Tales of the Abyss Review

The Tales franchise is a popular series in Japan, and has garnered a respectable following there. While most of the titles have been released exclusively for Japan, a number of them have also reached North American shores; Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Destiny, and Tales of Legendia. Bandai-Namco, the publishers of the games, have given RPG fans another opportunity to enter the realm of fantasy and magic with their latest installment, named Tales of the Abyss. One of the definitions of the word abyss is anything that is profound, vast, or infinite; for example, the abyss of the universe. We,ll take a journey into the game, Tales of the Abyss, and see if it is a game that is profound, or pedestrian.

For an RPG game to be truly successful, fans have come to expect at least four things: an engaging storyline with memorable characters, a good battle system, good graphics and last but not least, a good soundtrack. Depending on where you stand on these four components, some of them will carry more weight than the others in describing your idea of an enjoyable RPG. Ideally, the best RPG games will have a good balance of all four of these traits. As far as TotA is concerned, we,ll tackle the first item in this list first: the storyline and characters.

The plot of TotA takes place during a time of great tension between the kingdoms of Kimlasca and Malkuth. Although a truce has been in effect for several years, rumors have been circulating about a confrontation between the two great powers, and this seems more inevitable with each passing day. It even gets to the point where special emissaries are sent out between the nations in an effort to avoid battle. In addition, mysterious events have occurred in the nation of Kimlasca. Luke, the king,s son, has been magically transported away from the royal palace with a mysterious girl, somehow connected to his sword master. Luke and the girl possess "fon powers" that are not only extremely potent, but may be a clue to the fulfillment of the prophecy that predicts the coming of a new prosperous age throughout the land. Luke is ill suited for the adventure since he is not only socially inept, but he is a spoiled, rude and oftentimes irritating (albeit amusing) brat at the age of 17.

The plot sounds good, and builds upon many of the RPG themes familiar in this genre. What is left unsaid about this short synopsis is that the basic elements described here took many hours to unveil. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the ways in which the events unfold come at a pace that is tedious. There is a lot of dialogue between the characters, but the plot elements become quickly bogged down with numerous references to events, places, and people that have no explanations. Case in point: Van (the sword master) commands the Six God Generals, but they are part of the Grand Maestro Faction. Jade, his sister is searching for the Seventh Fon Stone and is a Seventh Fonist in the Order of Lorelei, the keepers and of the Score. Ok, got all that? This kind of information with little backstory is just a small sampling of what’s ahead in the game. While the reasons and background for these terms finally come to pass, it becomes a constant irritation because the phrases are thrown about so loosely.

If you wade through the storyline and keep your head up high, the explanations are often pulled off with several characters going through lengthy monologues. While this is useful in giving the reasons and origins of people, places and things, it becomes a sterile and pretentious device in just getting the details out of the way. For this reason, I was never drawn into the spirit of the game, and I felt that instead of going on an adventure, I was merely a passenger in a guided tour.

I had the distinct feeling that I was being set up to just do busy work instead of really being actively involved in the plot. The actual story didn,t drive me to play; it was the necessity of having to do or fulfill tasks in order to advance in the game. There is a difference between wanting to advance and having to advance. One is done because of the fun of it, and the other is done because this is the only way to advance. I was sent from city to city, from town to town, in what felt like a wild goose chase. Task driven RPGs are not necessarily bad, but when the plot seems to unravel at a snail,s pace, you begin to either lose interest or your patience.

On the flip side, the character interactions make up some ground for the slow story. Luke becomes a foil for humor, takes criticism from the other members, and kicks his pet when it gets on his nerves. You gotta love the guy. Speaking of guy, his main servant and caretaker, Guy, is a humorous fellow that has a huge shyness about women and girls. He shakes uncontrollably and stutters, but because of his transparent character, females gravitate towards him even more, to his discomfort. Luke is also accompanied by a teenage girl named Tear. She seems to be the only one that can effectively put Luke in his place. But the relationship between the two, although strained, starts to develop into something else (obviously). Each character that is added to your party has distinct personalities and foibles, and this makes each addition quite a bit of fun as you discover more about each person.

Gameplay is classic RPG fare, and seasoned or beginning RPGers should have no problem in familiarizing themselves with how to play. Characters gain experience points in order to ramp up their skills through battles. Weapons, armor and items can be purchased from stores, and the abilities of your characters can be customized through the various menus in the game. All your characters have the ability to cook up items from recipes you acquire on your travels, as well. The cooked items can be used to restore health, enhance attributes, or cause damage to the enemy. The menu system is quite straightforward and clear, and you should be able to figure out the various functions even without the use of the manual, which is colorful with good detail.

