There’s nothing written in stone that says unoriginal games can’t be entertaining quality works in their own right. It’s certainly not unheard of. There are plenty of titles out there that have taken completely uninspiring designs and pulled them off without a hitch.
In other instances, borrowing a few ideas from one title and a few ideas from another can sometimes result in a substantially stronger game, though this isn’t always the case.
From the Abyss, developed by Sonic Powered, falls under the latter category; it’s entirely generic, formulaic, and there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about the game. Conceptually, it borrows slightly from Etrian Odyssey, and the gameplay and visual style is extremely similar to the action found in the Mana series. The game is a basic hack-and-slash dungeon crawling RPG with a strong anime vibe and limited depth. Despite all this – and one’s better judgment – it still manages to provide a relatively entertaining play experience. As a random adventurer, you wind up in the peaceful and prosperous country of Rubenhaut, where generations of queens have ruled the wooded realm with a kind hand. The true secret of the kingdom’s tranquility lies in the dimensional abyss created long ago to confine all the world’s evil in a parallel dimension. Unbeknownst to the region’s residents, the country was formed as a measure to keep watch over the magical gate to the dark abyss. When demons inevitably break the seal and attack the land, the peaceful soldiers are ill equipped to make a proper stand, and your fortuitous arrival coincides with the queen’s decision to mount a resistance against the encroaching beasts.
With the town surrounding the queen’s castle serving as a home base, you must venture forth into the innermost recesses of the dark dimensional abyss to combat its monstrous denizens in an effort to spare the country from annihilation. Each area of the abyss features a unique visual theme and a handful of stages you must navigate, before reaching the boss at the end. You’ll essentially warp in, navigate the 2D landscape (which fortunately generates an auto map grid as you progress), and pummel the tar out of all manner of malevolent creatures you’ll encounter. Then its time for one of many slick boss battles, and the process repeats itself. Though the levels will not change once you start the game, they’re generated randomly from the moment you fire up the cartridge in your DS, and each player’s experience will be different.
Dying while in the abyss results in an immediate game over, but you can pick up items that allow you to teleport back to civilization to save your game and re-equip before warping back to the last level you completed. This is particularly handy if you’ve spent a lot of time leveling up and don’t want to eat it while battling the dangerous creatures in the abyss. In between excursions, it’s also important to buy new equipment, chat with the locals, and rest up for your next perilous jaunt. Like many RPGs before it, the difficulty in From the Abyss is pretty steep and unforgiving. You’ll be forced into the requisite level grinding in order to gain experience and boost your stats for the impending boss battles waiting for you towards the conclusion of each new area.
Combat is extremely straightforward; running around and hacking away at foes until they drop – and trying to avoid getting mauled to bits at the same time – is essentially the order of the day. The D-pad and buttons handle all movement and attacking. The A button serves as your default attack, and special attacks and powers can be assigned to the X, Y, and B buttons respectively. Weapon-wise, you can equip an assortment of swords, spears, axes, rods, and missile weapons, and upping your arsenal plays a big part in how effective your attacks are. Other items like armor, potions, and special accessories provide a helpful boost as well. Additionally, the coolest twist in battle is the ability to steal the souls of weakened foes to gain new power to use. Each enemy type has its own power, so collecting tons of new abilities from them quickly becomes an addictive side-quest. When you start sucking their souls, a button mashing minigame initiates; victory earns you some sweet skills.
Touch controls come into play primarily for menu navigation, special item usage, equipping gear, and divvying up experience. All of the action plays out on the top screen, and the touch screen serves as a handy, multipurpose map, and menu screen. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pause the game, so all of these changes have to be made on the fly. Given the rest of the controls are handled with buttons, it’s a little awkward to switch to the stylus just to use a potion or change you weapon.
At a quick glance, it’s far too easy to mistake From the Abyss with gameplay from Children of Mana on the DS. The graphics are uncannily similar, right down to the weapon types available, the level design, and the combat style. The non-dungeon areas of the game are so minimal they’re barely worth mentioning – they’re a meager combination of text boxes, shop menus, and anime character stills. The situation is a little better on the audio front in terms of originality. The fantasy music is catchy at times, and it certainly bolsters the heroic vibe of the adventure. Also, each creature you encounter has their own unique sound they make when you’re bashing their teeth in – it’s a minor but appreciated touch.
A co-op multiplayer mode allows you to venture into danger with a buddy, but there’s no option to play through the main campaign as a duo. Co-op play is basically limited to re-exploring areas of the abyss you’ve already completed on your own, which is disappointing. Sure, you can pick up some special items only available with this play mode – and a little extra experience grinding never hurts – but it’s wasted potential.
Sad to say, From the Abyss is an extremely unremarkable game through-and-through. From the visual style and plot to the game mechanics, it’s all been done before in some form or another. The good news in all of this is the game still offers a good time for fans of the genre. There’s not a lot of thinking involved, but plenty of good old fantasy RPG pummeling is on tap.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Dated 2D graphics are solid but uninspiring. 3.4 Control
D-pad and button controls work fine, but switching to the stylus for potions and menu navigation stinks. Where’s the pause button?! 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Nice fantasy musical score and cool creature sounds effects. 3.4
Lots of areas of the abyss to explore and soul abilities to steal. Mindless and satisfying hacking abounds.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.