Developer: Chime Corporation
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC
There isn’t usually much expectation that a video game based on a manga or anime would hold up when compared to the original source material. But when considering how beloved Akihito Tsukushi’s Made In Abyss is, one can hold out hope that the developer and publisher would understand just how important it is to the fanbase to do justice with Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness.
While one may consider it a pleasant surprise when a game is released months ahead of schedule, if you’ve been following the game industry long enough to develop a little cynicism, you’d see it as a sign that the publisher decided to rush it, perhaps because funds were starting to run a little low. Or, as was likely the case with Binary Star, Spike Chunsoft wanted to rush the game to market while the recently-aired second season of the Made In Abyss anime is still fresh in the memories of viewers, and the game is in a better position to profit off the popularity of the license.
That’s not to say that Binary Star was a bad game. The skeleton of a highly ambitious project is there: great worldbuilding, an intriguing story, well-fleshed-out characters, and great potential for treasure-hunting mechanics. Of course, it’s easy to point out that these are owed to the source material, and that the follow-through would be in the efforts of the game developers. And that’s where things start to falter.
This game would be a blast if it weren’t for a few bad design choices that could have easily been decided against. The most notorious of which would be the repeatedly-spawning enemies. Normally, when a game character is placed in a sprawling, expansive environment, the player’s tendency is to take a minute or two to bask in the beauty of the scenery they are presented with. But don’t take too long doing that in Binary Star, because when you enter a new area, a timer ticks down, and when enough time passes, enemies start spawning. And they’ll usually teleport into existence right behind you, as though the game itself has a problem with you just wanting to chill.
If this sounds like it might be an annoyance to you, you might want to go for the Steam version. Some clever players have developed a mod which prevents enemies from spawning in such a way. Otherwise, you might end up getting triggered at the sight of ferrets.
I get the idea that the game makers had a hard time deciding whether to closely follow Riko’s adventure from the manga, or give players a new, customizable main character to go on his/her own adventure. To the credit of the game makers, they decided on including both. However, it’s obvious that the meat of the game is in the new main character’s campaign, while Riko’s story (which only includes her adventures up to the second layer) acts as a kind of tutorial that’s a few hours long.
Unfortunately, to get to the better part of the game, to complete the tutorial first is mandatory. And as far as tutorials go, it doesn’t really work that great. Riko and Reg are likely to annoy you as they repeat the same lines over and over again while traipsing about in the Abyss. It won’t take long for you to get used to the fact that Reg “senses something” when he and Riko are in no immediate danger.
This is one game that isn’t to be judged by the first few hours.
While I’m complaining, I can also point out that the “strains of ascending” are a huge inconvenience. I know that it’s a huge part of the worldbuilding in Made In Abyss, but from a game mechanics perspective, it’s likely to bust your groove when you want to, you know, go up.
But as much as I can think of to complain about, I found myself enjoying Binary Star quite a lot, especially when I got to the point when I could play the main campaign. That was when I could finally create and name my own customizable character, and have him interact with the other characters in Made In Abyss. And the execution was compelling and addictive enough that I eventually developed a forbearance concerning the game’s shortcomings.
The story follows a child who joins Belchero orphanage alongside a group of other kids. At that point, it’s been months since Riko departed into the abyss in a quest to find her mother, and since then, the other children began to speak of her as a legend. You might have noticed a dark undertone in the reasoning for training orphans to mine in the abyss, as there’d be fewer people who would miss them in the event that an expedition turns tragic.
The action in the game takes place in the Abyss, where you’ll have to make careful judgements as to what dangers to brave and how far you’ll go, considering that at the end of an expedition, you’d have to make a return trip. As you journey, there are many things to account for, such as what supplies you brought, what healing items and food you brought, and the weight of the treasures you find, considering that there’s a limit to how much you can carry before your character is slowed.
