Tales of the Abyss review
- Namco Bandai
Made 2 Game Tales of the Abyss Review Score: 7 out of 10
Formats: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
There's a lot of talking in Tales of the Abyss. A lot. In fact there's so much chin wagging that I did contemplate watching the anime adaptation instead of playing the game at one point, simply because there would probably be less talking in that.
To be fair, this is a JRPG, and a port of one first released in 2005 to boot. Long conversations are a staple of the genre. But there are some points in Tales of the Abyss where the talking does get a bit too frequent, a bit too repetitive, and a bit too long-winded. Sometimes you just want to explore the world or probe a dungeon without being interrupted so frequently.
Tell you what else gets frequent, the laughter from anyone listening in on the game, sniggering at the dialogue and voice work that they are, might I add, often hearing out of context. It sounds better with headphones in anyway...
The Tales series, much like the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series', tells a completely unique story with each installment. In Tales of the Abyss you assume the role of Luke Fon Fabre, an obnoxious, hypocritical, whining youth who lost his memory at age 10 in an incident of political kidnap.
Conversations. You'll hear a lot of them.
Ever since this event Luke has been secluded in his family manor, learning the basics of combat and, as the game proves, little else. Certainly not manners. It isn't long into controlling the crimson-haired twazock that an assassin tries to strike down your mentor but accidently causes a 'hyper-resonance' that teleports herself and Luke to the opposite continent. It's better than the usual burning/attacked village shtick anyhow, even if the amnesia angle has been played out so many times it's sore. Oh yeah, before I forget, this continent hates Luke's home continent and they are already on the verge of war, so that naturally creates issues. And there are religious figureheads. And an evil comic trio. And a group of bad guys with unknown origins and likely nefarious intentions. And prophecies. Oh yes, prophecies.
Ok so the plot does get good, even if it gets there via JRPG cliché village and outlying woods. The personality mish-mash of the cast that assembles throughout is wonderfully at odds, with sarcastic military officer Jade being a particular delight alongside Luke's constant abuse of the small and cuddly creature 'Mieu', and Luke's character progression is an admittedly charming arc to follow. Once he stops being such a massive twat, that is.
The main plot is nicely offset in typical Tales fashion by 'skits', short picture-in-picture interludes that add a remarkable amount of flavour to the characters, but those that want to ignore these can. They're optional, but recommended to get every last drip of characterisation from the plot, and far preferable to the almost too frequent stop/start conversations that dog the game's many areas.
One element the Tales franchise has always prided itself in ever since it began back on the SNES is its unique real time battle system, and Abyss was the first title to give the player near enough free movement.
You engage foes in an overworld as you'd expect – all enemies are visible, no completely random encounters here - but once in a combat arena you'll find yourself in direct control of one party member (who that is being up to you) and are able to move around freely deciding when to attack, use special moves and block, with your other three party members controlled by the computer and adhering to predetermined strategies and parameters. You can also pause the action at any time and issue commands if you're a control freak, but the CPU characters do a pretty good job if left to their own devices.
More layers are constantly introduced to the combat, with the best being 'fields' that can be summoned and power up a special attack when activated within their circumference, giving the combat a true feeling of teamwork
This isn't Street Fighter by any stretch of the imagination, but the real time brawls are exciting and it's easy to feel like a well timed dodge could buy you that essential breathing space for a sneaky healing potion. That and landing a huge 50+ hit combo between party members is, quite simply, a glorious feeling.
When you're not battering foes Tales of the Abyss becomes typical JRPG fare: Become a giant and traipse around a dull overworld, mince around nicely rendered towns buying trash to beef up your squad and solve rudimentary puzzles in monster-filled dungeons. Oh, and listen to the main characters waffle on. A lot. Tales of the Abyss doesn't push any boundaries but its unique brand of fisticuffs has always been appealing and helps bridge the gap between JRPG and action gmae, and comes easily recommendable to fans of both genres as a result.
What is perhaps most surprising about Tales of the Abyss, considering it started life as a PS2 game, is just how well it works on a handheld.
The game is fairly straightforward, with a frequent sense of forward momentum and constant progression, while the sleep function of the 3DS means you can handily pause play at any time and not have to adhere to the game's admittedly generous save points. This is also great as it means you can effectively pause play mid-conversation and pick it up again when comfortable for you. This is a JRPG that plays to your time rather than forcing you to play to its own, and it feels all the better for it.
Skits can be simply entertaining, give tips or even help with a puzzle.
What's not so well optimised are the game's 3D effects. While cutscenes often present nice big, bold character models the camera frequently finds itself at an uncomfortable distance from tiny details, which causes some funky distortion when the 3D slider is whacked all the way up.
What's more, conversation bubbles and emotion effects - tear drops, surprise lines etc - have no depth, instead appearing 'on the screen', and this can be disorientating if the 3D is at maximum settings. Played with a minor touch of depth the game looks great but certain elements still grate and expose a game unoptimised for the effect.
Furthermore, the game lacks any Street Pass or Spot Pass functionality. Being a PS2 port this is unsurprising, but disappointing regardless. Considering Dragon Quest IX did such a good job of delivering regular fresh content and Pokemon Black & White showed hints of pre-3DS Street Pass ingenuity (these were both DS games don't forget), it seems inevitable that the 3DS will see a more inventive JRPG before long.
Summing up, Tales of the Abyss is 'fine'. It's a 60-100 hour JRPG with a solid story and exciting combat, but it rarely pushes those boundaries and doesn't really play up to the exciting possibilities offered by its new host platform.
Tales of the Abyss is a good game, a damn fine game in places, but the over abundance of plot can sometimes cause the game to feel very heavy and even sluggish if you don't pace yourself. I'd argue that the DS saw far better RPGs, and they will all work just fine in your 3DS. The 3D effect isn't much to write home about anyway.
Some environments genuinly feel like they were made for 3D, but these are few and far between.
But then all these elements - long conversations, battle scene transitions, Saturday morning anime writing - that make it feel this way are tropes of the genre and things that you may even look forward to. And to be honest the game is also full of the genre's best typicalities to help offset this - those godlike spells you earn and exploit, a huge world, gorgeous swords that dwarf mountains and a long, interesting narrative - and it is long and interesting, no matter how cumbersome the writing. Then there's the trademark real time Tales combat that is still one of the genre's best systems.
So Tales of the Abyss doesn't break the mould. But it does deliver a more than entertaining diversion while the 3DS waits for a first JRPG to call its own. Just give Luke some time to stop being a complete tit, and be ready for a lot of talking, and Tales of the Abyss will be taking up residence in your 3DS for a long while.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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