Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is the follow-up to Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy - a dungeon crawler which arrived on the PlayStation Vita in 2015 to some fairly average review scores. Experience Inc. has released some really good dungeon crawlers on Sony's handheld, so you'd hope that for Operation Babel it would take some of the lessons learnt from Abyss and other similar games and apply them to this sequel. Sadly, that's not the case.
The story follows on directly from the first game with little explanation of what's happened so far, which means that if you haven't played Abyss then you're going to struggle to follow what's happening. A new threat has appeared - a huge and mysterious 'Embryo' is floating ominously above the world carrying what looks like giant twin babies. Meanwhile, dungeons and deadly monsters are appearing all across Tokyo. It's up to you to defeat all the evil monsters, stop the embryo, and save the world. While dungeon crawlers don't usually have amazing stories, this one feels particularly poor due to sluggish pacing and a confusing storyline; at times it just feels overly convoluted. The game does try to set things up for new players by having you start as a brand new team in the Xth Squad - a secret peacekeeping force that fights against the supernatural - but as the game has constant cameos and references to previous events throughout, those who haven't played Abyss are going to feel like they're missing out.
It also doesn't help that the game throws a lot of terminology and game mechanics at you really quickly without giving you much time to absorb it all before it moves onto the next thing. The menu screens are also full of abbreviations and statistics which makes it all look very intimidating. There's an in-game manual, but even if you take the time to read through it you’re still likely to be left feeling confused. There are some quite in-depth systems like item crafting and character creation that you never truly feel like you're making the most of as the game doesn’t explain anything particularly well.
You're given a lot of options to create your own party from scratch including being able to select character portraits, age, voice, personality type, and Blood Code. Blood Codes are basically this game's class system; there are all kinds of different specialisations to choose from including ranger, samurai, wizard, knight, and healer. You have the ability to select a main class as well as a sub class, and this adds an interesting new dynamic to creating your own party as you'll be able to create spell casters with access to two schools of magic, or do things like merge the assassin and knight classes together to create a strong fighter with high evasion.
The core gameplay of Operation Babel unsurprisingly revolves around you exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. If you've played any of developer Experience Inc.'s previous games then many of the mechanics will be familiar to you. The map is uncovered as you explore, one tile at a time, and there are many obstacles such as electric floors, tiles that spin you around, and warp points. There's definitely something quite addictive about exploring, though - you never quite know what’s through the next door or when you'll find a secret passageway. Other players can also leave handy memos in dungeons which can let you know about secrets that you might have otherwise missed.
There's also a 'Rise and Drop' battle system whereby the more enemies you fight, the higher the gauge rises, while running away from battle causes it to lower. When this gauge is at its highest, you’re more likely to get better item drops from battles, but the monsters are stronger. For some enemies and bosses you’ll need to increase the risk as they’ll only appear when this gauge is high, and in turn, this system adds a nice little risk versus reward element to gameplay.
When not fighting or exploring dungeons you’ll be in Tokyo. There are a number of different locations that you can visit but there’s not really a lot to do within them - they’re mostly just used for the occasional story scene or as a pre-screen before you enter a dungeon. You do have a base of operations where you’ll be able to create new items and improve your equipment in the development lab, or recover HP and MP in the medic lab - the latter being the only place where you can level up. You’ll gain experience points in combat, but you can’t actually level up unless you’re home safe and sound. It’s a relatively odd design choice and one that breaks up the flow of the game, especially early on; having to exit the dungeon all the time to level up just feels like a tedious chore. It’s especially frustrating as you can only equip weapons and armour which is the same level or lower than your character. Finding a nice new shiny sword that you want to use but having to exit the dungeon and return to the medic lab to level up first is annoying.
While the Tokyo backgrounds are interesting to look at, the same can’t be said for the dungeons. The backgrounds in the dungeons look quite dated, which is a shame since the character and enemy portraits are nicely detailed and well-illustrated. The backdrops can unfortunately make exploring feel repetitive, as you’ll come across the same bland rooms and corridors over and over again. What's more, the game's music is totally forgettable.
Overall Operation Babel is a frustrating experience. The game mechanics aren't explained particularly well, and so you’ll need a lot of patience to figure out how everything works. If you’re a newcomer to the genre then you’re better off playing something like Ray Gigant. While Babel has some interesting mechanics, it definitely lacks a lot of the polish of similar titles like Stranger of Sword City. Simply put, there are a lot of quality dungeon crawlers out there on Vita that do a much better job than Operation Babel.