Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review – One for Two

Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling Into Darkness Review

Some of you may be curious about Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness just because of its insane title. Made in Abyss is a web manga, and anime, about a young girl who dreams of exploring a massive chasm. “Binary Star Falling into Darkness” refers to the unique way the game tackles the manga’s story. There’s one story mode that follows the events of the manga, and another which follows a new story and set of characters. Two stars exploring a massive abyss.

The massive chasm is so deep that there are seven identified layers that each have different ecosystems. The abyss also has a “curse” which makes it harder to return the deeper you go. Someone ascending from the first layer would just get headaches and nausea. But the symptoms get more debilitating, including permanent mutation, and even death beyond the fifth layer. As a result, the depths of the abyss are unknown to most.

A Deep Narrative

The story’s protagonist is Riko, a young girl whose mother is known as the abyss’ greatest explorer. But her mother has not returned since Riko was born, and is likely too deep to return. Riko dreams of getting to the deepest layers of the abyss and finding her mom. While training and exploring the upper layer, she meets a robot boy with no memories, who is likely an ancient artifact from deep in the abyss. Together, they set off to find Riko’s mom.

That story is very compelling. I’ve seen the Made in Abyss anime, and I loved it. The anime would make for a natural linear game progression, with each level being a new layer of the abyss. Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is an exploratory action JRPG. Its gameplay was definitely influenced by adventure games like Breath of the Wild. There’s a huge abyss to explore, and the player has to gather as many materials as their pack can carry, level up, craft better items, and descend deeper. Each new layer of the abyss is different from the one before, and the story premise and gameplay both do a great job of compelling the player to keep exploring.

Problems Rise

This also sounds like a compelling game idea. The first major problem of the game arises here, though, because Riko doesn’t return to the town. She wants to go past the point of no return, and throughout the story, she only goes deeper. I’ll come back to this.

Sometimes exploration games have survival elements that can border on being tedious instead of fun. Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness goes off the deep end and seems to do everything it can to delay progress. The stamina gauge depletes very quickly. It’s way too easy to overload on materials. Some fool developer thought the ink ribbon save system from Resident Evil should make a comeback.

There were some interesting ways the game made it difficult to progress, though. If the player ascends too quickly, the curse starts to affect them. I’ll probably never forget the first time my cutesy anime character threw up while purple tentacles crept from the edges of the screen. One of the most interesting aspects of the Made in Abyss source material is that it presents itself with an almost chibi aesthetic, but gets weirdly harsh at times. Parents, keep in mind this is an M-rated game. I’m not exaggerating when I say that some of the story sections are deeply haunting.

Story Logic vs. Game Design

The action-JRPG game design clashes with the plot of the manga, so the game’s solution is to have two story modes. As awesome as that sounded to me, it doesn’t work when implemented in Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness. The first major problem is that Riko’s story has to be finished to unlock the game’s original story. Playing through the manga events took away a lot of the exploration aspects of the game. It’s a fairly linear descent. The whole time, my OCD brain was screaming and wanting to see all the places I couldn’t go and try all the useless mechanics.

The way this plays out is that Riko will fight some creatures and gather some materials early on. 95% of those materials are useless in her quest and just need to be ignored. The game doesn’t tell you that though, and all the items claim they’re useful for making things. Riko just doesn’t need any of those things. I ended up dumping most of what I gathered in the initial campaign. If Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness let the player start with the original game story, everything would make sense. All these mechanics and items have a use in the second campaign. Players return to the town and get quest goals. All the items have a purpose and are introduced in a staggered manner.

Main Campaign Afterthought

This leads me to believe that Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness was deep into development before someone demanded it follow the manga’s story. Because the game design wasn’t conducive to a one-way journey, they came up with the two-story compromise. Forcing the player to play through the story that the game wasn’t built for was a huge mistake. It just doesn’t work at all. There should have been an option to play both, with the suggestion that new players begin with the original story.

The other elephant in the room is that Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness is an ugly game. One of the main selling points of the manga and anime is the rich visuals. In the original series, each layer of the abyss is bursting with bizarre flora and fauna. Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness just feels empty. It’s a PS4 game that looks like the original PS2 Kingdom Hearts. It didn’t have to be a triple-A graphical presentation, but the game needed to capture some of the visual detail of the manga. It doesn’t, and fans are likely to be disappointed.

Worse than the Sum of its Parts

I really wanted to love Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness. Sadly, the end result is worse than the sum of its parts. There’s a great story and world to explore. The action JRPG gameplay is generally enjoyable, despite some tedium. There are two single-player campaigns. And the end result is an ugly game, which has a very good story mode-locked behind a pretty bad one.

Fans of the anime will still want to play Made in Abyss: Binary Star Falling into Darkness, but do so with caution. The main draw for new fans will be exploring the abyss and seeing all its layers. There’s just a lot of garbage to sift through to get to the good stuff.

***PS4 code provided by the publisher***


The Good

  • Compelling world and story
  • Fun to keep exploring
  • Second campaign is well done

The Bad

  • The main game is locked
  • Initial campaign feels like an afterthought
  • Tedious survival mechanics
  • Empty visuals