Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is dull, convoluted and almostly entirely inaccessible to newcomers. The Finger Guns review:
Before playing Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy, I’d only played one Experience Inc. game before. That game was Demon Gaze and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sure, it got repetitive towards the end but the plot and characters were enough to get me through. It’s a shame that I can’t say the same about Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy.
In this JRPG x Dungeon Crawler set in a fictional version of Tokyo, you play as a team of fresh recruits into the Xth Squad. This secret team of soldiers are recruited because they have the ability to use an ability called Code:Rise which summons weapons from their DNA…or something. The Xth Squad are tasked with fighting monsters and “Variants” that come from dungeons AKA “Abysses” that have something to do with a giant blob that has appeared in the sky which is being referred to as “The Embryo”. The plot (apparently) picks up shortly after the events of Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (the first game in this series) and I’ve had to Google most of this because the game makes little to no attempt to explain its lore or plot to newcomers.
This is a running concern I had throughout my time with Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy. The plot itself is so weak and poorly explained (often through cheesy monologues and painful character exposition) that I couldn’t discern between what was an unexplained throwback/cameo from the previous game and what was just a poorly signposted plot point. In the first third of the game, a myriad of forgettable characters are thrown at you with little or no introduction and unless you’ve played the previous game, you’re going to need to play it with a Google tab open just to have the remotest chance of understanding who is who and what is going on.
The same can be said about the game’s mechanics too. Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy has a tendency to explain its systems and game play after you’ve already been forced to use them. At the start of the game, you’re ran through a selection of screens that tell you “here’s where you’ll heal your team” and “Here’s where you can recruit new team members” but doesn’t explain how to use them or why you’d need too. It took me several miserable failures and a lot of searching online before I understood half of the systems enough to get me through.
Then there’s the illusion of choice that the game offers. While you can customise your party and their abilities, that’s where the freedom ends. The game often gives you a dialogue choice – but in actual fact, it might as well have not asked for your input at all. For example – During one of the opening exchanges, the leader of Xth Squad asks you to volunteer to join the team and offers you a Yes/No selection. Select “No” and the game just carries on as if you clicked “Yes”. It just says “Well, let’s just sign you up temporarily to see how you get on”. The game just expects you to pick the option that drives the narrative forward and if you deviate from that, it just rails you back along the same path.
The plot is also a little hard to get your head around because unlike many other Dungeon Crawlers with a narrative, you’re playing as a group of Xth Squad members. There’s no personality given to the central protagonist (i.e. the player) and this makes it even harder to relate too.
When you’ve finally got to grips with the game’s systems – how to create a class, how to use those classes and what they do and how to upgrade them – you’re off into the basic, often repetitive but somewhat enjoyable gameplay. Each mission has you exploring labyrinths step by step that are filled with traps and monsters with the aim of reaching then defeating the boss. As you encounter the beasts and ghoulies waiting in the maze, combat is triggered and get to order each of your six team members to perform an action. This can be between attack, guard, magic, use items and more – much like you can in many other JRPG’s.
Outside of the Abyss mazes, you’ll be talking to civilians around Tokyo to piece together some of the story and upgrading/leveling up your characters in the HQ. The backdrops and art here and really quite lovely and are one of the highlights of the game. They’re highly detailed and do a lot of the world building where the plot fails to do so.
The most innovative aspect of Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is the ‘Rise and Drop’ system. This is what keeps the combat competitive throughout. As you fight and win, a gauge fills. The higher this gauge is filled the more difficult the battles become which in turn raises the quality of loot drops you can find. If you’re struggling and have to flee from battle, the gauge lowers and future battles will be easier until the bar raises again.
Unfortunately, not even this mild piece of innovation is enough to overcome the terrible first impression and the game’s reliance on you having prior knowledge Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy to understand a lot of the callbacks and systems. If, like me, you’re new to the series, start with Operation Abyss. While the game has lovely art work throughout, I find it hard to recommend to anyone based on that alone. I found Operation Babel to be a convoluted, overly-complex and uninspiring slog through repetitive dungeons with only a handful of enjoyable moments.
Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy is available now on PSVita (version reviewed) and PC.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a code for the game from the publishers in order to complete this review. For more information on how we review and score games, please see out review policy.