Made in Abyss is a fantastic anime, one of my recent favorites. So you could say I was a little bit surprised to see a game based on it release all of a sudden with what seems like very little actual marketing. A pleasant surprise though, the series has the potential for a fun video game.
Let’s start with the good. For one, I was really impressed with the scale of this game. Given the atrocity that was the Re:ZERO game developed by the same studio, I expected just another straightforward VN-adventure hybrid. Binary Star is much more than that though. There are VN segments yeah, but the gameplay takes priority here and there is a full slate of stuff to play around with.
Crafting food and equipment, using various tools to get around, taking in the many different areas of the Abyss layers available to you, unlocking abilities on the skill tree, hunting down artifacts – it is a much higher-end production than I was anticipating and the studio has done a great job building a solid foundation for the rest of the experience to rest on.
But unfortunately that is just the foundation, because the game takes a massive dive in quality once you get to how the actual gameplay loop works. Instead of evoking that feeling of exploration and wonder that one would expect to come with diving into the Abyss, the overall feeling I had was one of monotony. This is because the vast majority of quests are simple fetch quests, “go here and kill this” quests, or “go here, talk to this person, and come back” quests.
And this isn’t some filler stuff either, this is how the main quests work – the game literally opens with three back to back fetch quests and it never really improves from that point. You would think, “okay, but these fetch quests give you an opportunity to explore the Abyss” and yeah, you would be partially right. The problem there though is that once you’ve seen an area a few times, it becomes a bit boring to head back there for the fifth, sixth time to do something menial like collecting five bird eggs or fishing for material to craft a certain dish.
This becomes especially annoying later on when you have to trek through like four or five different areas just to get to your objective only to have to trek all the way back at the end. I quickly realized I was spending roughly 90% of my time just getting to where I needed to be and that most of that time was spent trekking through the same areas that I had already crossed through in the previous five quests. This is the bulk of the Binary Star experience and it is a massive disappointment given the great base that the game starts with.
Little things add to this disappointment too. Like, the game gives you the ability to place ropes to get up and down certain areas quickly, but that rope disappears the moment you leave the area, so you’re having to constantly gather ingredients for and craft these ropes lest you want to take the even longer route. There’s also item weight, limited backpack size, equipment durability, and the fact that if you run out of stamina your character literally stops in place until the stamina bar regens to full. Sure, there’s an excuse for realism to be made there, but this is an anime game and a lot of these mechanics are blatantly anti-fun.
The combat too. It’s the most dead simple thing ever, with your one button attacks that only expand beyond that with the skill tree that just makes the combo string longer. The lock-on is a bit finicky, the hitboxes are usually way larger than they appear, and most fights boil down to simply hitting an enemy a couple times, rolling to the side, and repeating. This is quite literally how the boss fights work and it’s just not fun.
On the story side of things, there really isn’t much to look forward to either. The game is basically divided into two parts: “Hello Abyss” and “Deep In Abyss”. The former is the “proper” story mode that tells the story from the anime and allows you to play as Riko and Reg. That said, the entire thing only adapts up to the survival training with Ozen – episode eight from the anime’s first season – and it took me just three hours to clear.
I found this mode to be a vastly inferior method of telling the Made in Abyss story for what it does adapt, but it’s short enough that if you have not watched the anime or read the manga, you honestly wouldn’t get spoiled on much.
After completing that mode though, you unlock the full experience: Deep in Abyss – or the game mode that most of my earlier complaints come from. This mode allows you to create a custom character and tells an original story with said character. Sounds cool, and being able to use your own character is indeed cool, but the story itself is just there to link things together and isn’t really a strong point. The rest of it is as I described earlier.
As for graphics and music – both are just okay, although disappointing given this is a AAA-priced game. The graphics are what I would expect from an early PS4 or even PS3 game, with bland textures and boring world design. The music is a bit better, but honestly nothing can compare to Kevin Penkin’s work in the anime and I guess I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t get something that at least tries to be that good.
Otherwise, the PC port works fine. I ran the game at 4k 144fps, max settings on my RTX 3080 Ti with no performance-related issues. That said, there are some bugs worth mentioning, including voice playback randomly stopping after alt+tabbing out of and back into the game until it is restarted and NPCs getting stuck in the terrain when moving. That latter one happened A LOT and it comes with an equally annoying sound effect of someone rapidly hitting the ground. Nothing game-breaking, but annoyances regardless.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is a decent game bogged down by some incredibly tedious quest design. Exploring the Abyss can be fun, but not when you have to do so dozens of times in the same areas just to complete simple fetch quests. It’s a shame, because the studio did a fairly good job building up a solid foundation. It’s just that they didn’t know what to do with said foundation and we get a filler-stuffed experience as a result. Maybe one day we’ll get something to build on this base, but for now, Binary Star is unfortunately an easy pass.
Quote: Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is a decent game bogged down by some incredibly tedious quest design. Exploring the Abyss should evoke feelings of wonder, not monotony.
Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness retails for $60 USD on Steam. It is also available on PS4 and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.