Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy - PS Vita Review

Game Info:

  • System: Playstation Vita, Steam
  • Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
  • Developer: Experience, Inc.
  • Release Date
    • US: May 16th, 2017
    • EU: May 19th, 2017

Who it Caters to

Without a number to punctuate the title, you may think that Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is a standalone game. However, Operation Babel is actually a direct sequel to the 2014 cult favorite, dungeon-crawling RPG, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. This is important to point out, as Operation Babel assumes you’ve played the original title. It’ll give you a brief summary of the central conflict and a quick rundown of the world and characters, and then it’s off to begin dungeon crawling and exploring.

What to Expect

If you’ve never played Operation Abyss but are still interested in Operation Babel, then keep in mind this is a strict dungeon crawler of an RPG, a la Etrian Odyssey. Most of the gameplay takes place in the first person, and you’ll wander around mazes with various levels and floors to acquire treasure and make it further into the dungeon. Battles are turn-based with a heavy emphasis on your positioning on the battlefield, so your front lines will probably consist of your close range fighters and tanks, while the back row will hold your healers and casters. Beginners can have the game select their team for them in Basic Mode, or more hardcore fans can customize their own designs in Classic Mode.

Some sequels will spend a lot of time easing new players into its mechanics or its world, but Operation Babel is more concerned about getting right into the meat of it. As such, you may be lost jumping into Operation Babel without having playing Operation Abyss beforehand. Much of the terminology used is stated with such certainty and lack of concern of who the game is speaking to that often you might read some dialogue, skip onto the next text box, and then realize you didn’t actually comprehend what was said. Thankfully, there is a handy feature to check the dialogue history of a given story segment.

To alleviate some of the concerns one might have about jumping into a new game, Operation Babel does provide a compendium for many of the terms thrown around, like Xth, the Embryo, etc. However, it is not really forced on the player to heavily invest in the story, so it’s mainly there to just get people up to speed if they find themselves confused by the story.

Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy – System Trailer:

Story

The story takes place 3 months after the events of Operation Abyss. While the Xth Squad thought their trials and tribulations were over, a new threat has shaken them to their very core! A mysterious, continent-sized object called the Embryo has appeared over the world, and no one is really quite sure what to make of it. Society has begun to break down in sheer panic, and the U.N. has decided the next goal of the Xth Squad should be to investigate the Embryo and bring peace of mind back to the world. You play as just another member of the Xth Squad, only recently brought into the fold after revealing that you have the ability Code: Rise, a special ability only bestowed on a select few to use Cross Bloods and fight the Variants.

Gameplay

The game’s brisk opening is something of a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the cold opening featured is a great way for you to quickly learn the basic controls and structure of the game without having to bog the game down too much in tutorials. The first few dungeons you’ll explore are balanced in such a way that you can easily just mash attack and survive without having to worry too much about not understanding what’s really going on.

Unfortunately, this also means that early gameplay does not really require much engagement from the player to actively learn or understand its core battle mechanic: Cross Bloods. These work as Operation Babel’s class system, as each Cross Blood has its own set of skills and stat enhancements to the character they are attached to. While the Cross Bloods are labelled as different types of classes, they do not have the full class name written out. Instead, they are abbreviated to just one or two letters (Ar. = Archer, W = Warrior, etc.). This is important to note, as this is the only indication the game gives the player about the classes of their Cross Bloods unless they wish to read through the archive materials. It feels like in Operation Babel’s fear of overwhelming the player with too much info, they’ve actually done the opposite and made it unnecessarily confusing.

However, the Cross Blood system is not the only place where the Operation Babel fails to convey the needed information to the player. Operation Babel was clearly made with the type of gamer in mind that likes to turn off battle animations, as the only visual information provided on the battle screen are text alerts for who’s performing a skill on who for what damage, and then just a very small shake on the character portrait of who’s being affected and, if there was any damage dealt/healed, a number that pops up over it. While this is certainly to the point, this can also make battles extremely tricky to follow. Games like Etrian Odyssey that also don’t show the players on screen, will at least have little splash animations appear over the character being affected in order to draw attention to the action being performed so you’re better aware of how the combat is playing out. This can make Operation Babel extremely intimidating to delve into, as it makes it so you feel like you’re never in control.

