Santiago, Chile. 1890. An all-powerful warlock sleeps within the earth. Even his dreams are omnipotent – the earth above him opens up, creating an entrance to the Abyss in which he slumbers. Out of this gaping whole in the ground emerge creatures created from the warlock’s dreams which manifest into physical reality. Everything in this world is created by the mind of the hibernating entity at the bottom of the Abyss, from the characters you play to the environments you play in. This is the hand you’re dealt. What do you do?
Abyss Odyssey is a side-scrolling, action adventure game with a brawler control scheme and the precision of a 2D fighter. Katrien, a rapier-wielding woman with the sole, self-proclaimed purpose of finding and killing the warlock, is the first character placed in the player’s hands. Two more characters join Katrien in her quest as she journeys through the deadly Abyss, depending on what you find and kill. Ghost Monk, a physical manifestation of all who died within the Abyss, wields a great sword to help conquer the dark depths. The water spirit Pincoya employs her skills with a halberd and can be found within a very specific room in the Abyss after donating so much money to a statue. Each character plays and feels totally different than the last – it may take some time to acclimate to the different move sets, but it feels rewarding once you find combos that work with each one.
In addition to the three main characters, there’s a myriad of playable characters you’ll encounter on your journey. The souls of your enemies can be captured and equipped, allowing the player to transform into that very creature to delve into the depths of the Abyss. Each creature has its own move set and gameplay style, which can make certain situations and battles infinitely easier. After killing an enemy for the first time, odds are they’ll drop a page from the Warlock’s Journal. This book can be accessed through the main menu at any time, and provides a pretty detailed backstory as to how the warlock conjured up the being in his mind.
As intriguing as the story is, it’s not the main focus of the game. Most of the story is subtle, hidden in readable items that can be found in the menu. These are written quite well – journal entries really give you the details required to clearly imagine the world ACE Team created.
Reading about Voladora, a half-bird, half-woman creature based off of the warlock’s aunt, doesn’t offer much in the way of story progression (most journal entries follow this trend), but it definitely helps set the atmosphere. Typically a messenger for the eremitic warlock, Voladora transform into birds to be a more efficient courier. In order for this transformation to complete, she must regurgitate her entrails safely into a bowl so she can consume them later to reverse the magic. If that’s not traumatic enough, the warlock’s aunt (who influenced the physical manifestation of the Voladora in game) came home one day to find her entrails eaten by a feral canine, thus condemning her to a permanent embodiment of a birdlady travesty.
What trace amounts of an extremely surreal story is overshadowed by Abyss Odyssey‘s gameplay, admittedly with good reason. The core gameplay is reminiscent of Super Smash Brothers, but with the precision of Street Fighter. Standard attacks and special abilities each have three directional inputs to change which move your character uses, and finding out when to use which one in the right situation is only half the battle. These collectable abilities can be upgraded with the skill points you gain from leveling up, enhancing either the power, armor, or mana of said ability. Power boosts the damage, while armor helps prevent your ability from getting interrupted and grants the character some damage resistance while the animation is in full swing. Mana, on the other hand….
Rather than consuming mana to use your special abilities, they grant mana. Once your mana bar is filled, your character gains the ability to use a soul-stealing area of effect attack, emptying out the entirety of your mana pool. Once creatures hit by this attack perish, there’s a high chance that they’ll drop their soul for you to equip, thus giving the character the ability to transform into the very enemy that just died. Transforming in battle can be incorporated into combos, and can really pull you out of a pinch when it comes down to the wire.
Parrying, canceling attacks, guarding, dashing, jumping, dodging, throwing, and more are all integrated into the combat system. There’s a lot of battle information that’s necessary to conquer the Abyss, but the game only seems to give you an introduction to the basics – the successful utilization of these concepts is left for the player to discover. The game is dreadfully unforgiving during this steep learning curve and does not at all take it easy on players new to the game. Communities revolving around Abyss Odyssey have crafted guides for battle to help better player’s success rate in fights, such as this Steam-based one here.
The relentless difficulty in the beginning is exacerbated with seemingly stiff-feeling gameplay mechanics. Dodging can be done while pressing left or right while guarding; however, it’s not a dependable technique as it seems to work when it wants. Even simple acts such as jumping can be noticeably tedious. Jumping or double jumping up to a ledge will trigger your character to crawl up the edge and onto the platform, but only if you’re facing that direction. Even if you do face the ledge, there seems to be a level of exactitude in where your character collides with the environment in order to crawl up.
