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Review: Tales of Graces F

I worry about the Tales of series sometimes. English-speaking audiences are forced to wait for localizations of the main titles, if they come at all. When they do make the trip overseas there is still the risk of poor advertising and sales (which, call me crazy, may have some influence on each other), leading Namco Bandai to rationalize that there is no market for niche JRPG’s (although Tales is, if my information is not outdated, the third bestselling franchise in the genre behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior). And then there’s the release schedule, where Tales games are pumped out yearly by a two rotating teams, in a similar fashion to another well-known game series. There are plenty of things to worry about, leading me to be apprehensive when approaching Tales of Graces F, the latest release in the Tales series. And after sitting down and playing the game, a little late, thanks to exams and such, I am pleased to say many of those initial concerns have been quelled.

The story of ToGF deals with friendship and bonds. For everyone who just audibly groaned after thinking about another cheesy JRPG story, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you’re thinking. There’s a prequel of sorts at the beginning where the characters are introduced as kids, setting up their relationships and motivations for the main story after a time-skip. The meat of the plot gets going after that, so I’d encourage anyone with doubts to continue until the main tale begins. Sure, the story’s not going to turn any heads, but it does a decent job of encouraging you to progress to find out more about the characters. Tales stories have always seemed more character driven in comparison to other series anyway, and this one’s no different. So if you enjoy watching the characters develop and the interactions between them then it will be more enjoyable.

Graphically, the Tales series continues its quest to look more and more like an anime. This is a big turn-off for a lot of people, I’m sure, but as adventure anime aren’t all that frequent anymore, I kind of welcome the style.  The character models are what looks most impressive, with each character’s face showing their emotions frequently rather than using little thought bubbles over the head. There are some problems with bad-looking textures when seen close up that probably result from ToGF being an HD PS3 port of a Wii game, or just developer laziness, but it’s not enough to bother me.

And now to the meat of the game: the gameplay itself. The battles in any Tales game are played out in real-time, with the player taking control of one character in the party while the AI (or a friend) takes control of the others. The biggest change to the battle system this time around is the implementation of the CC system. To provide a brief explanation, CC (Chain Capacity) is a very fleshed out version of your mana, TP, SP, etc. for battles. Every action in battle consumes TP while guarding, dodging, and pulling off combos restore/increase it. This system was first seen in the Tales of Destiny PS2 remake, but this is the first time it’s been present in a western release.

In addition to the CC system, each character has two distinct styles of attacks. The x button controls A artes and the O button controls B artes. Both styles have significant differences and allow each character to be played in multiple ways. For example, Asbel’s A artes are all sheathed sword attack while his B artes are with his sword drawn, giving him a quick martial artist type style along with the traditional Tales swordsman role. Switched from one to the other is done easily, and when played right, can lead to great payoff. Pascal’s B artes are all close range spells and her A artes are long range shots. By combo-ing into a spell after a chain of long range attacks the cast time can be shortened to less than a second. Each character has their own tricks that can be used in different situations.

I’ve barely touched on the battle system in these last few paragraphs, so to those who haven’t played a Tales game before it may seem like unintelligible babble. The best way to explain it is to see it for yourself.  For whose familiar with previous battle systems, I believe the CC system is a blast and has a lot of advantages to the TP system, like eliminating those parts of battles when you run out of TP and it gets really slow. Other significant improvements make the battles even more fun, like the sidestep providing a better dodging alternative than the free run and the style switch letting up to 21 artes be set at a time (13 from the A arte tree, 8 B artes) rather than the usual 8.

There are other smaller tweaks to Tales mainstays, such as the cooking system being assigned to the Eleth mixer (another nice improvement, as it eliminates micromanaging ingredients and lets recipes be used during battle), an alchemy/forging system called Dualizing, and a fully connected world map, eliminating the need for an overworld map. But all these things pale in comparison to the battle system. I cannot stress how much fun I had once I began trying out all its new features. At around 30-40 hours for the main quest, with an extra epilogue included at the end that tacks on another 8-10 hours, you’re sure to get a lot of content out this game. Even with its not-really-noteworthy story, Tales of Graces F provides some good characters and an extremely fun adventure to sink some time into. Pick it up if you’ve got the time, maybe Namco Bandai will get the message and localize Tales of Xillia next! I’ll hold my breath.

Overall Score: 4/5

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