Expectations for a video game based upon a beloved anime are typically as impossible to meet as a bottomless pit is able to be filled. Tasked with the herculean feat of bringing Akihito Tsukushi’s creation to the video game space, the folks at Chime Corporation did a wonderful job of imagining the world of Made in Abyss, as well as focusing on key elements of its spirit. The cute chibi style of animation masks a dark undertone of terror and violence, the spirit of which fits in perfectly with a survival mechanics genre style of game. Even though many of the design decisions left me scratching my head, ultimately my takeaway is that Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness is a satisfying experience for fans of survival style video games.
Speaking of head scratchers, perhaps the most debated aspect of Made in Abyss is the inclusion of two modes: Hello Abyss and Deep in Abyss. The former acts as both an introduction to the anime and to the survival mechanics required to master in the main game mode of Deep in Abyss. As someone with no previous knowledge of the anime, Hello Abyss does a wonderful job of explaining the main plot, as well as developing the characters within the world. The required three to four hour experience succeeds in explaining the origins of the Abyss, and the best practices on how to survive its pits and perils while exploring it.
As someone who tends to burn through tutorials as quickly as possible, I initially questioned the decision to require a playthrough of the Hello Abyss mode. Playing as the main character Riko, the history of the Abyss and the purpose of the Cave Raiders are explained through some dialogue back on the surface. During a harrowing cave raid that ends with a run-in with a primeval beast , Riko discovers the humanoid-robot Reg and brings him back to the surface to recuperate. Later on, a message is received from the abyss that is supposedly from the mother of Riko which sends the two on a quest to find her mother in the deepest depths.
Existing fans of the anime will find the story quite redundant since it closely follows the source material and new fans may be disappointed at the abrupt ending just as Riko and Reg are really starting their journey. Not long after starting the main campaign did I realize just how effective that first introduction really is. Firstly, it doesn’t take long to realize that Hello Abyss very much is an easy mode when it comes to surviving the perils of the Abyss. The main campaign requires a lot of patience to really understand the complexities of the mechanics and get a feel for the movements of the characters. Secondly, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened next with Riko and Reg, enough so that I’m now looking into both the anime and the manga. If the sole intention is to get the player hooked into the franchise, well then mission accomplished.
The main campaign picks up where the introduction left off up on the surface of Orth. The player creates their own character who becomes the latest Cave Raider to join the Belchero Orphanage. Riko and Reg are long gone, they are off having their adventure which can be enjoyed by reading or watching the source material. Deep in Abyss is a completely new story which takes place within the Abyss universe and follows the player surviving enough cave dives to go from a red whistle to a white.
The animation is quite beautiful, and the entire time it feels like living and breathing inside of an anime episode. The colours are bright and vibrant, and in Made in Abyss fashion, the cute and cuddly aesthetics are constantly undercut with gruesome deaths and heart wrenching moments. The controls certainly take some getting used to. Character movements are a little stiff and button combinations are often counterintuitive, especially since the game is inexplicably not designed for a controller. This fact is particularly frustrating during the quick-time events that require specific button combinations represented by keys on the screen. At the time of review, I had to remember that the “enter” key really meant the “B” button on my controller, or that “Q” meant “X” and so on.
Once you get past the idiosyncrasies, a pretty enjoyable survival game is hiding underneath. The crafting mechanics are fairly robust as items can be picked up, mined or taken from a defeated enemy and all have a use. Several meters have to be monitored such as health, hunger and stamina. Tools need to be crafted in order to fight against enemies and to traverse to different parts of the Abyss. The difficulty is tough as nails and no quarter is given. Every single inch of the Abyss must be earned but it’s definitely worth the aggravation as it’s a fascinating environment to explore.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness isn’t a game that I can provide a full recommendation for, but survival genre fans may find the experience quite enjoyable. Being a fan of the franchise isn’t enough, the brutal difficulty and frustrating deaths can turn away even the most hardcore of Abyss fans. Patience is definitely a requirement, both for avoiding death and for putting up with the many technical problems that will hopefully be patched.
- Beautiful visuals and setting
- Feels like playing a game inside an anime
- Compelling world to explore and discover
- Many technical glitches to be patched
- Some repetitive in-game dialogue
- Transition from the Hello to Deep modes is jarring
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness releases on Nintendo Switch, Playstation, and PC via Steam, on September 2, 2022. This review is based on the Steam version with a code provided by publisher Spike Chunsoft.