Other technical glitches seem to be littered throughout the game, as well. Only once did the game hit a game-breaking bug and failed to load up the next area of the level after a fight, which is one of the worst realizations when you’ve made significant progress into the Abyss. Other minor glitches pop up fairly consistently, mostly affecting the UI or graphics. Individually, they don’t impact the game in a negative manner too badly, but they can begin to pile up during lengthy play sessions.
Everything in the game is procedurally generated: items, weapons, environments, enemies – even the structure of the Abyss itself is altered every playthrough. This makes it incredibly replayable; however, it also prevents familiarity with any level you encounter. Post-death, your character will retain the experience and gold gained throughout the Abyss run, but any items or weapons you’ve found or bought along the way are gone. This sounds incredibly inconvenient, and it is, but it does make every new Abyss run feel like a fresh slate. Death is nearly unavoidable in this game, considering the game’s “figure-it-out-yourself” mentality. This fulfills the player with a great sense of reward once it finally clicks, but no matter how well you think you’ve got the game figured out, Abyss Odyssey is chaotic at its core.
A soldier will assume the role of your character once he/she bites the dust. His only mission is to bring you back to life by finding a character altar within the Abyss. These playable soldiers (of which there are a few variants) do not feel so prepared when fighting the creatures that lurk in the depths. They feel a little more clunky to control, do a little less damage, and die a little more easily. Combine this with the sometimes infuriating precision required to succeed and you’ll be having a pretty rough time until you revive your character. There is a sense of beauty behind how weak these Soldiers are, however frustrating they may be to use. Soldiers imbue the player with a notion of necessity to retrieve their character as they garner a heightened sense of appreciation for what they’ve lost. This is mostly done through gameplay alone, as dialogue is minimal. To say the least, it’s an impressive feat.
Any discrepancies with Abyss Odyssey‘s somewhat unreliable gameplay mechanics are quickly abolished by the visuals of the game. That ledge over there that took you a couple minutes and a couple more profanities to get up? That annoyance vacates once you’re up and looking at the environment. The art direction is incredibly stylized, drawing a large influence from Art Nouveau. If you were to imagine Salvador Dali teaming up with Alphonse Mucha to create an entire world, then you’ll picture Abyss Odyssey‘s atmosphere pretty accurately. Creatures continue to appear with unexpected designs and impressive concepts – a genuinely unique spin on classic creatures that often metamorphoses them into their own creation. Animations reflect the surreal imagery as animations seem rarely recycled, further depicting very convincingly corporeal characters. Abyss Odyssey also hosts an impressive AI (nearly too impressive at times), which makes them feel like they have a fairly strong sense of intelligence and aren’t just some mindless computer models on the screen. Either way you look at it, whether it be the depth of the environments or the intricacy of character design and presentation, Abyss Odyssey is gorgeous – especially with the backdrop of its soundtrack.
The game’s music captures the mood set by Abyss Odyssey‘s visuals quite well, instilling calm after a fight and a lethal urgency when a life is on the line. The music transitions from one piece to another seamlessly, enhancing the atmosphere of whichever situation the game randomly concocts. As effective as the OST is, the individual pieces of music are easily forgettable. It’s entirely possible the focus necessary to explore the Abyss doesn’t allow the player to pay more than little attention to the music, but the noticeable tracks successfully bolster the overall atmosphere of the entire game.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Abyss Odyssey‘s mystique in both its world and gameplay sticks in your mind even when the game’s off. Between the story and tactics in battle, there’s much to stew on. Single-player is only the beginning – multiplayer is its own beast. The game is balanced for friendly fire, adding another level of strategy to tackling the tasks set before you and your friends. Completing an Abyss run will contribute to a large scale, communal effort to stop the hibernating warlock – as long as friendly fire remains on. Turning it off in an attempt to reduce difficulty results in an absence of collective contribution to the warlock’s downfall online. Donating completed Abyss runs online will aid in the degradation of the warlock’s mask. After the mask degenerates to a certain point, additional content for the game unlocks for all players. This incentive urges players to play with friendly fire, and further increases the level of replayability the game continues to offer time and time again.
Engrossing as it is difficult (whether or not said difficulty was intended by ACE Team), Abyss Odyssey successfully captures the imagination lying dormant in the minds of its players. Most of the game’s fallacies can be remedied with patches if ACE Team decides to adjust them, but the core of the game is a solid, refreshing new IP that proves creativity in the industry is alive and well.
You may end up with a few more gray hairs by the end of your time spent in the Abyss, but I’ve always thought it made me look more distinguished anyway.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”
This review is based off a retail version of the game provided by the publisher.