Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Tales of the Abyss

The Tales series is a franchise that has enjoyed constant high quality since it came along back in 1995, and its latest software here in the West is a port of a six year-old game, but definitely no different.

  • Tales of the Abyss
  • Developed by Namco Tales Studio / Published by Namco Bandai
  • Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
  • PEGI: 12 / ESRB: T
  • Reviewed by: Marty Karlsson

Our story may begin rather cliché-like with an amnesiac, moody protagonist who is extremely bored about everything about his life, but not very far into the game, everything keeps getting more and more interesting. The world is basically divided into two empires, Kimlasca and Malkuth, and the people in this world follow a religion of some sorts, called the Score. The Score is a prophecy that is more or less guidelines or regulations as to how a person should act to live a joyful and meaningful life. It is said that if the empires will follow the Score, eternal prosperity will be gained.

Our main character, Luke, being the nephew of the Emperor of Kimlasca, has been raised in an aristocratic environment. An incident in Luke’s past, that is a kidnapping by the Malkuth Empire, caused a memory loss in Luke, and although he was rescued safely, he couldn’t remember anything from before the incident. It was decided that from that point on he was not to go outside the city, in order to safeguard him and prevent such a disaster again. Obviously, something happens that sets our hero out in the wide world and before long, war between the two empires has to be prevented.

Luke is a very haughty and arrogant character who likes to tell his friends to shut up and abuse them. In the early parts of the game, he only cares about getting home again, but there’s definitely some character growth down the road. The characters are designed by long-time manga artist Kousuke Fujishima, who also did Phantasia and Symphonia, and when it comes to the general design of the characters, I really like it. Especially Guy, who is Luke’s pretty-boy servant suffering from gynophobia. (Traits that don’t exactly alienate him from the yaoi crowd.) They all have unique personalities, feel alive, and are likeable, which is something that’s getting rarer in JRPGs these days.

About the voice acting, I feel there is some lack of emotion in the voice actor doing Tear, but that may be part of her character’s personality. There is also a couple of NPCs that really grate my mind when I hear them, but the important part is that virtually all of the playable characters have good voice talents, which is not something that should be taken for granted. Most of them do a superb job.

Something I love about the Tales series is the battle system. It’s intense, fast-paced, and allows for lots of different strategies and combos. Abyss is no different. Enemies can be seen on the world map and in dungeons, so you can deliberately avoid them if you want to, but doing so will eventually cause the enemies to rush towards you. Once you touch an enemy, the battle will start. The combat is a lot like Symphonia, but this title actually introduced free 3D run, which is a nice addition. Although, you cannot attack while holding the free-run button, (as I believe you can in Dawn of the New World and probably Vesperia and other newer Tales games), which is something I missed a little. In addition to being able to tell any party member to use a certain arte, you can set up formation and strategy roles so the AI can act differently in different situations, like what targets to prioritize and how much TP should be spent. There is also a system called Fields of Fonons, or FOF for short. Essentially, some spells create elemental fields in forms of circles on the ground, and if you use a special attack, that is an arte, that is compatible with that element inside that area, the arte will transform into a more powerful, cooler-looking arte. The general paradigm though is that you link standard attacks with base artes then link those into arcane artes. In short, the combat is superb as by Tales standard.

When leveling up, your characters will gain stat bonuses depending on what Capacity Cores they have equipped. These essentially tell you what stats will be given an extra boost during level up, and they also supposedly teach you AD “Additional” Skills, but they don’t tell you which. There are a lot AD Skills, and they range from being able to do an extra basic attack to using a mystic arte, essentially the character’s ultimate attack, but they could also be static bonuses, like quicker spell casting time and such. Artes themselves can also be leveled up by placing something called Fon Slots into them, which improve their properties by frequency of usage. For example, you could equip a Fon Slot on Demon Fang (a base arte) that increases its damage, and the more you use Demon Fang, the higher the chance it will deal additional damage.

I know this is a common situation in JRPGs like this, but I just hate it when your party splits up, and you only get to control one of the groups, possibly stripping you from the characters that you have spent time building, training, and having general experience with. I know that it won’t always make sense story-wise for the whole party to stick together the entire time, but a solution could be allowing you more choice on who has to go now and then. This could however be hard to implement to make it make sense with the story, but at least this doesn’t happen that often.

Graphically, the game seems to be a slight drop from the original PS2 version. The colors are definitely not as vivid and the frame rate in combat doesn’t seem to be as smooth. I’m not sure why this is, because I’m pretty sure I read the frame rate should have been improved, but in my case, I can’t see it. The font has also been changed to a simpler one, which I don’t like, but it’s not really a big deal. Disregarding these subtle changes, it looks quite lively, but it feels like the 3DS could do much better, looking at upcoming titles.

The game is scored by Motoi Sakuraba who has done most of the others in the series. While I’m not the biggest fan, and I probably like Symphonia’s tracklist better, the music is still pretty good. The battle themes in general tend to be peak songs for me, and that’s partly true here. In general, the soundtrack sounds just like it usually does in Tales, which isn’t a bad thing.

Now to the new features. The 3D in this game is actually pretty good. It’s about on par with Ocarina of Time’s, and definitely better than the 3D in Super Mario 3D Land, which granted, had horrible 3D. Some scenes actually had me really surprised how good it looked. It may not be the type of game that needed 3D in the first place, as I probably would have gotten it even if it didn’t have it, but it’s a nice addition. The 3DS screen also means this is in widescreen now, which should show more of the edges than the original did. Again, this may not play a big role in this particular title, and may be a given these days, but it’s of course good that it’s there.

Despite lack of secondary shoulder buttons, everything controls relatively smoothly. The function that I believe the right stick had in battles on PS2, arte shortcuts, is now replaced by the touch screen. I suppose it works, but I think I would have preferred a stick. The touch screen in general is not really used for much of anything else. It can bring up the main menu and change maps on the world map, but mostly it just explains what buttons do.

I actually never had a PS2, so I haven’t gotten the chance to play the original (plus the fact that this is its European debut), but I had high expectations of this title even before I had played it, and it certainly lived up to those well enough.

Final Evaluation:
9/10 - Amazing Game

Marty Karlsson played Tales of the Abyss for a total of 40 hours.

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