Tales of Graces f User Review
Every Tales game’s story tends to revolve around a central theme or concept. With Tales of Graces, it’s friendship. The narrative begins in the childhood of our main character Asbel Lhant. Asbel and his younger brother Hubert live in the peaceful town of Lhant, whiling away their days exploring places they probably shouldn’t be. During one of their playful expeditions, they come across a young girl lying in a meadow. The girl is revealed to have amnesia, having no idea who she is or where she came from. The group takes her back to town, and while deciding what to do with her, settles on the name “Sophie”, after the sopheria flowers they found her lying in. Sophie and Asbel become fast friends.
When the young Prince Richard comes to Lhant, Asbel and friends sneak into his room and invite him out to play. Richard is suspicious at first, explaining that everyone who’s ever been friendly to him only did so because they wanted something from him. But after a day filled with fun and adventure, Asbel and Sophie convince him otherwise. The three form a friendship pact, vowing that whatever happens, they’ll always be friends.
This prologue, while perhaps a bit too long, lays the groundwork for the game’s main story arc, which takes place seven years later. Asbel is now a knight-in-training, and a skilled swordsman. When Prince Richard goes rogue, it’s up to him to find out what happened to his best friend. So begins an epic quest in the name of eternal friendship.
While it has its moments (the friendship pact scene was surprisingly moving) the story in ToGf won’t win any awards for its complexity or level of engagement. Many of the plot twists can be seen coming from a mile away. Fortunately, the plot is saved by its characters. While the entire cast isn’t perfect—Asbel is as generic as you can get—you can expect some great personalities. Special notice should go to Pascal, a young female engineer who manages to be dumb as a doorknob, brilliantly intelligent, and hilarious; often all at the same time.
Where the plot falls, skits and a veritable horde of sub-events pick up the slack. Skits, a Tales series staple for some time now, are basically small optional cutscenes where you watch the characters chat about all manner of things (often not relevant to the plot in the slightest). This usually leads to silly things happening like Hubert lecturing Cheria on her skirt length, and Pascal and Richard plotting to make a law that requires every citizen to eat natto for breakfast. Though they probably aren’t for everybody, skits help flesh the characters out immensely, and keep the atmosphere fun and lighthearted throughout the game. In short, they’re great.
Tales of Graces f’s real shining factor, however, is its combat. As mentioned before, the series has always been known for its combat, and Graces delivers on this more than any game in the series so far. Essentially, each character has two fighting styles (known as A and B artes) that you switch between on the fly mid-combat. A-artes are linked together into a single combo tree, not unlike an action game or beat ‘em up in the vein of Bayonetta or even God of War. B-artes are more traditional, allowing you to map several arts to the Circle button (in combination with the left stick) for execution.
For example, Asbel is a straightforward melee attacker, who uses a sword. In his A-arte tree, he fights with his sword sheathed, in a series of focused, quick strikes. With his B-arte tree, he draws his sword and gains access to wider range attacks that are more powerful. Hubert uses a blade staff (think Darth Maul) and dual pistols as his A and B artes, respectively. Sophie uses fast, acrobatic hand-to-hand martial arts in her A-arte tree, but switches to powerful light-based magic with her B-artes.
Each character plays vastly different. They each have a completely different A-arte tree and completely different set of B-artes, and often require a different approach as well. Every character also has a gameplay quirk that is unique to them. When Asbel draws his sword, for instance, he is unable to be staggered for a certain number of hits. The hit counter resets however, when he sheathes his sword again. However, depending on how many hits he dished out with his sword unsheathed, he also gains a health boost when he sheathes. Thus you find yourself thinking of the best ways to switch between sheathed and unsheathed frequently, mid-combo while maximizing your benefits.
This does mean that every character has a learning curve (some more than others), but it’s fun to experiment and see which ones suit your play style most. The first few times you play a character, the game will even give you some hints and pointers on that character’s strengths and weaknesses.
