REVIEW: Abyss Odyssey [PS3/360/PC]

There’s something to be said about the mid-tier games.  Triple A titles are constantly derided for their samey nature and artistic direction, though few could argue against the money they pull in for big name publishers.  Indie titles try to fill the gap with games that shift between experimental and nostalgic, but for every masterpiece there’s a hundred uninspired knock-offs that want nothing more than to waste your time and money.

Of course, there are still the games in the middle.  Small budget games, created by little studios often come to fill in niches that the others tend to set by the wayside.  Abyss Odyssey, an action rogue-like game from ACE Team, is one of these titles.  While rogue-likes are explored relatively often in indie games, Abyss Odyssey offers a very technical and satisfying fighting system and intriguing, but light, plot to help make it a stand out niche title.

The monsters of the Abyss can be... large.

The monsters of the Abyss can be… large.

In Abyss Odyssey, a powerful warlock sleeps deep in the earth, and his macabre dreams take form and haunt the citizenry.  It falls on Katrien to stop the nightmarish Abyss from swallowing the town and surrounding areas.  However, Katrien is also a dream of the warlock, meaning that if she does defeat the Warlock, she will disappear with the Abyss…

The game’s story is not very extensive, and you can engage in it or ignore it as much as you’d like.  You can talk to the various NPCs in town to get a little extra exposition, and collect journal pages in the Abyss to learn of the Warlock’s past, but for those that don’t care about Abyss Odyssey‘s backstory can, after the intro, just jump into the game without any lengthy cutscenes holding them back.

As for the Abyss, it is a procedurally generated dungeon that changes every time you enter.  As you move deeper into the dungeon, you’ll go through rooms of varying difficulty, and even branching paths that may offer more or less resistance to the bottom.  Navigating the Abyss effectively is the key to survival, but its up to your skills and planning to figure out what the best route is.  Do you take the long way, going through extra rooms to skirt the Hard level areas, or do you dive right in at the furthest point you can, generally having difficult enemies to fight but only having to survive a few rooms before reaching the bottom?  The choice is ultimately yours, and it makes for a difficulty scale that the player can adjust on a whim.

I'm sure believing the violin playing skeleton demon is the best idea.

I’m sure believing the violin playing skeleton demon is the best idea.

However, it stands to be mentioned that Abyss Odyssey is not a particularly difficult game, once you get the hang of its mechanics.  If you die, a normal soldier takes your place, and if you can find an altar before the weaker character dies, you can continue your search of the Abyss unhindered except for the loss of your expendable items (and equipment, if you forget to pick it up).  There are also Camp Tokens you can buy that allow you to revive at a camp you set it up at a limited number of times, allowing you a retry should you and your soldier fall.  Finally, if you do die in the Abyss, you’ll still keep your current level and gold amount, giving you a larger advantage each time you re-enter the dungeon.  All of this comes together to make it far less frustrating experience for the average player, although rogue-like veterans may be a little let down by the lessened difficulty.

Rather than hard as nails difficulty, Abyss Odyssey instead offers its rewarding combat system to give a sense of progression and fun.  You have normal attacks, special attacks, dodging and guarding all at your disposal, and you’ll have to learn to use all of them effectively to not get trounced by even the earliest enemies of the Abyss.  ACE Team stated that this combat system takes inspiration from the fighting game genre, and this becomes apparent when you get into your first real battle.  All of your attack are methodical and have a realistic weight behind them.  Hit an enemy with a combo that ends with a hard hit and you’ll sending them flying.  Quickly whack them with an air attack and they’ll typically fall to the ground, unless they’re a larger enemy.  Launch a fireball in their face and they’ll catch on fire, though they will not stop or slow their attacking.

I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but hey.

I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, but hey.

More interestingly, all the enemies follow the same rules and limitations as your character does.  You’ll often see them blocking an dodging themselves, and using the same tricks to stun you and keep you away.  It makes every battle feel like an equal playing field, as few enemies will pull out tricks you haven’t seen before.  This similarity between player character and enemy likely has a lot to do with Abyss Odyssey’s soul system.  As you transverse the Abyss and fight enemies, you’ll slowly accumulate mana.  When the bar fills, you can capture the soul of an enemy equal to or below your level, allowing you to transform into and play that monster.  This allows for some interesting strategies, although the very slow rate at which you accumulate mana will ensure that you can only use the power a few times in a run.

For those that do not mind a difficulty setting that isn’t trying to punish you every step of the way, Abyss Odyssey is a fun and unique experience.  It’s a title built for multiple playthroughs, allowing you to try new characters, capture new souls, and even fight new final bosses once the community reaches certain milestones.  It may not be a 40-hour epic, or a short, experimental and heartfelt tale, but give it a chance and you’ll have a good time.

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