Abyss Odyssey is a new platformer from publisher Atlus that is really hard to describe, let alone explain in a written review. It has a strange, dreamlike quality which actually makes sense when you understand the storyline. When I play a game for a review it is normally easy for me to formulate opinions and even put together the structure of my review while I am playing. It wasn’t so easy with Abyss Odyssey. I spent much of my time trying to figure out what it was I was experiencing and the rest of my time going back and forth on whether or not I enjoyed it. Strange indeed. In the end however, I was able to put down my controller and realize that Abyss Odyssey is a title that admirably embraces its uniqueness but never quite utilizes it in a manner to propel itself past an unfortunate layer of monotony and mediocrity.
Abyss Odyssey was developed by Chilean development team ACE Team and everything about the title seems to embrace the studio’s Chilean roots. Much of the imagery and lore is tied to their own stories and myths and while the references may be lost on the rest of us, it’s intriguing to watch. The story is rather bare bones, but is still strangely, albeit briefly, interesting. A warlock has fallen asleep deep underground beneath the city of Santiago, Chile. While asleep however, his dreams are manifesting themselves in the form of fantastic and terrifying creatures that have begun appearing and reaching the surface due to several large fissures that have appeared throughout the city. Your character(s) dream visions themselves and take it upon themselves to travel deep underground to awaken the warlock and stop the nightmare.
The game gives the player three different characters to play with, each with different play styles. Only one is unlocked from the onset, but the other two can be unlocked as you go. The gameplay mixes up several different genres such as platformer, brawler, and RPG but never truly succeeds with any of them. Above ground you can run left or right in a confined area, but there is not much reason to stay there except to purchase items or engage in pointless conversation. Underground is where the action is; every level takes you deeper and deeper down until you finally reach the warlock. It’s an extremely simple setup, but getting down to the guy is a bit of a slog.
The crux of the gameplay resides in the varied move set you are given with which to fight against the monsters you encounter. Unfortunately the gameplay is sluggish and often unresponsive. Your enemies ascend on you in greater and greater numbers as you go and they are quick, nimble and relentless; unfortunately you are not. The move set is impressive but it’s hard to land the hits that you want. As your enemies are leaping around and assaulting you from every angle, you will likely find yourself swinging at spots where nobody is standing while you struggle to keep up with the hordes. You can actually pull off some pretty interesting and useful moves; it’s always just such a chore to do so. On top of all of that, it’s all rather repetitive, the rogue-like aspects popping up whenever you die and are forced to restart from the beginning. You get to keep your experience and money you’ve collected, but every death means that you have to redo everything you’ve just done and when it wasn’t terribly fun the first time, this can quickly become draining on the player.
Speaking of the enemies, they are truly a highlight of the game. The entire game is filled with some of the most fantastic and interesting enemy designs that I have ever seen. When the gameplay and story wasn’t driving me to continue my descent downward, the prospect of seeing more of the monsters was. One moment you are fighting a giant, colorful tree creature and the next you’re fighting a technicolor bull with strange tentacle-like things growing out of its side. You will even meet some interesting non-aggressive characters down there like a guitar playing skeleton that doles out useless advice if you pay him enough. The character design reminded me of another obscure game that I played some time ago called El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. It was however, like Abyss Odyssey, a title that relied too much on style and not enough on substance.
Environments are equally as impressive. Every level, both foreground and background, will treat you to highly detailed and beautiful scenery. I’ve never traveled to the underground of Chile, but if this game is to be believed then the entire sewer system runs through a beautiful green wilderness, a wondrous labyrinth of caverns, a winter wonderland, and more. While all of the environments are nice to look at, they are also procedurally generated and change each time you re-enter them (and you’ll re-enter them a LOT!). This is a component of games that I have never really cared for. I feel that procedurally generated levels rob the player of the developer’s vision, and Abyss Odyssey suffers from this as well. Perhaps it was meant to be this way in an effort to maintain the dream-like aesthetic, but it left me feeling the game had a lack of cohesiveness that may have made it feel like a fully realized universe. Also, as beautiful as the environments are, there isn’t enough variety in them and they all start to look the same after you’ve seen the same one multiple times.
It may sound as if I’m completely down on this game, but there were several moments where Abyss Odyssey showed its potential. When the combat system (occasionally) clicks it can be quite fun and there are some useful and interesting weapons to pick up as you progress. There’s also an opportunity to level up your characters and collect lots of loot, which are things that all of us gamers have learned to love and appreciate. Unfortunately for everything the game manages to do right, it finds itself lacking in several other areas. I would never recommend that someone NOT play this game because I believe there is a small, niche audience for it. On the other hand, I can’t imagine recommending that anyone should play it because it never gave me the sense that I was whole-heartedly enjoying myself. As such, Abyss Odyssey resides in that unfortunate space for titles that are not bad games, but are not particularly great either; it’s just sort of…there.
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