Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is an action RPG based on the popular Made in Abyss manga and anime. This acclaimed series is notorious for its sweet, child-friendly artwork juxtaposed with brutal, bloody violence. Like many anime-based games, Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness offers unique content not found in the source material. The question is whether this new stuff is worth investing in the game. Sadly, the answer is an emphatic “No!”
This game consists of two parts: Hello Abyss and Deep in Abyss. Hello Abyss is basically a three-to-five-hour-long tutorial sequence that superficially covers the first eight or so episodes of the anime where Riko, an enthusiastic tween girl, and her newfound automaton companion Reg sneak into the darkest depths of the Abyss (a multilayered dungeon that her hometown is built around) to solve the mystery of her legendary mother’s disappearance.
Deep in Abyss contains the real core of the game where you create your own character and go on cave raiding (read: dungeon crawling) adventures. These adventures consist of original content not seen in the anime. Deep in Abyss has some solid story beats and “well that escalated quickly” moments but is far from story-driven. Between those few cool story beats, lengthy stretches of boring fetch quest missions comprise the entire game, all culminating in a brief and unsatisfying ending that wasn’t worth the 25 or so hours I spent on it.
Hello Abyss earns the dubious dishonor of being the longest yet poorest tutorial sequence I’ve ever experienced in an RPG. The pop-ups told me what tasks I needed to do but didn’t tell me how to do them. For example, instructions said to eat when hungry but not given proper instructions on how to cook/prepare food. What’s the point of a tutorial if it doesn’t, you know, tutor me? I mostly figured out mechanics on my own, but it took a lot of trial, error, and frustration that could have been avoided with better-designed tutorials. To make matters worse, Hello Abyss’s gentle difficulty and handholding negated the need to learn or use most any of the necessary play mechanics. This left me ill-prepared for the punishing difficulty of Deep in Abyss, which requires quick mastery of all the quirky play mechanics.
Hello Abyss is an absolute slog, yet its completion is mandatory to access Deep in Abyss. Not having Deep in Abyss accessible from the start makes no sense to me. Most people who buy Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness are already fans of the source material and don’t need a superficial recap of a familiar story. They want to jump right into Deep in Abyss without having to endure an overly long and poorly designed tutorial sequence. Making Hello Abyss mandatory to access Deep in Abyss is one of several questionable design choices that make Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness an exercise in frustration, tedium, and downright agony at times.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is essentially a third-person Etrian Odyssey-style dungeon crawler, except that the dungeons have fixed layouts. To add depth and dimension to environments, climbing and rappelling are the key components of thorough exploration. It’s not just left, right, forward, and backward; you have to go up and down as well. Sometimes the right path is off the beaten track, and you must examine every wall or cliffside to see if it’s climbable. That said, the fixed layouts sometimes made the frequent and necessary back-and-forth trekking rather repetitive, especially since it takes some time before fast travel is accessible. The painfully slow walking and climbing speeds made a moderately long game feel like an eternity.
Poorly balanced and calibrated gameplay elements exacerbate these matters and make progression a chore. Keeping track of parameters like stamina, hunger, carrying weight, and weapon durability is standard for many dungeon crawlers, but it feels clumsy here. Weapons break too easily, tasks like using tools/weapons or unassisted climbing use a fair bit of stamina, and your pitiful carry weight doesn’t let you haul much of anything.
Equally maddening is that enemy hordes spawn suddenly and overwhelm you like locust swarms. To add insult to injury, they always seem to spawn behind the camera and hit you when you’re most vulnerable, like when you literally have your hands full climbing. Climbing and swinging weapons both eat up stamina, so having to do both at the same time led to many cheap Game Overs. Between impossible to evade enemy swarms and brittle weapons, progression was one step forward and two steps back. A game focused on patient exploration, such as this one, should favor stealth over combat, but stealth was not an option given the open areas and relentless enemies.
Unique to this game is the “Curse of the Abyss” condition. The curse makes you sick as you re-ascend from lower depths, which you need to do often to get back to town. I understand that that is a rule in the Made in Abyss world, but having to stop and wait for several seconds to recover when I barely took two steps upward is not my idea of a good time, especially when I’m in a dangerous situation. Speaking of stop-start delays, using healing items takes forever. Instead of instantly healing you, you have to wait idly while healing items take effect. When I’m in dire straits, I don’t have time to stop and wait for animations to play out while I’m eating food or applying bandages. Some people will view all of these aforementioned elements as a hardy challenge, whereas others (including me) see them as realistic elements that don’t translate into fun gaming.
Controls are remappable, which is a boon because the default schemes are lousy. The gamepad controls are clunky yet doable, but the mouse/keyboard mapping is atrocious. The menus themselves look stylish and their text is legible, but I found them somewhat cluttered. Using menus was often finicky, especially when mapping items to the field-use wheel, which itself is ungainly to use.
Graphics look decidedly last-gen. Environments have drab colors and simplistic textures that belie the creatively designed world from the anime. The lower you go, the duller the game looks. Enemies are equally dull and blocky. The character models look like their anime counterparts, but have plain textures and minimal shading. At least the Game Over screens look appropriately gruesome. Players can choose between listening to either the English or Japanese voices. Both are competent, but nothing exceptional. Competent is how I would describe the music as well. Honestly, I have nothing more to say about the graphics and sound other than that they get the job done, no more and no less.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is a hot mess of a game. I respect that rules from Made in Abyss’s world and mythos translated into the game mechanics, but that made for a wholly unappealing play experience. While I wouldn’t recommend playing Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness, I would definitely recommend checking out the Made in Abyss anime or manga to see why it’s highly regarded.