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Game Review

by James Beckett,

Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness

Playstation 4, Switch, PC

Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness
In a world where almost every place you could find on a map has been explored, there remains one great and unconquered mystery: The Abyss. This gaping maw in the earth has been attracting brave (or foolish) Cave Raiders for thousands of years, who hunt for strange relics, dark secrets, and the pure thrill of perilous adventure. Riko is a young girl who dreams of following in the footsteps of her mother, Lyza the Annihilator, an infamous White Whistle who has gone so deep into the Abyss that its Curse prevents her from ever returning. When she decides to make her fateful final raid, Riko is joined by a mysterious artificial human boy called Reg, and their one-way trip will show them some of the most awe-inspiring and dangerous sights that the world of the Abyss has to offer. Up on the surface, though, there are always more young raiders looking to seek fortune and glory, and one such newcomer may just have what it takes to survive their own journey down into the Abyss' darkest depths…

I reckon that one of the first things people think after experiencing Made in Abyss—that is, once they've recovered from the awe-inspiring world building and the soul-crushing devastation of its story—is probably, “Gee, this whole premise would probably make a killer video-game.” Now that its incredible anime adaptation has allowed Made in Abyss to earn itself quite the devoted following, Chime Corporation and publisher Spike Chunsoft, Inc. have decided that the time has come to put that theory to the test. Does Made in Abyss make for a positively killer video game? The answer, as it turns out, is going to be based on how literally you want to take the word “killer.”

You will absolutely die playing Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness, and you will die in numerous, gruesome ways. These deaths are almost always brutal, but they're only sometimes fair, and whether or not you have funwatching your cute little Cave Raider Child get brutally torn to pieces by the fauna of the Abyss is very much dependent on how much love you have for the franchise as a whole, and whether your affection for Made in Abyss' world and characters can bolster your tolerance for jank. I will say that, as a major fan of the series, I eventually found a lot to like in Binary Star, though, like the Cave Raiders of Orth themselves, I had to sometimes dig really deep to uncover the treasures hidden underneath some truly frustrating (and baffling) game design.

Right off the bat, one of Chime Corporation's most inscrutable decisions almost made me write Binary Star off for good. The game has two gameplay “modes”, which are labeled “Hello Abyss” and “Deep in Abyss”. “Hello Abyss” is the story mode that stars Riko and Reg from the main plot of the anime/manga, and you can't unlock “Deep in Abyss”, the mode which allows you to go cave raiding as an original created character, until you beat “Hello Abyss” first”.

The problem is that “Hello Abyss” is kind of terrible. As a recap of the anime, it is barely serviceable even for someone who is already familiar with the source material; it covers only half of the first season, ending abruptly just after Reg and Riko encounter Ozen the Immovable in the Abyss' third layer, and it's reliance on cheap cutscenes and stilted dialogue sequences sap all of the original narrative's drama and suspense. As a game, it doesn't even feature most of the mechanics that make exploring the Abyss interesting or fun; there is no meaningful resource management or interaction with the Cave Raider economy in Orth, no use of leveling up or advancing any sort of skill tree, and your exploration of the Abyss' layers is functionally linear. If this very brief (3-5 hours, tops) and disappointing campaign was all that Binary Star had to offer, I would consider Binary Star to be a total failure, full stop.

It is only when you finally make it through this glorified tutorial and begin the “Deep in Abyss” mode that Binary Star reveals itself as a surprisingly deep and often very compelling survival RPG. This mode is effectively the “real” game, where you can fully exploit the game's crafting and leveling systems as you carefully scour the different layers of the Abyss and work your way up the Whistle ranks to unlock the deeper and stranger mysteries that wait below. The story for this mode is also much more successful (though it is still told with the same cheap-looking cutscenes and dialogue vignettes). Here, we get to explore a scenario crafted by Akihito Tsukushi himself, playing as a silent protagonist of our design that ends up at the same Belchero Orphanage that Riko and Reg once called home. We get to interact with old favorites and brand new characters as we learn a whole lot of cool lore about Orth, the world of the surface, Cave Raiding culture, and other details that the original Made in Abyss story never had time to explore. It never reaches the cathartic heights of the main story, but it at least has something new to offer fans that have already worked their way through the manga and anime.

The actual exploration of the Abyss is simply so much more engaging when Binary Star lets you play it as the meticulous survival and exploration sim that it is meant to be, rather than a fast-paced recap of a half-season of anime. Dealing with the effects of the Curse and trying to manage the weight of all of your supplies and relics is occasionally more annoying than it is compelling, but I found myself going back for another dive again and again, all the same. That said, the experience is far from a perfect experience, and many will likely struggle to get sucked into the genuinely compelling cave raiding loop on account of how bare and unpolished the game's presentation is.

In its broad strokes, the core gameplay isn't too dissimilar from the kind of platforming and gathering you might do in Breath of the Wild or Genshin Impact, but it simply can't stand up to its peers in the more specific and technical details. The game's graphics look straight out of the PlayStation 3 era, for one, and it has to break the grand and seemingly endless vistas of the Abyss into discrete and often disappointingly bland chunks that vary wildly in size and scope. Character animations will sporadically fail when confronted with unexpected geometry; random objects will pop in and out of the environment at crazy angles. I played the PS4 version of the game mostly via PS5's backwards compatablity, so I at least got to experience all of this jank at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, but I can't speak to how well it performs on the Switch. I should also note that while the game's music is excellent (to nobody's surprise), its chintzy and repetitive sound effects are not. Get used to hearing your character “Hup!” their way up and down hundreds of cliff-faces, for many hours in a row.

All of this is to say that Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is a frustrating package overall, because it takes what should have been a slam-dunk concept and turns it into a game that is merely…okay. Longtime MiA fans will definitely have an easier time seeing past its worst faults and finding the fun that there is to be had with the “Deep in Abyss” mode, but it's going to be a hard sell for any casual players or newcomers interested in discovering what the series is all about. I don't regret my time playing it, and I'll probably return to its paradoxically cozy and infuriating cycle of raiding and item management for a little while longer, but anyone curious enough to give the game a try ought to keep their expectations firmly in check.

Overall : C
Graphics : C-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : C

+ Surprisingly engaging gameplay loop for "Deep in Abyss" mode; solid original story with cool new lore tidbits for fans; awesome soundtrack
Graphical glitches and overall lack of polish make the game feel awfully cheap; item and Curse management can become tedious; "Hello Abyss" mode is a complete waste of time

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