Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Abyss Odyssey (PS3/PS4) Review

Abyss Odyssey starts you in a town beset by monsters created from a warlock's nightmare.  You have to work your way down through the randomly generated labyrinth to confront the Warlock and end the nightmare.  Each floor will be marked as easy, moderate or hard, and will have different terrain, traps and monsters each time you enter.  Eventually three starting towns open up, and there are some floors that allow you to switch paths down to the boss.  The procedurally generated dungeon works really well, and I had little trouble with the platforming.  The only complaint about the random nature of the game is the "?" floors.  They have a fight where you control a monster and fight others.  If you win, you get a monster soul on the next floor.  Unfortunately, the game likes to put the soul on the screen, but not necessarily somewhere you can get it.  It is frequently in the wall, floor, or in the air so high you can't reach it.  Ugh.  The game also does a decent job of explaining the controls, but not much else, like the different shrines, skills and equipment.

Besides platforming, you will also be fighting.  The game does tout itself as a hybrid adventure/fighting game.  Unfortunately, fights can be very frustrating.  While they have a few basics of fighting games, the game doesn't feel like one.  Fights are fast paced, but movement and attacking are stiff and awkward.  Special moves and combos can be cancelled by another special move or a dash.  The former requires a skill point and can be useful, but the latter isn't really that helpful.  The combo moves themselves seem slow.  They cap out at three normal attacks, and you can't really mix them up with up and crouching attacks, making them feel really limited.  You can block and dodge, but it never seems as useful as the enemies' versions, since they can miracle dodge any attack they want.

Up to three special moves can be equipped at a time, but you can learn more than that for each character.  Every three levels you will also earn a skill point that can be assigned to a special move to increase various parameters of it, like attack and mana gain, or to increase the number of attack cancels you can do in a combo.  The points put into skills can be freely taken back and reassigned, but he points spent on upgrading the cancels cannot be.  Special moves are done more like Smash Bros than a traditional fighting game, with pressing a button and a direction instead of a sweeping controller motion.  The moves are nice for more damage, but like the combo attacks, can easily be dodged by the computer.  Projectiles especially are privy to this, as the computer has a psychic sense about when to dodge them.  At first I thought this rendered them worthless, but I eventually realized that I could use that to my advantage.  Throw a fireball when they are dodge distance away, they will dodge to me, and I can then use a stronger move that they can't dodge (since they are recovering from the previous one).  It worked really well and allowed me to stomp the final boss.  So while the AI is cheap, it can be exploited, too.

Under the health, there is a mana bar.  When full, you can unleash a powerful spell.  Damaging or killing an enemy with this attack may have them drop their soul.  Picking it up will allow you to transform into that monster, gaining their health and attacks.  While this is one of the touted features of the game, it doesn't happen as often as I would think.  Plus, picking one up just allows you to use it.  It would have been awesome if there was some way to unlock the monsters and start out a dungeon dive with one equipped, but sadly that is not a feature of the game.  Playing as a monster can be really fun, as some of them are absurdly powerful or useful.  It also gives you another health bar, which helps you stay alive.  All monsters are not created equal, however, so that powerful one that continuously defeats you might not be so good when it's you that's controlling it.  Some that seem silly (like an ice bull) might be surprisingly good at destroying enemies, though.

When you die, since that's part of the game, you will control a normal soldier where you fell.  You basically get a second life, and making it back to a special shrine will restore you to your chosen character.  The soldier's moveset and equipment are not as good as the normal characters', so the sooner you find a random shrine, the better.  However, not all shrines will work.  You have to find the right one, so you better hope the random number generator is on your side.  It's nice that there's an opportunity to restore your life and keep your equipment and keys.  While not the best solution, changing to the soldier has saved me on numerous occasions.

Dying as the soldier will return you to the surface and let you change characters and starting points, if they are unlocked.  It's also possible to return to a designated shrine, if you purchased and used a camp token.  Unfortunately, shops don't always sell one, and deciding the best time to use one might be difficult.  I never had one the times I would have liked to use it.  When you return to the surface, you will keep your money and experience, but lose everything else.  No more stronger weapons, no more useful equips, no more monster soul.  Because of this, it's better to not spend much, if any, money on the weapons and accessories sold by the shops.  Since monster souls are useful and hard to come by, those can be worthwhile purchases.

If you are lucky, a run through the dungeon might take about an hour, especially when you are starting out.  Subsequent trips can be faster, depending on how often you jump around to the different routes.  There's also three different characters to unlock and use.  Since each floor is randomly generated, no two trips through the labyrinth will be the same, giving the game lots of replayability.  The final boss is even gets stronger the more times players defeat him.  There's even a co-op mode, but I don't recommend it at all.  Not only can you hit your partner, but you also do damage to them, making this mode almost completely useless.  This decisions seems strange, since enemies frequently outnumber you and help would be appreciated.  Plus, enemies don't damage each other when they collide, so why do the players?

The trophies for the game aren't too bad at all.  There's only one for completion, and the rest are for doing other feats.  There are optional bosses and fights that will grant trophies, and unlocking one of the characters also gives one.  The longest trophies are getting 3 full skills (each has three upgrade points) for each character, which means they will have to be over level 25 or have found some skill tokens along the way.

Abyss Odyssey has a good premise.  It looks unique and plays...well, unique, but in a not so good way.  Fighting is stiff.  The AI can be downright cheap with their dodges, constantly blocking and juggling you to death.  The co-op is bad, and if you win a monster soul in a special battle, it might not put it where you can reach it.  The game does have a lot of replayability, though, and can be fun to pick up and play for an hour or two at a time.  It's not perfect, but there is some fun to be had.

[Update: 11/9/15]
I've played the PS4 version by now, which was supposed to have a few changes.  The fighting system was supposedly altered, but I didn't notice any differences, and it still felt clunky.  The versus mode from the PC version is also present.  An online co-op mode has also been added, but I didn't have any luck in finding games to try out how it plays.  Also, you can disable the friendly fire (yay!), but it won't really count for leaderboards or the warlock's mask challenges (boo).  So, that fixes one problem with the game, even if they try to punish you for doing so.

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