When I first caught a glimpse of gameplay footage for Abyss Odyssey during Atlus’ montage of E3 trailers, I knew I had to check it out. It looked exactly like a style of game I would enjoy, coming across as a mix of action RPG and beat-’em-up. Plus, as product of developer ACE Team, best known for their work on Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages, I knew I was in for something bizarre. The reality of it ended up being mostly true. The game is definitely odd, but far from what I was expecting.
Abyss Odyssey is light on exposition, save for the minor dialogue exchanges and journal entries you find along the way, but the thin framework provides reason enough to go exploring. You begin the game as Katrien (though more characters unlock as you play) as she explores the abyss in search of the warlock. You learn that she has some history with the warlock, and his slumber is the direct cause of the monsters that you have been encountering. Of course, it’s up to you to stop it.
The game is an entire mess of genres, mixing action RPG, beat-’em-up, roguelike, and platformer elements. While the end result is mostly successful, some aspects fall a little short. You always begin your journey on the surface and have an opportunity to buy equipment before delving into the abyss below. Each area you enter is designated as being easy, moderate, or hard, based on their difficulty, and as you might imagine, they generally grow more difficult the deeper you go. Of course, the abyss is randomized each time you play, so one trek down to the warlock may provide a different (and possibly more difficult) experience than the next.
As you descend into the depths, it doesn’t take long to encounter your first group of enemies. Combat plays out like a 2D fighting game, though not nearly as robust. You get a standard attack, a special attack, and a throw for your offensive. Pressing in a different direction while attacking will affect what moves are executed, plus they can be combined with jumping for aerial assaults. For defensive maneuvers, there’s also the ability to block or dodge attacks. It’s a fairly standard setup that absolutely lends itself well to a controller if you have one. Unfortunately, the move sets take time to get accustomed to, especially under the pressure of a multi-opponent assault. Despite the wide variety of attacks, they don’t string together in a way that feels natural, and most characters don’t react quickly enough when foes get behind them. This is a mild inconvenience, though, compared to the platforming.
You don’t spend a great deal of time crossing large chasms, but when you do, it can be frustrating. It’s just not built for finesse jumping. Once you’re in the air, it feels like you don’t have very much control over your landing like you would in a standard platformer, plus it can take several attempts just to get the right height to even scale a cliff. Add bats and flying fish into the mix and you might have Castlevania flashbacks.
Even if you do get a grasp on your character’s fighting style, the enemies are downright punishing. They’ll jump and dodge out of the way of attacks, and they’re very adept at reacting to your movements by rolling behind you and inflicting punishment. This is especially true if you’re facing multiple opponents. A second player can drop in at any time, either locally or online, though even that can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have someone watching your back, but being restricted to the same screen can cause problems with jumping, and friendly fire is a very real concern. At least co-op makes the game way more fun.
Further adding to the challenge is the fact that you technically only get one life, and once it’s lost, you have to start over from the very beginning with only your experience and money intact (all of your gear is lost). Altars dot the landscape that can serve as checkpoints if you purchase tokens from vendors, but not every altar has a merchant nearby, much less one that sells tokens. Therefore, you have to be extremely lucky to gain this privilege, and even then, you can only spawn from that checkpoint so many times before you are sent back to the beginning. Oh, and quitting the game will reset your progress, including your checkpoints.
Besides tokens, the vendors offer weapons and equipment for sale that enhances your character’s stats. As I stated before, all of this is lost if you perish, though you are given one last ditch opportunity should you croak in battle. A lone soldier will spawn in your place, that if guided back to the altar safely, can resurrect your hero. Unfortunately, these soldiers suck at surviving and aren’t well versed in hand to hand combat. Plus, not all altars are suitable for resurrection, as I ran across some that accepted camp tokens, but didn’t give the option to respawn. It’s better than nothing, I suppose.
Also at these altars are a place you can reconfigure your skills. Your character will only have one special attack from the start, but more will unlock as they level up. They’ll also earn skill points that can be allocated to these skills, increasing their damage, adding mild frame invincibility, and increasing mana gained from the attack. You can also pool these points into skill cancellations that let you stop a move and immediately roll out of the way of an attack. This system encourages experimentation, since the skills can be reallocated at any time by visiting their altars, so you’re never locked into a particular setup if you don’t like it.
Your characters get a mana bar that slowly charges as you perform attacks and gather up blue orbs. Once maxed, you can fire a large blue circle at your enemies that will turn them into an equippable item upon defeat. This item will transform you into the enemy that you just defeated, complete with their own lifebar and moveset, and serves as an extra life of sorts. This also means you can effectively play as every character in the game, both in and out of the story mode.
Abyss Odyssey is very community driven, with actions taken by players affecting the entire player base. When everyone pitches in and defeats the warlock, his mask will slowly be chipped away, spawning new enemies and potentially unlocking a new form for him. This is an interesting concept, though it hasn’t progressed long enough for me to see the results of it just yet. There’s also a mode set aside for four players to duke it out amongst each other, though so far as I could tell it was limited to local play only. I’m not sure if this is something that will have online play patched in later, but I thought it was a highly unusual omission for a Steam game.
It bears mentioning that I encountered several glitches during my experience with the game, including being unable to move, having my co-op partner get wedged in a wall, and outright freezing. There was a patch released shortly before this writing, and since downloading it, I haven’t encountered any of the above issues. Still, I felt it at least worth discussing.
Anyone who has played ACE Team’s games before should be familiar with their unique art style, and that same visual flair is present here. The 2D sprites are detailed and move very fluidly, with the more bizarre enemy designs being the most appealing. Whether it be giant bulls or long beaked bird people, they all look like they were ripped out of Zeno Clash and dumped in a two dimensional environment. The environments are also very pleasing to the eye, especially as far as randomly generated areas are concerned. Each room has its own theme, though manages to maintain a sense of cohesion throughout the abyss.
The voice actors also do a good job pulling their weight, both on the part of the main characters and the grunt soldiers that you encounter. Audio cues, such as the strumming of the guitar when the, uh, skeleton man is near are incredibly memorable. The soundtrack was also very solid.
Technically speaking, Abyss Odyssey can be cleared within an hour, though it’s highly unlikely that you will succeed that quickly. It’s also a game meant to be replayed, as the aforementioned community features are intended to invite players back for another round, plus unlocked characters play uniquely enough to make it worth experiencing the story from their perspective. Also, new entry points into the abyss open up as you go, with the latter ones allowing you to cut down the amount of floors you need to traverse to reach the warlock (with the tradeoff being much more difficult floors). That being said, it’s certainly not a game for everybody. I had a love/hate relationship my entire time spent with it and I’ve often described it to others as a 2D Dark Souls. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, mind you. Just one that will frustrate easily if you don’t know what you’re in for. Still, if everything I’ve described to you sounds right up your alley, you’ll definitely have a blast. More so if you bring another.
Short Attention Span Summary
Abyss Odyssey combines a myriad of genres to provide a unique experience that might not be to everyone’s taste. The platforming is wonky, the combat takes some adjusting, and the game is ruthless in its challenge. Enemies will react to your every move and pay you back in kind, plus the randomness of the dungeon layouts can work both for or against you and involve a lot of luck. Still, if you’re a fan of all of the genres represented here and can handle the steep difficulty, you’ll likely have a good time. Especially if you have a friend available to play along with you.