Title (EN): Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness
Title (JP): メイドインアビス 闇を目指した連星
Genre: Survival action RPG
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Release date: 1 Sep 2022 (JP), 2 Sep 2022 (WW)
Official website (EN): https://www.spike-chunsoft.co.jp/miabyss/en/top.html
Official website (JP): https://www.spike-chunsoft.co.jp/miabyss/top.html
Made In Abyss is a hit manga series by Tsukushi Akihito which has been adapted to two seasons of anime and three movies, which have been extremely popular both in and outside of Japan, and Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness, developed by Spike Chunsoft, is the first video game adaptation of the series.
The series has a setting that might sound familiar to fans of the Sekaiju no Meikyuu (Etrian Odyssey) series: A massive, seemingly bottomless hole filled with ancient relics and treasure was found, and a town and economy was built around this natural(?) dungeon, known as the Abyss.
The source material follows the story of Riko, a girl who believes that her mother is waiting for her at the bottom of the Abyss, who is accompanied by Reg, an amnesiac android boy.
Binary Star has two modes: “Deep In Abyss” in which you play as a character that you create, with a completely original story, and “Hello Abyss” where you take control of Riko and play through some of the early events of the source material – Chapter 17 of the manga, or episode 8 of the anime’s first season. Hello Abyss is not as much of a real mode as it is an introduction to the setting for people who might not be familiar with the source material, and a tutorial, and the player has to clear it before unlocking Deep In Abyss.
This is extremely unfortunate.
Hello Abyss is serviceable as an introduction to the source material, skimming over the early parts of the series. But a completely blind playthrough of it might take around 4 hours (or even more), which is equivalent to 8 episodes of the anime. And in an age where someone who is interested at all in Made In Abyss could simply stream it on their service of choice (it’s available on Amazon Prime for this writer, for example) it becomes extremely difficult to see any point to using this as a starting point to the series. For reference, this writer took 40+ hours to clear Deep In Abyss, meaning that Hello Abyss (even when including its lengthy cutscenes) accounted for less than 10% of the game.
As a tutorial, Hello Abyss is also thoroughly atrocious. The vast majority of the game’s mechanics, systems, and gimmicks are deactivated in this mode, and it completely misrepresents what the actual game (i.e. Deep In Abyss) is like. It also has the effect of leaving a terrible impression on people who might touch the game for a bit and then stop playing without ever getting into Deep In Abyss – Which is an absolute shame, because Deep In Abyss is something truly special.
Deep In Abyss is where Binary Star actually starts. The player creates their own character, who is a newcomer to Belchero Orphanage in the town of Orth, and works their way up in the ranks of the “cave raiders” (the dodgy official translation of what the series calls its equivalent of adventurers).
Though the game officially calls itself an action RPG, there is far more emphasis on action than anything one might associate with RPGs. There is also far heavier emphasis on survival aspects: The player has a backpack with limited storage (determined by weight), equipment with very limited durability, and also has to deal with a hunger meter that is depleted not just over time but also through actions. Aside from that, the player has a standard health meter, and a Souls-like stamina bar that is depleted by running, dodging, attacking (the usual) or jumping and climbing.
And while Riko and Reg go on a one-way journey down into the Abyss, the player’s character, being an ordinary adventurer, also has to make it back to town. It’s relatively easy for someone to head downwards, given how it’s literally a big hole, but in addition to climbing out being far more difficult, there’s also that one big feature of the series’ setting to deal with: The “curse of the Abyss” which has negative effects on anyone moving upwards within the boundaries of the Abyss.
Like in Etrian Odyssey, the Abyss is divided into different strata or “layers” with distinct identities, and in Made In Abyss each different layer also comes with a different version of the curse. In Binary Star, the earliest versions of the curse result in the player character throwing up and losing a huge chunk of their hunger gauge. If the hunger gauge is fully depleted, the stamina gauge is also fully depleted and stamina regeneration is completely disabled. While this might not sound so bad at first, given how the Abyss is a vertical dungeon, climbing is something that is very important here, and if you run out of a stamina on a climb (and stamina does not regenerate while you are climbing) you instantly fall, almost certainly to your death.
The game does have experience, with each level gained coming with a skill point that the player can invest in a skill tree, with things to unlock such as bigger backpacks or storage boxes, new cooking or crafting recipes, or simply better combat prowess such as longer combos or better dodges. While this is pretty standard, the process of gaining experience is something far more unique: The player does not gain any experience from defeating enemies. Experience points only come from completing quests, or retrieving and selling relics found in the Abyss.
Relics spawn randomly with each trip into the Abyss, and are easily identifiable, with a unique orange twinkle effect and also a sound effect to let the player know that there is one nearby. But having experience come in the form of items in a game that limits how many items the player can carry at a time leads to a very interesting dynamic. A player that carries too many items – Be it weapons or food or other tools – Will have far less space for relics (or other things like materials for crafting, for that matter). Inventory management thus becomes very crucial.
Furthermore, relics are mostly found on the sides of cliffs, constantly tempting the player, luring them to death. Going over the backpack’s weight limit also makes the player instantly fall off a climb (to, again, almost certain death) which means that a player could easily lose track of how much space they have, pick up a relic while climbing, and go overweight and fall.
Another interesting dynamic with relics is how they are used to craft some of the best equipment in the game. The player thus has to constantly ponder whether or not to cash them in for experience, or save them to make better equipment.
