Written by Twisted Ideas
The Tales of series is one that often times never sees the light of day outside of Japan. That was the case with Tales of Graces which was originally a Japanese Wii exclusive. Tales of Graces f is the PS3 port with improved graphics, resolution and bonus content that includes a lengthy epilogue chapter. Those unfamiliar with the Tales games, they are JRPGs with battles systems akin to fighting games. As the series matured the gameplay has been getting faster and adding more without making the system complicated. Is Tales of Graces f RPG fans want or should the series stay at home.
The game starts seven years prior to the main events of the game. Asbel Lhant is a son of a lord in the country of Windor. His father wants Asbel to follow in his footsteps but Asbel’s dream is become a knight to protect the people. Asbel often disobeys his father and reels his brother Hubert to join him on his adventures. One day the two discover a mysterious girl in the meadow with no memories. They decide to take her in and along with their sickly friend Cheria befriend prince Richard of Windor. These events set the groundwork for the rest of the plot that is both political with a touch of sci-fi.
Tales of Graces f plays like your traditional JRPG. It is a linear story filled with several towns, dungeons, people to talk to and shops to buy new equipment. Inns will have requests from NPC’s all requiring certain items. Most requests require common items that you may already have and can complete on the spot but some requests need to be found.
There is no world map in the game and areas are connected by field maps where enemies will be visible. You are free to avoid enemies or make contact and start battles. As you travel there are places labeled as discoveries that trigger skits. Most areas/dungeons will have treasure chests or hidden items lying around. Field maps will have reoccurring random items that are represented by a small shining light. Certain discoveries will produce items each time you enter the location.
Skits optional are conversations or monologues between characters in your party. They provide character insight on recent events, observations on people, places and each other. All skits are fully voiced and often humorous.
Titles operate differently than previous Tales games. There are well over 100 titles for each character and are obtained from story, side quests or completing battle requirements. All titles are equipable, provide benefits and can be leveled up from SP gained from battles. Each title has five skills that grant various bonuses most importantly new Artes.
You can dualize items and equipment in shops to create new items. Dualizing is the only way to produce cooking meals and you can combine shards to weapons and armor to increase its stats and add attributes.
The Eleth Mixer is an item that allows you to cook and produce items. It contains several slots where you can set food, books and any consumable item you have previously obtained. Food and consumables each have requirements before activating at the cost of eleth and books modifies how the Eleth Mixer works.
All battles take place in real-time in a 3D arena where your party of up to four are free to move and fight simultaneously. You only control one character while the rest of the party is AI controlled. You can switch the character your controlling by pressing the D-pad and you can have up to four player co-op in battles. There are two types of attacks A-Artes and B-Artes (explained later) and while blocking you can move the analog stick to dodge. You are locked on to the nearest enemy and can run towards and away from them. Holding R2 enables Free Run to move in any direction.
Chain Capacity is newer feature to the series (only in PS2 version Japan only Tales of Destiny) eliminates the standard TP from the game. CC is a character’s stamina that is depleted by attacking, free running and dodging and when empty limits your actions severely. CC replenishes when you are not performing the aforementioned actions. You have a range of CC (min and max can be raised) and most fights you start with your character’s minimum amount. You can raise CC in battles to character’s max by performing combos, blocking and parrying. There is a bar in battles called the Eleth Gague. Both you and enemies have a side of a bar and when it fills it triggers Eleth Burst giving unlimited CC, preventing you from being comboed and allows you to use Mystic Artes.
A-Artes and B-Artes your characters attacks. Normally all characters had a short strings of attacks that could be modified by holding up, down or side. A-Artes expands on that mechanic by making each move in the string unique. A-Artes is a tree of attacks with four levels all starting from a single level one attack. Each attack cost CC corresponding to its level. Each move has attributes that can be used to target enemy weaknesses. A-Arte combos can be interrupted by surrounding enemies before you can get to a desired move.
B-Artes can vary from physical or long ranged attacks and supportive, offensive and healing spells. B-Artes differ from A-Artes as they four can be set to the circle button. They have their own attributes, have higher CC costs and depending on the B-Arte and the character you can combo from or into A-Artes.
Graphics and Sound
Tales of Graces f is a port from the Wii but Namco Bandai has remastered the game into HD better than any of the HD collections that I have played. That being said visually it doesn’t push any boundaries. It doesn’t look bad but you can’t compare it to most games on the market. It is cel-shaded with an anime design with only the necessary amount of detail in the characters and the environment. The environments are vivid in color but and certain dungeons tend to repeat objects and backgrounds frequently.
The music is your standard fair for JRPGs. It is mood setting music for each town and dungeon. Battles have various of tracks setting the mood for fast paced action. The music isn’t bad but it’s forgettable.
There is a large amount of voiced dialog and as with JRPGs the audio has to try to match the mouthes of the predefined scenes and skits. The audio doesn’t always start with and/or match the lips. The effort’s there and it’s about what is said rather than how it looks. You may recognize some voice actors from other games or anime but there were only a few that I could pick out. The Tales series typically has young characters and people take issue with the childish voices.
The Tales series is currently my favorite JRPG franchise and Tales of Graces f is the most enjoyable JRPG I’ve played since Persona 4. It chooses character and story over graphics providing a richer experience. While plot is lacking especially compared to other Tales games but what the series does well is developing characters. Skits are a great narrative tool because it gives the opportunities for hundreds of conversations without the need of dedicated scenes. You get more dialog and interactions between cast in any which combination in situations that you don’t get in other games.
The fighting is the game’s strongest point. The changes to the battles system were jarring at first especially since B-Artes are withheld in the prologue. Once I got used to Chain Capacity I was hooked on the combat and got into as many battles as I could. Leveling up titles makes you feel that your always accomplishing something and make you want to earn more titles. Battles get so visually hectic you would think that you have problems knowing where you are but that isn’t an issue so you won’t miss a beat.
The main story can take anywhere between 30-50 hours to complete. The epilogue which includes more titles, weapons, dungeons and even a new battle mechanic will take at least 10 more hours. The game also has various side quests, 6 difficulty levels and a new game+ adding replay value to the game. I was concerned at first because this was a Wii port and Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World was a disappointment. I was wrong to be worried because I couldn’t put this game down until I beat it. This is a series that needs more exposure outside of Japan because they are some of the best JRPGs that you can find on the shelves.