As far as unrepresented settings in video games go, 19th Century Chile is right up near the top, so it's nice to see such an unexpected backdrop used in Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition. In this unconventional genre mash-up on PlayStation 4, you'll find a roguelike role-playing game that not only has a unique artistic style, but also a combat system that draws more than just a touch of inspiration from Super Smash Bros. of all things.
It's the year 1890, and a number of sinkholes suddenly appear in Santiago, Chile, much to the surprise of its residents. As all manner of odd creatures spill forth from these pits, a swordswoman named Katrien enters the fray, helping the military defeat the first wave of beasts. This unexpected hero explains that the creatures, sink holes, and herself are all products of a powerful warlock's dreams, and the only way to stop the nightmare is to descend into the abyss.
As you'd expect for a game entering the pantheon of roguelikes, your objective is to reach and defeat the warlock in a single run. In order to do this you need to descend through numerous levels of the abyss that stand between you and your slumbering foe. On this trek you'll be fighting off the denizens of the abyss, doing a touch of platforming, and avoiding traps, all of which can make short work of your character when you first start out.
Artistically the game makes use of an Art Deco style that, like its setting, isn't seen all that often in videogames. This approach works really well with a colourful presentation that manages to take the edge off any disappointment that you may have from once again exploring underground caves and caverns. The game's eccentric style also extends to the enemy designs, which mix the supernatural with the Latin American, offering up some real oddities that you could imagine would be right at home in Chilean folklore.
Taking on enemies, you'll be using basic attacks, special attacks, and throws. Basic or special attacks are triggered when you push square or triangle respectively, and can be modified into different moves by pushing in a certain direction on the left stick. When you start out, though, you only have one special move at your disposal, and as such, the combat doesn't feel that great at all. It just doesn't seem complete, with the attack combos you dish out feeling like they should lead somewhere more satisfying and powerful, but instead they just hit dead ends.
Fortunately, killing any opponents' garners you experience, and as you level up, your health pool increases and you'll get access to more special moves. As you equip these moves, you can use any skills points that you've accumulated to increase their potency by, for example, increasing the damage they deal. You can also use skill points to unlock the use of up to three 'cancels', and you'll find that it's the introduction of these - as well as your increased repertoire of moves - that suddenly open up the combat in a much more satisfying way.
Using a 'cancel' lets you transition mid-move right into next so that you can string together combos without waiting for any animations to finish - just like a fighting game. Unsurprisingly it's fun and easy - due to the simplicity of the controls - to start with an uppercut and cancel into an air-dash before finishing off with a fireball, all before your opponent hits the ground.
As you explore the abyss you'll accumulate gold, and this can be spent on items, weapons, and potions sold by merchants that you'll come across within its procedurally generated stages. You'll also find these goodies scattered around the levels, so you'll always have to decide if your priority should be to explore for items, or focus on making progress descending the abyss.
Thankfully this title isn't as brutal as you'd initially expect, as when you inevitably get killed, you're actually given a second chance at success. Bestowing you control of a soldier who's also entered the abyss, you must guide this unlucky fellow to an altar located somewhere within each stage, so that they can resurrect the player character to continue their quest.
This is easier said than done, as the soldier is a lot less capable than Katrien, or any of the other unlockable characters. As a result, you'll find yourself being quite cautious as you hunt around for an altar, shying away from combat while trying to decide if it's best to backtrack in the current level, or press on forward into the unexpected. This mechanic is a nice little addition to the gameplay that helps build the tension, while also making the difficulty level a little more palatable to players who would otherwise be turned off by the genre.
These altars also act as a place for you to upgrade and switch out your special attacks, or set a marker that'll let you resurrect there should you die. Found within the levels or purchased from merchants, these markers will allow you to respawn, either one, two, or three times, with those allowing the most respawns being very costly to acquire.
When you die you're stripped of all the weapons and items that you've accumulated, leaving you with only the money and experience that you've hoarded. Due to the high cost of the more useful items, you'll be making multiple runs, building up funds so you can invest in markers, weapons, and items that will increase your chances of reaching the warlock. This is a great way to make you feel like you're at least getting something out of your failures, and as you get richer and stronger the early stages of your journey get a lot easier – especially once you've unlocked a couple of other entrances to the abyss that start you at lower levels.
Thrown into the mix of what's already a dense game, is the ability to capture an enemy, and from that point on morph into them on the fly during combat, making use of their own individual move sets. The trouble is that the game never properly explains how to successfully perform a capture, and while the steps seem relatively simple - fill your mana bar right to the top, then press the required buttons - it'll take a number of frustrating unsuccessful attempts before you'll realise that the enemy has to be the same level or lower than you for it to work.
If you fancy taking on the abyss with a friend, you can strike out with a second player in both online and offline co-op. While the number of people online doesn't appear to be great - with it taking a while for you to be matched with a partner - when you do find someone it's nice to be able to share the workload. That said, as with other co-op games who you play with will have big impact on your enjoyment, mainly due to the fact friendly fire is on by default. This means that you and your partner need to be extremely controlled with your attacks as it can be hugely annoying to have your ally doing even more damage to you than the inhabitants of the pit.
Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition successfully manages to merge a fighting game with a roguelike RPG to offer an experience that feels both familiar and unique. With an unexpected setting and art style, as well as some clever concessions around its difficulty to make the penalty for death a bit more palatable to the average player, it ensures that your descent into the darkness is enjoyable. If you can get past the fact that the combat only really comes into its own a few hours in, you may just find yourself disappearing into its depths for bit longer than you might have expected.