Relics are of course not the only thing taking up space in the player’s backpack. While it should be obvious to anyone that combat is something best avoided in the Abyss, there are many cases where that is not an option, and so the player has to carry weapons which are especially heavy yet break after only a few uses, meaning one might have to bring multiple weapons to stay on the safe side.
With hunger being so important, the player also has to carry food, or ingredients to cook food with: For example, a large number of recipes using meat found in the abyss require salt, which cannot be found in the Abyss at all, and so the player could choose to bring a large amount of salt with them. Alternatively, a player who wants to avoid combat will not be picking up raw meat and will thus want to carry pre-cooked food with them. And while hunger is not much of an issue in the shallowest parts of the Abyss, the deeper areas deplete hunger at a far faster rate, making food management all that more important.
The Abyss is also filled with materials for crafting: Rocks, plants, and animal parts. Some of the best equipment is only available through crafting. And then, of course, there are tools: There are spots all over where one can use a bundle of rope to rapple down, which also makes climbing back up far easier later: Stamina does not regenerate when climbing up walls, but it does on ropes. Using a rope can thus turn what might have been a one-way journey into a two-way one. The player can also bring torches to ward off enemies and illuminate dark caves, bandages necessary to heal wounded limbs, antidotes for different kinds of poisons, and mail balloons used to save the game while inside the Abyss.
While the game might not really be difficult in terms of requiring high skill, it does assault the player with a non-stop torrent of decisions to make in which the wrong one can lead to instant death. A wrong turn, a wrong item pickup, or a wrong button press can result in a game over. Thankfully, the game does auto save each time you enter a new area, meaning that you can always restart from when you entered the area. Some areas can be very huge or hard to navigate, however, and so manually saving with mail balloons can help there.
Manual saves can also help when one is unsure if they have enough resources to make it back when navigating a new layer. And in a worst-case scenario, where the player simply does not have the resources to get back – No food to eat and no weapons to get ingredients with – The game does have a menu option that allows the player to exit back to town, at the cost of losing any and all progress made in that particular dive, which does make it so that someone with bad save management still won’t be able to lock themselves into an impossible scenario.
While the game’s graphics might not be much to look at – They feel like an upscaled PSP or 3DS game at best, paling in comparison even to some PS2 games – The environments and general feel of the Abyss do nevertheless manage to evoke a sense of wonder.
There is also the issue of how the game simply feels unfinished. Yes, some of it is due to how the source material itself has not been finished yet, but the fourth and fifth layers, despite having large areas, just don’t really feel as fleshed out as the first three.
The game also sports some very questionable balance at times. While I will refrain from going into detail here so as to not spoil the experience for players who consider learning things themselves to be part of the fun (and it really is part of the fun in this game more than most), there are some definite “rights” and “wrongs” in this game in terms of what equipment to craft or use, what food to eat, and what paths to take. You do have freedom to tackle things in other ways, but some specific ways are just clearly far more effective.
As someone who is more familiar with the series in Japanese than in English, this writer can also not help but bring up the translation issues. The title, directly translated from Japanese with no regards as to how it sounds in English, “Binary Star Falling into Darkness” already gives an indication of how little effort was put into the translation, and while this writer played the game in Japanese, a quick inspection of videos and screenshots online revealed a plethora of mistakes. For example, fan favorite Bondrewd has some egregious errors in the translation of his dialogue, most notably his references to “the next 2000 years” (a very important keyword in the lore of the series.) Additionally – though this seems to be an issue stemming from the official translations of the source material – The translations of the creature names completely lack any form of consistency. Some are left in Japanese (Tachikanata), some are translated to English (Crimson Splitjaw), some have questionable translations (Amaranthine Deceptor), some have bizarre romanizations in which the translator seemingly misinterpreted a Japanese word for an English name (Madokajack), and some are just straight up wrong (Orb-Piercer; particularly egregious because the author has plainly explained what the “Tama” in Tama-Ugachi means, and it does not mean “orb”.)
Also, though the game sports a beastiary with a wide range of unique and interesting fauna (and even flora), it should be noted that combat is not a focus of the game. There are a few mandatory boss fights, some random encounters that you cannot escape from, and a couple of superbosses, but combat never really feels fun. The game is primarily about exploration: Finding a feasible route not just down to the bottom of a layer, but also back up; and management: Managing inventory, and managing risks, with the enemies and combat (or avoidance of combat) typically just being part of this, as they influence whether or not you bring or use weapons, tools, and perishables.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is a very strange game. It goes against what many might consider to be modern sensibilities in game design. It is a punishing, masochistic, oft-times buggy mess. And yet Deep In Abyss mode brings with it an organic feeling of adventure that one simply does not get in more streamlined, polished games. While it is definitely not something for most people, the few who enjoy what it has to offer will find it to be truly amazing.
While this writer gave the game a 75/100 below, this is not the sort of game which can be easily assigned a number. It will probably be a 60 for most, and maybe a 40 for many, but someone whom it clicks with could find it to be an 80 or 90. If anything in this review sounded appealing to you, do give it a try.
The Good: This game brings with it a sense of adventure that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
The Bad: This writer died more times in the third layer than in Elden Ring overall. The game can be extremely frustrating for players who are frustrated by game overs, or prefer modern streamlined AAA titles. Series fans might be disappointed by the lack of screentime for certain popular characters.
Conclusion: Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is not something that can be recommended to everyone, but it has the potential to be something truly exceptional to the sort of people who would enjoy what it has to offer. Fans of the Made In Abyss series or Etrian Odyssey should absolutely take a look at this game. Just remember that Hello Abyss does not represent what the game is actually like.