Looking to end that burning question of whether you can put together a video game from half a season of anime, publisher Spike Chunsoft and developer Chime Corporation bring us the video game version of the manga/anime franchise of Made in Abyss.
How is it even possible you might ask? Well, it isn’t really, but Binary Star gives it a shot anyway, so high-fives for ‘profit-over-logic’ and welcome back poorly-licensed video games, I think we all missed you for a hot second there.
With so very little canon content to work with, the developer created two modes, the first ‘Hello Abyss’, which follows the first half of the anime’s first season, and another, ‘Deep in Abyss’ (the main mode), which follows some new characters in the same world. Creating the main mode with new protagonists is the right (and only) choice but for some facepalming reason, the game chooses to prioritize ‘Hello Abysss’ and makes it mandatory.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it was linked in some way to the main mode, but it’s an entirely separate demo-sized mode that not only ignores the main mode’s mechanics but also any idea of enjoyable gameplay, making the first 4+ hours, a very frustrating – and largely pointless – exercise.
I’ve even seen people refer to the first mode as a tutorial for the second, but if that were true, the developer needs to take lessons on how to create a tutorial.
The Abyss is the one unconquered place on earth, a mysterious expanse in mother earth that has countless treasures or ‘relics’ within its depths. Naturally, because of this, an entire community of cave explorers has sprung up around the Abyss’s crater, but it’s a treacherous existence with death by altitude sickness or a bloodily butchering (from monsters) potentially occurring at any given moment.
The story of both games revolves around the children who end up at an orphanage in said community and start at the lowest rank of explorers who are restricted to entering certain layers of the Abyss based on their ability. The second mode, in particular, is a new character to the orphanage joining soon after the protagonists of the anime have left.
Survival is the name of the game, with crafting health items from defeated monsters just as important as creating weapons and ropes to help mine relics and descend into the belly of the Abyss.
In ‘Deep in the Abyss’ (the second mode), you are given upgradeable skills and a relic shop where you trade in your haul for EXP and improve your spelunking skills, but ‘Hello Abyss’ (the first mode) is more interested in following the anime’s story so there is no character progression for Riko and Reg – the anime’s protagonists. It essentially boils down to descending cliff faces and running away from enemies. There are a few enemies that classify as ‘bosses’ but as you can run a few meters to escape to a cutscene, there is little to no momentum carried by the gameplay and it’s far too easy.
Another problem is that you simply don’t know what to do with items you collect on your runs.
A ridiculously small backpack forces you into managing your resources immediately, as you are encouraged to pick up everything you can find despite not being able to use the majority of them in the mode at all. Thinking everything was essential, I found myself on the weight limit at all times and when I received rewards for completing a section it would put me over the limit yet again, meaning every new section I was forced through the rigmarole again.
‘Deep in Abyss’ is more of what you’d have expected the game to be, with you needing to gauge how deep your Abyss runs can be based on your remaining resources, but the fun and tension are mostly tied to a decreasing stamina meter which makes climbing up and down cliff faces or ropes a death-defying experience. If you miscalculate, you’ll be swimming in an impressively large pool of blood and will require to redo the section.
Some cliffs are slightly too high and others just low enough to reach which makes the surveying of the environment and the selection of cliffs especially important, but at the same time, you also need to mine them for materials while avoiding any winged enemies.
Sadly, the remaining gameplay ranges from average to mediocre, however, as nearly every foe is exceptionally easy to avoid and defeat, and the maps, which are Abyss sections listed by depth, have entrances to other sections that aren’t automatically linked to their closest neighbors, so to get to section 4, for example, you may need to travel from section 1>5>7>2>4, but you have no way of knowing this until hovering over the entrance icon in the main menu, which does the monotony of the overall gameplay no favours.
The story does an adequate job conveying the danger of the Abyss and the threat to the characters, but understandably for filler content, is simply not as interesting as the anime’s main narrative, so as such this title is kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place, with one mode that has little canon content and poor gameplay and another mode that has decent filler gameplay, but an average story.
The more I think about it, the more ridiculous the two-mode split seems. The anime scenes could have easily been unlocked chapter-by-chapter as you progress through the main mode, but making the broken ‘demo’ mandatory before the actual game starts is such a waste of time that unless a cheat code or a patch comes out to separate them, this premature release is simply not worth the effort.