Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness is a frustrating experience. It has sparks of interesting ideas, building upon the nihilistic horror of its source material, and they are handled with varying levels of competence. But a lot of this foundation is undermined by poor pacing, lopsided storytelling decisions, as well as frustrating mid-budget jank.
For those not familiar with the source material, Made In Abyss tells the tale of two cave raiders, Riko and Reg, as they slowly descend into a massive sinkhole in the earth known as The Abyss. It is a seemingly bottomless chasm with its own complex ecosystem of strange terrain, monsters, and an eldritch curse that causes anyone who tries to climb back out to suffer some horrible affliction. This ranges from nausea, sickness, and headaches at lighter levels and to irreversible insanity and death at the lowest recorded levels. The reason why most cave raiders make expeditions into such a place is a combination of academic curiosity as well as uncovering ancient and valuable artifacts.
Thanks to this framework, creator Akihito Tsukushi has managed to tell some dark and impactful stories throughout the manga and anime adaptations. Many story arcs juxtapose innocent and idealistic characters with an unfeeling and merciless world for maximum effect. It's what the series is most known for on a visual level as well; cute and colorful characters that witness disturbing and mentally scarring sights.
It is also a straightforward concept to adapt into a video game. Dungeon crawls and survival sims have used similar setups in the past, and storytelling about such journeys' mental and emotional toll has only continued to grow.
Broadly, Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness has a solid foundation. To simplify, the core gameplay is a survival sim with action RPG elements. You must stock up on supplies, fight off monsters, keep track of how far you descend so you don't get stranded, and carry useful artifacts back to the surface. You must also complete various quests, usually collecting certain materials or killing different kinds of enemies. Doing all of this ties to a leveling system where you can craft better gear in the field, manage your health, hunger, and stamina, and improves your combat prowess. It also earns you money which you can spend on better supplies for longer runs.
But the devil is in the details, which is where a lot of this game suffers. Controls are stodgy at best. Getting a weapon ready from a quick-select wheel can feel like pulling teeth. There are several points where my character just wouldn't respond to inputs. Even something as simple as mining a rock is annoying due to how it seems to be based on camera position instead of close you are to it. Combat is imprecise with questionable hit detection and some annoying stunlocking when it comes to swarms. There's even a limited save system where you send up balloons to mark your progress... that is immediately undone by a generous autosave system.
These oversights add up when it comes to the game's core loop. Despite the central conceit of The Abyss, the environments and locations are rather small in scope and become an absolute slog to trek through; made even worse when you have to backtrack to cash out. It's the worst kind of banality that desensitizes you to the dangers of The Abyss rather than reinforcing its uncaring nature. After a while, I was more annoyed that my character vomited while climbing because it meant I had to waste precious food so he didn't fall to his death. The initial sting that comes from a child suffering just became yet another annoyance while turning in quests.
Arguably the biggest issue I have with Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness is the storytelling. The game's marketing promised that it would tell a completely original story, one written by Akihito Tsukushi, centered around another group of cave raiders. And that is true. You customize your own character – which refreshingly can be male, female, or even something in between, and you do get to experience a new story with your own supporting cast.
Once you get to this story, it does hold some novelty. There are early setpieces that actually test your forward thinking – I actually panicked when I thought I ran out of rope for example – and the supporting cast do stand out in their own way.
But what ultimately sapped my interest in the story is what I did to get to it. Before you can experience this original story and play the game as it was originally intended, you have to play a condensed version of Riko and Reg's story from the Made In Abyss first.
Simply put, this is a terrible start to this game. It tutorializes quests and the importance of supply management, but the story and characters do nothing with them. Riko is effectively a maxed out character with access to all crafting recipes and unique interactions. Combat and traversal are turned into boring asides by Reg's weaponry. Picking up anything other than ingredients for dishes is actively punished since there are no rewards for returning with relics or materials which means they sit in your pack and weigh you down. It introduces the game's mechanics, but doesn't demonstrate how they feed into overarching systems.
The story feels truncated as well. A lot of the more gruesome imagery in the source material is either reduced or excised, most likely to avoid a ratings nightmare, character interactions are relegated to visual novel style exchanges, and what little action setpieces present are handled with simple quick time events. The closest thing to a final boss battle is with Immovable Ozen, which combines the inelegant combat with a boring health sponge enemy to make one anticlimactic puff of nothing.
Not only is this a four-hour deviation that adds nothing to the story, it actively spoils and undermines everything else. Going from Riko and Reg to your new character not only feels disempowering, but it also doesn't properly prepare you for the game's survival elements. Everything I mentioned before in this review did happen, but only after multiple instances of falling to my death, reloading my save because I ran out of food and didn't have the strength to climb back, and a ton of repetitive and boring level grinding. All of this is made even worse when you realize that the majority of the levels you're trekking through are the same ones Riko and Reg explored.
If this rehashed story was optional, Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness had the potential to be an interesting take on the source material. But since it is mandatory, it manages to take the foreboding, Lovecraftian dread of The Abyss and demystifies it into just another survival sim venue.
Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review | Final Thoughts
Unless you're a massive fan of Made In Abyss and can wait for a sale, I can't recommend Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness. Its original story has its moments, but that unique experience is drowned out by a needlessly long prologue that undermines various surprises. The gameplay, while serviceable, is weighed down by dozens of minor issues, and is let down by poorly implemented play conditioning. There is some merit at the bottom of this thing, but I can't say the trip down is worth it.
Made In Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch
- Decent Survival RPG Leveling System
- Solid Recreation of Manga Characters and Creatures
- Imprecise, Clunky Combat And Item Management
- Unnecessary Prologue and Bad Tutorial
- Repetitive Level Grinding