The lack of franchises and successful Western exclusive IPs on Sony's handheld is clearly balanced out with a huge catalogue of games brought directly from Japan to fill that gap, and thus the system's become a must-have console for fans of exclusively Japanese genres.
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy offers an experience inspired by the old school dungeon crawler genre, with pure anime-aesthetics and certain dark touches, which is far from the sweet and colourful worlds of other Japanese RPGs. Our main character, a high school student, wakes up in a gloomy room after being knocked out. A quick glance around lets us know that, unless we're careful we won't make it out of the room alive. At least, that's what the remains of other prisoners seem to suggest.
Why are we trapped? Who (or what) knocked us out and brought us here? The moment we start wondering about all this, a stranger comes in and in addition to spooking us, he offers to get us out of the room before we end up like the previous inhabitants. While we consider whether we should trust the stranger or not, the party responsible for our kidnapping appears. There's no more time for hesitation. The stranger asks us to flee while he fights the monster. We escape without looking back and take our first steps in the rambling corridors of the dungeons that await us from now on, now as a member of a secret school unit which is capable of facing these monsters.
At the beginning, and even more when we start our first real mission, we realise that the best part of this title is the dungeon exploration. Viewed from a first-person perspective, we navigate the maze-like maps. Much like in other dungeon crawls, we don't have any map at first, but it gets filled automatically as we explore. This is not only helpful for orientation, but it also encourages us to keep exploring so that we can complete the map and discover every nook and cranny of the stage.
Moreover, the game makes it easier for us with an autopilot of sorts, which helps us move between familiar areas. You only need to select which area from those you've already explored you want to visit, and the game will bring you there sharpish. This is a nice touch for those who don't want to waste a lot of time trekking around the same dungeon over and over again, but also for those who don't want to miss out on the feel of adventure and completion when you see that you've totally explored and gone over the whole dungeon map. It seems like a small feature, trivial even, but it helps the game fit our time needs depending on the session, and it becomes a huge strength with regard to the main characteristic of the game: dungeon exploration.
Outside of the 3D exploration of the dungeons, we also tour an overground city via visual novel-style static stages. There's also a third play style when we encounter enemies. These are turn-based battles without any loading time worth mentioning, and considering the constant exploration, we'll hit multiple random battles.
For combat, there's a huge level of customisation. At the start of the game we can choose if we want it easy, so the game will set our squad partners for us (name, appearance, class, skills); or we can go hardcore and take care of even the smallest details ourselves. Whatever we choose, the depth of the game is noteworthy, as we have lots of skills to improve, classes to explore and different battle positions that are better for certain classes and worse for others, among many other variables. If you enjoy tactics, managing teams of characters optimised for each mission, getting lost in the stats of each hero... you're perfectly able to do it all, and the best part is that you'll be able to tune things better than what the automated selection would allow.
Just like other good Japanese games, the main plot is perfectly narrated in a top quality visual novel style. This means the game will allow us to make more than one choice throughout the story that will change the dialogue, which come with detailed illustrations of the characters, long chunks of text and character voices. Voices that have been flawlessly localised in English, though it'd have been nice to have the option to use the original Japanese.
Experience Inc, the developers of this game, are also responsible for another dungeon crawler for PS Vita, Demon Gaze. Considering they share genre, studio and even platform, it was obvious that both titles would have several similarities. And they do, although Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is better in many aspects.
As it builds of the foundation of the old school dungeon crawler genre, it's a quality, if tough, experience. There are smaller details that make the whole dungeon exploration ordeal a lot more bearable for those who want some more accessibility, without forcing the purists to use these options.
You should keep an eye on this game if you're a fan of this genre. We have to scold Nippon Ichi Software America (NISA) again for removing the Japanese audio, leaving us only with the new English voiceover, but perhaps we should be glad it was released here at all.