Combat takes place in a 3D arena, but you move on a 2D plane. You change your “alignment” by sidestepping, dashing, and backstepping. Of course, this is also how you dodge attacks.
Most of your actions in combat, whether it’s attacking with a B-arte, A-arte, or even dodging, are governed by a single resource known as Chain Capacity, or CC. This manifests as a large number beside your health bar. There is no TP, or “mana” bar. Only CC. Each attack costs a certain amount of CC to execute (generally, the more powerful the attack is, the more it will cost). Once you’re out of CC, you can’t attack until it recharges (which happens rapidly). The first step in becoming an effective fighter in Tales of Graces f is learning how to manage your CC, squeezing as much out of your allocated amount as possible.
On top of individual character abilities, there are other general intricacies to the system. Link artes allow you to cancel out of your current combo on the fly. Attributes carried by each enemy—making some attacks much more effective than others—provide incentive for more strategically inclined players to orchestrate their combos with precision. Each character also has a handful of Mystic Artes, which are flashy super moves you can use under special circumstances. The game constantly encourages experimentation, allowing you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with each mechanic or concept before it brings a new one into the spotlight.
While this does mean that the game is slowly paced from a gameplay perspective—you don’t have B-artes at all throughout the couple-hour long prologue arc and it’ll be around 10 hours before you really have enough CC to flex with—it also ensures that once it hits its stride, your enjoyment of the combat never, ever plateaus. Even after you beat the main plot, the game has more to add to the combat’s robustness in the form of Accel Mode. This eventually results in the most fun combat I’ve ever seen in an RPG.
When you defeat enemies, you gain two resources: XP and SP. As in most RPGs, XP increases your level once enough is gained, which in turn increases your HP and base stats. However, much of your character progression in Tales of Graces f will also be handled by SP and Titles. Titles are somewhat like achievements that you can individually equip on each character. There are dozens of titles to unlock for each character for doing a range of things, from using certain skills often to simply talking to a large number of people. Of course, you’ll also unlock a number of titles simply as you progress through the story. In addition to an active perk gained from having the title equipped, each title has five levels you can progress through by gaining SP. With each level comes a new skill, benefit or even a new A or B arte to use in battle. Most titles even come with stat buffs that you can gain from them. The benefits you gain from a title are permanent, even after you unequip the title to work on another one. In this way, the title system drives character progression even more so than the traditional levels gained from XP.
When it comes to production values, Tales of Graces f is mostly average in every way. Much of it probably has to do with the game’s origins as a Wii game. The visuals, while very colorful (whether it’s the environments, the characters or their flashy moves) aren’t technically great. The areas and dungeons are large and varied, but empty and sometimes bland. Generally, the game runs at a steady clip and has been completely devoid of any glitches so far, but later on in the game where everyone has access to high level artes, you’ll find that the game’s engine sometimes has trouble rendering so many special effects at once, resulting in a dip in framerate.
This would be a good time to mention that Tales of Graces f is a *long* game. The prologue alone can be up to three hours long, while the main arc can be anywhere from 30 to 70 hours, depending on how focused you stay on the plot. The epilogue should be expected to add another 10 hours to the tally. There are hundreds of skits and subevents to witness, many of which are far off the beaten path. There are also seemingly dozens of sidequests, including a couple bonus dungeons and special bosses. Pursuit of every title for every character is a monumental effort, and the signature Grade Shop—where you can buy special modifiers and perks for subsequent playthroughs—is back. Not to mention Trials of Graces, a completely random mode accessible from the main screen that lets you participate in all manner of joke battles that I suspect are rejected ideas for the main game. Did I mention there’s also 4-player drop in/drop out co-op multiplayer?
There’s no denying that in a lot of ways, Tales of Graces f isn’t much more than a typical JRPG. You’ve got your colorful cast, generic theme, and JPop opening. There’s even a beach segment. But if you’re okay with all that, you should know that you’re in for one of the most entertaining JRPGs the PS3 has to offer.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.