A welcome feature of the game-and one that I wish every RPG game included-is the Library feature. In this menu selection, you are able to review all that has happened. As with many long RPG games, you sometimes lose track of what you were supposed to do or go, but with the addition of the Library feature, you can always get your bearings by just keeping up with the events posted in the journal, You can throw away your notepads as the listings are very detailed and are based upon a diary that Luke keeps with him.

The fighting system is nicely done as well, and offers quite a bit of action. Each game in the Tales series has been known for its unique battle action, which is similar to the fight mechanics of Street Fighter titles-the characters move in a 2D environment during battle going either forward, backward or up and down. As the series progressed, more features were added to the battle system such as having the option to control the members in your party automatically, semi-automatically or manually. These functions allowed for the modification of each character,s AI during fighting. A hit counter was also added to the games to track hit damage and combos, and most recently, in Tales of The Abyss a new ability has been added to allow characters to move in a three-dimensional plane during fight scenes, thus allowing more freedom of movement while trying defeat enemies.

Your primary fighting buttons are X and circle. Pressing X while moving the left joystick unleashes various moves. You can also use elemental skills or magic called Artes. These attacks are done by using TP (technical points, similar to MP or magic points) and pressing the circle button. The Artes functions can be mapped to the right controller stick, and serve as a good way to bring up these abilities quickly while in the heat of battle. TP depletes as you use Artes, but can be replenished through attacking the enemy, or by gels and magic.

During battles, you can access an onscreen menu by hitting the triangle button. This, in turn, freezes the action and gives you the opportunity (and time) to set up your battle strategy and use spells or items. It also lets you, if things turn sour, escape the enemy. Modifying the AI for your characters, such as how they attack the bad guys, is useful-especially against strong enemies or bosses you’ll face during the course of your adventure. One oddity is that the framerate changes when you are in fighting mode. In normal play, the framerate is 30 fps. But once you enter the battle screen, everything goes up to 60 fps. It,s an interesting effect, but a puzzling one. Just the same, switching over to the higher framerate gives the battles and special effects more snap and sizzle. But a word to the wise: a lot goes on during these fights, and if you don,t pay close attention to your HP gauge, you may find yourself prematurely dead as damage against you can easily total hundreds, if not thousands, of points during some of the more intense battles.

The graphics and art direction are a old-school looking, but never sub-par. There is some very good attention to detail as you explore towns, buildings and castles. Some rooms, which really serve no function other than to be entered and looked at, are drawn nicely. The whole experience is basically 3D anime, and the artists have done a good job in rendering the landscape and environment. During the fight scenes, the special effects get a chance to show off a little with lighting effects, explosions and spells. Your characters move swiftly, and in some instances you,ll be surprised when the fight is over.

One major sore point about the graphics are the hundreds and hundreds of load screens that you will encounter during the game. This is especially evident as you travel from location to location on the world map, although the load screens are also almost as frequent when you are in towns. These screens load when you end a battle or switch locales from certain rooms, towns or settings. It becomes pretty annoying not only because you have to wait for these screens to finish loading, but because the whole experience involves just staring at a black screen. They pop up very frequently, and this really brings down the enjoyment of the game.

As far as sound is concerned, the music score is rich with full orchestrations and some rousing battle music with guitar licks that sound like something out of Power Rangers. (Listen to the beginning music of the game and you,ll know what I mean.) The voice acting is a combination of good and bad. The main characters are done well, but some of the minor characters go over board and show that they just weren,t directed properly. The actors read very slowly, and I was finished reading the text well ahead of their spoken dialogue. After a while, I just turned off the voices-not because they were necessarily bad, but because waiting for the characters to finish there lines took too much time.

Tales of the Abyss is an RPG that will appeal to old-school fans of the genre, or newcomers who want an RPG that is simple to pick up and learn. However, there are some rather glaring negatives that have to be considered before buying this game: there is a never-ending number of load screens which breaks up the continuity of the game, the storyline is sluggish and sometimes uninspired, and many tasks which you are required to do seem to be nothing more than a device to extend the gameplay length. The game,s story will be difficult to follow for some, and may not be interesting enough to carry you through the entire game. When all is said and done, Tales of the Abyss will most likely find a home on the shelves of Tales fans, but it doesn’t seem like this will be the game that makes Tales a mainstream RPG brand in the US.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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