Shadow Tower: Abyss is a game you likely haven't heard of before, and no one could really hold that against you. This is a game made by From Software of Demon / Dark Souls fame. It is actually the sequel to PS1 game Shadow Tower which released in the US in 1999. Unfortunately, unlike its predecessor, Shadow Tower: Abyss was never released outside of Japan. Agetec Inc, the publisher who brought the original Shadow Tower to the US, was in the process of bringing the sequel over, but it was canceled by Sony before it could be finished. A fan translation was eventually created so that english speakers could give this hidden gem a try.
Shadow Tower: Abyss is without a doubt one of the strangest games I have ever played. This is an action/adventure/rpg that does not even attempt to hold your hand at any point. You're dropped in with a very brief bit of story from the intro cutscene, no real idea of the mechanics, and even less of an idea about what you should be doing. The only way you'll even know the controls is to open the menu and go to the controller layout section of the options.
There is very little story to experience in this game, but I'll do my best to give you the setup for it as well as I can. Long ago there was a ruler who obtained a powerful spear that granted him the power to bring peace to the land. You play as an explorer who seeks this powerful spear. Your character is led into the jungle by a strange old man and is then dropped into the abyss within which there is nothing but a tower reaching down. After the first level you'll learn from the strange creatures who live in the abyss that the only way to seek the spear is by proving your power, and the best way to do that is to take on the seven lords who reside in the tower.
The first thing you'll do once you have control over your character is walk over to a lit torch on the ground and read a stone tablet with some writing on it. The tablet informs you that as someone who has been sacrificed to the abyss you are now stuck here. Only the spear-bearer has power here and only he can leave. The torch goes out, leaving you in the darkness for a moment until your character's eyes readjust, and you begin your journey. And then immediately die and have to start over if you don't take your time and use caution while walking down the game's first hallway.
Gameplay is done entirely in first person and shares many similarities with From's previous series King's Field. There is no leveling system and there are no autosaves here. Your character's attributes are improved by finding gear in the environment or by having it drop from enemies. Any item you find in the environment will literally just be laying around somewhere and you have to actually be observant if you want to find things as none of it will glow or any such nonsense.
The types of gear you will find are actually a good bit of what make this game's approach interesting. The tower you're making your way down has been attempted by many people over many centuries, you are by no means the first explorer to come here. As such, the weapons and pieces of armor you will find on your journey will be made up of items from many different ages of history. This game has everything from swords to axes to bows to flintlock pistols to assault rifles. You can easily put a 9mm in one hand and a one handed sword in the other. You can also find rings that grant you magic, so while shooting your pistol or slashing with your axe you can hurl a fireball as well.
Combat is actually handled decently well considering it is a first person game. When using a melee weapon your number of attacks you can do at a time is dependent on the weapon you're using. If you're using a knife you may get four bubbles of stamina above your health bar, if you have a large axe you may only get two. Guns work off ammunition obviously and each gun has its own type of ammunition. Ammo is not always easy to come by however so you may find yourself swapping guns out to match what you actually have ammo for.
When fighting with a melee weapon you can swing said weapon in a few different ways, but this is actually a mechanic that matters rather than just being there for your amusement. There are three different types of physical damage you can do: slash, break, and pierce. Guns will usually do piercing as you'd expect but melee weapons can do any of the three. You'll want to swing your weapon in a way that fits the type of damage it does best. Your stats are actually cumulative for your gear, so if you have a pistol that does a particularly large amount of piercing damage then you may want to stick a good piercing weapon in your other hand and do the stabbing attack for a while. Different enemies will also be more susceptible to certain types of attacks. The first enemy type in the game may take quite a lot of stabs to kill but they can be dispatched quickly if you aim a sideways slash at their neck to decapitate them.
Each piece of your gear has its own durability and this is leads me into one of ST:A's most unique mechanics: the shrines. There is a lot of gear in this game so if something breaks you'll likely be better off simply replacing it with a different piece of gear. However, if you have a piece of gear you're particularly fond of, you can repair it at one of the game's four shrines. The repair shrine will allow you to repair a piece of gear's durability at the cost of your health. This may not sound like a huge deal but keeping yourself healthy can be a trial in this game. There are only three ways to get health back in ST:A: you can use a health potion, find a piece of gear that happens to have a health regen enchantment on it (which is rare), or by using the healing shrine which requires you to sacrifice a piece of gear to heal your character.
The other two shrines are more straightforward, there is a shop shrine where you can spend the “cune” currency on gear or items and there is a save shrine. This game also lacks a map, so if you want to know where you are at any point or what the layout of your surroundings are then you will have to stumble upon a place where a former adventurer has left a crude drawing on the wall. This will also be one of the very few ways you'll find anything out about the story.
Visually the game looks about how you'd expect considering the time frame it came out in. While the visuals are nothing spectacular, the game does manage to keep new and interesting environments coming your way. You'll travel through bug infested hives, poisonous temples, and icy caverns. The game has its share of puzzles but where the game really shines is in its desire for you to just explore everything. There is music in the game but it is only played very briefly upon entering an area, once you're in a new area you'll be listening to your footsteps and the sounds of the enemies around you.
Shadow Tower: Abyss is not some amazing diamond in the rough and it's not the best game you've never played, but it is a very interesting and unique first person action adventure rpg. The game is around 9-10 hours long and I'd certainly recommend giving it a try some time. If you're a fan of strange obscure games or just a big Souls fan then this is a really cool bit of history to experience. You can find the fan translation by way of a simple google search for “shadow tower abyss english.”
This would also be one of the incredibly rare times I'd actually recommend having access to a guide, but alas the only one I know of online seems to be unavailable now. One tip I can give you is that as soon as you start the game you'll want to go into the control layout options and change the controller layout to option 4 which will give the game your typical fps control scheme. If you have any trouble finding the game or setting it up feel free to contact me and I'll try and help out. Thanks for reading!