes do and the elemental weakness chart need to looked up in the in-game encyclopedia, but otherwise the game does a decent job of it.
The story, to heavily summarize, involves kidnapping and murder cases, with plenty of politics behind the scenes, as well as people turning into the monsters you fight. Some of them will even talk during the fight as you attack them. Significantly darker stuff than what I expected, but I was pretty unfazed because this has nothing on The Awakened Fate Ultimatum in terms of that. Oddly, the plot treats your entire squad as a group with a singular identity, despite each character having personality traits set during character setup and Demon Gaze having the party members interact with characters individually in cutscenes.
The flow of the game is like this: you are a squad within a secret government organization. You will receive missions that send you into one of several dungeons. You may be given a specific entry point from a list to use for the mission at hand (some dungeons have 2 or 4 different entrances). You are then left to explore with little-to-no direction to find your way to your target.
And I really mean that—you often need to go to very specific spots on the map, with nothing telling you that you need to go there until you find another unspecified spot that the game didn’t even hint at. This isn’t usually a problem… until you hit certain areas in the game where the maps are huge labyrinths, with just as little direction as you had before. I got into the habit of completely filling in the maps from Demon Gaze, so I was lucky to find these things as I went along.
And, on that note, I’m glad I played that game first. Demon Gaze eased you into dungeon complexity, with things like one-way walls and hidden doors not being a thing until about half-way through the game. Here, however, you will be seeing these things from the very beginning, along with large amounts of hidden portals (functionally just staircases) that are absolutely required. It’s a good thing this game gives you a character from the academic class in the default party to auto-detect most (but not all) of these, as well as using the memo system from Demon Gaze, since helpful players whom were either fellow members of the press or Europeans who played ahead of me, left notes informing me where to examine for much of this hidden stuff. Hopefully said system doesn’t get swamped with “[female character] *sexy* Butt Black Shroom In-And-Out Ecstasy” like in the aforementioned game.
Having all of this from the start isn’t really a negative, but rather an indicator of the level of player each game expects. The interface seems to be indicative of this as well. If you compare the item menus side-by-side with Demon Gaze, you’ll find Operation Abyss to be wordier to the point where the font is significantly smaller, and also more cumbersome to navigate. A handful of items are also not as clear (I still don’t know what “U-Bst” on one of the items in your starting inventory means).
Between missions, you need to identify your loot. This is rather standard fare, with a specific class (the academic) being able to identify for you, but having a chance of self-inflicting the Fear ailment after a failed attempt. Or you can just pay in-game money. After identifying your loot, you can then use it to craft equipment and other items. You can either go straight into another mission, or, depending on the story, be quite literally told “go grind until a new mission shows up”.
I actually unintentionally sequence-broke because of this, as I explored the entire sewer and an area it connects with before I was intended to. So, when a mission sent me to the area later, I entered from a faster, unintended entrance. While much of what was supposed to be there was there, the mission didn’t give me a bit of dialogue about what I was supposed to do until I entered from the intended entrance… even though I’d already done most of it.
In any event, I haven’t brought up the combat… because it’s pretty standard combat. You have two rows of three characters, the enemy has an unlimited amount of rows, some attacks can’t reach from the back, etc. Worth noting is that the spells here use the set-amount-of-uses-per-spell-set system used in most games of this genre, not the unified JRPG-like MP system used in Demon Gaze.
There are also unity-based moves, where you fill up a bar by attacking or being attacked and you can spend it, as well as your entire party’s turn, to do something. The damaging ones aren’t worth it unless there are tons of enemies in the current fight, but there’s one to guarantee escape. This bar’s maximum only increases as you use it, forcing you to use it often if you want it to be of more utility later on. Also, after defeating all the enemies in an encounter, another encounter may begin immediately, with no break, multiple times in a row. This got very annoying very quickly. I suppose I should also say that, if this game has bosses in it, it hasn’t really made them easily-distinguishable from normal enemies to the point I’ve played aside from Nono. The Wanted Variants are the closest other thing, but they’re really just normal mobs that have conditions to spawn.
There’s only one more thing I feel the need to bring up. As you start the game for the first time, you’re given the choice between two different types of visuals for your player characters, which you’ll be locked into. The default is to have static, more detailed art that fits the game’s new art style, but you also have the option of using the older art style (only for the player characters), with the character art adjusting to match most of your equipment. I went with the default because the classic mode makes all the faces look so generic. Also, I don’t really want to be looking at some of the fanservice armor that you can give the female characters (among the equipment I’ve come across, I’ve spotted pasties and “battle lingerie”).
While the tense atmosphere of this game isn’t really for me, I thought the underlying game was alright. I’ll probably finish it on my own time.