These battle issues may have been easier to handle if the game had a better handle of the strengths of its art and visual design. And, to Operation Babel’s credit, the artwork is quite lovely, with highly colorful and attractive character designs, along with some uniquely diverse monster designs. Unfortunately, the vibrant color work almost works to the game’s detriment when it comes to conveying information, as the text is so small that it’s difficult to read. All the various, brightly colored environments tend to inadvertently draw your attention away from the text you need to read in order to make sense of what’s going on. Many of the GUI elements will blend into the backgrounds so that it takes some searching just to figure out where your cursor is located. It all looks very stylish and contemporary, but lacks the clarity needed for ease of use.

But if you can make it past a lot of these visual issues, you might find a varied and fun dungeon explorer. Many of the dungeon designs can get pretty creative and test your ability to navigate the map. You’ll find your staples of dungeon maps like damaging tiles, pools of water that you’ll eventually be able to traverse, and what not, but the game mixes it up with some interesting level design. One early game example would be where you’re thrown into dark rooms and can only make out the walls via the map. Since there are walls that will hurt you if you touch them, you’ll have to keep a careful eye on your map to make you don’t accidentally bump into a wall. It turns what could have been a very boring maze into an interesting challenge.

Also unique, is the game’s spell system. While most games use a unified Magic Point system where the better the skill, the higher the cost until you can’t use magic anymore, Operation Babel has a much more streamlined system. Every spell is instead in a “pool” of other spells, and those pools have a set amount of uses to cast any of those given spells. So, for example, you could cast “Care” (the weakest healing spell), “Defense Up” to raise a single ally’s defense, or “Magic Guard” to protect an ally from one spell. You can only draw from this pool of spells so many times, but this doesn’t affect how many times you can draw from other pools of spells. As you level up, you can draw from each of your pools of spells more times. This keeps early game spells from getting entirely outclassed by late game spells, as rather than thinking of spell casting in terms of how much they’ll drain your character, you’re instead thinking of them in terms of how many times you can use them and which ones you should prioritize. Should you cast “Care” to heal someone so you don’t waste your higher level healing spells? or should you not worry about it and instead employ those usages to boost someone’s defense instead?

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the Rise & Drop system, in which the longer you stay in a dungeon, the stronger and more numerous enemy battles become. Since many dungeon crawlers tend to lean grinding to slow down your progress, this is a fun way to incentivize the process. As your meter builds and your battles get tougher, you’ll also get better item drops. This adds a sense of accomplishment for every battle you fight and makes you want to stay to fight enemies. Even if it doesn’t complicate the battles that much more, you do feel like you’re doing something more than just running around killing things. Plus, since you’ll be fighting more enemies with each fight, this will speed up the grinding process even more as you’ll get more experience and money. Combined with the already lightning-quick pacing of the fights, grinding won’t even feel like a chore if you need to do so.

Honey's Gameplay Consensus:

For everything that Operation Babel does right, the messy and confusing GUI is going to get in your way while playing. Also, the story seems to be written for people who played the Operation Abyss and does little to ease new players in, which might intimidate those uninitiated. Dungeon-crawling RPGs are already a niche fandom to begin with, so all of this combined might really limit Operation Babel’s appeal. For anyone who’s just dying for another dungeon-crawler for their Vita, however, Operation Babel might have fresh takes on the genre to persuade at least a more in-depth look.

Honey's Pros:

  • Fast-paced combat means you’re never spending too much over-strategizing simple battles
  • Magic system adds a new flair to combat in an interesting and fun manner
  • Rise & Drop system makes grinding fulfilling rather than tedious busy work
  • Some fun dungeon designs that add variety to the exploration
  • Appealing art style gives world a unique flavor

Honey's Cons:

  • Extremely messy UI makes battles confusing and unintuitive
  • Lack of explanation for most of the in-game systems mean you’ll never quite have a grasp on anything you’re doing
  • Artwork, while appealing, only adds more confusing elements to the limited screen space and keep you from focusing

Honey's Final Verdict:

Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is not a game for everyone. In fact, unless you are a hardcore dungeon RPG fanatic, it’s doubtful you’re going to want to jump in. Even veteran fans of the genre may want to look into the original Operation Abyss before investing in Operation Babel. If you loved the original game and are just dying for more, well then, you probably had already decided on Operation Babel before even clicking on this review. For everyone else interested, though, there is a game with some good ideas in there, but keep in mind that Operation Babel is going to make you work for them.
Matt Knodle

Writer

Author: Matt Knodle

I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.

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