|Platforms||Steam (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4|
|Release Date||September 2, 2022|
Spike Chunsoft is never afraid to compromise the innocence of youth. Their Danganronpa series puts kids in awful situations, and slaps humor on it to soften the blow. Along with Nonary Games developer, Chime Corporation, they were the perfect choice to adapt Made in Abyss into its first game outing. But is the visual novel champion able to feel like an actual cave raider? Or is this game cursed? This article will explore these questions.
Violence: Anyone who knows the anime knows what they’re getting into. But for those unaware, Made in Abyss is a show about exploring the unknown, which most of the time involves extreme situations. There are monsters that will impale straight through the chest. Some monsters are depicted drinking blood through an open chest wound. Players can be depicted falling to their death. Players can receive fall damage, and too high a fall can leave a player collapsed and bloody with limbs twisted. The curse of the Abyss has various effects on the body according to layers if they try going up. The game will show the player vomiting in most layers where they try to travel up. With many monsters come unique death scenes, like being pummeled by big crab claws, or decapitated, or trampled. Lots of blood is visible during these scenes.
The orphanage implies a cruel punishment inflicted on the kids. They string the children up naked. It’s never seen, but is mentioned numerous times. There are references to bodily functions such as pooping and peeing. There are scary moments including monsters jumping out, and having scary appearances.
What immediately blew me away about the game was its voice casting of all returning dubbed actors and actresses for every cutscene. Some characters even took this chance to improve their performance. Jiruo, Daniel Regojo, gave what I thought was a really flat performance in the anime. It was mostly the character’s fault for being serious, apathetic, jaded, and monotonous, so I understand he didn’t have a lot to work with. However, the delivery in the game is so much better! Everyone seemed really comfortable with their respective characters.
The visuals were pretty standard, but imagining that the abyss would be large, along with the principle idea being an anime, I’ve not come to expect high fidelity. I expected a little more from the author, who himself used to work on video games before making this anime.
Are You Even Playing?
The gameplay leaves some things to be desired. The Abyss is separated by large rooms, with interconnected pathways between them. The developers made it possible for reasonably paced passage down and back up, at least in the first layer. Everything is how you remember it and more when it comes to layout. Players have a stamina meter, so climbing, running, and fighting are limited, though it refills quickly if you don’t expend it all. If you do, you have to wait in an exhausted state where you can’t move for five seconds. There is also a life and hunger meter. Each one requires a different, easily marked food or plant to restore. Your weapons have a life bar and will shatter after prolonged use, so players are constantly remaking or buying tools. The player can also climb ropes, use a pickaxe for fighting or mining treasures, and pick up ingredients. There are more tools and things you can use, but what I’ve described is the most useful for surviving.
Then there’s item management. My wife made a comment after me playing past the four-hour mark. “Every time I look up, you’re on the menu. Are you even playing the game?” Yes. Yes I was, my dear.
But before I launch into that, I should mention the two modes, which are the highlights of the game. Story mode comes in two parts: “Hello Abyss” and “Deep in Abyss”. “Hello” must be played first, which is the story of the anime with Riko and Reg all the way to the end of the second layer. I was perplexed by this. I had seen images of the game showing the more exciting parts of the deeper layers, so why did the story end after Ozen? I honestly would have loved to keep playing and have Reg with me for the journey, as his robotic parts made traveling super easy.
Wild Roller Coaster Ride
But in retrospect, that’s why they made their part short; “Deep in Abyss” is an original story, but also a continuation. Players begin as their own character, with three other orphans arriving the same day. Everyone hits it off, and the training for higher whistle ranks begins. This part had way more cutscenes, and still had every line voiced. There are even more original characters to see and find. Not only that, but the game finally started to give money and EXP. In “Hello Abyss” Riko was at a set level, with set upgrades, and did not receive money or level-ups. And that’s when it hit me: that was the demo for the bigger game. Kind of weird for the part of a game with memorable characters to be the opening act, but eh, c’est la vie. After the four-hour introduction, I was really getting into the game.
And then I wasn’t.
I’ll backtrack one last time. The pace of the game is a roller coaster. One minute you’re hitting beats and pressing buttons mid-cutscene during the action, and the next is a slog—listening to the bland music and the characters’ recycled one-liners, traveling with no line of direction for your objective, and the worst part: endlessly spawning enemies. That last part was an intentional design by Spike Chunsoft to keep players from sitting still too long. Except too long is apparently just stopping to try and heal. They can also spawn at any time, even while players are climbing. And yes, the monsters will attack or knock the cave raiders off the wall, ending what was probably a desperate climb to safety.
And when I said there’s no direction for your objective, I mean the parts where they want the player to get items. The other objectives have a purple helping hand icon or a yellow whistle on the map. The other times it’s “Have fun storming the Abyss!” which is stressful! You can only carry so much going in and out. You’ve got a set weight, which you can upgrade (but not when you want to), but everything comes with some weight to it. The most important items are the heaviest, while all the many cooking and crafting items will hardly matter at all. The ingredient for making self-made rope is 250G, and you need two of them (they randomly spawn, no set placement). The meat from animals can be cooked, but you also need additional ingredients with every recipe, if you know the recipe that is.
It’s All About the Money, Money, Money
The best thing to find are relics. Like the plot, the relics can be appraised for experience and money. The deeper the layer, the better the relic. But of course, relics also contain a weight, a very big weight. If the items go over the weight limit, the player becomes encumbered and can barely move. This gets frequently annoying, as you have to balance between ingredients, randomly spawned item, relics, and equipment, making hard decisions about what to drop in order to lighten your load. Restarting the Abyss means restarting from the top, and leaving means exiting from the top. Pausing to stop the curse effect, then being bombarded with endless spawning monsters, leaves no time to recoup or think of a plan, save for going back down.
This one time I was extremely lucky. The objective I finished did not send me back to town, and I did not have enough stamina to climb up the exit. So my only choice was to go deeper. I snuck past a Splitjaw and went to the bottom of the first layer before I found a bag containing lots of tools, food, and a shortcut to the top. That was one of my favorite moments, because I walked away from that with a lot of relics to appraise. It also makes me sad that I am walking around reluctantly wanting to play this game.
The Bottom of the Review
The whole experience feels like a PS2 game. Dated mechanics, lackluster sounds and noises, and unforgiving gameplay. And the worst part is I feel like it’s all intentional to make me feel like I’m actually playing in the Abyss. Which is kind of genius I guess, but I didn’t see things getting better in the end game. Fast travel doesn’t work—apparently, it has to be unlocked—and even then it doesn’t work like other conventional fast travel systems. I would like to see the player acquire their own relics and eventually legendary weapons, tools that no longer break, and a robot hand that eliminates the use of buying rope. And a super snazzy but highly dangerous jump mechanic. Yes, the player becoming Reg in a sense. It’s going for an original story, why not give it an original ending? I’m just saying. There’s an opportunity for a truly unique experience. There’s already a unique challenge here with the way the Abyss has been made, there’s no denying that. But I want the pain to be justified; a satisfying payoff for challenging Chime Corporation’s Abyss.
The Bottom Line
Made in Abyss: Binary Star offers a unique challenge that's worth trying, but it needs some quality-of-life improvements to be worth paying full price.