Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy (PS Vita) Review

By Tina Hand

Operation Babel is a direct sequel to Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy.  It picks up directly after the conclusion of the previous game.  Everything is nearly identical to the game's predecessor, from enemies to game mechanics, with only a few tiny but significant changes.  Plot-wise, it's like most dungeon-crawlers, in that the plot is really just kind of an aside to the constant revisiting of dungeons.  You are shown fairly early on what the world will be like if you fail to defeat the ultimate enemy, and while the post-apocalyptic/altered reality vibe is fitting for a game of this nature, I felt they spent too much time focused on what it would mean for the characters and their narrow window of the world, rather than the entirety of the globe.  If the player characters actually had development, this would be more tolerable, but like the previous game it allows you to create your own party, so the player characters really only have whatever development you can come up with on your own.

Unfortunately, you can't simply import your party from the previous game, so no matter the fact that this is a literal sequel you will be starting all over at the beginning.  This does have some benefit, as it levels the playing field between those who have played before and those who never have, but at the same time it would have been nice not to have to start from square one.  Like the previous game, you are given the ability to create a party from scratch or to take a pre-constructed group and use them.  You can create parties of up to six characters (and with all the things you need in a dungeon, I have no idea why you would ever take less than the full compliment of characters), each with varying stats and classes.  The first thing to note with character creation is that after a few levels, your character will be able to add a sub-class.  Sub-classes get to learn the skills of the class chosen, but don't get the strengths or drawbacks of that class.  So giving a fighter a mage sub-class will allow them to learn spells, but their intelligence won't get a boost so those spells will be very weak.  It's a great way to slide a couple of the less-useful classes into your party without having to hamstring yourself by putting in a party member whose only purpose is to identify unknown items.

They have retained the Unity Gauge from the previous game, which is both useful and not.  While it's great to have the extra options (a reliable battle escape, for one), they've toned down the power of the offensive options and reduced the usefulness of the defensive options, so really the only thing its good for now is running away.  Most of the time, this is completely unnecessary, as enemies will either fall quickly or run away on their own.  It makes the Unity Gauge almost useless, though when you get ambushed by a Wanted Variant (a special type of powered-up monster), it can save your party.

Unfortunately one of the tiny but significant changes they've made was to reduce the encounter rate.  Why is this a bad thing, you ask?  In a game that requires hundreds of hours to progress and complete, the fact that I can spend an hour of real time wandering around a dungeon without EVER encountering a monster is just ridiculous.  To try and compensate, they've included an item that increases the encounter rate.  Unfortunately, that just brings the rate up to what it should be normally.  It still requires hours and hours of play time to get anywhere significant level-wise.  And with experience being split between main- and sub-classes, it takes even longer to level up.  In almost thirty hours of game play, my party is level 11.

Dungeons run on the same principle as the previous game.  Movement is forwards, turn left or right, or strafe side to side.  Everything is a grid pattern, with hidden walls, hidden doors, and secret passageways almost from the outset.  It also retains the pesky gimmick panels from previous games, like shock-floors, rotation panels, and waterways that are only there to annoy and confuse.  Also like the previous game, quests are very vague with their instructions, telling you "go here and investigate", or "gather this random item but we won't tell you where from".  As before, this gets highly irritating very quickly, as it prevents a player from being able to form dungeon exploration strategies.  There's a difference between providing a babying tutorial and providing an item book that shows you where you found something, and thus where you're likely to find it again.  Even telling me what monsters drop items would be useful.

One of the things they didn't change was having to use a rare and expensive item to save inside a dungeon.  You get one for free every time you defeat a Wanted Variant and return to town, but not all dungeons have Wanted Variants in them when you first go in, and beating them isn't exactly easy.  They also didn't balance out the equipment drops for the dungeons.  I was frequently wasting time getting very low-level equipment in higher level dungeons, which makes it near-impossible to beat bosses.  If my party is level 10, the boss is level 10, and I'm wearing level 3 equipment, I'm going to die.  Period.  No amount of skill or strategy can compensate for weak equipment.

On the whole, if you liked the previous game then the additions made to Operation Babel will certainly appeal.  If you love spending hours in dungeon crawlers, and have the patience of a saint, this will fulfill that need.  However, if you don't have hundreds of hours to invest in the game, or if you get frustrated with vague instructions, this will piss you off faster than hitting a cat with a spray bottle.  The balance has been tweaked, the encounter rate reduced, the item drops leveled down, and the instructions were not improved.  It is fun, but if you aren't wholly invested it will get very dull and repetitive very quickly.

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