I don’t usually jump the gun with rogue-likes. They take enough time to warrant you’ll invest some of your life into it, but seeing the Atlus logo on Abyss Odyssey made me pounce on it like starving bear onto a stack of freshly microwaved Pop Tarts. Being a fan of their Shin Megami Tensei franchise ever since I’ve owned a PS2, and seeing the dark, demonic aura of this game made me want to instantly play it. So here I am, dear reader, after beating this neat little adventure over four times, to tell you all about the journey. Come, let us begin!
The first thing I took heed of was the developer’s nationality; ACE Team went and did the brave thing to actually utilize Chile’s history to set the context of our adventure. It’s 1890, hot dogs had just been proposed in the mid-west of North America, the term “World War” didn’t yet bore middle school students to death and Michael Bay hasn’t destroyed Transformers yet. It’s an age ripe for exploration and happiness! That is, until someone starts having bad dreams.
So, in a twist to complicate the incipient Chilean civil war, ACE Team decides to literally drop a hole in the middle of a city street called the Abyss, where evil spirits and monsters spew from. Brave soldiers race to bottom, thinking to find the source of this disaster only to meet certain doom at the hands of the lurking monstrosities. In this time of dire need, a heroine appears, brandishing a beautiful rapier and with the determination to beat any foe. She assists the soldiers against their new enemy and is then promptly squished flat under falling debris.
Then she comes back to life! She’s Katrien, an apparition (Which is why she can’t die, yay infinite lives!) of the Abyss on a seemingly endless struggle (Yay convenient plot-gameplay intersections!) to end the evil curse by stopping the Warlock, a dark mage whose haunting nightmares are the reason this whole mess has happened. No, the story isn’t anything fancy or anything to dally on for a long time, but at least it’s simple to understand and sets your main goal as early as the tutorial.
Abyss Odyssey counts with a procedurally generated dungeon which changes every time you die, although each “Area” basically consists of the same deal: sections are blocked off until you defeat baddies, boxes containing a bit of loot here and there, an altar where you may raise a check point and merchants and secret areas. With this kind of filling, all you have to look forwards to in each new Area is perhaps a change of scenery (from caverns to jungles to brimstone to stalactite caves) and a new soundtrack to match the landscape. The music is one of the things I simultaneously like and dislike about the game. It is good and composed with meaning to set the mood but sadly, the music is too low key in contrast to sound effects. Sometimes, like in the brimstone area, you can’t even hear it. Every bit of the dialogue in the game is spoken, giving the player authentic performance to fill in the narrative, so that adds to the charm.
We’ll find ourselves side-scrolling in each Area, fighting with combos using a weapon of choice (depending on which of the three characters we’re using), facing enemies with finely crafted AI and a variety of different move-sets. This an important thing to note: Every enemy is allowed to pull off any tech you might, like double jumping, climbing, animation-canceling, blocking and (I think) parrying. In addition to this, every enemy counts with their own arsenal of abilities that can devastate you in the blink of an eye if you’re not paying attention. We see this commonly when fighting multiple foes in close quarters, as you’re bounced around like a ping pong ball between several enemies at once. This can be solved by playing co-op, however! Jump into your friend’s game and help them brave the Abyss, or request help from them in order to lighten your burden. You don’t want to have to start over, right?
Speaking of which, death does not mean the end of a journey (at least not instantly). When the player character dies, they’re replaced by a substantially weaker, yet surprisingly competent, Chilean soldier with full HP. This allows us to fight the enemy that defeated our character and reach a (non-corrupted) altar where they can be revived with full HP (albeit all equipped accessories and items will be gone) and continue to soldier on. This gives the rogue-like style an odd aspect I’m not too sure I am comfortable with just yet. One the one hand, not dying instantly and being able to revive is great. On the other, it’s frustrating to play as the soldiers if you’re not used to their movements and enemies will take advantage of that. Not to mention not every Area counts with a revive-enabled altar where you can save your character, and sometimes you’ll be forced to keep descending into the Abyss without any easy method to return to your character.
Another feature this game counts with is the monster capture ability. Filling your mana bar by using magical attacks (a very obtuse way of playing an action RPG, don’t you think?) enables a powerful one-time attack that can be unleashed on enemies. In addition to its powerful damage output, this attack will paint monsters with a lower level than the character blue, and upon defeat these monsters will drop their souls. Soul items can transform into monsters at any time during the game (and you can switch back too!), letting you play a different character as an extra gaming experience. This is a very useful yet limited gimmick that effectively gives you an “extra life” since the death of the monster avatar does not mean death for your character, you are instead transformed back to normal. It is also a very limited gimmick because building mana is a pain in the butt and capturing good enemies at first is next to impossible given your starting level. On the other hand, this game lets you transform into a cow to fight King McSwordBeard (who, incidentally, we know nothing about from a lore-standpoint), so I implore you to at least play until you get to have this epic scenario:
Pulling off specific tasks such as defeating bosses in your journey will sometimes reward you with extra skills you can freely equip on your character, allowing players a certain degree of character customization. Leveling up not only increases HP and damage dealt and bolsters defense, this is hard to judge without seeing non-health and offensive stats, but existing skills are improved every three levels which adds a sense of progression. Transforming into creatures sometimes modifies stats depending on the enemy type (larger ones are slower but have more HP). Items can be used by any character as long as they are equipped. Precious gold is gained through the descent in the Abyss and can be given to merchants in exchange for new equipment or checkpoint tokens.
Only when reaching the bottom will we finally see what the fuss is all about. At the end of the Abyss is the Warlock responsible for the mess in Chile. Defeating him grants the same sense of closure as in any other rogue-like, so be prepared to go down the Abyss over and over and over again to fight him!
I hate that goddamn attack, who attacks with fish?!
Abyss Odyssey is a simple and enjoyable game. That is, if you have patience for its learning curve!