Atlus Review: Abyss Odyssey (Xbox 360)

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If you’re familiar with ACE Team, they’re responsible for some of the most off the wall games including Zeno Clash, Rock of Ages and before they became a commercial developer, they were a pretty interesting mod developer. Their continued partnership with Atlus has brought another release that is less absurd thematically, but brings us a rogue-like title that wraps mechanics similar to the Super Smash Bros. series with Abyss Odyssey. It’s not a carbon copy of the Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, nor is it a cumbersome slog akin to Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. The game centers itself around its fighting game mechanic and drives you to advance onto closed off fighting arenas, hunting for loot and building your character to become stronger as you find better weapons and techniques.

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The story is based upon ancient Chilean lore where a warlock has been in deep sleep for centuries, and as his nightmares become worse, they begin to emerge to the surface world. Forces have been able to contain them around one of three entrances that have appeared that lead into a large, ever-changing abyss. In the beginning you take control of Katrien, a being created by the warlock who, unlike the creatures from the abyss, seek to aid the nearby townspeople. The exposition gives you the general necessity of the purpose of the playable characters; Katrien, the monk, the pincoya, and enough of a story for you to know where these creatures are coming from. Outside of that, the rest of the story as well as the reason for the protagonists and other creatures who dwell from the underground are left to the pages of the warlock’s journal that just happen to be snuck off by random enemies in the game. This is where the rest of the backstory of the warlock along with the game lies, and doesn’t bother to be anything more than what it is, which is window dressing for imaginary characters to fight each other from within the warlock’s lair.

…discovering character moves and combos is fairly easy to achieve.

The abyss itself provides a light emphasis on exploration as the platforming puzzles are never daunting. Instead it acts as a guide to several areas that block the player’s path to engage in fights with a random assortment of creatures and undead soldiers. The combat system is the game’s main draw, and since it is modeled similarly to the simplicity of the Smash Bros. series, discovering character moves and combos is fairly easy to achieve, even though the game doesn’t explain most of its mechanics. This including the enemy summons, which are discovered through the game and also work well as “extra lives.” You can also use a training mode to try out special moves and see what works. Before each area you’re told of the difficulty of the area which determines the platforming puzzles and overall difficulty of the enemies. The abyss will pit you against up to about two to six enemies depending on your progress, and makes it easy to discover the best strategy for crowd control and stringing together combos as you gain levels and descend further into other levels.  This is further fueled by the leveling system that lets you upgrade special attacks to have more damage and even prevent flinching, as well as special cancels that let you string moves together with the right timing.

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The Smash Bros. likeness continues with the shield and dodging system; you can block attacks and parry moves to initiate counters, and dodging can be performed to not only avoid attacks, but provide additional mobility, similar to Smash Bros’ controversial wave dashing technique. The game’s pace is not quite as fast as Nintendo’s fighter, but the dodging makes it seem like its mechanics are trumped by this technique. Once your character hits level 20, progressing through the abyss in its entirety becomes much easier, and if you have a full understanding of the dodge mechanic, enemies will have a harder time to land their attacks especially since they don’t mimic a similar type of movement.

The game’s platforming challenges also encourage use of it to make it, to get across extremely wide gaps and get past hazards and eventually use the advantage of additional speed; traveling through the environments with your characters is otherwise exceedingly tedious after multiple playthroughs. The difficulty from enemies is determined on your level and which room you go in, but the enemy AI can really suffer if there are any significant platformer challenges in the environment such as crushers, icicle stalactites or even a floating platform, as they don’t really know how to deal with these obstacles to get to your player character. Otherwise enemies will do whatever they can to flank you, and if you’re overwhelmed from all sides, they can become a real handful if you can’t bunch them together, or if you’re dealing with one enemy at a time, which makes the difficulty curve run all over the place.