In addition to the HP bar, you’ll also have a hunger bar, which decrements with time. Hunger is something to account for when making longer trips, as when the hunger bar is depleted, your character becomes helpless. There’s also an energy bar, which depletes when the character takes an action. However, it’ll completely restore when the character stands still for a few seconds, as long as the character is not starving. However, it doesn’t recover on its own when climbing a rock face, which places a limit on how much you can climb at a time.
There are also status conditions to watch for, such as two different kinds of poison. There are also arm injuries, which temporarily limits the actions you can take with your arms, and leg injuries, which temporarily decreases mobility. Special items heal these conditions in a hurry, which is great, because some of them can be a serious problem when a dangerous monster is upon you!
While the game isn’t heavy on delivering the tension, there’s still a sense that things can go horribly wrong, even from just a moment of poor judgement. Just slipping on a rock face can result in your character falling to their death. It seems that this game’s M rating is largely owed to how grisly some of the possible deaths are. In some cases, it seems a little gratuitous, but it’s not as though the Made In Abyss series was made for kids.
Made In Abyss is one game where if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. While in Orth, you can plan for runs into the Abyss, with shops for replenishing your equipment, food, and medicine. There’s also a facility for selling off relics that you find for money. You also have access to your room, where there’s a chest where you can decide what to take with you. There are also many armor items, but many of the more effective ones add significantly to your weight allotment. It’s a judgement call as to whether it’s worthwhile to settle for a particular armor set, or upgrade for a set that might be worth the weight it adds to your gear.
It bears pointing out that your character doesn’t gain EXP directly from beating enemies, you mainly get those from selling relics and completing quests. Thus, it’s usually better to avoid dangerous primeval creatures unless you need their drops or you have some other reason for fighting them.
As the story progresses, more main missions open up, the completion of which can lead to the player growing in rank, such as from Red Whistle to Blue Whistle. Growing in ranks grants access to more skills, which can then be unlocked with points that players accrue by leveling up. Some of these skills are quite significant, and can increase the number of items that can be crafted, and improve other skills, such as mobility when climbing or dodging, or even increase the bag’s weight capacity.
It’s a bit of an indulgence, but there is some enjoyment to be had in having your own customizable character interact with characters from Made In Abyss. You can even give your character heterochromia, if stereotypical OCs are more your thing. And like stereotypical OCs, you can proceed to have them befriend just about every established character in the series that appears in this game. Having said that, there are at least a couple established characters which, if I were to see them while walking down the street, I’d cross to the other side of the street.
There are a few boss characters, but with a few exceptions, they’re some pretty simple battles that can be cheesed. But this doesn’t bother me, as the boss battles aren’t really the main point of this game. Once you’ve completed all the boss battles and most of the game’s major objectives, you’ll come to a steep drop-off in reason to continue playing. Sure, you could continue to take on missions and develop White Whistle skills, but there isn’t much at that point to do with those skills.
This is one game that can be pointed to as being highly ambitious, and having a lot of potential just from the source material, and while there are some redeeming qualities, the whole deal is held back by an apparent rush to an early release date, and some poor design choices that could have easily not been made.
I think an appropriate score for Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness would be 6.5 out of 10.
This might be one race to the bottom that you could get behind.
UPDATE: Literally, update. Among the changes in version 1.0.3, you can skip the Hello Abyss mode and go right into Deep In Abyss mode, which is where the meat of the game is. That’s great for players who might lose their patience with the initially-mandatory pseudo-tutorial mode.
But that’s not all, they also changed the system that spawned in minor enemies when you spend enough time in one area. Not by eliminating that mechanic entirely, as I might have preferred, but by making it take more time for the enemies to spawn in. I gave the game another try, and I noticed that it took much longer to get attacked by evil ferrets.
It seems the developers at Chime were aware of gamers’ biggest complaints, and they addressed them. That’s great for those who are still on the fence on whether to give Binary Star a try. But the update came weeks after I already completed all the game’s major objectives, so they wouldn’t make that much of a difference for me unless I decide I want to give this game another go.
Missing a better initial experience with a game that ends up getting an update is one of the ways that the game industry, in its current form, would punish a gamer who rushes through a new release like a freak.