Developer: ACE Team
Platform: PlayStation 3 (PSN)
Xbox 360, PC (Steam)
Release Date: July 15, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
Abyss Odyssey, the latest from Chilean developers Ace Team, is a bit of an odd duck. It's a combination of rogue-like, RPG, and fighting game with Chilote folklore for added flavor. Truth be told, my fondest experiences with this game was not actually playing it, but finding out more about it. Is that a bad thing? Well you“re about to find out, if you keep reading of course (which I highly recommend you do)!
From the character designs and 2D character portraits to the setting and premise of the story itself, Abyss Odyssey is exotic and full of personality. The Chilean art style designs are particularly captivating. Characters like the Paganini, a devilish, skeletal violin player, partially based on the legend of Italian violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini, is a hauntingly alluring character. Other creatures and deities like La Pincoya, Invulche, a manticore (referred to as the â€œliving creatureâ€), and caballos marino chiloe (a.k.a. water horses) are outstandingly gorgeous. Designs for even regular enemies are fantastic, a reason that allows me to forgive their repetition (across multiple playthrough especially).
I certainly had my share of fun playing, but throwing myself deep in to Chiloe culture was a major bonus brought about by Abyss Odyssey so when I say I had more fun researching the game than I did playing it I totally mean that as a compliment. The only negative is that the story doesn“t receive much closure (perhaps due to a community threshold I“ll talk about later) and it“s almost entirely ”opt in“. The story is mostly found in the collectable pages of the warlock“s journal, which are seemingly randomly dropped by enemies throughout the game; without reading these you“ll basically know little to nothing about what“s going on.
When it comes to the game itself, its design is every bit as interesting as the setting“s. As I mentioned before, the game is a very odd hybrid, though it won“t appear that way in the screenshots. At it“s heart it“s definitely a rogue-like. I know that“s a term that is generally a catch-all in gaming press so here“s the skinny. You have an abyss with multiple paths that is randomly generated. Layout, enemies, hidden rooms, altars (at which you can set respawn points or revive your character), all of them will be scattered around to different locations and rooms each time you go it. The enemies also appear to scale in difficulty to your level, though they are in a relation to you based on the room. This makes every playthrough different. Be prepared to curse your fate when altars are placed several rooms apart, or rejoice when you come across hidden rooms with lots of gold and items.
The action RPG elements come in through your character's“ progression. You start off with Katrien but you can unlock the Ghost Monk and La Pincoya fairly quickly as well. Each will retain the levels they earn or the skills they improve, but items and weapons are a blank slate each run.
Though many people reference Super Smash Bros. for the â€œbrawlerâ€ style fighting game combat, the truth is that isn“t a fair comparison. There are two attack buttons, one for regular attacks and one for special attacks. Unlike regular attacks, special attacks can be mapped to any (or multiple) combinations. Pressing forward+special can unleash a flurry of sword thrusts much like Chun-Li“s Hyakuretsukyaku. Or you can map it to down+special. Or up+special. After you“ve decided on a proper placement for your special attacks you can further customize them by enhancing them.
Each move can have its damage increased, the MP it generates increased, or added damage mitigation or invincibility frames. In addition, each move has three slots for enhancements, and there are several moves to choose from (though they must be found before they can be used). You can even use skill points to cancel out regular attacks with special attacks allowing you to chain together longer and more impressive combos. You don“t start off with the ability to do any of this really, but as times goes on and you unlock new attacks and skill points the game grows with you which is pretty neat, I think. So where as a game like Smash Bros. doesn“t really have much (or any) combo ability, this game takes the brawler gameplay type and gives it the kind of customization and move set that encourages players to experiment and develop their own play styles.
But as nice as the gameplay is, it does have some shortcomings. In particular, platforming aspects within the abyss are made harder by a few design choices and bugs. Your character can“t turn in the air, so if you jump past an enemy, or attack too quickly after hitting the ground you“ll likely be facing the wrong way, leaving your back exposed to enemy exploitation. There are also a few times in which you“ll have to jump across a hazardous sea atop these large floating jellyfish. I don“t know quite what causes it, but occasionally your character will slide around on them. If this happens there seems to be about a fifty-fifty chance you“ll lose your second jump, causing you to drown (or whatever) and spawn just before crossing with a chunk of your HP gone. I can“t begin to explain how frustrating it was for me to lose valuable HP because of this. Lastly, co-op is wholly unappealing due to â€œfriendly fireâ€ occurring between players. I“m not sure why this ever seemed like a good idea, but I assure you it is not. Thankfully the developers have been public about removing this, or at least adding an option to toggle it off, but until that update happens (if at all) co-op is far more trouble than it“s worth.
So all of this so far has been all well and good. There are some definite highs and some definite lows. There is however more to this game, which frankly I can“t fully explain unfortunately! You see, the developers can track how many times players have beaten the boss. Once that happy mask wearing brujo takes enough dirt naps, he“ll undergo some kind of change. As I mentioned before I feel like this will probably allow more closure for the story to take place. In addition to changes to the boss, there are a few other changes ACE Team has said will take place, though specifics on what those might be are probably being held tighter than dudes trying to pull the sword out of the stone. All I do know is these changes will continue to take place each time the warlock“s mask breaks, which you can tell because the progress is reflected in-game at altars bearing the warlock“s mask.
This game has the potential to be a lot better than the score I“m about to give it, and from the looks of it (via comments by ACE Team developers on a number of public forums) it will. Which makes me happy because the ideas behind Abyss Odyssey are truly top notch and it would be great if this game could succeed so other developers might be inspired to think outside the box as well. It might not be perfect, and it deserves some more work to fully realize the ideas that were envisioned by the developers, but the game still does a great job setting itself apart from other titles. The eclectic blend of various genres and gameplay mechanics makes it a pretty unique experience worth checking out for anyone looking for something new. The experience, even without the post release changes ACE Team has hinted at, is solid but I can only hope a few of the more nagging flaws do indeed get some attention. Until then, rest assured there are few games out there quite like Abyss Odyssey.
+ Beautiful and exotic artwork/designs
+ Bursting with interesting Chilote folklore
+ Plenty of character/combo possibilities
+ Ongoing player base-driven changes
- Combos and special attacks must be earned
- Co-op frustrating due to "friendly fire"
- Jumping related issues make platforming harder than needed
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Abyss Odyssey is highly unique and has a lot to offer players looking for something out of the ordinary, but a few nagging bugs/design choices and a slow build up might turn players away from the otherwise rich design.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.