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The ease in combat and maneuverability as you progress eventually makes enemies easier to deal with, almost too easy, which takes away from the tension the rogue-like genre is known for. You can also collect enemy summons that act as extra lives, and they provide several opportunities to come up with new combo moves. Earning these enemy summons can be a bit of a hassle, as you’ll go through the abyss and be put into challenges where you need to defeat all enemies. If successful, enemy summons can be grabbed at the start of the next level, but sometimes these summons can be buried underground or too high in the air, making a 100% completion of the game unfairly impossible. There are harder difficulty modes, but gaining access to them is currently determined by which version of the game you bought.

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The rogue-like aspect doesn’t seem to have gained the same amount of attention on development,t as most of my frustrations came from the exploration aspects, which did not seem to mend well with the combat. Since you can only see so much of the environment, a mini map sits in the corner of the screen indicating where treasure chests are hidden, but doesn’t show anything else, including hidden rooms, enemies, bottomless pits, giant axes, prickly vines, flying freezing fish and other in game elements. While not all of that may be crucial to exploring, it makes it harder than it should be to go through what little platforming challenges the game has to offer. Soldiers from the surface also act as friendlies in the game who will not only help fight with you in combat, but also serve as an extra chance in the abyss when you die. Their presence feels more like a nuisance when you’re fighting alongside them in a fight.

The friendly fire and camera frustrations are doubled when playing the game in two player mode.

Friendly fire is always on, and your attacks can potentially kill them when you’re trying to fight against enemies that are grouped together, and they can also take away experience earned from enemies. In most situations they could potentially be harder to deal with as they are relentless and don’t know when to play it safe or let you assist in battle. The friendly fire and camera frustrations are doubled when playing the game in two player mode. A second player can join in and help in fights, but poor teamwork and players experimenting with their characters can lead to some unintended hits or getting lost because the camera can only frame so much of the action. When playing in local multiplayer, if the second player doesn’t have a separate profile logged in, or happens to be running the PC version, progress won’t be saved for that character whatsoever.  Luckily the game does support online multiplayer, so sharing progress is not entirely impossible.

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SEGAbits was provided with the Xbox 360 version for the review, which runs at 30 frames per second and slows down during heavy activity, or when more than four characters appear on screen. If you’re looking for a recommendation for which version of the game is the best, the PC version wins hands down. Performance is, of course, greatly improved on PC with better graphical detail, and it runs at 60 fps. More importantly, the PC version can not only see updates quicker, but has guaranteed more content. For example, the PC version received an update which includes harder difficulty modes, a toggle for friendly fire, and a whole four player versus mode. Currently the versus mode is only planned for the PC version, and chances of it hitting consoles vary as the developer is gauging the game’s success on Xbox Live Arcade and Sony Entertainment Network to determine if the game mode is going to make it, meanwhile the other smaller features will be patched in at a later date. The Xbox 360 version plays well enough, but if you want to get the most out of the game the PC version is your best bet. As a result, we were not able to play the versus mode for review.

It’s the little things that really hurt the game, and it’s unfortunate as these flaws, especially for the console versions, can really hurt the community surrounding it, even moreso as the game was promised further expansion based on social activity that can be tracked on their Facebook group, with both PC and both console versions being tracked separately. The combat system lends itself to experimentation, and if you’re willing to deal with the flaws the game has, you’re going to find an enjoyable experience. Just keep in mind that this experience may not be consistent across all platforms and may not provide a substantial, lasting experience.

Positive:

  • Interesting combat mechanics
  • Offline and online multiplayer
  • Great visuals
  • Each playthrough is unique

Negative:

  • Difficulty does not scale well
  • PC version receives updates faster, versus mode might not appear in console versions
  • Turning off friendly fire disables ability to enter leaderboards

C+“An interesting ode to fighting games and rogue-likes set back by everything not tied to the combat engine.”

2 responses to “Atlus Review: Abyss Odyssey (Xbox 360)

  1. Fernandeath says:

    I’ll consider buying it

  2. Mariano says:

    Thanks for the review.

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