E3 2014: Abyss Odyssey Hands-On Preview – An Underground Smash Bros. Adventure

E3 2014 is still young, but that certainly doesn’t take away from Abyss Odyssey’s place as my favorite hands-on of the show thus far. Now, that’s hands-on specifically, mind you — you can read my previews of guided publisher demos elsewhere here on Crave — but when it comes to games that I physically played, controller in hand, thumbs to the buttons, Abyss Odyssey found ways to genuinely grab my attention. Oh, you’ve never heard of it? Well, that’s even better.

Abyss Odyssey is what savvy folks sometimes refer to as a rogue-like, but I’d rather just tell you that it feels a whole lot like Super Smash Bros. in an ancient, dreamlike series of underground caverns called “the Abyss.” I thought maybe I was crazy until the Atlus rep outright told me that the developer ACE Team was influenced by Smash (right down to the way blocking and dodging works), and that even special attacks and directionals borrowed heavily from the series. It might seem an odd pairing, but the fact that Abyss Odyssey is far from a fighting game makes the controls feel fresh; I’m not used to such a precise level of control in my 2D hack n’ slasher, and putting my SSB instincts to use in games outside the fighting genre feels downright wonderful.

Despite being a limited demo, the areas I played were incredibly varied and unique, and I suspect this is mainly for one very important reason: the caves, dungeons, and underground passages of the Abyss are completely randomly generated. As you might imagine, this lends the game tremendous replay value; dying hardly feels like a chore, but rather a gentle reminder that you’re not yet powerful enough. One must simply return to the Abyss upon revival for fresh terrain to tackle, and with new enemy locations or even entirely different enemies and items, I found that revisiting familiar sectors of the Abyss felt nearly as fresh as uncovering new ones. I took on a formidable Ent-like creature in one area, only to return to the same place later and bypass it completely. It’s not because I tried to, but rather because it simply never showed up. The Abyss is an ever-evolving force, after all, and who am I to question it? I simply collected my mana orbs and went on my way.

Perhaps the best part about how this works is that your character is tied directly to the Abyss itself courtesy of the game’s plot. I had a hard time picking out all the gory details thanks to E3’s noisy show floor, but with the help of a friendly Atlus rep I gleaned that the main female protagonist’s existence is intertwined with the Abyss directly. She is the Abyss and the Abyss is her, and if she dies within it she’ll simply respawn nearby unharmed. It’s nice when games devise clever excuses for otherwise inexplicable mechanics like respawning, and the way Abyss Odyssey handles death is easily one of my favorites.

With the basics out of the way it was time to explore some special moves, and when my mana bar reached full capacity I jammed the Y and X buttons simultaneously in the general direction of an incoming enemy centaur. To my great delight, not only was the creature defeated, but I was able to morph with it — the centaur was now me! It was a wonderful discovery of what I soon realized would be a central gameplay component, and I don’t doubt that Abyss Odyssey is loaded with similarly pleasant delectations.

Still not sure of why possessing enemies is so cool? Well, keep in mind what I said about Super Smash Bros; each character in the game has a distinct look and feel, with entirely unique moves. When you consider that each enemy functions as a unique and separate playable character when you possess it, and that each area of the Abyss contains different enemies, and that every time you revisit an area its geography will have been drastically altered — well, you get the idea. If you live for the thrills of endless exploration, then this game will likely never fail to deliver.

There were other treats to be found during my short time with the game, such as the ability to purchase enhanced weaponry or even possession orbs at shops (meaning you don’t have to defeat a creature to play as it, but make a purchase instead), but the main draw for me was the continuous sense of wondrous exploration, dread at what may await you, and thrill of knowing that the game will quite literally never cease to provide these things until you actively decide to stop playing it. Oh, and did I mention there’s co-op? There is. Additional players can hop in or out at any time, and this was tested seamlessly when a sweaty middle-aged man hopped in and proclaimed “Oh my god, this IS Smash!!” Yes it is, sweaty middle-aged man. Yes it is.


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