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Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review

The depths of disappointment

I came to watch season one of Made in Abyss and its movie, Dawn of The Deep Soul, earlier this year. It’s an anime adaptation of a celebrated manga that follows a headstrong orphaned child named Riko and her mysterious cyborg companion Reg, where Riko is the star of the series, a pre-adolescent girl who dreams of adventure into the depths of an anomalous sinkhole that exists in a fantasy world, filled with all manner of magical relics. The deeper the layer of the titular abyss, the more dangerous and uncharted the environment. Humans are known to lose their humanity in the greater depths, risking turning into ‘hollows’, though it is here where world-changing treasures reside. In ascending to the surface, the traveller is afflicted with the curse of the abyss, causing sickness and bleeding in minor cases, or complete physical and mental disrepair when returning from greater depths. 

Riko discovers Reg, a partially mechanised child with amnesia when treasure hunting in the first layer. Shortly thereafter, Riko receives a letter supposedly from her mother, asking Riko to come and find her in the lowest layers of the unforgiving pit. With Reg’s body resiliently comprising of relic alloys and weapons, both characters begin a spelunking expedition into a world that no child should step foot in – with the knowledge that chances of reascent are slim and the journey will entail near-certain death.

This first video game adaptation of the beloved series begins by offering two different game modes to players: Hello Abyss and Deep in Abyss. The former is an adaptation of the anime’s first season, whereas the latter is an original story that follows a player-made character’s journey to becoming an elite cave explorer.

Contender for lamest boss fight of the year

Graphically, the first impressions of this adaptation are concerning. Made in Abyss is a wonderland of lush, uncharted wilds that descend into a maddening hellscape. Looking like a mid-tier PlayStation 3 adventure at best (which is not entirely unexpected in these niche anime games), the art direction of the vibrant green upper layers just barely redeems the otherwise flat and featureless textures and staggeringly constant pop-in. Despairingly, the harsh yet sublime layers that lie beneath take a hard turn into uncomfortable territory that perhaps shows this team didn’t understand the assignment. An inverted forest in the second layer where waterfalls flow skyward is uncanny. Still, this shit looks like somebody turned an abandonware Nintendo 64 platformer upside down, with a smattering of low-poly and featureless canopies in sickly green inhabited by idle monkeys that chuck shit at you. When players venture deeper in the Deep in Abyss mode, the lower layers seem even more visually underdeveloped, with a grand total of two textures used in many cases with the loving shades of geriatric grey and emo black. Yuck.

The most effort shown in this game is in the voice acting department, though a common problem emerges. The English dub gives these children an abrasively shrill tone, consisting only of whines and shouts which makes them immediately unlikeable. The English acting takes the existential dread of these characters and kills it off in a tonal misfire – an issue the superbly faithful Japanese voice track with the anime’s original actors doesn’t have.

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The infamous *blergh* inverted forest

Hello Abyss, the mode that faithfully adapts the source material, moves at a cracking pace. The devs set out to match the game’s progression to the scenes of the anime, with players barely spending a couple of minutes traversing most areas in the abyss on their journey to descend the layers. It impressively matches the anime from moment to moment, clocking in at four hours just like the first season. However, you will spend barely any more time than the characters did in a given episode in these zones. This turns the mode into more of a mirthless and stilted platformer, quickly scaling down cliffs in search of the zone exit which spits us a few hundred meters deeper into the abyss. 

Deep in Abyss is meant to play as the follow-up mode, trying to pretend that Hello Abyss is a tutorial in the guise of an anime recap to prepare you for the real survival adventure. Players create a unique character from a small array of variable haircuts, a handful of hair colours and about five skin shades. They then begin as a red whistle, a novice explorer. 

The premise of Deep in Abyss is interesting on paper. The player character embarks on a quest to become a white whistle (highest ranking adventurer) by following their teacher’s instructions in slowly charting the abyss, beginning in the uppermost layers. Additional quests are taken from the local guild, stopping by the shops to ensure you are prepared with ingredients and tools for the journey. 

In survival adventure fashion, you will fish, forage, and fail

It takes all of about 30 minutes of this mode for it to run out of steam. A quarter of the areas players will explore were also dashed through in Hello Abyss. Stripped of Reg’s combat assistance and any of Riko’s agility, players must grind out fetch quests in the initial areas like a pack mule in order to gain experience points. These are drip fed in the slowest fashion and are needed to unlock the most merciful of abilities such as being able to attack twice in succession, craft the most basic of gear (that breaks fucking constantly), and get any semblance of stamina that is required in climbing and traversal.

Besides the arduous tedium of the game simply fighting the player at the outset by denying them the most basic of movement abilities or skills, the player’s backpack fills immediately and must be carted to the surface. It is a slow, painful process of backtracking through all the zones back to what is largely the sole starting point of the entire game. All the while, every few meters of an ascension results in sickness, causing the player to verge on blackout, stop moving, and vomit significant chunks of their sustenance meter. I get that it’s meant to be a painful process for these kids, but these survival spelunking adventures have been done better in a dozen indie games with thrice the charm at a fraction of the cost. 

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Who wants some kiddie kibble?

Then there is the fatal blow of an adventuring mishap, which will happen often and can cost players upwards of half an hour’s progress each time. When the first hour wraps in this mode, players will have barely any of the functionality they were given access to with Riko, and may find themselves on a cliff’s edge in an uncharted area, unsure if they are nearing their objective or not as directions become increasingly vague. Your weapons have broken because an enemy repeatedly spawns next to you constantly, prohibiting you from climbing because stamina is precious and health is slim. Next minute, your weapons are broken, you cannot reach for more supplies, and you have no other choice left but to go to the menu and select ‘give up’. 

Final Thoughts

There is no catharsis, nor horror, only monotony and an ironic sense of nausea that comes from starting into this abyss. Some ideas here would have drawn curious players of niche, B-tier Japanese adventures back in the PS2 days, but beyond the tight four-hour anime recap, this is truly an irredeemable adaptation.

Reviewed on PS5 (PS4 version played) // Review code supplied by publisher

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Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review
How Irredeemable
Riko and Reg's descent to the netherworld is a classic in existential dread and worldbuilding. Playing in this broken world imparts an even worse sense of dread.
The Good
Great Japanese dub authentic to the anime
Hello Abyss is a lean, faithful recap of season one
The Bad
English dub disappoints, undermines the tone
The deeper we descend, the uglier the graphics
Deep in Abyss is tedious, repetitive, and unrewarding
3.5
Rubbish
  • Chime Corporation
  • Spike Chunsoft
  • PS4 / Switch / PC
  • September 2, 2022

Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review
How Irredeemable
Riko and Reg’s descent to the netherworld is a classic in existential dread and worldbuilding. Playing in this broken world imparts an even worse sense of dread.
The Good
Great Japanese dub authentic to the anime
Hello Abyss is a lean, faithful recap of season one
The Bad
English dub disappoints, undermines the tone
The deeper we descend, the uglier the graphics
Deep in Abyss is tedious, repetitive, and unrewarding
3.5
Rubbish
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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