For gamers outside of Japan, it has been almost seven years since Namco Bandai last gave us a Tales game on a PlayStation console.. That has now changed with the release of Tales of Graces F, a port of a Wii game released back in 2009. Things haven’t changed much over the years in the Tales series, and that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. Will a blast from the past be just what the doctor ordered? Or is this series in desperate need of a make-over?
Tales of Graces F places gamers in the shoes of young Asbel Lhant, the son of the King and heir to the Lhant Kingdom. As with most any young kid in power, Asbel shows almost no desire to run the show one day, and is constantly getting into all sorts of trouble. Through these adventures — with his shy and well-mannered brother Hubert — you stumble onto a girl named Sophie who has lost her memories. From here, a whirlwind of twists and turns begin, sending the story and its characters into opposite directions. If all that wasn’t enough, tack on seven years to the story and you will get to see how events early in the game have changed the characters and world itself. Just as you would expect from the Tales game, the story is a focal point and is expertly told through the characters and their bonds.
The problem you will find with the story and its characters, is that it feels like we have seen this group before in earlier Tales games. Taking a look at Asbel, its hard not to immediately think of Luke from Tales of the Abyss. No matter though, as the development team does a great job of making you care for the characters in new ways and to take notice in the bonds of friendship. The narrative never gets too crazy, playing it fairly safe for a Japanese RPG, but it does take some time to get going and the extremely slow dialogue does the game no favors in getting revved up. No joke – half the characters talk as if they are on downers early in the story.
Moving on past the story and characters, one of the real shining points of the game is its fast-paced, action-oriented combat system. For anyone who has picked up a Tales game in past or even Star Ocean, will feel right at home. Battles take place in a circular arena, where you combine Assault and Burst Artes to take down your enemies. Each attack consumes a set amount of Chain Capacity points, meaning the more you have, the more attacks you can chain together. Guard or stand still to regain these points, but make sure you are always high on them because with your gauge full, you are more apt to land critical strikes or special attacks.
The real name of the game in Graces F is your ability to feel out your opponent and take the initiative. Watch their movements closely and choose the correct time to guard or dog, then counter-attack to land big combos. The dodging system is a piece of cake to learn and works extremely well, with quick dashes from side-to-side and back steps. Battles are triggered when you approach an enemy on the field and they start out pretty easy until around level 15-20, where things seem to ramp up a bit. Thankfully, the game sports tons of save points and an auto-battle option for when you get stuck somewhere and want to be a backseat driver for a bit.
Like most RPGs, the game features a system to learn and level up skills, though, in Graces F it is not done through typical leveling up, but through the changing of your characters title. Each title you unlock consists of five skills that you can learn and master, with the SP you earn in battle going towards the next skill on your equipped title. The whole title system can become a bit too much, as you are given far too many titles to keep up with. However, once you learn a skill and equip a new title, you will still posses the skill you learned from that previous title. There is a lot to work here within this system, and while it can become a bit much, it is never to the point of being overwhelming or cumbersome.
The combat system is a lot of fun, but can really become a bit repetitive. You go from town to town, fighting enemies along the way. Then you visit a dungeon, defeat a boss, then repeat. Often times, the game has you revisiting locations multiple times, creating some rather boring trekking over familiar landscape. It also hurts to retrace your footsteps only to be given an extremely minor plot point, then having to track back to the place you started. Dungeons are also nothing to write home about, as they lack a lot of depth to them, with far too many simple puzzles and not very much exploration. However, we have seen far worse in this generation of JRPGs.
To try and break up some of the monotony, the game does include a crafting system called Dualizing. Throughout your travels you will stumble upon ingredients, materials, and shards that you can combine to create new items, weapons, and armor. You can also take the collected shards and combine them with your armor and weapons to enhance them. The system can become addicting as you combine different materials to try and make something new to use. The game also sports a system called the mixer, where you can place an item you wish to replicate inside of it and as you travel, there is a chance that the item will be created again and stored in your inventory. It’s a nice way to earn new useful items while you travel from town to town without breaking the bank too much, though you do have to pay to refill the mixer.
From a production value standpoint, it is fairly obvious at times that this game is, in fact, three years old. The environments aren’t terrible but are not really over memorable. The port is crisp, with some nice cell-shading, but never overly impresses. Although, the menus looks very clean and pretty, as do the character models during cutscenes. Audio wise, the game is started out with an amazing opening track, only to be cursed by terrible voice acting to begin the game, though it does get better as your characters grow up. The rest of the tracks after the opening score are good, but do very little to keep the momentum created in the beginning; which is something happening a lot with recent RPG releases.
When the story ends in Tales of Graces F, what you have is a well-made JRPG that never strays too far from its series roots. It would have been nice to see the team try a few new things to spice it up, especially with the character design. The extremely sluggish start to the story and its dialogue are easily overshadowed a few hours in as the story and its characters mature. Sure the series hasn’t changed much since we last saw it rock a Sony platform, but who cares. With a combat system that you can’t get enough of and plenty of depth, this is an RPG you can easily sink 30+ hours into without thinking twice.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+Combat shines brightly from start to finish
-Wake me up 3 hours into the ride