While the current console generation is making a slow transition into providing players with RPG goodness, the handhelds (especially DS) are pulling out RPGs left and right. Quality, on the other hand, varies greatly. Some companies, like Square Enix, usually provide solid games; others, such as the various RPGs Atlus publish, are frequently mediocre. There are RPGs categorized in-between, and that is the case with From the Abyss. It’s a run-of-the-mill, yet decent dungeon crawler developed by Sonic Powered, and released in the US by Aksys.
The game takes place in the country of Rubenhaut. The country is prosperous thanks to generations of leadership by peace-loving queens, but peace doesn’t last long when troubles from the past begin to emerge. Long ago, the country was made in order to watch over a dimension called the abyss gate. The gate was made to seal away the world’s evil, but over time, the seal broke, and monsters now roam free. The kingdom’s soldiers, who were used to peace, were easily defeated, and the country fell under peril. In order to counter the threat, the queen calls out to adventurers to save the kingdom, and be greatly rewarded for it.
You begin the game by selecting your character model along with the model’s color, and then you are asked a series of questions. Normally, being asked questions is a way of determining what class you would be, but I never noticed any difference so it may well be altogether pointless. After being asked questions, you get to name your adventurer, and then you’re on your merry way to save the country.
Dungeon crawlers tend to put little emphasis on story, and this game is no exception. It isn’t bad at all, but it’s basic, and it’s only there to keep you occupied. The story basically consists of the queen giving you requests to go into these abyssal dungeons, talking to the gate guard, and… that’s about it. There are six townsfolk you can talk to, and it’s enough that you get a gist of who they are, and actually receive some minor development, but it’s not enough. There isn’t much else to the story.
The game is like other dungeon crawlers, but for those who don’t know, the concept is simple. You go through a dungeon, fighting hordes of enemies along the way, and in each floor, you attempt to find a warp point to proceed a floor further. In order to beat the dungeon, you have to get to the end and face the boss. Rinse and repeat several times, and you got yourself a full-scale dungeon crawler!
The nice thing about the game is that it allows the player to implement a flexible play style. You are given a variety of different weapon types, each having different skills; when you level up, you are given four points to spend on any status you like. This gives the player freedom to create the type of fighter they’d like. Another interesting aspect is the way you obtain abilities. From the start of the game, you have access to an ability called soul capture. When the ability lands on an enemy, you rapidly tap a button until the bar on the monster depletes, and you obtain the ability from the monster. The lower its HP and the higher level you are, the easier it is to capture. Every monster has a different ability and there are a lot of them to collect.
Another interesting aspect is co-op play. If your friend has the game too, he or she can join you and tear through a dungeon together. It certainly beats hacking and slashing alone, and it’s a nice addition.
That’s all there is to the game. The gameplay formula remains the same, and there are only eight dungeons. In other dungeon crawlers, the number of floors increase as you progress from one dungeon to the next, but From The Abyss does not follow that trait. Every dungeon is only four floors with one of them being the boss room. Floors expand as you progress through dungeons, but only slightly. With only eight dungeons, and floors players can easily blitz through, the game only lasts three to five hours. There is nothing else to do in the game but hack and slash. When you start a new game, the map layout changes, and there are multiple styles of playing (as mentioned earlier), but the replay value is low.
The graphics are a little dated, but they’re nice, and it gives me some SNES nostalgia. The environments are colorful and nice to look at as well, but the highlight comes from the enemy sprites. The regular enemies have some good detail to them, and there are a variety of different monsters that look interesting. Unfortunately, by the fourth dungeon, palette swapping gets abused, and you begin to see a lot less new kinds of new creatures. On the other hand, the boss designs are easily the highlight of the game’s visuals. They look great, detailed and each boss is distinctive and unique, especially the last boss. There are also character portraits from the NPCs you talk to, but they look generic, lack much expression, and the colors look bleached out.
The music in From the Abyss consists of ambient tunes, which fits the setting wherever the music is played at; however, the music itself is generic. The melodies are quite forgettable. It’s not bad, it’s just… there. It exists.
Controls are straightforward, using the d-pad and buttons for all your actions. Everything is organized, and you are also able to assign buttons to use your skills quickly. There is some usage of the touch-screen, but it’s done awkwardly. You can only use items, increase stats and assign skills through touch-screen only. It’s mainly inconvenient when you are trying to use an item, but your other hands are occupied moving and attacking all the time. Since you can set shortcut for abilities, I find it odd that you can’t do the same for items.
Despite the faults, From the Abyss is a solid dungeon crawler. It does what it does well for the genre, and it is very easy to pick up and play. In the long run however, it’s not going to be memorable game. Other games, like Chocobo’s Dungeon, do dungeon crawling better, and it’s hard to warrant a $30 purchase for something so short. Rent it if you like. It’s decent, but far from the best among its peers in the genre.